02. March 2013
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