And He was casting out a demon, and it was
dumb; and it came about that when the demon had gone out, the dumb man spoke; and the multitudes marveled. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." And others, to test Him, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven. But He knew their thoughts, and said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own homestead, his possessions are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied, and distributes his plunder. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.
"When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first."
And it came about while He said these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice, and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed." But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it."
Sermon for Oculi Sunday 03/07/21
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Sometimes following Jesus – even just believing in Jesus – is a difficult thing. He says things that don't mesh with our world-view. He does things that are unexpected. Oh we expect the things He does in the Bible, because the Bible has been there all of our lives and so it seems to make sense to us. It didn't make sense to everyone back then, any more than the things that God is doing today - or putting us through - make sense to us today, at times. Even when it did make sense, it wasn't what they wanted to hear or wanted to see and so they chafed against it and rebelled against it. Jesus called them on it, and explained the truth to them so that we would see it today.
Our theme this morning is "Christus Victor", which means "Christ the Victor" or "Christ is the Victor". I chose those words because of Jesus' words in our text, "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters." Let us consider the words of Jesus today and see what it means in our lives day-to-day that Christ is the Victor.
Our Gospel opens with Jesus casting out a demon. You would think that would be a good thing, wouldn't you? His adversaries found fault with Him anyhow. They said that He was in league with the devil, and that was how He was casting out demons. The truth of the matter was that everyone who saw it was impressed. The text says that "the crowds marveled." They all knew that such a thing came from God - but to the Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes of the Temple, it was an awful blow. This Jesus was just getting out of hand. How do you compete with a man who can do the things Jesus could do? And it was so clearly from God that they felt compelled to try to diminish Jesus' authority and stature with the people before they lost all influence with the people themselves.
So they made up the "in league with the devil" thing. They didn't think it through, they just said what they thought would hurt Jesus in the eyes of the people. Others of their number were demanding that Jesus do something really impressive, something clearly ‘a sign from heaven' to prove Himself to them. Think about it – He was doing things only God can do, and He was so clearly God's man that the religious leaders felt the only way to diminish Him in the eyes of the people was to pretend that either He was in league with Satan or that He had done nothing special, and so they needed proof before they could believe what was painfully obvious to them in the first place. Makes sense, eh?
Jesus pointed out their illogic - if the devil is working against himself, how could he possibly succeed? Then He confronted them with the question of why they accused only Him of being in league with the devil. When others did these sorts of things, they never challenged them. But, as we say today, ‘what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.' If Jesus was in league with Satan [they even used the spooky sounding name Beelzebul (or Beelzebub) for the devil - the Lord of the Flies, or the God of the Demons. They were working on the creep-em-out factor, not unlike the style of modern politics aimed at our former President] then, Jesus said, who are the others in league with, you know the ones of which you approve - and the ones everyone else believes are good, godly men? Consequently, Jesus said, they shall be your judges.
Then He made the point out loud that His adversaries wanted to avoid the people making in their heads - if Jesus was doing this by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has come among them - the Savior is here. Their plot to discredit Jesus backfired, and opened the door for Jesus to make explicit what had been only implicit before. Jesus was the Victor there.
We are often tempted to do something like those adversaries of Jesus did. If we don't like the direction the Lord is leading us, we try to cast it into terms that favor our preferences and deny the leading of the Lord. I am talking about when, where God seems to be taking us is going to take too much of our time, or too much of our attention, or too much of our energy, or too much of our money. You know, when being the kind of Christian that Jesus talks about, and the Apostles taught us about, is not compatible with our modern individualism. It is the sort of situation in which our rights and our liberties stand at odds to the sort of commitment that faithfulness to Christ seems to demand. We want to believe that lukewarm Christianity is better than no Christianity at all - in open denial of what Jesus said in Revelation 3:16, in the letter to the church at Laodicea, "'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."
Our vacations and our family visits and our other ditherings seem to be challenged by the concept of faithfulness to Christ and His people. Our hobbies and our toys and our entertainments seem to be threatened by the demands of genuine Christian faith and commitment. When we feel that tug of conscience, we want to make the preacher back up a little and lighten up - sort of like the Pharisees wanted Jesus to back off and shrink in the estimation of the people. Note that no one has said anything to me - so I am not talking about complaints spoken to me, here.
Jesus answered them with a couple of parables: the Parable of the Strong Man Guarding His Home, and the Parable of the Unclean Spirit. These are different answers than you might expect in the heat of conflict. Jesus tells a parable on the devil - Satan is the strong man who guards his house until a stronger man than he comes and takes everything away. Jesus is the stronger man. Consequently, those who try to prop up the devil, even inadvertently, are working against Jesus. The only way to work with Jesus is to be affirmatively on His side. Neutrality, lukewarm-ness, and just not being involved, all serve the devil - He who is not with me is against me - and He who does not gather with me scatters.
Then Jesus describes First Century Israel as the house of the unclean spirit that has been driven out. He was driven out by the coming of Jesus Himself. But when Jesus has gone, the devil will return, and since Israel rejects Jesus, the last state is worse than the first, and the evil of the last state is far deeper than the first. That worsened condition is described as the first spirit bringing seven more spirits, more foul than himself, to live with him. And look at Israel, the people. They no longer hope for the Messiah. They actively oppose Him. They were once at least the people of the covenant before Jesus came, even if they failed to keep it, and they once had the Word and the prophets. Today they are empty, and the religion of the covenant is now a pagan and idolatrous religion, because their Savior - their God - has come, and they rejected Him. They chose the familiar, and the personally preferable to the true and the saving.
‘He who is not with me is against me' is Jesus' way of saying Solo Christo - in Christ alone - to the Jews of His day. If we are not pulling on the oars with Him, we are dragging the anchor. If we are not working together with one another faithfully in the church, we stand guilty of working against Jesus Himself.
One of the women there that day was so impressed with the wisdom and truth of what Jesus said that she cried out, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed." She meant to praise Him for His wisdom and holiness - good things, but Jesus answered her, and answered those who had been made to feel foolish by His response. He indicated that the really significant thing was not how impressed they might be with Him, but how they dealt with God's Word. He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and keep it." The true blessedness is in believing the Word of God both with your mind and with your life - not just thinking it is true, but living as though it is true.
That Word says that your sins are forgiven. Jesus took the wrath of God against you and your sins and suffered on the cross what you have earned including death itself. He died that you might live. He bore your sins that you might be forgiven and live in holiness before Him. Believe that Word! What a wonderful gift - and what a wonderful Gospel. Believe it with your mind and believe it with your actions.
Do we dare to behave like the Pharisees were behaving, as though this wondrous good news is not so special as it seems? Can it be that faithfulness and holiness can take a back seat in the life of a true believer to the pleasures and priorities of modern American life, with all its wealth and possibilities? Jesus and His obvious God-connections were getting in the way of the plans and priorities of the leaders of the Temple religion, and, although they saw the truth, they thought that they could cool it down and re-prioritize things safely.
Faith in Christ and true faithfulness will call us to changing our behaviors, re-aligning our priorities, doing things first which we would rather leave for later. You probably feel the tug-of-war in yourself between what you kind-sorta think you ought to be doing as a faithful child of God, and member of this body here (or at your home church), on the one hand, and the tug to enjoy what is yours, take the time for yourself, do what is every American's right to do, and call Christ unreasonable for suggesting (even though it is your own mind doing all the talking) that you live sacrificially as a deliberate Christian rather than self-indulgently as one who has every right to own, to do, or to go as you please.
Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it. The strong man in your life has been destroyed, and Jesus has taken his place - by taking yours on the cross. He has set you free - from sin, and from the slavery to yourself and your flesh - to serve Him. "Sin shall not be master over you, for you are no longer under law, but under grace."
So, what should you do?
I'm not going to tell you. I cannot.
Believe the Word of God, of course. Walk in faith. Live every moment in the presence of God, and in the light of His love for you and the marvelous gift of your forgiveness and salvation.
And remember the principle, "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." That applies to your time. It applies to your morals. It applies to your energy. It applies to your talents. It applies to your entertainments, and it applies, finally, also to your money.
You have the Word of God, now how you respond, by the power of God within you, is up to you. Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it. And here, too Christ is victor!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)