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Filled with the Word

March 15, 2020
By Rev. James Barton

The whole Lenten season is intended to help us prepare for the suffering and death of Jesus and what that means for us. But our services and Scriptures also remind us that, not just at the cross, but all through His life and ministry, Jesus was struggling and experiencing suffering and being misunderstood and being challenged and sometimes being accused of being downright evil Himself. None of it was easy - and our gospel lesson for today is a prime example.

Jesus had just done another of His great miracles. “Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke” (Luke 11:14). You would think that all the people would be thankful and rejoicing in Jesus, because Jesus had freed this man from an evil spirit controlling him, and the man was normal again and could speak again. Instead, we hear that “people marveled” (v.14) - which may simply mean that they were asking, “How could that guy do that?” - kind of like people watch magicians today and wonder how they do their tricks. Certainly, many of the crowds later on deserted Jesus, no matter what they had seen from Him.

We also hear that “others, to test Jesus, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven” (v.16). They wanted something more and something better from Jesus. He never had done enough, in their minds, even though He was doing exactly what was prophesied in the Old Testament for the Messiah, the promised Savior, to do. In Isaiah 35, in the Old Testament, we hear this prophecy, “Behold, your God will come … He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute (the one who could not speak) will sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:4-6).

And others, seeing the miracle of Jesus, even accused Jesus of pure evil, of being on the side of the devil, and working by the devil’s power. “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (v. 15). They were using an Old Testament derogatory term connecting Jesus with the Lord of evil, “the Lord of the flies,” the devil. But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said to them, in effect, “Does what you are saying make any sense?” “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (v.17-18) But Satan is not divided, Jesus says. Satan is like “a strong man, fully armed,” working relentlessly against God and against all that is good (v.21).

That is the way it has been, in this world, ever since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. There are the three great enemies: 1) the devil and his fallen angels, the demons; 2) the now fallen, sinful world; (this includes the fallen natural world, which produces viruses and diseases and physical ills that are so hard to deal with - and falling stock markets and so much else - and a fallen people and culture all around us, that want to lead us in bad directions); and, 3) we have our own sinful nature, that part of us that just doesn’t want to do the right things we know we should be doing.

It is no wonder, then, that Jesus faced so much trouble and opposition all His life. And it is no surprise that many of us are probably listening here today very uneasy about all the chaos that is going on around us, these days, and with uncertainty about what we should be doing.

And Jesus tosses one more warning and concern into our text, as well. He pictures us as being a house - and if we are left on our own, we are like an empty house. Even if we could get rid of some evil or problem in our lives, left on our own, something even more evil could move into our empty house and make things worse (v.24-26). If a vaccine for Covid-19 is found and this disease becomes under control, over time some other virus or problem might appear, as we have seen with MERS and SARS and Ebola and on and on. Or say that we are struggling with a personal moral issue, something that is not good for us, and we finally are able to deal with that issue. Aren’t there other moral issues we still need to deal with? And don’t new temptations also come along?

We need help from outside ourselves, and the good news of our text is that there is help for us. Satan is a strongman, but one stronger than he comes and attacks and overcomes, and that stronger man is Jesus Himself. Jesus never did any evil at all. He never cooperated with Satan. He says, “It is by the finger of God that I cast out demons” and do all that I do - and that means, He says, that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (v. 20-21).

The term “finger of God” is an Old Testament term for how God did the miracles by which He rescued His people from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 8:16-19) and wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Exodus 31:18) and even created the heavens (Psalm 8:3-4). It was entirely by the power of God - not by Moses or anyone else. It was, the Book of Genesis tells us, by the simple Word of God, “Let there be ...” and the universe came into being, as easy for God as the flick of a finger (Genesis 1).

This one true God has now sent His own Son into this world to deal with the problem of sin and evil that plagues this once perfect creation. And according to the plan of God, His Son had to become a real human being, who would live in this troubled world as we do and suffer and struggle and be tempted as we are and yet, in our place, never sin and do evil Himself. And in that process He would battle Satan himself and break his power and overcome him and all the forces of evil.

Though He was also God, Jesus lived as a true man, and much of the time, limited His power to the same spiritual power that we have still today - “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Remember how Jesus battled Satan’s temptations in the wilderness? He simply trusted God’s Word and quoted it and followed it, and Satan had to retreat (Matthew 4:1-11). And even during Holy Week, Jesus said that He could have called 12 legions of angels (72,000 angels) to help Him; but instead, He simply trusted His heavenly Father’s Word and will, and lived and died by the Word, even though it meant the cross, to pay for our sins and bring us salvation (Matthew 26:52-54).

In His death, it looked as if Jesus had been defeated and done away with by Satan and an evil world. In reality, it was Jesus who had won the victory, as shown by His mighty resurrection. Even death could not hold Him, and in Him and His Word come forgiveness and hope and eternal life for us who trust that Word by faith (Hebrews 2:14-18, 4:14-16). And even after His resurrection, Jesus spent much of His time, not doing miracles (the Easter miracle of the resurrection was enough!) but teaching the disciples more of God’s Word. Later in His gospel, Luke tells us, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

That is what we all need, still today - that our empty selves, left on our own, be continually filled with the words and promises of the Scriptures. Jesus Himself emphasized this at the end of our text for today.

A woman, hearing Jesus, raised her voice and said, “Blessed is the woman who gave birth to you and nourished you” (Luke 11:27). In response, Jesus used a word that means “Yes, but” - “Yes, with a correction.” Yes, Mary was blessed to be the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:28, 42), but Mary was not the important one. She needed Jesus and His Word and work for her above everything else, as we all do. Luke tells us that “Mary treasured up all that she had seen and heard, pondering these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19). That is how she was blessed and could say, “Let it be to me according to Your Word” and “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:38, 46). Mary too was a sinner who needed a Savior.

And so, Jesus says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it” - literally, “blessed are those who keep on hearing the Word and are guarding it,” knowing how precious and important it is for us, always (Luke 11:28). That is why the Word of God is called, in our catechism, a “Means of Grace” - a pipeline through which God continually fills our lives with His Word and gifts and blessing. All this comes along with the Word connected with water, in baptism, and the Word connected with bread and wine, in the Lord’s Supper. Blessed are those who hear and use that Word regularly.

And Jesus said, on another occasion, “If you continue in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). That means that what we see right now is not all that is going on. We are free to live with hope in this chaotic world, not having all the answers, but led and helped by Jesus and His truth. We are also free to live in confidence that the kingdom of God really has come upon us in Jesus and that our eternal future is secure in Him who has forgiven and saved us. We know that there will come a time when in heaven nothing will trouble us, including Covid-19 or any other difficulty. There will only be peace and joy, and in the meantime, we will have strength to carry on, guided by Jesus and His Word.

One last thought. Jesus also says, in this text, that there is no neutral ground with Him and His Word. He says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23). We are with Christ, we do try to gather to receive His Word, and we are richly blessed. We also know how strange it seems at this unusual time not to be able to gather around Word and Sacrament.

But think of how many people around us are more like empty boxes, still without Christ and His hope. They think it is strange even to have a National Day of Prayer and question its values and the importance of God and His Word. We cannot convert anyone, only God can. But we can try, when we have the chance again, to invite people to worship and Bible class and Sunday school and other places where the Word of God is heard. We can tell people, by Word and deed, how important the Lord is for us.

There are people here at St. James who tell me often about others they care about and are praying for and trying to reach out to. They maybe haven’t gotten too far, but they keep trying. And more of us could do the same, through Christ and His Word at work in us. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes through the Word of God” (Romans 10:14, 17). Amen.