For the Old Testament reading today, I used the TLH reading – 2 Samuel 22:1-7
Jesus casts out a demon. He is accused of using demonic powers to do it. “If I cast them out by Beelzeboul, by whom do your sons cast them out?”
The name Beelzeboul comes from the same root word as Baal – that ancient idol from the Old Testament that the Philistines worshipped. Baal is used in so many idol names that it almost becomes a synonym for false gods in the old testament. That’s because it means lord. In this case, Beel – lord zeboul of the house. But Jesus says, such a house can never stand. It must fall. Satan is a false Lord. He promises to give what he does not posses. He calls the good things of God evil, and that which is wicked, he calls good. He twists the word of God, and tries to steal the title of god for himself. He offers that title to humanity, knowing it is not his to give. If only you take the fruit that is able to make you wise like God. If only you fall down and worship him, all the kingdoms of the earth can be yours. He is the strong man, fully armed. And his spoils and riches are the souls entrapped in lives of sin and death.
Jesus is the true Lord of all. He is the stronger man, who comes and takes away all that Satan has – all the armor in which he trusts. All the spoils and riches he thinks are so secure. As we confess in the creed, “Jesus descended into hell…” so Jesus will march into the domain of Satan and burst the the bars of death and the gates of hell.
We aren’t there yet. That’s Easter talk. Today, Lent 3, we have the Gospel reading of the man possessed by the mute demon. The mute demon is cast out by Jesus. But then there is a warning. The people complain that he is casting out demons by the work of the lord of demons. Ridiculous says Jesus. How could that even work. Satan working against himself would be futile. No, this is a work of God. But beware. Even if a demon is cast out, if nothing is put in his place, he will return. That is, even if a person is torn from Satan’s grasp, unless their body and mind and spirit are filled with the things of God, the words and works of God for his people, the Spirit of the living God who dwells in each Christian – unless we are filled with that, then the demons will return. They will come and bring seven even more wicked than themselves. The last state is worse than the first.
Because you had the word of God spoken to cast out the devil to renounce all his works and all his ways, and then, instead of filling yourself with the good things of God, you went after worldly pursuits, desires of the sinful flesh. And instead of the word of God, you were sold the lies of Satan. And so the word of God did not remain in you. You rejected and cast it aside, and now, things are worse than they were to begin with. That is why we pray each week “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Because there is no middle ground between God and Satan. We are either a child of God, holy and righteous in his sight for Jesus sake, filled with the Holy Spirit, or we have rejected that, and are the spoils of war for Satan.
That’s the warning. A few weeks back, we heard the account of the sower, who sowed seed that began to sprout, but, either for lack of roots, or choked by weeds, did not mature and bear fruit. In both cases, the plants withered.
Today, we have even stronger words than that. If we hear the word, receive it, but do not remain in that word of God, do not continue in the way of the spirit of truth, then we open ourselves to be in even worse shape than we were before we believed. As Luther says about the Lord’s Prayer – it is not enough that a person build a city. It must also be defended. So we must defend the word of God that dwells in us from the Devil’s attacks against us. Whether he attacks with difficult times that are difficult to endure, or the constant press of worldly concerns and social acceptance. We end up rejecting the Spirit of God, the faith that is given as gift, and we go back to our former state – only now it is worse.
We see this in King Saul. The Old Testament reading is a Psalm of David, when he was delivered from his enemies, and from Saul who was trying to kill him. Initially, Saul was blessed by God as king of Israel. But then, he grew arrogant, he ignored the word of God, he intentionally went his own way. And when confronted by God’s prophet, he refused to hear, refused to repent. He stood firm in his sin. He rejected God. And so, he was oppressed by a spirit. He became an enemy of God. Ultimately, he was rejected by God as king, and David was promised the kingdom in his place. Continued impenitence against God and his word resulted in God turning Saul over to his sin. That is a way that God renders judgement even in this world. Turning us over to our sin, confirming us in our impenitence. Saul stands as warning against rejecting the word of God. God patiently bore with him for a time. But not forever. David stands as promise of the grace and mercy of God. Yes, David committed great sins. But he repented of that sin and returned to the Lord. It is one thing to stumble and fall in weakness. It is another to despise the clear command of God, to harden the heart against that word when it is brought to us with the call to repent, to intentionally reject and turn away from what God requires.
In the Epistle reading we hear of the temptations to sin, the things that the devil and world incite us to go after. Paul says “But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” He then warns against crude talk. We are given mouths to praise God, not speak in crude ways. Paul also against covetousness. He calls it idolatry. When we seek those things which God has not given to us, we declare that God has not given us enough. He has not properly provided for us, and so we will get them ourselves. We do not fear, love and trust in God above all things. At one time, we were of the world. But now we are called out of the world, separated from the world, in but not of the world, by the word of Christ, by the washing of water and the word. We have been given our true heavenly Father, who promises to give us all things. We no longer need to go after worldly pursuits. And in 2000 years of so-called advancement, since Paul wrote those words to caution us against fornication and coveting, those are still the two great sins the world offers to Christians to tempt them away from Christ and His Holy Church
That is why we join David in giving praise to God that he has delivered us from the hand of the enemy. The Lord God is our rock and fortress, as David confesses, and as we sang in the sermon hymn. And though waves of death encompass us daily, though the snares of death are all around us, he hears our pleas for mercy. He hears us from his holy temple, and he rescues us.
That is what Jesus tells us at the end of the Gospel reading. For all the warning and danger throughout the reading, he ends with a promise and a blessing. Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. That is why we attend to the Word of God diligently as a church, in our families, in our workplace, and in all we do. That is why we take time during the season of Holy Lent for fasting and prayer. That is why we walk again the path to the cross of Christ. Because it was on that cross that he won the salvation of the whole world. It was on the cross that Jesus won the forgiveness for your sins. Rescued you from death hell and the devil. And it is in the word, spoken over you when the water was poured, that you were given the eternal salvation of the cross. In that water you were joined to the cross of Christ, the devil was driven out from you, and the Spirit now dwells within you. Hold fast, guard that promise, that salvation that you have been given, by constancy in the word and prayer.
For Jesus Sake and in his name.