Lent is when the Church emphasizes spiritual warfare. The first Sunday recounts Our Lord’s fasting and temptation by Satan in the desert. This Sunday has Him casting out a demon and being accused of being in league with Satan. The Pharisee’s charge wasn’t quite as far off base as it sounds. There are only two options: either Jesus was casting out demons by the finger of God or He was doing it by the the power of the devil.
The pharisees say “Beelzebub” which was the name of an idol. Jesus cuts to the chase and calls him “Satan.” There are no other gods, no other ways. If you don’t worship Jesus you worship the devil. So even though the Pharisees were wrong, even though they accused Jesus of casting out demons by Satan, at least they realized what was at stake, what the options were, more than we who often like to play the middle road.
We have so often played the mild-mannered, timid Christian, more distressed about recycling than life, more concerned about the cancelation of the NCAA, NBA, NHL, and delay of the baseball season than the reality that so many regularly abandon, cancel, and delay the receiving of God’s Word and the Sacraments on a weekly basis. Even in the midst of seeming chaos and pandemics we’ve nearly forgotten what is real and what matters. We’ve preferred the good opinion of our neighbors to their salvation.
This week has brought havoc upon our world. Thousands have died from influenza these months, COVID-19 threatens and most of the world, our nation, our community, our economy, and our lives have been driven to fear.
This is what Satan does, he divides the house, he will separate the world in as many slices as needed in an effort to cut into Christ’s people. He has done so repeatedly. In the height of prosperity the devil puffs people (and even churches) up in pride, looking to themselves, and then in the midst of adversity he sinks people into fear and despair. Satan would even have people, even religious people, be driven to fear things of the world more than trust in God and even attempt to turn the tables and call our Lord evil.
Our Lord suffered demonic attacks in the desert and throughout His Ministry. Christians also suffer demonic attacks. We don’t always recognize them. The demons come with all manner of sin, not merely Satanic arts and overt evil, but also with gossip, drunkenness, evil thoughts, hatred in our hearts, and greed. More and more however is the division of the house, the dividing of hearts that seeks worldly success, athletic glory, political gain, and makes use of the use of family members to divide hearts away from the Gospel, walking in darkness even while claiming to be children of light.
Demons need to be driven away. Let us not forget that Satan entered one of the Twelve and Jesus was betrayed with a kiss. Be aware. Be careful.
But do not despair. Do not be afraid. If there were no enemy, there would be no conflict. If there were no conflict, there would be no victory. There is an enemy, there is conflict, and there is victory. This is where the Lenten season leads us, into the heart of the conflict, into the heat of battle. Influenza, COVID-19, cancer, and bitterness are serious concerns but they are mere symptoms of our greater problem and just pictures of the greater conflict. Death is our enemy and we are following Jesus this Lenten season to His death. The casting of demons was just a sign and the start of it all.
Jesus entered into flesh for this reason, to take on death, to endure all of Hell’s fury. Jesus drew all their hatred, all their violence, and all God’s wrath into Himself. And in the heat of battle, Satan is spent. He used everything he had to kill Jesus on the cross. He has no more accusations. The blood of Jesus fills Satan’s and his demons mouths, shuts them up, and you are declared innocent and holy. You are pardoned. Your sins driven away, washed by the blood of the Lamb. You are forgiven and welcomed as the rightful heir, a child of God, and beloved of the Father.
Yet, the devil is obviously strong. He has great power. He is ruthless, and also clever. But Jesus is stronger. He exercises His strength not with spectacular power, violence, or deceptions, but instead He submits to all the devil has. He lets the devil do his worst, bring his full power to bear, and He turns the other cheek. He uses Satan’s strength against him. It is not a surprise. It is exactly what was prophesied. The devil knew. He quoted the Word of God in the desert. But in the end, he was a fool who could not resist the chance to kill God even though this is how he lost humanity. Jesus did not use not evil disguised as good, that is the way of the devil. Jesus used good disguised as evil. The unjust death He died, the innocent for the guilty, is good. His crown of thorns, His bloody arms and legs, His dying thirst are good. The centurion’s conversion and the repentant thief are good. The death of Jesus appeared evil but is the ultimate and greatest good.
The strong man’s strength is no more. The Lord infiltrated the enemy’s camp. He destroyed death from behind enemy lines. The strong man is out-maneuvered by the Stronger Man whose strength is not hatred and rage but love and mercy. The war is over. Satan is defeated. Jesus is the Victor.
As temptation arises, as fear ensues, as life seems overwhelming, we turn to this Strong Man who has defeated the Devil and left him unarmed. But still Satan lashes out in a frenzy, like a drowning man seeking to drag everyone down with him. We see it in viruses, terrorism, and daily seemingly small things that compound. We are tempted to lash back and fight on our own, but He is conquered in our life by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. The unclean spirits must be replaced with the Holy Spirit. And those who have the Holy Spirit hear the Word of God and keep it and are thereby blessed.
The deaf will hear God’s Word. You will hear God’s Word. The blind will see His grace. You will see His grace. And the mute will sing His praise. That means you. And, finally, the demons will be sent packing and you will be free, free to sing, to thank, and to praise.
So, in the midst of chaos, in the midst of fear, in the midst of anger and even while being despised Jesus says to you, “Do not be afraid. Peace be with you. The demons cannot have you. I have died for you. You have a voice to sing, with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. I have given you a mouth to eat and drink. Eat My Body. Drink My Blood. Take the Cup of the Salvation. Call upon Me.” He joins you to Himself in resurrection glory. It is His love for you and a foretaste of things to come. Blessed are you, children of Light, forgiven as unclean spirits are removed and as the Kingdom of God comes upon you, poured over you in your baptism, and you are filled with the Holy Spirit. Peace be with you. Amen.