“Hear the Word of God and Keep It” – Luke 11:14-28 – Oculi 2013

02. March 2013
Luke 11:14-28

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” 

To keep the Word is to hide within the Word. The woman in the crowd thought that faithfulness is serving Jesus. She uplifts the Mother of Our Lord for childbearing and nursing. St. Mary is to be revered for hearing the Word from the angel Gabriel and bearing that eternal Word. For Jesus we and all the saints are to be revered for the same reason. We have heard this Word and we keep near and dear. We clothe ourselves in Jesus and treasure Him in our hearts by faith.

“The most effective help against the devil, the world, and all evil thoughts.. [is] to be occupied with God’s Word, to speak it, and meditate on it.” (LC, Preface 10) There sweet smell of Christ’s sacrifice is the only effective repellent against the devil and his wiles and his ways. Jesus defends us from all our mortal foes when he continually speaks His Word and grants us faith to cherish it.

Our bodies are dwelling places just as this sanctuary is home for this congregation. This is why Jesus casts out demons. They cannot dwell in a body home that has been reserved for Him. By nature this home is a dwelling place for the Devil. Only by the stronger man’s finger is the evil one cast out. Holy Baptism exorcises the Devil and all his angels and the strong name of the Trinity takes up its residence in you. Where the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is given, there the Godhead dwells by faith.

What of the homes exorcised of the devil in Baptism but this faith is not nurtured? What of those baptized but infrequently, reluctantly, or never hear the Word, receive forgiveness of their sins, and eat and drink Christ’s body and blood? What of those who have been freed, swept, and cleaned? These empty homes need Jesus. He tells us in the Gospel:

When the 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.”

Jesus is telling us how those who are saved and then stop receiving the Holy Spirit. As St. Peter said it, to paraphrase, better never to be a Christian than to reject the faith once received (2 Peter 2:20ff). They are the house cleared of its demonic possession but then left without Christ’s continual filling of the home with His Spirit. A vacant home invites the devil’s host to return and with more evil than before.

Yes, God will “punish those who deliberately turn away from the holy commandment and involve themselves again in the filth of this world (2 Pet. 2:20), prepare their hearts for Satan (Luke 11:24, 25), and outrage the Holy Spirit (Heb. 10:29), and that he would harden, blind, and for ever damn them if they continue therein.” (FC XI 83)

This is God’s alien work. Even allowing people to fall into blindness, hardness of heart, and under demonic power is not to damn them eternally. No, it that He would receive into grace all who repent and believe in Christ. It is a call to repentance. When we struggle against our flesh this is the call to confess our sins, by which God crucifies our flesh again and makes us alive by the Spirit. When the devil rages and torments us, this is a call to dwell again richly in the Word by which we quench all his fiery darts. When the world seeks to pollute you or the holy Church, only God’s Word is the true defense and shield.

There is no middle ground in the battle between God and devil, between flesh and spirit, and between church and the world. We’d like to think that we can straddle the fence, play both sides, or dabble as our mortal enemies are mostly harmless. Two weeks ago Jesus showed us how there is no capitulation to the devil. He warred against the evil foe in the wilderness and won. None of the evil one’s three temptations were reasonable or faithful. At every turn, the chief of liars deceived, cajoled, and baited to choose the wrong side in a losing battle.  At every temptation, Jesus turned the devil away by the Word of God, thereby defeating him.

When it comes to the battle between God and Satan, “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” This is no surprise to us. We know the Law given by Moses. God commanded we have no other gods, that we hallow the name of the Holy Trinity only, and that we worship Him only in spirit and truth. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind—and Him only shall your serve. Even with the command and perhaps despite of it, we flirt with idols. We call upon the name of guru, president, or mock savior for help. Our worship and prayers fail and falter. As a spiritual warrior we look more like Barney Fife than a Navy Seal—bumbling, idiotic, and mistaken.

There is no middle ground. There is no picking and choosing. No neutrality. You cannot say, “there is my victor Jesus!” and deny His gift of Holy Baptism. You cannot call Jesus your only Lord and deny His forgiveness and to forgive others. You cannot live in Jesus if you fail to receive His life-giving body and blood. There is no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t receive Christ in the Holy Scriptures and blessed Sacraments. If you’re with Him in His Word you will receive Him in His instituted means. If refuse the means of giving His life by His very Word, then you’re against Him and scattering faith into the wind.

Thanks be to God that the battle is not up to us. God is faithful and He will do it. He saves us without our reason or strength. He gives us faith to trust that Jesus’s death is enough to satisfy all God’s wrath. The battle is already won. The victory is done. Christ has triumphed over Devil and every idol and gives us this victory in His body and blood. That is to say, our victory over Satan doesn’t come by our striving to win but rather receiving the spoils in Christ.

He is the stronger man who binds this strong man. Jesus is the finger of God whose mighty touch casts out demons, cleanses of iniquity, and raises the dead. This is what Jesus does. He casts out Satan’s demonic hold through Holy Baptism. “Out unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit!” He waters the parched desert of our heart with His living water. We are wandering pilgrims, journeying through the valley of the shadow of death. He nourishes us with bread from heaven, the sustenance of His Word. As we constantly stumble and fall, He rescues us from the pit in Holy Absolution. Our self-inflicted wounds need a constant source of healing and He gives us His body and blood to eat and to drink as medicine. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Invocavit 2013 – Matthew 4:1-11

17. February 2013
Matthew 4:1-11

Remember that Jesus compelled John to baptize Him with the statement: “thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Dripping wet from the Jordan waters, the words of the heavenly Father ringing in His ears, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The Holy Trinity is all about doing what is necessary for His bride. Jesus took our sin upon Him as those sin-drenched waters poured upon Him. Immediately He goes into the wilderness to be tempted and defeat the devil by the truth. We should take notice of the devil’s tactics with Jesus.

First, The devil tries to break Jesus’ Lenten fast (forty days!). And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Why did the tempter fail? Not because Jesus has some kind of super human tolerance for hunger. Matthew clearly says, he was hungry. To follow the tempter’s suggestion would not just fill His empty belly. It would deny His relationship to the Father. It would be unfaithful. For the Father said, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus confesses that His life is in His Father’s hand. Bread will be given as needed but the true bread is the Word.

Satan will tempt you to be unfaithful. To wring your hands when the paycheck does pay the bills. To worry when He has promised to take care of you. To love your life more than His Word. You are hungry. But you will never be satisfied by earthly bread, whether made of grain or greenbacks. Hungry of the stomach and greed of the heart can lead a man to desperate things. Look at the birds, right? They neither sow nor reap, yet your Father feeds them. Jesus trusts this Word. His stomach will be taken care of. No worries. In his parlay of the tempt, Jesus reminds us to be hungry. Hunger and thirst for righteousness. Hunger for His Word and He will satisfy you. Unlike the bread that only satisfies until the morning, His Word will always fill your hungry soul richly. This bread from heaven will nourish you and will give you eternal life.

Second, the devil tempts Jesus to ask of the Father something He has not promised. The tempter says, “It is written, He will command his angels concerning you.” True statement. And “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against the stone.” Also, true. But these statements aren’t given to test God but rather to have strength to be steadfast in the midst of trial and temptation. Will the Father preserve His Son Jesus? Absolutely. Does this give Him license to be reckless with His body? To throw Himself off the Temple Mount would be to deny the promise. He would seize and use His Father’s promise for His own aims rather than receive it as the Father wishes to give it.

God the Father has promised to protect and guard you. We pray in the morning or evening to “have His holy angel watch over us that evil foe may have no power over us.” The prayer rightly instructs us to the purpose of the angels’ command and the promise of protection. God the Father promises to guard us from all evil—from the world, from the devil, and even from ourselves. He gives us His Word that no manner of evil that we experience will destroy our faith. Even when we fall and even if we die, His angels will carry us to safety in heaven. Faith does not use the promise as an excuse for sin and but receives it for hope. “You shall not put The Lord your God to the test.” Rather, you shall hope in the Lord’s promises during trial and temptation.

Third, the devil tempts Jesus to take for himself glory rather than receive glory in the Father’s will. The tempter took Jesus up a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of this world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” There are two problems with Satan’s word. Jesus cannot worship the devil. God cannot worship a creature. So Satan is tempting Jesus’s humanity, his created nature, to take the place of the creator. The same sin was committed by Adam and Eve. They ignored God’s Word and listen to the word of the tempter. They put their desire for glory ahead of how God wished to glory in them. They worshiped their desires over the true worship and desire for God.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. His glory is not our glory. Christ was incarnate and born of Mary not to make God like us but that would be like God in Him. The kingdoms of this world are governed with selfishness, hedonism, and falsehood. As Jesus looked from that high mountain He saw kingdoms ruled of tyranny, murder, and death. Their glory is Babel restarted. All pomp and majesty directed towards themselves. Glorious towering structures, sprawling infrastructure, spectacles, and triumphant. But in the eyes of God, no glory at all. Therefore, the eyes of Jesus are not swayed by Satan’s temptation.

God’s glory is revealed not in strength but in weakness. A kingdom ruled by a despot is powerful. Medically induced sexual license empowers pleasure and freedom from children. Economies built on destroying your neighbor’s source of income or exacting penalties upon the wealth are wise in our eyes.

But our ways are not God’s ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts. God’s kingdom is not ruled by a tyrant but by a merciful and kind king. His Word does not give license but rather frees us from sin to live in freedom in Christ. His economy is not barter or exchange. Rather than demand our works, He gives us His work. Rather than demand our love, He loves us first and fills us with it. Rather than enslave us as captives, He makes us His children.

Our king is weak in our eyes. This weakness is revealed most in Jesus’ suffering and death. The cross shows us how God provides for our needs of body and soul, wins for Himself a kingdom, and keeps His promises. His Holy Scriptures have promised bread for the eater and bread for the soul. The Holy Spirit by the Word calls, gathers, and enlightens His kingdom and keeps it with Jesus. God has promised to forgive His people and this forgiveness is in the blood of Jesus. Just as Jesus was tempted to forsake His relationship to the Father, to be unfaithful, so also we are tempted to reject the work of God in us and be unfaithful.

It’s hard to be faithful. Our earthly relationships are full of temptations to unfaithfulness. In marriage, we say those who commit adultery are unfaithful to their spouse. The faith of matrimony is that you will take no one as your husband or wife other than the one whom you are vowed. To be faithful is to stick with the other in thick and thin, richer and poorer, life and even in death. You love them to a fault, despite their faults. Matrimony is built upon trust that believes the other belongs only to you. As God describes His institution, the man separates from his parents and is joined to his wife and they are one flesh. Faithful is keep the flesh whole and undefiled. It’s hard work and suffering.

This faithfulness is similar to our union to Christ. We are joined to Him in Holy Baptism, one flesh and one blood. To be faithful is to remain with Jesus. No other gods will do. The Scriptures describe those idols we like to bring into the church home as foreigners and even whores. They pollute the one-flesh union of Christian to Christ. There can be no one else to whom you vow true faithfulness. Not country. Not lodge. Not club. Not even friends. There is only one faith, one Lord, one Baptism. Thus, there is only one church, one body of Christ.

St. Paul warns us. “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14). Like any marriage, our relationship to Christ requires holding faith. It requires constant reminder that faith can be shipwrecked, unbelief is a constant evil, sin is perennially lying to you. Only in Jesus is faithfulness be sustained.

To be faithful to Christ is to listen to Him, to hear His Word. Your marriage with Christ is created, fed, and preserved by this Word. It is sharper than any two-edged sword.. and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Like the true intimacy in marriage Jesus is brutally honest. He lays our whole relationship out on the table. Every time we gather He reminds us how we have departed from Him, with lustful eyes, greedy hearts, and murderous thoughts. Like the confessions of husband and wife, we hate to say it. We mumble through those words and refuse to look upon the cross.

Despite our continual walking away from Jesus, He is faithful. He does not lie about or ignore our sin. But His overwhelming Word is not accusing or condemning. He is a loving husband. He forgives. He is faithful to His bride, even when she is battered and bruised. He welcomes her back even when she has shared her bed with idols. He suffers our sin and redeems us by His perfection.

We have a bridegroom who knows suffering, knows pain, knows evil, and knows unfaithfulness. He is flesh and blood. True man. He knows it and overcomes it for us. He is tempted as we are but without sin he suffers our sin, dies our death, and rises to give us new life in Him. Thanks be to God He heals our union, suffers our weakness, and forgives without end.  “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana