Oculi (Lent 3) Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.
But not everything Jesus says is meant to comfort.
In fact, today, none of the words Jesus says are words you want to hear on your deathbed, or after an accident, or even on a plain Sunday morning.
Jesus says, for example:
“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls” (Luke 11:17).
Those aren’t the words of Christ we think of sharing when mom or dad is nearing death. Jesus doesn’t speak these words with the immediate intent of bringing comfort.
People accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of satan—that’s what’s going on—and Jesus responds with dead and cold logic: the devil doesn’t seek his own destruction. A divided kingdom falls.
“…If Satan…is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:18), Jesus asks.
And He means to say that it won’t.
He goes on: “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges” (Luke 11:19).
More cold logic.
It’s not that these people have a problem with demons being cast out.
In the previous chapter, Jesus “appointed seventy-two others and sent them on” to heal the sick (Luke 10:1). When they return, they say, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke 10:17).
The people critiquing Jesus in chapter eleven are happy about demons being cast out in chapter ten (when it’s done by their sons). They’re unhappy when Jesus does it because Jesus unapologetically calls people to repentance.
It’s as if Jesus says, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
But, let me ask, does that sound like something Jesus would say?
Have you ever seen for sale a picture of Jesus with Him saying, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish”?
That’s not the Jesus we send in birthday cards or the one we hang on our walls.
But, in fact, Jesus does say those exact words in Luke chapter thirteen, in context, not far from today’s lesson.
But, today, Jesus says this next: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).
This sounds good until you realize the other places in Scripture where God’s fingers do work.
In the Scriptures, if the finger of God and His Kingdom is upon you, that’s not immediately good.
It was the finger of God that afflicted Egypt with the plagues in Exodus (cf. Ex. 8).
It was the finger of God that wrote on stone tablets the testimony of God, the Ten Commandments (cf. Ex. 31, Deut. 8).
It was the very fingers of God that set the moon and stars and all the heavens in place. That’s Psalm 8, where David then prays, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4).
To those who know the Word of God, the finger of God is not immediately for your comfort. If Jesus says the finger and Kingdom of God are upon you, there is, at least, in the back of your head, a little voice that must ask, “What if I’m the one that’s wrong? What if now’s the time God set to deal with me?”
You don’t comfort a man on death-row by telling him that the executioner has come to see him.
You don’t comfort a sinner by telling them the Judge of heaven and earth is at the door.
Then Jesus says: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe…”
That’s the most comforting thing Jesus has said yet until you realize He’s talking about satan.
The devil is the strong man who guards impenitence like a miser his money. The strong man is not at all comforting.
But Jesus goes on: “…but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Lk. 11:21-22).
Even this is not immediately helpful.
That Jesus is stronger than the devil is only comforting if Jesus actually binds the devil.
We see the work of the devil all over the place.
Satan scowls at us and fights fiercely against us.
That Jesus is the stronger man is not immediately comforting if Christians, let alone anyone else, suffers.
To make matters worse, Jesus says this next:
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23).
Again, you can’t use those words to comfort an ailing soul. Here, Jesus is speaking only Law.
And, honestly, it gets even worse before it gets any better. Jesus says: “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” (Luke 11:24-26).
So, casting out demons is good, but the demon came back the very next day.
Thought he was a goner but he wouldn’t stay away.
That’s neither helpful nor comforting. It’s like Jesus strings us along so He can break us into smaller pieces.
“As [Jesus] 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!’” (Lk. 11:27, emphasis added).
But even this Jesus corrects: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28).
But even that doesn’t help.
Would you want that said to you?
Dying, your pastor visits you and says, “If you’ve kept the Word, you’re blessed.”
Does anyone want to hear that? Could anyone be comforted by that?
But Jesus doesn’t say these things to comfort us.
He warns us, scares us, even, rebukes us, calls us to repentance so that our pride is defeated.
Sin divides us from God.
But, for those who repent, Christ unites Himself to us. Christ will not and cannot unite Himself to impenitence.
God doesn’t ignore sin, He forgives it.
The finger of God works powerful signs, showing our fragility and God’s marvelousness. The plagues and the Red Sea preserved Israel and destroyed hardhearted Pharaoh and all his host.
The same is true today.
God’s Word shows us our sin and calls us to repentance. Hardheartedness is destroyed by sins confessed and forgiven.
Lost, Jesus finds us.
Broken, He heals.
Sick, He feeds us His own Flesh and Blood, making us well.
Faithful, He forgives all our sins.
Silent, Jesus casts out our demons so that we speak the orthodox truth: Jesus is Lord. He was delivered over to death, and God raised Him from the dead for our justification (cf. Rom. 10:9; 4:25).
What Jesus says today calls us to repentance and teaches us to fear, love, and trust the Living God above all things.
But Jesus’ words today don’t end there.
You are safe with God.
Jesus is the stronger man who bound death and satan with the Cross.
You are saved by God.
The Finger of God is at work in Christ Who separates you from death and hell, draws a line in the sand, and pulls you into salvation and keeps you in the one, true faith.
Drowned in Holy Baptism, your house is swept and in good order. The Holy Spirit dwells in you richly, and no satanic army can overcome Christ living in you.
In the end, it will not be worse for you, but better.
In mercy, God looks at you and sees His Son.
In mercy, God looks at you and loves you.
Hear His Word and do it—confess your sins, receive the absolution, and rejoice that—in Christ—all sins are forgiven.
Blessed are you who hear the Word of God and keep it.
Blessed are you who have heard the Word of God and are kept by It.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!