Beloved. In today’s Gospel we come to that very important word of our Lord that is absolutely vital for us to ask of ourselves and to ponder this holy Lenten season: The one who is not with me is against me. The one who does not gather with me scatters. The point is simply this: when it comes to Jesus there is no middle ground; there can be no neutrality when it comes to Jesus. One is either for Jesus or against Him. In the temple, 40 days after Jesus’ birth St. Simeon prophesied to St. Mary about Jesus [St. Luke 2.34]: Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many... He is the fall of those who reject Him but the cause of the rising of those who trust in Him. It all comes down to this: Jesus makes a claim—He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world; in Him alone is there forgiveness of sin, eternal life and heaven; I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me [Jn. 14.6]. That is an absolute claim that Jesus makes. Jesus is not saying that He is one of many, or one of a handful; He’s the only one. So confronted with His claim of being the Son of God and the only Savior of the world, we either accept it/ Him in faith, or we reject Him and His claims of who He is. The one who is not with me is against me. The one who does not gather with me scatters.
During this penitential and holy season of Lent, let us examine our hearts and lives. By our outward confession we are saying that we are with Jesus/ that we are gathering with Him. But as we look at our lives do we see the evidence of it? If we take it seriously that Jesus is who He says He—the Son of God and the only Savior of the world—is that being reflected in our lives? Is doing His will always our main desire/ goal? Or do I do what I want and only later, perhaps as an after-thought, do I give thought to Jesus and His will? Is He always front and center in my life? Or do I look to Him only when I’m in trouble? Do I relegate Jesus to an hour or so each week and live “my” life how “I want” the rest of the time? Do I seek Jesus out throughout the day in prayer? Do I earnestly desire to hear Him speaking to me in His holy word and do I study that word? You see, being with Jesus and gathering with Him is more than mere lip service. It involves our whole self and being. If we believe Jesus’ claims of being the true God and only Savior of the world are true, then our whole lives are radically altered. The one who is not with me is against me. The one who does not gather with me scatters. Certainly something worthy of our Lenten pondering and self-examination.
Our text is utterly fascinating. In it we find Jesus doing a great miracle—casting a demon out of a man. It was an open, obvious miracle for all to see. But what was the reaction of the crowd? And the crowds were amazed. You have those whose thoughts and reflections went no further than seeing something “really cool”; Luther would describe it as “like a cow looking at a new gate.” Despite the evidence right before their eyes, there were those who rejected this miracle. They said that Jesus was in league with the devil: But some of them said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” And then you had others who thought this wasn’t enough of a sign/ miracle. Others were testing him by demanding of him a sign from heaven. In His rebuking and correcting the crowd, Jesus shows the foolishness of unbelief; that unbelief has no basis; that His claims of who He is are true. But [Jesus] knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed. And a house divided against itself falls. If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? You say that I drive out demons by Beelzebul…. Yet if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
As we ponder our text a bit this morning, we see a beautiful illustration of the truth of Jesus’ claims that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world as He builds His kingdom in the midst of and from the kingdom of the devil; we see the truth of what Jesus says [Mt. 16.18]: I will build My Church—and He does so by plundering the devil and his kingdom.
Our text begins: Jesus drove out a demon, which was mute. After the demon had gone out, the man who had been mute spoke. Here Jesus shows His power over the devil. This poor man had been possessed by a demon making him unable to speak. The devil had inflicted a great evil on this man. But at the simple word and presence of Jesus, the demon had to flee the man. In other words, the devil had to yield to Jesus and retreat in shame. And why? –Because Jesus is the true God and the long promised and only Savior of the world. Jesus is the promised Seed/ Descendant of the woman that God had promised Adam and Eve He would send to crush the head of the devil. Jesus announces with this miracle that He, the true God and also the Descendant of the woman was there and had begun His work of destroying/ undoing the work of the devil. Jesus Himself said of this miracle: Yet if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. With Jesus’ coming, the power of the devil is being overthrown. God has come in the Person of His Son, Jesus.
This is a glorious image of Jesus building His Church in the midst of and from the plundering of the devil’s kingdom. –And Jesus continues to do so today with us. That man possessed by a demon for all to see—that is the real life, visible expression of the truth that Jesus describes later on in our text: When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. What Jesus is describing is the world into which we are all born. When we are conceived and born, we are all conceived and born in sin; we are enemies of God, spiritually dead and blind; we are in the midst of the devil’s kingdom of sin, death and damnation. St. Paul describes the devil’s kingdom—and our part in it—this way [Eph. 2.1-3 AAT]: You, too, were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you once followed the ways of this present world and the ruler whose power is in the air, the spirit who is now working in the people who disobey. Among them all of us once lived in our fleshly lusts, doing what our flesh and mind wanted to so, and by nature we, like the others, were people with whom God was angry. The devil is that strong man, fully armed, guard[ing] his own house, his possessions are safe. And that’s how we all would be and remain—in the devil’s kingdom, in his clutches; just like the demon possessed man would have stayed demon possessed. But what? Jesus came on the scene: Jesus drove out a demon, which was mute. After the demon had gone out, the man who had been mute spoke. Jesus is the One who is stronger and can and does and did defeat the devil, the strong man. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks him and defeats him, he takes away that man’s full armor, in which he had trusted, and divides up his plunder. When Jesus cast out that demon, He showed to one and all—and to us today—that he had bound and conquered the devil and removed his armor. That’s what Jesus’ coming into the world meant as far as the devil is concerned—his kingdom would be plundered, that is, people would be rescued from sin, death and damnation. When we hear this miracle in today’s Gospel and hear of similar accounts throughout our Lord’s earthly ministry, let us be reminded that Jesus rescued us; that He has cast the devil’s kingdom out of our heart and has the kingdom of God come to us—the forgiveness of sin and life.
When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks him and defeats him… So how did Jesus, the stronger One attack and defeat the devil, the strong one? By weakness! By His suffering and death! What a glorious working of our Lord! The very God Himself did not come down from heaven in full display of all His divine majesty and might. Instead, He took on our humanity, was made man. He became like one of the very ones He would rescue. Although true God—evidenced, for example, by the miracle of our text—Jesus allowed Himself to suffer: He suffered as He took on our sins and was made sin; He suffered as He was rejected and condemned by the people; He suffered on the cross the wrath of God for the sins of the world. But it was precisely in this suffering that He, the Stronger One, defeated the strong one, the devil, who was guarding his house—the world—and his possessions—the souls of people. For when Jesus came, He suffered in holiness as He defeated all the attempts of the devil to lead Him into sin, to lead Him away from that perfect trust in His heaven Father; Jesus suffered as the sins of all were placed on Him on the cross and God’s wrath was turned and directed toward Him, the sin-bearer.
How did this suffering of the Stronger One defeat the devil, the strong one? By living that holy life in perfect accord with the holy will and Law of God, Jesus did that for us, as our Substitute. Where we sin and do not live according to God’s holy Law, Jesus has already done so and His perfect keeping is credited to us. But what about the sins we commit? They have already been punished—in Jesus on the cross. God’s holy wrath has been stilled. That’s what Easter morning shows us—Jesus’ sacrifice has been accepted and now sinful humanity has been reconciled to the holy God; we are at peace with Him—our sins are forgiven us.
So with the forgiveness of sins given us and Jesus’ perfect holiness credited to us, what claim does the devil have on us? None! In and by His suffering and weakness, Jesus showed Himself to be the Stronger man defeating and plundering. The devil is a defeated enemy. His armor is taken away and he is reduced to utter subjection and helplessness. Now, Jesus gathers His Church, builds His kingdom from those plundered out of the devil’s kingdom.
Jesus also uses weakness to build His kingdom and take His plunder out of the devil’s kingdom. That’s because Jesus uses His holy word and sacraments, which appear so weak and which are so easily rejected, to build and to strengthen His kingdom, His Church, His dear Christians. But let us look again at the miracle of our text: Jesus drove out a demon, which was mute. After the demon had gone out, the man who had been mute spoke. Jesus looked and seemed and was lowly and weak but what? He is the almighty God! He spoke as almighty God and the devil had to give way. It is the same way with His word and sacraments. They look all lowly and weak but they have divine power. And by the word and baptism the Lord tears us out of the devil’s kingdom and places us into His kingdom, the Church. Just like the demon possessed man couldn’t get rid of the demon himself, so we cannot by our own get ourselves out of the devil’s kingdom. That’s why Jesus has to come to us in His holy word and sacrament. By the Holy Spirit at work in them He brings us to faith. By His divine almighty power, He creates and sustains faith in His dear Christians.
Even as Christians now, rescued, plundered out of the devil’s kingdom, enjoying the gifts and graces of God in His Church, we still need the almighty power of God’s working in the word and sacrament because the devil is always trying to draw us back into his kingdom by destroying our faith–and in fact, the devil and his allies are still surrounding us and you know they are up to no good for us. It is not too late this Lent to begin a more fervent reading and study of Scripture, a more faithful attendance at church and at the Blessed Sacrament and to implore the Lord in prayer more ardently. Jesus builds His kingdom, the Church, out of the destroyed kingdom of the devil. He has plundered us from it. Praise be our gracious and almighty Lord! As St. Paul concludes our epistle: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. INJ