12. March 2023
But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
This business about demons is difficult. We Christians are reluctant to talk about the subject too much for fear of being laughed at. When demons get mentioned, we tend to slide over the matter as if it doesn’t mean anything or embarrasses us. After all, who still believes in demons in this enlightened age? How many intelligent and educated people take the devil seriously? It is an old-fashioned superstition. Modern people have outgrown such silly notions as the devil.
This view of demons shows one of Satan’s most tremendous and strategic victories. Having gotten himself disbelieved in, he can go about his business, and people don’t even suspect he exists, let alone is working on them. Rather wise when you come to think of it! We are captivated by the thought that we are progressing. From primeval slime, we had attained to such a position of mastery over nature that it was only a matter of time before we would be amid prosperity and peace. Sin and Satan could be dispensed with.
But, we have had wars whose horrors and bestiality have shaken the world and have also shaken some of the smug complacency of the humanist worshipers. We’ve seen our own citizens turn on each other with violence and death, and institutions pursue eugenics to “cull the [human] herd.” Confronted with such monstrous evil, our thinking, which goes by fashions, has come to suspect evil as a force in itself, powerful and demonic.
Ye t these experiential things are seldom able to convince the doubters, especially people who fervently refuse to admit the possibility of demons. Such closed minds will never be convinced, and proofs of observation or history are not what really convince us either. Now, when you look at the Bible, you find that there is surprisingly little about demons, especially when you compare the Bible with the other works of literature among which it was written. But what there is in the Bible about demons is of extreme significance.
The fall of man was decisive for us all, and in that, the rebellious devil won the first of his many victories. We were made captive by the fateful triad—Satan, sin, death. In the First Adam’s enslavement, the curse of evil came on all his children.
The rescue of us from evil is the point that follows. In the heart of every person is a throne. We were designed as dependent creatures, as the subjects of another. God intended to occupy that throne and, by His rule, give us the happiness, beauty, freedom, and strength that He wants us to have. But we dethroned God; we sinned. We thought we could climb onto the throne ourselves. This was the devil’s lie: “You will be as gods” (Genesis 3:5). We cannot mount that throne. It is as impossible as if a horse would try to mount the saddle on its own back. If God does not occupy the throne in our hearts, it is occupied by another, by the enemy of God, the devil.
This truth—that unless God is enthroned in your heart, the devil sits and rules there—is the hardest truth for us to swallow, yet it is only with this truth that our and the world’s ways are in any way intelligible. What is more, that is the way Scripture says it is. When Jesus called Paul to be His apostle, He told Paul that his work was to open men’s eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Here you see the division: two parties, either of darkness or of light, Satan or God. This “either/or” runs throughout Scripture. There is no third possibility, no middle ground, and no neutral. It is unrelenting war, Satan against God, and the battleground is the human heart—your heart and mine.
The enemy is of an order of being we cannot understand. What is a fallen angel? What is Satan? We know so little about who he is but much more about what he does. Satan and his crew, thrown out of heaven, set themselves to overthrow the works of God. When God made people whose hearts were to be ruled by His love, Satan sought God’s dethronement and deceived us into thinking we could ascend the throne and be our own lord and master. Thus deceived, we came into the dominion of Satan. Satan became what Scripture calls “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). There, for all that we can do, we would remain forever lost, separated from God, and dead.
But God, in mercy, looked on our plight and had pity. He promised one who would overthrow the dominion of Satan. He promised one who would restore the rule of God’s love in the hearts of people, that is, establish the kingdom of God. Our text proclaims the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus of Nazareth has cast out the devil and restored the rule, the kingdom of God, in our hearts. “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come to you” (Matthew 12:28).
Christ came to dethrone the usurper. The first vital battle we considered two weeks ago was the forty days conflict and the three crucial attacks. The decisive battle of the war comes in another three weeks—on a Friday that we, for that reason, call good. The final action may come any minute. But a war consists not only of major offensives but also day-by-day fighting, losing a little ground, gaining a little ground. Throughout His life, Christ had skirmishes with the devil, one of which is reported in today’s Gospel.
The Jews recognized that the things Jesus did could be done only by God or the devil. They were nearer the truth in this than those who deny all “this stuff of the devil,” as they call it, and make Jesus into a sweet and lovely man who gave us rules of life that will make us sweet and lovely too. No, there was either the finger of God or the finger of Satan. The Jews refused to recognize God in this Nazarene; therefore, the only other possibility was that He was or had a devil.
Jesus drives the matter home to the center and speaks of Satan as the enemy. The demons or demons are but his army. The New Testament teaches us that demons are personal beings with activity and purpose. They sometimes cause sickness, though not by any means every sickness. Jesus rebukes the disciples for thinking that a man’s congenital blindness was caused by his or his parents’ own special sin. The demons also have supernatural knowledge of Christ and His mission. Above all, they distort and destroy the functioning of a person as planned by the Creator. A devil can get such control of someone that when that individual speaks, it is said that the devil speaks. The purpose of all of this is to make wreckage of a creature designed by God for high happiness and achievement.
This operation of the devil on someone can happen to the best of us. Satan entered and got control of the heart of one of the Twelve. Of Judas, it is recorded, “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27). Jesus said, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70). When Peter told Jesus that He should not go up to Jerusalem to suffer, Christ called him Satan. We are repeatedly told of Satan’s untiring attacks on the church. And we are warned to beware of him. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, prowls about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). If we mean to be of Christ, we, too, will certainly be subject to attack.
At the time of Christ and the church’s founding, the devil, seeing his dominion in peril by Christ, lashed out with particular violence. Such direct and frontal attacks we may not see nowadays, but that certainly does not mean that Satan has given up the struggle. The devil has changed his strategy and is now more dangerous because of his approach’s current subtlety and unsuspected manner. But if we are alert, we shall not fail to discern his insidious efforts.
Just try giving up some bad habit or being kind to somebody you dislike. You will see then the devilish difficulty and strange abundance of reasons that flood your mind to convince you not to bother with such a difficult and tedious thing. Or think, for example, of the simple proposal of not going to church. How many reasons are immediately suggested in favor of staying away? Or, in your prayers, how extraordinarily difficult is it for you to concentrate and keep your whole mind directed to your Lord? But while scrolling on social media, you encounter no difficulties concentrating.
So in some of the simplest endeavors of the Christian life, there is evidence of an extraordinary power hindering you. This power of evil is even more evident in our uglier sins. Think of the times when you quite completely lost your temper. You said and did things you don’t like to think yourself capable of doing or saying.
At every turn, we may see the efforts of Satan to dethrone Christ from our hearts. The more earnestly we mean to have the rule of Christ’s love in our lives, the more we feel the devil’s efforts. His purpose is to destroy the purposes of God and bring to wreckage God’s sons and daughters. Hence, the greatest saints have known more of the devil than the most godless. The devil doesn’t bother much with the godless for the time being. They are safe in his bag, so he bends his special attacks on the children of God. The more we strive for Christ, the more we shall suffer attack from Satan. The better we do, the harder it will get. But our gracious God will not let us stop growing. He wants us to be like Christ; therefore, we must walk the same way of temptation.
Our confidence is that Christ has walked this way before us. He has made the path and shown victory. If we stick close to Christ, we shall have victory also; in Him, we are secure. Christ has already won the decisive victory on Calvary. There the devil spent his utmost strength and was vanquished. That victory is for us also, but our Father allows us to be tempted still so we may be tested and strengthened and cling ever closer to Christ.
Clinging to Christ and His victory, we can beat back the devil’s attacks. When he tries to claim us as his own and make us despair because of our sins, we can boldly call the devil the liar he is. “No, Satan, I am not yours. Christ has died for me, and I am forgiven. He has conquered you, and so shall I.” So when faith is strong, we can laugh in the face of the devil with blithe boldness. He cannot bear such scorn. The devil must then depart from us, for our Lord Jesus sits on the throne in our hearts. Then is the kingdom of God come upon us. AMEN.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin
Based on a sermon by Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel of blessed and holy memory.