Posted on March 26th, 2015
Kingdoms among men have risen – and fallen. Great empires—the Babylonian, the Assyrian, the Roman—and more modern powers. None of them could last, and if the world continues, this great republic in which we live, already in deep decline, will fall and give place to a new power.
While taking place across great spans of earthly empires, the story of humanity recorded in Sacred Scripture presents another kingdom, the kingdom that rules all the others. Dr. Luther said, “Every child that comes into this world is born into the kingdom of the devil, the lord of death, who exercises his sway through sin’s tyranny.”
This world is the devil’s kingdom. He is the Strong Man whose tyranny governs the world. All freedom under this tyrant is a false freedom, leaving you more enslaved. We poor fools imagine that sexual liberty or financial prosperity will bring us happiness. We only find greater oppression.
But chiefly marking the devil’s tyranny is his constant promotion of death. Whether it is ISIS, brutally murdering all in their path, or the progressive movement in America, so eager to put to death old people, sick people, and babies in or out of the womb – everywhere death is promoted as a good, a positive choice, something natural.
Nothing could be more hostile to the God the children of the church will confess this day, the God who made heaven and earth, the Son who for our sake was made man, the Holy Spirit who is the author and giver of life.
Into this kingdom Christ comes as an invader – or rather, a redeemer, coming to recover what was stolen.
And what was stolen was you. What was stolen was all humanity. The devil has laid claim to man as his property, but you do not belong to him. You belong to the One who made you, the One who redeemed you, the One who sanctifies you.
In today’s Gospel (Luke 11:14-28), Christ announces Himself as the One come to overthrow the devil’s kingdom, to take back what belongs to Him. In the parable of the Strong Man, Jesus says that the Stronger One comes, takes from the tyrant “all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” Here Jesus specifically references one of the greatest chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah 53. That is the beautiful chapter telling us that Christ is “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” On and on it goes, wondrously describing God’s great love for us, how Jesus identifies with us poor sinners, how He knows everything that troubles us, and assumes it into Himself, going so far as to pay our debt and right all the wrongs we have done.
Then, in death the image shifts, with the suffering Christ shown to be a warrior who triumphs, who invades the fortress and recaptures the plunder of the dragon, the despot, the devil.
He himself shall bear their sins. Therefore he shall inherit many, and he shall divide the spoils of the strong, because his soul was given over to death, and he was reckoned among the lawless, and he bore the sins of many, and because of their sins he was given over. (Is 53:11–12 NETS)
The spoils of war belong to Christ: and you are the spoils of war, the loot that is captured, the pearl of great price that is found, the treasure hidden in a field. Christ comes to rescue you from every misery, and finally death.
God, in His infinite wisdom, doesn’t do this all at once. It’s a question I’m often asked, particularly by young children. Adults have it too, but we’re usually too weary and broken to give voice to it. Why doesn’t God just destroy the devil, bring an end to death, and usher in the kingdom of God in fullness right now? Extreme movements, such as the one Thomas Müntzer led in the 16th century, sought to bring about the kingdom of God through revolution. Similar ideas are present also in the Islamic State, whose violent establishment of a caliphate is intended to usher in the apocalypse. The devil remains very busy.
So why doesn’t God stop it all? Two things in particular we can state clearly from God’s Word, and even three I will tell you. The first is, the Lord has others He wishes to save, even those yet unborn. The Church must do everything we can to save the lives of the unborn, first allowing them to survive and be cared for, and then bringing them the Gospel of Life. The second reason is that God wishes us to learn, grow, and be trained through the struggle against the sinful nature. The third reason can be seen in His answer to Job: it is a resounding, “Be quiet; I am God, and not you. My thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”
The Divine Service is given to us to aid us in the struggle against the devil and our own sinful nature. The devil, his works, and his ways are renounced at baptism, and that renunciation will be repeated again this morning by Madeleine and Elsa at their Confirmation. It is good that we do this together, as a congregation, and frequently, for in truth this entire life must be a daily renouncing of the devil’s works and ways.
And that’s why the Church is again recovering the Reformation practice of giving the Lord’s Supper also to younger people. Our Reformation fathers admitted baptized Christians to communion around six or seven, when they could say the Ten Commandments, Apostles’ Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and understand the basic teachings of Baptism, Forgiveness, and the Supper. We’re not made worthy by getting to a certain age. We’re not made worthy by gaining an elaborate understanding of all the teachings of Holy Scripture. The simple teaching of the Small Catechism is that a person is truly worthy and well prepared for the Lord’s Supper when she has “faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”
This is not just a matter of justice, of giving them what Jesus intended to give His disciples. To be a child is to be especially under assault by the forces of the culture. To be an adolescent is to have that struggle intensified, with surging hormones sending mind and body reeling, with change and confusion, desire and rage and fear and melancholy and hubris and reckless abandon. We would be foolish to not give our children vaccination against deadly diseases. We would be foolish to not feed our children with nourishing foods. How much more foolish would it be to withhold from them Christ’s gift, if they know what it is and why they need it?
And you, dear children, need this gift for the same reason we all need it: because this life is full of tough things and mean people and sad things and sins. But here at the Supper Jesus says to you, “Little children, I know that you have so much joy and wonder in the good and beautiful things in this world. I also know your sins: your lies, and your selfishness, and your not listening to father and mother. What is more, I know that you will have many troubles in this life. And so for all this, I give you Myself, My own body and blood, to feed you, to cleanse you, to strengthen you, to heal you. Stay close to Me. I will be your Good Shepherd through life and death. The devil, however strong he seems, is no match for Me. By My cross I have overcome him, and you belong to Me. You will share with Me My resurrection.”
What Christ says to these little children today, He says to all of you little children. Cling to Him through life and death, and the strong man, the evil foe, will have no power over you. +INJ+
Preached at Immanuel on March 8, 2015