Lent III - March 24, 2019
Renowned theologian Michael Scott once said, “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitous.” In the battle against modern philosophy, Christianity is seen as—and sometimes is—in a battle with the modern world itself. Modernity sees Christianity as mired in antiquated superstition. So the preacher has a problem on his hands with all this talk of the devil in today’s gospel, and the last two weeks. You can talk about a man “battling his demons” if he is, say, an alcoholic. And we understand those demons to be metaphorical. An occasional mention of the devil you can get away with, because many people are like Michael Scott: not superstitious, but still a little stitious.
The modernist creed is not, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty,” but, “I believe in science.” That’s supposed to settle the argument. But not everything called science really is. Scientism as a worldview is quite different than science as a method for determining how the physical world operates. Even as a music student in college I had to study physics and acoustics. Can you fly on an airplane or use a smartphone without marveling at technological progress?
But can you really examine, e.g., DNA, and see how our human characteristics are coded, and not believe in a coder? #Learntocode is the latest internet insult, but it appears that someone coded the first humans and we’ve inherited the coding. Those who follow the philosophy of scientism, having rejected God, must supply someone else to have done the coding, typically aliens. The secret the religion of scientism doesn’t want you to know is that if there is no God we’ll have to invent one with a different name.
It’s common to believe that people are basically good, and there is no innate or inherent evil, much less evil spirits. The dream of twentieth-century progressive education was that we could create a utopian society if we simply educated people sufficiently. The temperance movement was going to improve society by getting rid of alcohol. The eugenics movement was going to improve society by ridding the world of bad genes. This gave rise in America to an obsession with birth control and abortion, and the self-same ideology drove the National Socialists to murder by the millions those of so-called inferior races.
That’s evil. That’s why we fought the second world war. We thought we won, but the evil lives on. Anti-semitism is on the rise, major government leaders advocate infanticide and absolutely nothing happens. That’s evil.
None of this is political, in the partisan sense. You can keep your day jobs, but what I’m advocating here has absolutely nothing to do with me persuading you how to vote. All I’m going to say about that is what the Bible says: “Put not your trust in princes.” What I want you to do is embrace this proposition: Evil exists. We can’t educate, medicate or psychologize our way out of that problem.
Evil exists. And there are beings that are evil. Personal beings. And some of these evil creatures we call demons. I don’t think you need to be superstitious, or even a little stitious, to believe that. God’s Word tells us about the devil, and our first parents encountered him.
None of this is really sensational in the sense of a movie about demonic possession. Those kinds of things can happen, but most of the devil’s work is of a more ordinary sort. He’s anti-human. The devil hates us, and wants us to destroy each other. War and murder is a great way to do that, but also all the other things that eventually lead to wars: Lies, adultery, thefts, oppression, deception. The devil doesn’t need you to join some satanic cult, if he can just get you to hate the person in the next pew. The demons want whatever will drive you away from trust in Jesus and into pride or despair.
But “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). We are in the fight of our lives, not only with the devil, but with the world and our own sinful nature. I always feel it during Lent, that as I try to return to a greater devotion to God’s Word and self-discipline, evil assaults intensify. Perhaps you’ve experienced that too.
The earthly ministry of Jesus was a battle against the devil. Thus today’s Gospel begins, “Jesus was casting out a demon.” The diabolical work had made this person unable to talk. Sometimes the demons we hear about did wild things, like the boy who threw himself in the fire. Others are what we would think of as merely ailments or sicknesses. Not everything is possession or habitation of a person’s mind or body. But everything demonic is arrayed against God’s gift of human life and His Gospel gift of the forgiveness of sins and the promise of resurrection.
When Jesus calls us to fast, pray, give alms, and meditate on the Word, He’s preparing us for our own battle against the devil and our own sinful nature. Today’s Gospel is for our encouragement in that battle. Here we learn that the demons are put to flight by the work of Jesus. For us, this means the demons are put to flighty be God’s Word, and the Sacraments – the Sacraments being just God’s Word attached to certain created things: water, bread, wine.
Today’s Gospel tells us about the power of Jesus to overcome the devil. He is the stronger one, who takes away the armor, the strength of the devil. Jesus despoils the devil. He takes away the devil’s prized possessions, which are people. He wants to destroy the human race. But Jesus has already won the battle in willingly dying, as both the punishment for sin and as the man who trusted God the Father to raise Him from death.
Yet there’s also a warning in this Gospel. A man freed from the devil can fall prey again. His house was emptied, but it was never furnished. The doors weren’t locked, there was no security. And so the house was broken into. Jesus says the last state of that man was even worse than before.
Can that happen to us? It certainly can. So what do we do? We go back to the work of Jesus. That’s where we live. Baptism drives the devil away; the name of Jesus drives the devil away; the Word of God drives the devil away.
We have a body-builder in our church. I’ve joked I want to take his picture and put it at the door like one of those security stickers: “Protected by this guy.”
But that’s what the sign of the holy cross is for us. The Lord puts His mark on you and says, “Protected by Jesus, redeemed by His holy cross.”
Recently I had to go through a security screening with my clerical collar on. The security officer apologized to me, saying he wished he didn’t have to screen me, and he quoted a Bible passage, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.” It’s an Old Testament passage about not harming the King of Israel, but it sometimes gets applied to pastors. That’s what this man was doing.
As I put my shoes back on and collected my things I thought about how nice that man was but also got a new insight into that passage. It’s not about ultimately some special anointing of pastors, but it applies to every baptized child of God. You are the Lord’s anointed. When you were baptized, the Lord put His anointing on you. He says to the devil, “Touch not My anointed! For this person is in Christ” (which means, Anointed One).
You have been given the greatest gift. The Lord has made you His temple. Your body is His temple. His temple is no place for foul speech, anger, or lies. His temple is no place for adultery or pornography. His temple is no place for pride or despair.
If you have fallen to these sins, or others, do not despair. Today is the cleansing of your temple; today is the cleansing of the Lord’s temple. Evil is driven out of the house by the Word of the Lord, by the Name of JESUS, by this blessed Sacrament. Dr. Luther said, “Christ’s work of driving out the devil never ceases but continues to go on … until the last day.”
It’s not superstitious to believe that evil exists, to believe that there really are demons. The world may count it weird, but that’s okay. So what? But even more than that, we believe, teach, and confess that Jesus has overcome the devil. You can trust in Him. Jesus will deliver you from every evil, and bring you to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. +INJ+