“Jesus, the Stronger Man”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
St. Luke 11:18-23 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. 22 But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. 23 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… It is the way of the wicked to call what is good evil. This is quite obvious in today’s society where those who stand up for what is moral and right are often called extremist, closed-minded, and hateful. We see this also in the church where those who hold firmly to the truths of God’s Word are called unloving and legalistic. By doing so the wicked can portray themselves as good and noble and caring, while what is truly good and noble and compassionate is portrayed as something to avoid.
Today’s Gospel is a prime example. Jesus is doing something good; He is casting out a demon from a man and freeing him from this dark power. When the demon had gone out of the man, he was able to talk again. The crowd marveled at the wonderful thing that Jesus had done.
But there were some who hated Jesus and could not stand His goodness. And so they called good evil. They said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” In other words they were saying that the power Jesus has is from Satan, and they tried to raise suspicions in the minds of those who saw what He did.
By doing so, the ones who accused Jesus of being of the devil showed themselves to be of the devil, for the way of the devil is to plant doubt and to work against faith in Christ. And they further showed that they were in league with Satan by testing Jesus and asking for a sign from heaven which, you will recall, is exactly what the devil did in the wilderness when he asked Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple and let the angels catch Him. They already had a sign from Jesus in the casting out of the demon. But unbelief is like that; it always wants something more and something different than Jesus and what He gives.
Later Jesus would say to this same crowd that it is an evil generation which seeks a sign, which wants to walk by sight and not by faith, which trusts experiences and emotions more than Christ and His Word. Jesus said the only sign that would be given them is the sign of Jonah, the sign of a man buried three days in the belly of a great fish but who rose from the depths to new life. The sign which faith clings to, then, is the sign of the cross, Christ crucified and risen to save us sinners.
This sign of the cross was given to you in your baptism by water and the Word. Like the man in our text you and I are conceived and born with an evil spirit. Now, we may not come into this world demon-possessed in the strict sense, but we are by nature in the possession of the devil. However, Jesus has washed away our sins and rescued us from the devil’s domain, bringing us into His mercy and grace. Having been baptized you have been released from the devil’s grip and brought into the kingdom of God and given His Holy Spirit. Truly, Jesus has done good to you.
But just as it was in today’s Gospel, there are people now who want to call that good evil. They label baptism and the liturgy of Christ’s preaching and His holy Supper as useless ceremonies. They attack God’s Word by calling it a man-made creation. They denounce Christians as being intellectually foolish and psychologically weak and Christianity in general as being offensive.
But in the face of such demonic temptation, it is written, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.” In a world that wants signs from heaven, we believe that Jesus Himself is our sign from heaven. He is all that we need.
Jesus is that Stronger Man who overcomes the strong man, the devil. But our Lord does this not with spectacular power or with an all-out display of force such as the “shock and awe” that our armed forces have unleashed against the evil regime in Iraq. That is not the way the devil infiltrated this world in the first place. Satan came in disguise, as one who had man’s best interest at heart. He overcame man through trickery and deception.
And so in order to overcome the devil and rescue man, the Lord chose to use Satan’s own attacks against him. Christ snared the devil with good disguised as evil. Jesus allowed Himself to be hung on a cross, bloodied and beaten. He perished as if He were an evil criminal. The devil took the bait and swallowed Him whole. But in this way Jesus invaded the enemy’s domain of death and attacked from the inside out. From behind enemy lines He demolished all the devil’s armor. Christ conquered him by means of the very death which the devil brought into the world. He stuck the devil’s weapons right back in his own face and destroyed him, and mankind is set free. Satan was caught in his own trap, bound and defeated. The strong man was out-strategized by the Stronger Man, Jesus. After His death Jesus descended into hell, not to suffer, not to do battle, but to announce and proclaim his victory over sin and death and the devil. The war is over. Satan has been conquered.
Indeed, now that Jesus is risen from the dead, Satan’s strongest weapon, the fear of death and even death itself, is taken away. For we live in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body through Christ on the Last Day. And even before that Day, death is no longer the way Satan wins. No longer is it the gate to hell. In Christ it is now the way to victory, the entrance into heaven itself.
Jesus makes it clear to the crowds and to us that there can be no fence-sitting in this matter. Our Lord says, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” There is no neutrality when it comes to Christ, no middle-of-the-road position. Either you are with Him by faith and by baptism or you are against Him through unbelief. Either you take refuge in Him who is the Stronger Man, or you refuse Him and seek other ways that draw you back into the devil’s hands. Either you are walking on the path of light or you are wandering down the path of darkness. There are no other options.
Even though the devil has been defeated and man’s salvation has been won fully and decisively, the devil still runs about making like he is strong, acting like he still controls death, much like Saddam Hussein used to rattle off at the mouth amidst the overwhelmingly invincible coalition against him. The devil seeks to lure people away from the salvation of Christ, leading them into doubt and uncertainty and despair.
And sadly, many fall for the trap. Many people believe the strong man rather than hiding behind and trusting in the Stronger One. And in so doing the Holy Spirit given to them in Holy Baptism has been grieved and rejected.
That is why our Lord urges and exhorts us here to remain steadfast in the faith. He says, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” To keep the Word of God is simply to hold on to it, to cling to it, to treasure it and trust in its promises. Those who do so are blessed, for the Word of God is living and active and powerful to save. It brings and sustains the indwelling presence of Christ’s Spirit. It drives away the onslaughts of the evil one.
Ultimately, to keep the Word of God is to hold on to Christ, for He is the Word made flesh. Blessed are those who hear Jesus and cling to Him; for He is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. In the midst of this struggle let us never forget that in Christ the victory is already won.
It is that victory that was given to you in your baptism. Blessed are those in whom the Word of God dwells richly through Holy Absolution and the preaching of His Word. Blessed are those who trust in Christ and who are filled with His true body and precious blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. Over these things, dear fellow redeemed, the devil has no power. He cannot touch you. For you are in Christ, the Strongest One, the Lord over death and the devil, the One who plucks your feet out of the net, who conquers your enemy, who is your sure defense, who will deliver you from all evil in the resurrection.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.