The Third Sunday in Lent (Oculi)—7 March 2021

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our text is today’s Gospel (Luke 11:14–28):14 Now [Jesus] was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.  15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,”  16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.  17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 “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.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 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.”

27 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!”  28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (ESV)

I so enjoy how at our midweek Lenten services we pray the Litany, an ancient responsive prayer which you can find in our hymnal. I especially love this section of the Litany: 

God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy.

By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity; by Your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and Passion; by Your precious death and burial; by Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter:  Help us, good Lord.

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death; and in the day of judgment:  Help us, good Lord.

This prayer reminds us of two aspects of our salvation in Christ. First, that the life of Christ is the sole, perfect, and all-sufficient cause of salvation. Second, that our present experience of salvation is far from perfect, for we experience salvation in the midst of earthly distresses.

The last words Jesus spoke from the cross were It is finished, and [then] He bowed His head and gave up His spirit (John 19:30). With His dying breath, our Lord proclaims the Good News that the work of our salvation is done, completed. Salvation is NOT a team effort, with us contributing our sincerity and self-improvement to Jesus’ sacrificial life and death. From before the world’s foundation, it was God’s will to crush Jesus, to put Him to grief, to make Him an offering for the guilt of our sin, that we should be holy and blameless before God (see Isaiah 53:10, Ephesians 1:4). Now, once at the end of the ages, Jesus Christ, God’s Son has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Yes, by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (see Hebrews 9:26 and 10:14).

The one offering and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus brings about a total victory over sin, death, and the devil and a complete deliverance for us so that we are no longer slaves to sin but free children of God. Nothing is lacking to our Lord’s mighty work of deliverance; everything He did to save us is perfect. His incarnation—perfect. His nativity in Bethlehem—perfect. His baptism, fasting, and resisting Satan’s temptations—perfect. His agony and bloody sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane—perfect. His precious death and burial—perfect. His glorious resurrection and ascension—perfect. His sending of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter—perfect.

Christ’s work of saving us is perfect and all-sufficient—nothing is lacking. But it is entirely different with our present experience of salvation. The troubles of our heart are enlarged as we consider our failures to fear, love, and trust in God above all things and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. The world says: “don’t admit that you are a failure; hide your failures—make excuses for them, even boast about your failures, calling them the new, enlightened way of thinking and acting.” But, in Christ, we confess ourselves to be failures at loving God and our neighbour; we confess that we are sorely afflicted with all sorts of sinful thoughts and impulses that turn us inward upon ourselves and away from God.

Do not be surprised when you see yourself and other Christians having fierce struggles with lust, greed, anger, anxiety, depression, fear, and even unbelief. Although we are children of God, we still possess a sinful nature which will be destroyed only at death and which mean-while causes us to do the evil that we do not want to do and to fail to do the good we want to do. Oh, Christ’s work of salvation is truly perfect and all sufficient. But this side of heaven, our experience of salvation will be full of sin and failure. It is even possible for a Christian to welcome back into his or her heart the devil and his works.

At a baptism, the devil is cast out of the heart and the person being baptized renounces the devil and his works. However, it is not enough to expel the devil; rather, the devil must also be replaced by the continual indwelling of Christ and His Spirit. There is no such thing as an empty heart. Either the heart is the haunt of demons or the home of Christ. When Christians refuse to repent, then they are worse off than before they were baptized, for now Satan overwhelms them and haunts the house of their heart with even more demons. But thanks be to God that Christ truly remains in hearts that return to Baptism daily by the confession of sins. No matter how grievous and hurtful your sins may be, as you confess your sins, God is faithful and just to forgive you, so that your heart remains a home indwelt by Christ.

Christ’s work of saving us is perfect and all-sufficient—nothing is lacking. But this side of heaven, our experience of that salvation will be full of struggles and afflictions, of sin and failure. It is even possible for a Christian to welcome back into his or her heart the devil and his works. But thanks be to God that standing between you and the repossession of your heart by Satan is Jesus, your Champion, God’s Son, who is stronger than the devil.

Satan is like a strong man, fully armed, [who] guards his own palace, [so that] his goods are safe. Sadly, the palace and goods Satan guards are none other than the hearts and lives of his enslaved subjects. Every single human being is conceived and born in slavery to sin and Satan. As enslaved sinners, we have absolutely no power to set ourselves free. But now comes One who is stronger than Satan—Jesus, whom Satan cannot overcome. 

Satan’s power to enslave is a broken power, for Jesus is God’s Son, who comes to destroy the works of the devil and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (1 John 3:8b; Luke 4:18). Jesus strikes a blow against the thick fortress walls of Satan’s seemingly invincible prison by setting free a single captive, a man possessed by a demon. That single blow will soon be followed by the powerful pounding of our Lord’s great cry of victory from the cross, It is finished—the price of liberation has been paid in full and for all! Under the force of that divine pounding, the fortress of Satan’s prison crumbles and countless former captives come streaming forth out of the darkness and captivity of sin into the light and freedom of the Lord.  

Jesus Christ is our strong Saviour, who has overcome Satan and who has set at liberty those who are oppressed—now that is Good News! On the cross Jesus stretched out His loving arms to embrace the whole world in His holy death. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, died for sinners, to set them free from Satan’s bondage. On the cross, Jesus suffered the sentence of condemnation which you deserved. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24). Yes, on the cross, Jesus won for you your healing, your life and salvation. And in your baptism, Jesus has driven Satan from your heart and has set you free from your sins and has filled you with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ work to save you is perfect, but your present experience of salvation is full of failure. Left to yourself, you are prone to empty the home of your heart of repentance and faith. But no heart can remain empty. If you were to persist in such unbelief, your heart would be re-inhabited by the devil, as you were before your baptism, only worse. But Jesus, your strong Saviour, is calling you to keep on believing His Holy Word. Remember how He said: Blessed … are those who hear the word of God and keep it! Oh, it’s true—your experience of salvation is full of struggles and afflictions, of sin and failure. And the devil is always seeking to re-inhabit your heart. But Jesus, your Saviour, has disarmed Satan. And He calls you to keep on hearing, treasuring, and believing all that His Holy Word proclaims about His perfect work of salvation—not just what He did long ago but also what He is doing today for you.

Our Lord’s incarnation, nativity, baptism, fasting, resisting temptation, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit—it is all perfect, the sole and all-sufficient cause of your salvation. And now, our Lord gives you the gift of Holy Baptism, which is perfect. The gift of Holy Absolution, which is perfect. The gift of the Lord’s Supper, which is perfect. And the gift of His Holy Word, which is perfect. We Lutherans like to speak of these gifts working forgiveness, life, and salvation. In light of today’s Gospel, we could also say that these perfect gifts of Word and Sacrament keep us deeply flawed and imperfect children of God connected to Jesus, our perfect Saviour, who is stronger than Satan and who disarmed Satan in order to deliver you from the darkness and captivity of sin and to bring you out into the light and freedom of the Lord.

If—given the intensity of life’s struggles and the greatness of your failures—if you ever doubt whether you can possibly remain faithful unto death and thus receive the crown of life, then doubt no more. For Jesus has overcome the devil. And now, through all our distresses, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). Yes, in all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death; and in the day of judgment, our victorious Saviour Jesus is ever helping us failure-ridden sinners through His perfect Word, as it is heard and kept and as that Holy Word comes to us enfleshed in baptismal water, in the pastor’s voice of pardon, and in sacramental bread and wine. In this fallen world, your experience of salvation is full of deep distresses. But your Saviour’s work of overthrowing Satan and of delivering you from sin is perfect in every way. And now He gives you His perfect gifts of Word, Baptism, Absolution, and Supper so that now, you abide in Him and He in you, as He dwells in your heart forever! Amen.   

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Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding,

keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen.