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Click here for this Sunday’s bulletin:  Third Sunday in Lent

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” 16Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

21 “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.

23“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.

24 “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ 25 When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 26Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

27As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11.14-28 niv84)

Imagine that you’re in jail. You’re guilty, and you know your sentence will not be commuted. You’re doomed to stare at the same four walls for years — more than one life sentence. One day you’re lying on your bunk, staring at the ceiling, when the door to your cell opens. The warden ushers in a man you’ve never seen before, and announces, “You’re free to go. This man has volunteered to take your place.” What would you feel at that moment?

Jesus has done the same thing for us. We were in a lot worse situation than those inmates. Ever since the Fall into sin we were under the power and control of the devil, subject to him with no will of our own. Satan is the strong man who held us prisoner, and there was nothing we could do about it. We were unable to resist or fight back. The devil had armed himself to the teeth with lies, evil desires, sin, and death. He owned us, lock, stock, and barrel. There was no way we were going to be free of him on our own. We were trapped by our evil desires, dead in our sins, afraid of God’s judgment that we knew was coming and with no way out. Sin weakened us fatally. It isolated us from each other, and from God. We might try to run, but the devil knew the power of sin. He always knew how to keep us scared or guilty and beholden to him. All he had to do was lay out another trap for us. We’d blunder right into it and be worse off than before. There was no escape.

Then Jesus declared war on the devil. He took the fight to Satan and Satan lost. Christ beat down Satan’s front door like a SWAT team. He invaded the devil’s fortress and set the prisoners free – He set us free. The lies of the devil evaporated in the blinding light of God’s truth. Jesus took the sins on Himself that the devil loved to load us down with and He paid for them. By dying for sins He didn’t commit, Jesus set us free from the sins we do commit. He wiped them out with His own blood. So that we could be new creations in Him, Jesus cut us off from our sinful, condemned past. He made us new by raising us to life through our baptisms, that we might not live in slavery to the devil but in willing service to God. The last enemy to be destroyed is death, so Christ rose from the dead to break death’s power once and for all. He set us free from death, and from the fear of death.

Now everything the devil counted on to keep us his slaves is gone. All his weapons and armor, all the lies and temptations he used on us, all the sins he led us into, the death we were supposed to die – Christ has taken them all away. The devil is the strong man who’d held us prisoner, but Christ is stronger than the devil and He has set us free.

St. Paul describes what life is like for us now after Christ has set us free. We are the spoils, the plunder, that Jesus took from the devil. Paul refers to this in Ephesians chapter 4: “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.’ (What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended into the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Jesus set us free to be one people for Him. We belong to Him. We are His Body now. A little before this in Ephesians Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” We have everything that matters in common. Jesus has set us free and united us in Him.

That’s what a lot of people in Jesus’ day didn’t get. Here they accused Him of driving out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, which is a perverse thing to say. They said He was in league with the devil. That’s a pretty serious charge to make. Other people wanted Him to give more proof of who He was – as if driving out demons wasn’t enough proof. Jesus showed them logically that what they thought was wrong. He said, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?” What He’s saying is that even if He drove out devils by Satan’s doing – which He didn’t – that still would mean that Satan was defeated and about to fall. No, Jesus says, you can believe your eyes. I really did drive out those demons. It means exactly what it looks like. Satan’s on the defensive and about to go down. “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”

It’s still true that a house divided against itself will fall. Satan knows that, and that’s why he tries to get us to fight, squabble, bicker, and talk behind each other’s backs. If we’re not united in Christ, we will be an easy target for the devil. In the Sixties there was a slogan: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” That’s exactly what Jesus says here: “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” If you’re not actively working to build up your fellow believers for Christ, then you’re scattering for the devil.

You may be tempted to say, “Wait a minute, Pastor. I don’t think things are all that bad. They’re actually pretty peaceful around here.” Look at verse 21 again: “When a strong man, fully armed,  guards his own house, his possessions are safe.” There are two kinds of peace: God’s peace, and the devil’s peace. God’s peace comes from being one with God through faith in Christ and one with each other in love. The devil’s peace is a strange sort of peace. Nobody’s arguing or bickering, at least not very loudly, but we’re also not talking to each other either. Many times we split ourselves up into isolated little cliques, unwilling to fellowship with our fellow Christians. That might look like peace when everybody has their own little set of friends and their own list of people they don’t like, people they talk to and people they don’t talk to, but it’s not true peace. When everybody stays in their little groups and certain people don’t get along with certain people, that falls far short of all of us being one Body with Christ as our common Head. The devil’s dream is to turn the church into factions and little groups, because then he can get those little groups to argue with other little groups, and to argue amongst themselves, and then they split apart, there are hard feelings, people hold grudges, and before long what happens to Christ and the gospel? They’re clean forgotten. They go straight out the window. Satan has been running this play on the Christian church for a long, long time. Why do you think there are so many different church bodies in the world? People are unwilling to live together under God’s Word, so they split apart. Lack of unity is the devil’s work. Disunity is a tool of Satan.

We’ve come a long way in the area of unity, but we’ve also got a long way to go, too – especially since the devil never quits. He knows what’s he’s accomplished here once, so you can bet your life he’s going to try it again, and again, and again. Jesus warns us of the same thing: “When the evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

When my wife and I lived in Milwaukee, we rented an apartment for a year in a sketchier part of town. Every so often – and this happened a number of times that I can remember — we’d be sitting on the couch in the evening watching TV and we’d hear footsteps in the hallway of our apartment building. We didn’t pay any attention until we heard someone trying to open the door to our apartment. They tried the knob just on the off chance that it might be open and there might be something worth stealing in our apartment, and then when it didn’t open they wandered away. I’d get off the couch and look down the hall, and there’d be no one there. Whoever it was just tried the knob, and our door was always locked. But I’m sure they found some apartments that weren’t, and then they could get in to do their mischief. The devil works the same way. He’s always constantly trying the knob – trying to see if he can get in. He’s always trying to sow tares among the wheat, and discord among God’s people. If he doesn’t succeed this time, he comes back again later and maybe then he’ll succeed.

We keep him out by filling up on God’s Word. We fill our hearts and our lips with it. We fill our marriages and our homes with it by praying it, singing it, talking about it, thinking about it. Let’s fill this house with God’s Word, and keep filling it, because we are God’s house, God’s building – built together to become a dwelling where God lives by His Spirit forever. Then we will be one, and we will be free. Amen.

 

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