Monday, March 24, 2014

The Stronger Man Comes

Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” As he said these things, a woman 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, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luk 11:14-28
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
There is a lot going on in the text. Jesus drives out a demon. People accuse him of using black arts to do it. Jesus gives a parable of a strong man and a stronger man, and a spirit coming back to roost in a house that has been cleaned up, with seven of his friends. Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.
What we have is two houses battling against each other, God’s house, and the house of Satan. This world is the house guarded by a strong man, who has broken into this world. He sets up and guards over the house, trusting his weapons, lies and grudges, murder, deceit, sin all around. The prince of the air, he oppresses man at every turn he can. And yes even with demon possession such as this man with a mute spirit that was cast out. I sometimes wonder what it will be like when we get to heaven and realize the full extent of the oppression we feel in this world. I don’t think we would ever think of a person deaf and mute as possessed by demons. And yet if this isn’t the only cause for this sort of thing, evidently it is a cause in some cases. But even those things that we think of as being natural, the flu, bad eyesight, cancer, all have a spiritual reality to them. None of them were the plan of our Father in heaven. Even such things as old age, and finally death, they are all the consequences of sin in the world. They are all means by which the prince of demons oppresses us.
People don’t realize the situation is that bad. Often they think they can fix themselves. That they don’t need Jesus. They have so many problems in their lives. They see them all as self-inflicted. And often there is a little bit of truth to that. Maybe they drink too much. They smoke, and their friend dies of cancer. They have other sins that hold them back from excelling at work, or create disturbances at home. They have issues with anger management. And with some self-reflection they do what any man would do, or should do. They begin to clean themselves up. They sweep out their old house. They drive the demon out. But they don’t bother to hear the word of God or keep it.
I mean, the word of God isn’t really needed for such things. A person doesn’t need the finger of God to help him see that smoking is bad for his health, he doesn’t need it to quit either. Same with drinking too much, or womanizing, or doing any number of crass sins that just tend to tear a home apart, and cause a person to self-destruct. So you drive the demon out, you clean up your house. But the house is empty if it is not then ruled by God. If you don’t hear the word and keep it. Then the demon passes through the waterless places and comes back to roost with seven of his friends. And the situation is worse than it was before.
It doesn’t look worse to the outside. But when all the youthful stupidity and enthusiasm for the party life is gone, and you settle down to raise a family, go to work and make your mark, well then your heart is hardened, and the sins that replace those symptoms of adolescents are harder sins, greed, and arrogance, self-righteousness, they manifest themselves in prudishness, and crankiness, bitterness and rude behavior. These are sins that don’t often demand self-reflection and change. And if you do not hear the word of God, and are never then confronted by the finger of God, then the demons will stay. The situation will be worse than it was before. The strong man will only be more entrenched.
But when the stronger comes, he attacks the strong man disarms him and divides his spoil. This stronger man is Jesus Christ. He is the true prince of the palace, the man who created this world to be everything you ever thought it could be, and more. He comes. His finger stronger than the strongest of the weapons by which the strong man oppresses all of us. The stronger man has come. He came and would not be budged from the way that God had set before him. Would not give into temptation. Would not be overcome by all the common ways of oppression, would not eat the fruit. And when that didn’t work the strong man sentenced him to death, and succeeded! The prince of demons had him nailed to a cross, and earthly victory but his heavenly defeat. For right there in the death of Christ his most trusted weapon was taken from him. And the man who died and was buried, he rose again from the dead, and divested death of his sting. Right there in his death, he shed his blood a sacrifice for the whole world that all our sins might be forgiven. And forgiveness is what is needed with sin. It isn’t a matter of cleaning yourself up, but a matter of being forgiven of your sins, of the sanctifying waters of baptism poured over you, so that you would be prepared for the heavenly feast of the kingdom of God, the body and blood of Jesus, that living in him who died and rose again, we would hear his word, keep it and be blessed by the finger of God that drives out all demons.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

No comments: