20. March 2022
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
The Gospel begins with Jesus performing an exorcism. He “casts out” a demon from a mute man. Did this really happen? Or is the man’s “demon possession” a metaphor for being tongue-tied? Is this some relic of an age long ago, a primitive way of speaking? Surely, today, we’ve grown up from such childish concepts of spiritual battles, with angels and demons, possession and exorcism?
This Gospel challenges our scientific, naturalistic worldview. Perhaps today we’d simply diagnose the man with some disorder, chemical imbalance, or physical ailment. We’d apply drugs and treatments, trying to loose his tongue and get him talking again. That might be effective sometimes. But we deny the spiritual realities at our own detriment. Without the proper diagnosis, there will only be improper treatment. Prescribing the wrong cure can hurt and harm, rather than help and heal.
Is it more reasonable not to believe that there is a devil? Whence then comes all the evil in the world? From whence comes all that really deserves to be called diabolical and satanic? How can people act as they do? And who knows more about these things than Jesus? Our view of the world is given to us by Jesus and His Word. Jesus acknowledged demons and the devil, so His Church and Christians acknowledge the same.
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
First, the Bible makes it clear that the prince of darkness exists. However shocking this may seem to some people, this must be stated as a fact. It is ia the Bible’s most important sections, in the Gospels, and in the very words of Jesus, that the devil meets us as an entirely unavoidable reality. What does Jesus say about him?
Often he calls him Satan. This is a Hebrew word which means enemy or adversary. Satan is the enemy of God who at every turn withstands God and tries to hinder his good purposes. To Peter He said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Satan is the source of all evil in the world. From him come our evil purposes and our wrong determinations. From him all that creates pain, that breaks down bodies and souls and whole communities. Regarding the woman whom He healed in Luke 13, “Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound—think of it—for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” Or remember the legion of demons in Luke 8 that He cast out of the possessed man who lived in the tombs? It was Satan who put it into the mind of Judas to betray his Master. It is he who sows the tares among the good seed of God’s Word.
Satan is also called the devil. This is a Greek word which means “the Condemner.” It reminds us of another side of his nature. He accuses us before God. Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.”
When he has been able to entice us fall away from God, he shows his evil lust in trying to make it clear to us that we are condemned and forsaken by God. We belong to his kingdom, not God’s. We can really become what Jesus called “children of the devil” or “children of evil,” who do what their father, the devil, desires. Therefore Jesus calls him a “murderer from the beginning” that is, a destroyer that rejoices to bring men to destruction.
Since all of humankind which is separated from God has thus come under the dominion of the murderer of souls, Jesus calls him “the ruler of this world.” (John 14:30) Today, He speaks of his kingdom and likens him to a strong man who guards his household, armed to the teeth, watching over his treasures. But now the Stronger One has come and has conquered him and taken from him all his weapons. That means that Christ has redeemed us from our sins. The accuser must keep silence. As the tempter he can continue to seek to entrap and snare us. But he knows that his days are numbered. He who believes in Jesus is safe and secure.
Is it more reasonable not to believe that there is a devil? Whence then comes all the evil in the world? From whence comes all that really deserves to be called diabolical and satanic? How can people act as they do? And who knows more about these things than Jesus? Jesus says of His cross, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” And, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”
Like Samson of old, Christ is strong to stand in the places of the evil one and topple his kingdom. Christ Jesus appeared to lose in His death. But His heel was only bruised (Gen 3:15). After His death, Jesus even descended into hell to taunt the devil with His victory over him. (1 Peter 3:19) Now the “strong” one is weak. Satan is like a defeated commander in retreat. Jesus is your salvation and champion, already defeating the devil at His cross. He rescues you and brings you into the protection of His kingdom.
Wrestling with the powers and principalities in the heavenly places is a real battle, not some pre-modern myth. It is not safe or neutral to leave the Church and the Holy Spirit’s protection. Satan is defeated but he seeks to bring down as many he can in the process. There is no rest for evil—the defeated, wicked spirit who knows defeat. And why would you submit again to demonic captivity? Returning to that old haunted house of sin and death now would be worse than before. There is no comfort for those who reject Christ and that life is more restless than before.
But you have your Sabbath rest in Jesus. He has gathered you by His Spirit to hear and keep His Word. By your Baptism, the Spirit daily works repentance and delivers forgiveness of sins. In that Word is the joyful Gospel, which declares you righteous before God. You are called to cling to Christ and His Word, kept safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian church. Christ Jesus shed His blood to conquer the devil and all the forces that seek to undermine His Word. And He promises to protect the baptized from every evil of the devil’s kingdom. He is faithful. He will keep His promises for you.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin