Plundered by the Stronger One

Sermon for Oculi based on Luke 11:14-28

Dear temple of the Holy Spirit: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The world is mad. It calls good evil and evil good. Jesus’ wonderful works are thus attributed to the devil, saying that He casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

This is not the only accusation Jesus suffered. He was accused of being out of His mind by His own family (Mark 3:21). He was accused of being a Sabbath-breaker (John 5:18), of leading the people astray (John 7:12), of having a demon (John 7:20), of being a liar (John 8:13), of being a sinner (John 9:24), of being insane (John 10:20), of being a blasphemer (John 10:33), and an evildoer (John 18:30).

Jesus shows how all these accusations, and especially the accusation that He is in league with Satan, are completely false. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided house falls. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?”

It is Satan who leads people astray. He is the liar, blasphemer, and evildoer. It is the devil who seeks to harm us and hurt us, as he hurt the poor man by making him mute. If Jesus was doing miraculous signs by the power of Satan, He would be doing the same things as Satan.

Yet Jesus shows He does everything exactly the opposite of Satan. Where Satan sends a demon to cause muteness, Jesus casts out the demon and loosens the man’s tongue. Where Satan causes suffering, temptation, and affliction, Jesus comforts, heals, and strengthens. Where the devil accuses, Jesus forgives.

Satan is the strong man. We are the goods that he guards, fully armed. The stronger one who attacks him and takes his spoil is Jesus. Jesus takes his armour away in which he trusts and saves us from captivity.

What is this armour in which Satan trusts? It is none other than the Law of God. He trusts that all mankind will belong to him eternally because the Law of God accuses us of every vile sin and wickedness. He thinks this armour is impenetrable because we are all guilty.

Satan saw firsthand what happens to lawbreakers. Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and though they were created to live forever, they died. The devil had seen God destroy the world with a flood. He had seen God rain fire and brimstone on the sexually immoral in Sodom and Gomorrah, send plagues on the Egyptians, and even overthrow His own people in the wilderness for their grumbling. He thought he had us as his prey, safe behind the armour of God’s Law which he trusted would make us all his.

But the stronger one came and attacked him and took away his armour in which he trusted. Jesus took away the accusations of the Law by being found guilty Himself. He doesn’t come to us in wrath and fury, but in mercy and forgiveness. The Law which Satan thought would condemn us all, instead condemned Jesus – the righteous dying for the unrighteous. The devil cannot hold us captive in our sin since Jesus has forgiven our sin. Jesus defeated Satan with love and mercy shown to us, and He has plundered us from the devil’s house. Demons are cast out and mute men speak.

Then follows a warning. There are no neutral parties. You are either with Jesus or you are with the devil. Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

Whoever is indifferent or tries to be neutral will belong to Satan. Man is pictured as a house that needs an occupant. If the Spirit of God does not fill you, Satan will return with an even greater force. Jesus says, “When an 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.”

The Word of God teaches us that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own (From the rite of Holy Baptism, LSB p. 268). Therefore Christ instituted Baptism to claim us as His own, to make us His disciples, and to give us the Holy Spirit. There is no neutrality. In Baptism, Christ snatches us from the devil and makes us His own.

One who forsakes his Baptism, walks away from God’s Word, and thinks he is going to be neutral will be found by the demons to be a house swept and put in order, and without an occupant. Even more evil demons will come to roost and the last state of that person is worse than the first.

The same could be said of churches, families, even our country. Either God fills them, or Satan fills them. As church attendance in the western world drops off, Christianity is not leaving a void, because that void is being filled by the devil with his religions. This is why every doctrine that is false must be held as demonic and from Satan, even if it is a Christian that has been misled by the false teaching. There is no neutrality in spiritual matters.

For this reason, God gives us His Holy Spirit in Baptism to occupy us. We are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in us. He grants us faith. He works repentance in us so that we turn away from sin. He creates good works in us. He renews our spirit, will, attitude, and desires so that we strive to overcome sin and do good works.

The Holy Spirit fills our hearts so that there is no room for the devil or his demon hordes. The Spirit fights against every demonic attack and keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

Crying for Mercy

Sermon for Reminiscere based on Matthew 15:21-28

Dear people crying for mercy: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus did not answer her a word. The Canaanite woman begged for help for her daughter. She knew she had come to the only one who could help. She had heard of His healing of others. She had heard that He is kind and loving; that He is full of compassion and pity. She knew He had the power to help, so she cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word.

When we experience silence from God in response to our prayers, our flesh responds with thinking that what we have heard about Christ must not be true. The flesh grows impatient when things go wrong. The flesh trusts what it sees and feels, but does not trust the Word of God.

The Canaanite woman would not believe that Christ did not hear her. She would not believe that He would forever remain silent. She would not believe that He would refuse to help her or deal harshly with her. His silence did not drive her away. She continued to beg Jesus for mercy.

The disciples got embarrassed. They were probably confused. Why is Jesus not helping this poor woman? Why is He not even answering her? He’s been teaching us, “Ask, and it will be given to you,” (Matt. 7:7) but here is this woman asking and Jesus is not giving. He’s just ignoring her.

Then she started to call after them. The disciples are perhaps embarrassed for her. She seems so pathetic. She’s being ignored and everyone can see it, but she’s still crying out for help. So the disciples ask Jesus to send her away. What good does it do anyone to have this public spectacle as they travel along their way? If Jesus is not going to help or even respond, why should she keep calling after them? If He is going to help, then do it already so that she will stop calling after them!

Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So, the woman got a response, but it went from bad to worse. She called Him the Son of David, acknowledging Him as the promised Saviour of the world, and when He finally responded to her, He said that He did not come for anyone except the house of Israel. She has no right to expect help from Him.

The Canaanite woman did not claim the right to expect help. She fell down before Jesus and begged Him, “Lord, help me!” She knew that He could help her. There is no one else who could help. She had no right to expect help, but she still believed that He would help. She believed that He is merciful.

Still, it only got worse. Jesus responded, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The bread which belongs to the children of Israel is for them to eat. It is not for the unclean Gentiles, like her.

Where all we hear is insult, she hears hope. Where we hear no, her faith hears yes. She is not a child of Israel, but she belongs in the house. Even the dogs get fed in their master’s house. It may be scraps that fall from the children, but that was enough for her.

She was unclean. She was sinful. She was unworthy. She did not present her prayer to Jesus based on her cleanness, sinlessness, or worthiness. She presented her prayer based on Jesus’ mercy and compassion. She knew that with Jesus, there is no shortage of bread. The children can all eat enough, and there will still be some for her. She was content with the crumbs from the floor, knowing that even they would satisfy her; that they would be more than enough.

Jesus did come to save the lost house of Israel, but He also came to save the whole lost world. He came to save you.

He came to save you from your uncleanness. He came to save you from your sin. He came to save you in spite of your unworthiness. Jesus’ death in your place covers your uncleanness, sin, and unworthiness. He doesn’t just give you crumbs on the floor. He doesn’t just give you bread for children, but He gives you Himself, His risen body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Jesus’ forgiveness is not finite. It is infinite. It doesn’t run out. He is the Bread of Life. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever (John 6:51).

Your uncleanness, sin, and unworthiness will not prevent Jesus from hearing your cries for mercy or your prayers. Repent of your sins and throw yourself upon the mercy of Christ. He is merciful. You know that He is merciful because He has had mercy on you. Instead of punishing you for your sins as you deserve, He took your sins on Himself. He suffered and died for your sins. He has saved you eternally and you have no punishment waiting for you when you die from this life.

Since Christ has earned eternal life for you, do you think He will withhold lesser things from you? After grief, He will give relief. He will strengthen your faith through the trials of this life even if you experience it as silence, insult, or harshness. Throw yourself upon His mercy. He will bring you through it all to the joys of eternal life.

Yet even though I suffer The world’s unpleasantness,

And though the days grow rougher And bring me great distress,

That day of bliss divine, Which knows no end or measure,

And Christ who is my pleasure, Forever shall be mine. (LSB 713 st. 6) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

The Great Battle between Good and Evil

Sermon for Invocavit based on Matthew 4:1-11

Dear tempted believers: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our Gospel lesson tells us of a powerful battle between two opposites: the Son of God and the devil; the Prince of Life and the prince of this world. One is the Author and founder of life and truth, the other the author and founder of lies and death, and all unhappiness.

Jesus, the author of life and truth, desires only everything that is for your good. Satan, the author of death and lies, desires only everything that is harmful for you. The question is, to whom will you listen?

Jesus speaks to you in His Word. To learn what is for your good, read the Bible. When the devil tempts you through the world and the flesh, you can do no better than to fight back with the Word of God.

That’s what Jesus did. He is God in the flesh and He fought the devil by quoting holy Scripture. Do you think you have a better weapon against the devil? Do you think you are wiser than Jesus and can fight temptation better than Him? Then don’t rely on your own wisdom and use the same weapon against the devil that Jesus used.

The devil attacks you with temptations of the flesh. He promises to give you what God won’t. He promises that what he gives you is better than what God gives you.

Our bodies need to be fed. We need to make a living. Money doesn’t grow on trees. We need to work, save, invest, and secure our future. If we won’t, who will? But the Bible says that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

We need God’s Word more than we need to make money. We need God’s Word more than we need to provide for our bodily needs. Jesus teaches us to pray seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. Six of the seven pray for spiritual benefits. Only one out of seven pertains to bodily needs.

Why do we place our bodily needs before our spiritual needs? Do we think that God who has, by His Word, forgiven us all our sins and promised us eternal life, will forget that we need food, clothing, shelter, and every other bodily need? Jesus, who had the power to change stones into bread, did not do so. Learn from Jesus what you need the most. He said, “Seek first, the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

The devil attacks us by temptations of the world. He told the Son of God to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple, appealing to the promise of the Bible that God’s angels would keep Him safe. But to believe the Bible is not to put God to the test. God is in charge. We are not.

The religions spawned by the world don’t acknowledge this. They insist that we are in charge of God. Do this and then God will do that. Here’s the formula. Follow it, and see if God won’t bless you! Here are the instructions. Do what they say and God won’t be able to deny you. Leap out in faith and surely God will catch you!

Ah, but faith is no leap. Faith doesn’t test God. Faith requires from God no display of power and might that will impress the world. Jesus did not throw Himself down. He meekly permitted Himself to be lifted up and there on the cross He draws us to Himself. There, where the world turns away in horror and disgust, Jesus bears our sins and keeps the promise God gave us.

The Word of God is our defence against Satan. Guess what that means? Where do you think the devil does not want you to be? In a church where you hear the Word of God in its truth and purity. What does he not want you to read when you’re at home? The Bible. Guess what he does not want you to memorize? Passages of holy Scripture. He wants you disarmed so that you will be defenseless and hopeless and helpless when he comes with his alluring promises and temptations. He wants you to flee to your thoughts and feelings when temptations of world and flesh abound.

If you are going to go to church, the devil wants you to go to one that does not cling to every word that comes out of the mouth of God. He wants you to ask, “Did God really say?” He wants to convince you that every doctrine taught in the Bible isn’t so important. It is silly to strictly go by what the Bible says. A church is a church. Choose one that strikes your fancy. It doesn’t matter where you go along as you go. So the devil wants you to believe.

But that’s not true. It matters very much where you go to church. If you attend a church that promotes error you will learn error. You may begin to trust in it, rely upon it, be misled by it, and suffer spiritual harm. False teaching hurts you. It is very bad for you.

“It is written,” Jesus says. “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Every word! Go to church faithfully and go to an orthodox church, that is, a church that teaches God’s Word rightly. If you go to a heterodox church, that is, a church that teaches differently than the Bible teaches, you may be damaged. False doctrine poisons the soul. Jesus said that God sanctifies us in His truth. False teaching sanctifies no one.

If a church denies that God gives us forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Christ’s sacraments, it is a heterodox church. It teaches differently than the Bible teaches. If a church teaches that Adam and Eve may have never existed, and that the Bible contains errors on matters of history, and that what the Bible says about women not preaching in the church doesn’t apply today, and that what the Bible says about homosexual conduct doesn’t apply today, it is a heterodox church. It teaches differently than the Bible teaches. If a church teaches that your good works help get you to heaven, it is a heterodox church. It teaches differently than the Bible teaches. Heterodoxy hurts you. We don’t preach against heterodoxy because we hate those who suffer under it. It is because we love them. God wants us to live on every word that comes from his mouth. It is love that holds to the truth.

The devil is the author of all false teachings. He even quotes God’s Word as he did when tempting Jesus. But he twists it. He misapplies it. He misinterprets it. Then he promises you something better than what God has given you.

Jesus did not fall into temptation. He fought the devil with the Word of God and He won. Jesus overcame the evil one. Adam and Eve, our first parents, were not able. We are not able. It took Jesus to overcome Satan.

Death is how Satan tried to defeat Jesus, but it was by His death through which Jesus defeated Satan. In His death, Jesus took all our sins upon Himself. As He took our place under temptation, so He took our place under judgment and punishment. He was judged and punished for our sins. He suffered and died for every temptation into which we have fallen. He died for every time we have listened to the voice of the devil, followed the desires of the world, or given in to our sinful flesh. Jesus died to defeat our enemy, Satan, and render him powerless against us.

Though devils all the world should fill,

All eager to devour us,

We tremble not, we fear no ill;

They shall not overpow’r us.

This world’s prince may still

Scowl fierce as he will,

He can harm us none.

He’s judged; the deed is done.

One little word can fell him.

Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

[This sermon is based on two sermons by Rev. Rolf Preus and a sermon by Rev. John Arndt.]

 

What the Prophets Foretold

Sermon for Quinquagesima based on Luke 18:31-43

Dear saints calling to Jesus for mercy: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus foretold His suffering and death on multiple occasions to His disciples. He clearly and specifically told them what must happen to Him in Jerusalem. This should not have been news to them. It is the same thing the prophets had preached and written for thousands of years. It is the same thing that was preached in the synagogues and wherever the Word of God was read.

Jesus told them on this occasion, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”

The disciples understood none of these things. The disciples were content to follow a great teacher and miracle worker. They could not see Him as a sacrifice.

The blind man could see what the disciples could not. Mark provides his name to us: Bartimaeus. Blind Bartimaeus called out to Jesus for mercy. He prayed for Jesus to have pity on him and show him compassion because He is the Son of David – the Son promised to David who would reign forever (cf. II Sam. 7).

To Bartimaeus, Jesus was not just a great teacher and miracle worker. He was the promised Saviour of the world, the eternal king who reigns in grace and mercy, the Son of David on His way to Jerusalem to be the sacrifice for sin.

Thus, Bartimaeus would not be hushed. Even as the crowds rebuked him and told him to shut up, he would not be deterred. He cried all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He didn’t care what the crowds thought of him. He didn’t care what the crowds said to him. He cared only for Jesus to have mercy on him.

Sin has infected all of us. It causes our behaviour to to be out of line with what is good and right. It causes evil words and wicked thoughts. It causes discontentment, anger, lust, jealousy, pride, and every other sinful desire.

Sin also causes ailments of body and mind. It is the cause of blindness. It is the cause of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and every illness of the body. It is the cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, and every illness of the mind. Thus, there really is no distinction between physical and mental infirmities and the affliction of sin which afflicts us all.

Bartimaeus believed that Jesus was his Saviour from sin, which meant that he believed that Jesus was his Saviour from all the effects of sin, including his blindness. When Jesus forgives sin, He also removes all the evil and harm that sin causes. We will not realize the removal of all evil and harm that sins causes until these bodies of ours that are corrupted by sin rise again, but Jesus forgives our sins now so that we have His promise to which we look forward.

This is why Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and this is what the prophets had foretold about Jesus. Through His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus restored all that was lost in Adam. He overthrew the devil, killed death, destroyed hell, opened heaven, and restored life again. He conquered sin and all the effects of sin, whether mental, physical, or spiritual.

By pointing to the writings of the prophets, Jesus shows also that the Gospel is not a new teaching. There has never been any way to be received by God except through the mercy of the Son of David. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not saved by their works, but by the mercy of God through the promised sacrifice for sin yet to come. So also we are not saved except by the mercy of the promised sacrifice for sin who has come and been sacrificed for our offences.

Jesus headed to Jerusalem willingly, even though He knew what would face Him there. The disciples did not understand why Jesus was going to Jerusalem or why He had to die. Jesus went to Jerusalem and died for them anyway. He suffered and died for those who did not understand His clear words and the words of the prophets predicting what would happen, and He saved them.

Afterward, they would understand. They would understand and take this good news of victory over sin to the ends of the earth. They followed in their Saviour’s footsteps, picking up their cross and following Him, which meant that they too would suffer for His name’s sake, and all but one be killed by those who hated Jesus.

Once their eyes were opened to who Jesus is, they too realized with Bartimaeus that nothing else matters as long as Jesus has mercy on them and gives them eternal life.

The world will act like the crowds acted to Bartimaeus. The world will tell you that you are wasting your time praying to Jesus. You’re not important enough for Him to help you. You’re just a poor, blind beggar on the side of the street. Be quiet. Of course, the crowds telling Bartimaeus to be quiet didn’t believe that Jesus was anything more than a good teacher, so they may even have suggested to him that Jesus cannot help him.

Jesus cast all this aside and called for Bartimaeus to be brought to Him. Jesus healed him and said, “Your faith has made you well.”

Despite what the world tells you, Jesus also calls you to Him. In Baptism He put His name on you. In Absolution He forgives your sin so that its effects will one day no longer afflict your mind, body, and soul. He gives you His body and blood to strengthen you to life everlasting.

Therefore, you will continue to call to your Saviour for mercy. You will continue to praise Him, glorify Him, and thank Him more emphatically, so long as He gives you breath. And He will continue to show mercy to you and take you to Himself, that where He is, you may be also. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.