This Sunday’s sermon was preached by Rev. Charles Ferry. Pastor Ferry and his wife Cheryl have been called to serve as representatives of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in Southeast Asia. Please click here to learn more about the Ferry family and the good work they intend to do in serving the Church and world. Please also consider supporting them with your prayers and financial gifts as you are able.
“[Jesus said:] But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Luke 11:20
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
If you haven’t noticed, things are different. Today, of course, you have someone different standing in your church’s pulpit. It’s a great privilege for me to be here with you today, to share not only what your church is doing overseas in Indonesia, but to be sharing God’s Word with you, and partaking with you in His holy Sacrament.
But it’s more than just a different preacher speaking to you. There’s purple on the altar and in the chancel. We’re refraining from using certain words, and from singing certain hymns and canticles in the liturgy. Some of you have given up certain things that you enjoy, or added some practices that you normally don’t do. This is the holy season of Lent, which only lasts a few weeks each year, but which makes some sweeping changes in our life together as Christians.
In Lent, we deprive ourselves of things in order to practice, in order to sharpen our focus on the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We meet during the middle of the week to hear the Word and to pray. Lent is just a different time of year, a bit more somber, perhaps, where we hear a lot about sin, about repentance, and even about blood.
Even the Lectionary brings us these changes, reflects this holy time of the year, one that’s set apart for a specific purpose. Not only this week, but for all these three Sundays in Lent, the Historic Lectionary of Christendom has brought us readings that feature Satan and his demons. Did you notice that? In Lent I, Jesus was driven out into the wilderness, where He fasts for 40 days, and then is tempted by none other than Satan himself. In Lent II, we had the Caananite woman who was begging Jesus for help… because her daughter was “severely oppressed by a demon.” And now, in this Third Sunday in Lent, we have Jesus being accused of being in league with “Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” and Jesus Himself is casting out demons and is accused of being in league with the devil.
This, my friends, is not comfortable for us. It’s certainly not comfortable for me as the preacher. As a visiting pastor, I’d love to come in here and preach to you nothing but sweetness and light, especially to people who have been kind enough to offer us support and friendship. But this is the text I’ve been given… and it made me wonder if your pastor had something against me! But no, Pastor Estes and I have known each other for many years now, and I know him better than that. He’s simply a faithful under-shepherd, keeping us focused on what the church has handed down through the ages, and not letting us meditate on whatever tickles my fancy this particular day.
And that’s good… because if we didn’t have blessings like the lectionary, we most likely would not stop on a text like this, nor like the ones we’ve been hearing these days of Lent. We don’t like to talk about Satan. We like to dress him up in a red costume with tail and pitchfork, and make a laughing stock of him. We like to put him in cartoons and movies where we can see him and ultimately control him. And you know what? That’s fine with him. He doesn’t mind at all as we make him look funny or harmless or even fascinating. That way, we don’t guard against him. We give him lots of credit for being powerful, but he’s largely ignored, put in the background.
But in these purple days of Lent, the historic Christian Church simply won’t let us do that. In these days, the church brings Satan out front and center so we don’t forget him, so we have to take notice of him. And while that’s not comfortable, it’s good for us.
Satan is powerful, as we see throughout the Scriptures. He’s constantly leading people astray, causing problems, and wreaking havoc wherever he can. Even in our text today, Jesus Himself describes Satan as “the strong man.” But to see he’s powerful, we really only need to look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves for a bit. And when we do, we realize that Satan’s only real power is to lie, and we’ve swallowed his lies: hook, line, and sinker.
As a human being in this world, you believed him when he told you that your sins really aren’t that bad. “Go ahead and hold that grudge,” he says, “it’s not like you killed anyone.” “Go ahead and indulge that lustful image, it’s not like you’re committing adultery in your heart.” “Go ahead and believe in whatever god you want, if God is love, then love is god, and all roads must lead to heaven.” “Go ahead and skip church,” he drones on in the sweetest tones, “you do enough good things already… and you’re not nearly as bad as your neighbor, so you’re doing alright on your own… what do you really need Jesus’ forgiveness for anyway?”
Ever since the Garden of Eden, all those thousands of years ago, Satan has been lying to us, speaking words that make us question the Word of God, tempting us to put ourselves in the top spot. “Did God really say…” And we bite every single time. As descendants of Adam and Eve, we share in the pride of our first parents, and as we say in our baptismal liturgy, we are “all conceived and born sinful, and so are under the power of the devil,” and any parents here can testify to just how self-centered we are even at the youngest of ages. Satan, as our Lord Jesus describes in our text today, is the strong man, stronger than you, who has come fully armed, and made your heart his palace. There, his goods would be forever safe while we build ourselves up in vain.
But something has changed, something is different, as we’re reminded in this time of purple and repentance. The strong man was very secure in his palace, counting his treasures and plotting how to get more. And before he even realizes what has happened, before he can even hope to mount a defense, Satan the strong has been disarmed, stripped of his armor, and robbed of all his ill-gotten gains. One who is infinitely stronger than Satan has come in the most unexpected of means, utterly defeated him, defanged the serpent, and deprived him of everything he had.
Jesus Christ, my dear brothers and sisters, had laid aside His rightful crown for a time and come not in glory and power, but in meekness and humility. He came in human flesh and blood, was born in a lowly stable, and grew up subject to his earthly parents. Then He went to the cross of Calvary, suffered, bled, and died like a common criminal, taking upon Himself all the price that your sin demanded.
When He hung upon that cross, crying out in pain and thirst, it looked as if he had been defeated by the strong man. But that apparent defeat turned out to be the greatest and most unexpected victory the world had ever seen, or would ever see. Jesus turned that death on the cross into YOUR victory, where all your sin was covered, all your debt paid, and His righteousness became yours.
In His death on the cross, Jesus made Himself your champion, setting you free from bondage to sin, death, and the devil himself. Jesus is the Stronger One who comes in and attacks all your old evil foes, defeats them, and grants you freedom and life so you can belong to Christ instead. You, my friends, are not only the battle ground, but you are the spoil; you are the treasure. Christ Jesus has not left you alone to fight or to surrender, but has come to earth and given Himself in your place, so that His forgiveness, life, and salvation would be yours forever. When those baptismal waters washed over you, Christ was uniting Himself to you with bonds that cannot be broken. He was setting you free from the lies of the devil, and setting up shop in the now cleaned-out house that is your heart.
You no longer belong to darkness, as St. Paul talks about in our Epistle reading today. Now, because of Christ, you are light in the Lord. You are no longer enslaved to the thoughts, words, and actions that are out of place with the saints of God. By His Holy Spirit, He empowers you to live a life that is different from that of the world around you, with different priorities, different values, and different goals. You no longer have to live a life that puts yourself first. God has already given you eternity in paradise with Him… now you’re free to live your earthly days in service to others, as lights in the darkness.
And to help you do that, He calls you to His holy altar again this very day, where He has set a banquet table before us, inviting us to partake in His very body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins, and to build us into a community, into members of His body the Church, with Himself as our head. With this meal, He strengthens you for the road ahead, uniting you once again with Himself, and with one another, creating and maintaining your faith in Him so that nothing can separate you from Him.
Christ calls you to Himself, casts out the demons that would lie to you and keep you captive, and says that the kingdom of God has come upon you! The Stronger One has set you free, and you belong to Him forever.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.