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The Exorcist

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Look how easily Jesus does things. He lifts up Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and she’s well, fevered no more. He says “Go” and demons go. It’s not some epic struggle. There isn’t dragged-out tension and drama as we wonder if Jesus or the demon will win. Christ doesn’t shout, “My power compels you” over and over again as the demon convulses the possessed man. Jesus speaks and it’s over.

He speaks; God’s kingdom comes. That’s Jesus’ preaching, that thing he’s eager to do: “Let’s go somewhere else,” he tells Peter, “so I can preach.” And he preaches the kingdom. We sing about that in one of our hymns, “Have no fear, little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom!”

That kingdom comes by the Word Jesus speaks, the preaching and heralding Jesus does: “The kingdom of God is near!” And not just near, but, as Luke reports, “within you.”

Jesus speaks and the kingdom comes. At the expense of the devil. These demonized Jesus removes from the devil’s kingdom. Jesus throws down the gauntlet and says you are no longer the ruler of this world or the prince of the air. This fierce, seven-headed dragon, this ancient serpent Revelation 12 shows us, Peter’s roaring lion, Jesus exposes him as nothing any more. Well, not nothing. He still roars. He still shouts and screams and attacks. He still inflicts casualties, even though the war is over.

And it’s plain to see. The demons stand no chance against him. Jesus’ disciples occasionally fail to cast out demons, but only when they rely upon their own wits and guile and power. On that occasion, Jesus said, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” In other words, my power comes from Christ. I petition him to make his kingdom come. When Jesus speaks, when Jesus touches, both demons and fevers stand no chance.

Make no mistake about it, things like this fever have connections to the devil. We read Job’s words today. We could summarize him with the stark words my dad shared with his grade school students, “Life’s tough and then you die.” Which, even without the devil is true enough. Romans 5 tells us that death came with sin and spread to all men. We all die. From the moment we were born we began dying. We’re worse off each moment. Add the devil to the equation. The devil took Job’s wealth, possessions, house, and children; then his health. He made Job unrecognizable. The roaring lion doesn’t just tempt, he afflicts. As Jesus says, he not only lies, but murders.

Until Jesus stops him cold. The demonized are demonized no more. Fevers he removes. Other sicknesses, miserablenesses the Greek says, he reverses. All this before Jesus dies on the cross, before Jesus publicly crushes the devil’s head.

Jesus offers us a prelude of that mysterious creedal moment, “He descended into hell.” Jesus shows us that the devil is no king, but a condemned inmate. He is a junkyard dog, yes, but already leashed. There is nowhere the devil reigns supreme. Death, mourning, crying and pain, while still with us, no longer reign supreme. The words of Revelation 21 stand behind Jesus in Mark 1: “I am making everything new.” Even though a greater new still remains to be seen, the New Heavens and the New Earth, right here in time, at Jesus’ time and ours, a new thing happens: God’s kingdom comes, just as Jesus taught us to pray.

This kingdom is among us and within us, because God speaks it into existence. He extends the boundaries by this authoritative preaching and teaching he does, preaching and teaching which exorcises demons. For centuries, baptism rites included an exorcism, where the pastor said to the baptized: “I adjure thee, unclean spirit, by the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit that thou come out of and depart from this servant of God, for he commands thee, thou miserable one, he who walked upon the sea and stretched forth his hand to sinking Peter.”

We have the great exorcist by our side. Now we resist the devil, standing firm in the word of the one who came to us to destroy the devil’s work. Now we know that we do not face the valley of the shadow of death alone. Though still outside Eden, we see Jesus restoring it, promising it to us, assuring us, “I will drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

As easy as this appears, don’t mistake it as cheap. It cost Jesus everything. “You will strike his heel,” the Lord told Satan. This striking, smiting, and afflicting had to happen to someone. Matthew’s account of this healing and exorcising quotes Isaiah 53 as well, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” He took them up. He carried them. He carried our death in his body so that he could kill it to death himself.

These are the Lord’s benefits that we praised with David in Psalm 103. He forgives sins. He heals diseases. He redeems us from the grave. He crowns us with love and compassion. Not, as our catechism confesses, because we earned or deserved it, but because he is our merciful Father. All this Jesus did, we pray, so that we might be his own and live under him in his kingdom.

That we might be his own. Our Father has chosen to give us the kingdom. It cost a crown-prince. A blessed exchange took place. Jesus did what Father Karras did in The Exorcist. He offered the demon his body instead of ours. Not to pay the devil, make no mistake. The debt we owed to God. Our sin offended him. So Jesus took our sin, our sickness, our death, hell, he took it upon himself, him for me, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. The great exorcism, removing us from the devil, giving us to God. The power of Christ compels it.

And the Father does not treat us as our sins deserve. Our sins deserve death and hell, eternal torment. We have gladly yielded to the prince of this world, allied ourselves with him in any number of skirmishes and battles. But God, in Christ, separates us from that. “As far as the east is from the west,” David sings, “so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

Yet the devil fights on, like Hitler in late 1944 and 1945. The battles of the Bulge and for Berlin were hopeless. They wasted every life taken. Yet Hitler fought on; like the devil. He’s crushed. Jesus spiked the ball. He humiliated the devil by marching through hell. He showed himself alive by descending into hell. He displayed the wounds of nail and spear, the wounds that shed his blood for me and declared, “Checkmate.”

Yet the devil fights on. He fights among us by working to distract us from the work of Jesus that continues among us. The Christian Church, which includes us Christians, inherits the work of destroying the devil, not by our own authority, but by Christ’s. We destroy the devil by preaching and sacramenting, by sacramenting and preaching. We drown him in words and water and meal. We push his head under the Baptismal waters. We emasculate him with the sword of the spirit. We mock him by eating Christ’s body and blood for our forgiveness while he rages all around the table where we eat.

But he’s crafty. So he turns our eyes from this. He makes us think that our ministry is other than preaching and sacramenting. He holds up other priorities before our eyes, both within and without these walls to distract us, to get us to do anything but preaching and sacramenting. He wants us to obsess with organization or events. He wants us dedicated to politics or secular pursuits. He wants that whether we drag it into the church or it keeps our eyes out of the church.

All in his own self-interest. When we preach and sacrament, we cast him out, we wound him, we deal him the death of a thousand cuts. No wonder Jesus escaped Capernaum. He didn’t want to get comfortable. He didn’t want his disciples to get comfortable. It’s easy to get cozy, to lose focus. It’s easy to stop doing the only work that matters in the Church: to stop preaching and sacramenting, which delights the devil. Then he lives to fight another day. He lives to kill us to death in hell by means of our laziness and selfishness, our bloated pride in our ideas, forsaking God’s benefits, the only benefits that end our demon possession and sickness unto death.

But when the Church does its work then the devil dies and we come back to life in Christ – old gone, new come! “Faith comes from hearing the message,” Paul said. “My word does not return to me empty, it accomplishes what I desire,” the Lord says through Isaiah. God made sure that we still have Jesus preaching and casting out demons, for he established and instituted “the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments.” Through this ministry “he gives faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.”

The Christ who reached out his hand and ended a fever, the Christ who with a word ended a demon’s rule, that Christ continues to preach the same gospel he preached in the towns of Galilee. He identifies us as demon possessed corpses standing before a God who demands pure, living beings. He says, “Repent!” And then, he says, “I have good news, of great joy! I have resurrection and life! I say to you now: ‘Demon, be gone!’”

And the devil must flee. For through the Church and her divinely instituted preachers and sacramenters, God does his work upon you. He works continuously the forgiveness of sins. He bathes you in it to wash off the devil’s stench. He feeds you upon Christ to wean you off the demon. He speaks in the Word, vaccinating you against the devil: “I have removed your transgressions! You are free from the devil! Let’s go somewhere else.” Amen.

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