Power in death? That’s some strange kind of power. Read all about it, and about how Satan lies to us so that we confuse good and evil, after the jump.
It is the curse of sin to see in Satan’s work the hand of God, and in God’s work the hand of Satan. So Adam and Eve, though they had been given every other tree in the garden, saw God withholding the one tree and saw the work of Satan. God was cruelly limiting their choice of food, so that the tree that was good for food was forbidden them, while the other trees were no longer as good for them. And in the serpent they saw the hand of God – for in following the serpent they were doing that which was good to make one wise – surely wisdom is a godly trait.
It is not simply that we misunderstand God’s word, as if God wasn’t clear enough. As if we just didn’t know from His law what we are really supposed to do. We don’t need Jesus to come along like a new Moses to give us the real law.
The problem is that no matter who preaches it, we twist the Law of God so that it suits our sinful desires. We do not want God to speak to us. We want the mute god, who goes along with whatever we think is best – but of course, in the Gospel reading it is the demon that is mute, not God. No matter. If god will not be silent for us, we will make for ourselves a god that is.
Ultimately it comes down to this – we are in bondage to Satan. He is a strong man who has captured us and holds us safely as his possession. We have no hope of escaping, and can only get out if there if one stronger than he robs him of all that he has.
Satan likes things after the fall. Because he is the real god for us. He is the one who tells us how to be wise. He is the one who leads to his salvation. When we go through the list of false god’s we could have – money, family, friends, our own works – whatever, Satan is always lurking behind them. And our hearts are little idol factories. Churning out one false god after another.
We need someone to come and bind Satan and make him powerless. To steal his wealth – that is, to take us away from him. It seems unfair of God to tie up Satan and take all that he has – after all Jesus is really nothing more in this parable than a common sneak-thief. And there he goes, breaking in to Satan’s stronghold, and taking all of the things that Stan had so carefully stolen. But The strong man Satan is no hero. Nor is he a victim of the bigger man – our Lord Jesus Christ – who redeemed from Satan what Satan stole from our heavenly Father in the first place.
Satan is a stronger man than you. Make no mistake – he knows your heart better than you know it – he knows how to tempt you so that you give in pretty much every time. He knows every word of the Scriptures. He has even memorized all of Luther’s Small catechism. You have no chance to stand up to him. But – someone must stand up to him, because he owns you. And there is one stronger than he – Ask ye who is this? Jesus Christ it is. He is the one who can resist the assaults of Satan. He is the one who is stronger than he, who comes and takes you from Satan and makes you his own. He gives salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Jesus is the one who saves you. That’s what we say in Holy Baptism. We cast out Satan – depart thou unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit. This is what happens – we are torn from Satan’s grasp and given to our loving heavenly Father, who created us.
But when you look at this epic battle between strong man and stronger man, you don’t see anything that makes sense. If someone is strong, and then someone stronger comes along and ties him up and steals all that he has, this means that the stronger man must be practically invincible. That’s what we expect. We don’t expect the fight to be on a cross, with Satan taunting “If you are the son of God” And the stronger man pinned to the beams, unable to move. This is not strength. Death is not strength. It is weakness. And Jesus goes right into it, like a lamb led to slaughter. Because that’s what he is. That’s not strong. We see the weakness of Jesus and we can’t believe it. This is what conquering looks like?
And the simple foolish ways that God claims us as his own – a little dash of water, in a few weeks, the young ones nervously admitted to the altar rail for a tenth of an ounce of bread. Surrounded by so very few people, many of them so frail that they can hardly bring themselves up to receive it. This is strength? This is the kingdom of God, and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it? This is what the stronger man fights with?
The people were convinced that the Messiah would be invincible. After all, God’s anointed must be something special. Moses beat mighty pharaoh with his staff – a glorified stick. Just by marching, the walls of Mighty Jericho fell. Gideon had 300 that overcame 100,000 of the Midianites. Elijah called fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice, the wood, the water, the altar of stone, and the dust around the altar. And on and on and on.
The Messiah would come with the power of God, and work with the finger of God. He would be unstoppable. This little man? Certainly not. Betrayed by one of his own, dead – not even at the hands of the Jews, but at the hands of their sworn enemies. This is no king. Clearly, if he is casting out demons, he does it by the power of the demons themselves.
What kind of Savior do we have? The one who makes the demons tremble. Who goes right into the heart of enemy territory, into death itself, in order to steal death’s power. If you are going to rob the strong man, who has all of his wealth protected and guarded, and locked up, then you need to go into the strong man’s lair. And Jesus does that. He goes right into death, and he steals the power of death. He goes into hell, and breaks the bars of hell.
And the Holy washing – it is not simple water. It is water and the Word of God. The same word that made demons flee in the Gospel reading. The same word that calmed the wind and the sea, that triumphed over Pharaoh and all his hosts, that gave Israel victory over the people of the Land, that preserved 7000 in Israel, who refused to bow the knee to Baal.
The waters of Holy Baptism save not because of what we see, but because of What God says, it saves because of what we do not see. The one who went into death takes from the strong man, and makes you alive. He calls you his own, brings you into his kingdom. Jesus is the stronger man. And Satan doesn’t have a chance. The HolyChurch remains, despite the world’s attempts to lead her astray, to overcome her.
And we sometimes feel overcome. We don’t know what to do. There is too much. The strong man is at it again, and we feel beat down, beat up. We need the stronger one to come. We need him to rip open the heavens, and let us know he’s there. But the mighty deliverance seems like something God only did in the past. Now there is only cross and suffering.
We see the daily grind, the pain and suffering, the temptation to go astray – again, the whatever it is that overcomes us, and we know that this is not strength. This is not good. This is not right. We see Satan’s hand at work. But is it really? Are we calling that which God gives for our good “The work of Satan”? Jesus overcame Satan and all his powers and all his hosts by his death. That is our God’s strength. His weakness is stronger than our strength, and his foolishness is wiser than our wisdom. So it’s not a surprise that we see weakness, change, decay, that we see only the hand of Satan oppressing in one way or another, instead of seeing the hand of God.
The Word of God is the truth. And when we speak that word of God, we speak the truth. We speak the truth about ourselves, we give up the excuses that make ourselves sound so right. I have sinned by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault. And we hear the word of forgiveness – your sins, which are many, are forgiven. We speak the word of truth back to God – that Jesus only begotten Son of the Father, for us men and for our salvation, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. That is how he redeemed us lost and condemned creatures, purchased and won us from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil: with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death.
That is why we call the Friday on which God died Good. Because here, in this place, we speak truth. About ourselves and our actions and about God and his promise.
That is why we not only cast out Satan from the little ones at the font, but then we anoint them with the Holy Spirit in that washing – because we must fill them with something, so that Satan does not come back with seven other demons worse than the first.
There is one more truth – you either belong to Satan or to Jesus. It’s popular today to talk about our own freedom, our own individualness, becoming the person you are supposed to be by whatever it is you think is right. The truth is, you are either ruled by Satan or Jesus. There is no “just you.” You were born into sin and so belonged to Satan. You are claimed by Christ in Baptism, and now you belong to him. To walk away from that Baptism is nothing more than returning to Satan. He wants you back. And he will tempt you with all sorts of things – real strength, wisdom that makes sense to us worldly folk, you can do whatever you want, be whatever you want to be. And in so doing, you become more Satan’s slave then ever. He brings seven of his friends.
Jesus bought you with a price. He claims you as his own because he loves you. He doesn’t fool you with the wisdom of this world, he doesn’t entice you with whatever your heart desires. He speaks the blessed truth. He gives you real life. A life that does not end in death. He’s been there. He’s gone through it. He offers you the life he won for you when he went into death.
Grant this Lord unto us all.