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The Stronger Man

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Dear Saints,

For three weeks we’ve heard of Jesus duking it out with the kingdom of darkness, with the devil and his demonic hordes. First Jesus is in the wilderness for 40 days with no food or drink, with the devil as His one companion, and He endured every temptation that has ever been brought before a man.

Then, last week, Jesus removed the demon from the Canaanite’s daughter, this gift was the crumb that fell from the mater’s table.

This week Jesus is again casting out a demon, and the Pharisees who are there give Jesus trouble for it, and Jesus tells us a beautiful parable to comfort us. Let’s take a look at the text, Luke 11:14-28.

Luke 11:14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.

This is, at first, strange how often Jesus is dealing with the demons, and how little we are. It seems like Jesus always has a demon breathing down His neck, and I think most of us would be hard pressed to name the last time we dealt directly with a demon. There are two things happening here. First, the ministry of Jesus is especially filled with demons. Jesus is to the demons like the light bulb on the front porch is to June bugs. Satan’s kingdom recognized Jesus as the greatest threat, and it was agitated. So, while we see demons in the Old Testament (for example, the troubling spirit that bothered Saul) as well as in the early church (for example, the demon possessed girls who told the future, and were rescued by Peter, and then another by Paul), even in the pages of the Bible the concentration of demonic activity is very high in the Gospel. But, second, and more importantly, we have been so infected by the thinking of our day that most of the time we don’t think in the categories of angels and demons. I think this could be changing; there is more and more chatter about ‘ghosts’ floating around, but we are generally materialistic, and this doesn’t mean that we want more and more stuff (well, it does,) but more, we think of the world around us in strictly materialistic terms. And the devil is fine with this. The devil is content if we are never able to recognize his handiwork, his voice, his temptation, his sneaking around stealing God’s word and troubling God’s people.

But, and we have to be clear on this as a first point, the devil is active, like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour, seeking the Lord’s Christians, seeking you. He is fighting against you, and if we don’t even recognize that we are in a fight, then he has the advantage.

I think there are these things that the Bible assumes about our Christian life that we don’t. Three come to mind. First (and we’re talking about this in our Lent Wednesdays), the Bible assumes that we will have trouble, that we will be persecuted; the Christian expects to die for their faith. We don’t. Second, the Bible expects that Christians will pour out their lives in good works to their neighbor, that we will find joy and peace and delight in serving our neighbor, even if it hurts us. We don’t. And third, the Bible assumes that our life is a battle against the devil and his demons. We don’t. So this text reminds us. When we ask, “Why were there so many demons around Jesus?” we should pause and realize that there are the same number of demons around us today.

Now, the other thing to note about this verse is that this boy, troubled with the demon was deaf and mute. The devil hates the Word, and any word, really. Jesus works through the external word, the word of the Gospel preached, the Scriptures heard. The devil is the master of the internal word, the impulse, the wrongly directed desire, the doubt and fear and lust and anger that rolls around in your heart. We should know that. The battle with the devil is in your conscience, and the Lord fighting back is in your ears!

Now, the Pharisees, who hate Jesus because they love their works, fuss at Him for casting this demon away.

Luke 11:15-16 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.

Jesus responds to this blasphemy, first by noting that what they said doesn’t make any sense:

Luke 11:17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?

Jesus then uses the example of their own exorcists as an example:

Luke 11:18-20 For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

And then Jesus tells this beautiful parable, which is the point of it all.

Luke 11:21-23 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

We need to spend a bit of time here, to make sure we understand it. The strong man is the devil, who is fully armed with the fear of death and the power to tempt man. His palace is the world, his goods are the unbelievers, and they, the text says, are safe, literally, “at peace.” This means that the world and the flesh are all on the same side as the devil. The unbeliever has no conflict with the devil, and the devil has no conflict with them. But then comes the stronger one, this is Jesus, who overcomes the devil by His death and resurrection, and the devil is stripped of his armor, the fear of death, and the spoils, that’s you and me, are divided, that is, we are brought into the church, the kingdom of the light and life of God’s Son. See it? This is beautiful. You are the spoils of Jesus ransacking the castle of the devil.

But there is more, because this plundering does not mean that the devil sits back. He is always scrapping and clawing to get you back.

Luke 11:24 “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.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 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.”

This is perhaps the most detailed description we get of the demons and how it is with them. First, the demons seem discontent unless they have a house, a person, to live in. Second, the demons travel around, they are not everywhere; they are somewhere. Third, the demons cooperate, they like company; for them to have seven roommates is good; the more the better. Fourth, and this is the point, if we are empty we are ready for the demons. It is not enough to have the demon sent away, it is important for the Holy Spirit to take up residence, that when the demons return they find the house, our conscience, occupied, no vacancy. “Be filled with the Spirit,” says St Paul.

And how does this happen? The last words of the text teach us.

Luke 11:27-28 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!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

“Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and treasure it, who hold fast to it, who love it and trust it and keep it.” This is a house occupied, a heart that treasures the Lord’s Word. This is what keeps the devil back (remember we heard Jesus doing this in the wilderness). This is a heart that is alive, and protected from the demons, a heart shielded with faith, guarded with the sword of the spirit, protected with the Lord’s righteousness.

So we fight against the devil and his kingdom by keeping the Lord’s Word, by hearing His voice, by trusting his promises.

Blessed are you, says Jesus, because you have His word. You have His promise. You have His forgiveness. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller | Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO

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