March 24, 2019
“As Jesus 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!’” I find it very fitting that this woman shouted out this praise to the Virgin Mary. It fits well, because today is March 24th. Tomorrow is March 25th. In nine months, we will be celebrating Christmas, the birth of our Lord Jesus. Traditionally the Church has observed March 25th as the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord, when the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the Christ Child.
It is fitting that this woman mentions the Virgin Mary, because of the stark contrast between the words spoken about Jesus by the angel Gabriel to Mary when he told her she would be the mother of the Lord and the words spoken about Jesus here by these scoffers. Some, who had just witnessed Jesus cast out a demon from a man, said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul.” Beelzebul means “Lord of the Flies.” It is a title for Satan. Actually, a belittling title for Satan, insinuating that he isn’t all that powerful or dangerous, just a king fly on a dung heap.
Yet, how does Gabriel, the messenger from God, describe Jesus to Mary? He says, “he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:32-33, 35)
Oh, how wrong these people were about Jesus! Jesus doesn’t work miracles by the help of some fly lord. Jesus is the Most High Son of Heaven. He has a Kingdom that will last forever. He comes to sack Satan’s kingdom and divide his spoil. Jesus works by the very finger of God, the Holy Spirit. This is the same power God showed over Pharoah in Egypt. By mocking Jesus in this way, they are mocking the very God of heaven.
Yet, these mockers were not only wrong about Jesus, they are wrong about Satan too, whom they cutely call Beelzebul. Satan isn’t some fly lord buzzing around causing minor annoyance. Satan is the arch-enemy of God’s kingdom. Satan comes from the Hebrew for Adversary. He is God’s adversary. He caused our first parents to fall into sin, plunging our entire race into death. Jesus calls him a murderer and the father of lies. He should not be underestimated. Rather, St. Peter warns, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Satan hates you. He wants to cause you pain. While God might let you suffer pain for a while for your own good, Satan wants to harm you. He wants to harm your body and your soul. He enjoys suffering. That's why he caused that poor man to suffer muteness. He leads people into sin. He lies. He sees where you are weak and what sinful desires you struggle to keep at bay, and he strikes. He entices you with sweet words, with perfect logic, with forgetful, wrath, lust, laziness, selfishness. And he does this in order to draw you away from Christ.
Satan’s kingdom and Jesus’ kingdom are diametrically opposed to each other. Jesus speaks plainly, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” You can’t be neutral in the war between Satan and Jesus. You must be opposed to sin or you are against Christ. You must be against false teaching and false worship, or you are against Christ. A person cannot be against Satan, but neutral on Jesus. You are either in Jesus’ camp or in Satan’s camp.
Now, this hurts people’s feelings. Understandably. Who wants to think that they or someone they love is in Satan’s camp? Isn’t that a bit extreme? Well, it is the truth that we must acknowledge about our sinful condition. The Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to write in Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (vss. 1-4)
You see, by nature we are all born in the clutches of Satan, because of our sinful condition inherited by our fathers. We are the spoils guarded so diligently by the strong man, Satan. Yet, when the stronger man comes, he overpowers Satan and divides his spoil. St. Paul continues, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved--and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (vss. 5-6)
Well, how did Jesus, the strong man, go about plundering Satan and rescuing us from his clutches? You know the story. He became a human being in the womb of the Virgin Mary, he hid his divine glory and submitted to his parents, loved his neighbor, fulfilled God’s law perfectly. And then, bearing the sins of the whole world he died. God crushed him for our sake.
On earth this seemed like a disappointing end. A man, who seemed to be something, turned out to be nothing. Perhaps he was just using tricks from the old dung-heap king. But, no! As women watched with tear-soaked eyes Jesus yield his breath and bow his blood-soaked head in death, a great battle in heaven was being won. Revelation 12 says, “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world-- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
Satan was cast down and defeated by the blood of Jesus. Now, he who lures us into sin and who accuses us day and night before God has been cast down. He is silenced, because God has washed away our sins in Jesus blood. And Christ having been raised from the dead gives life to us too, whose sins he has washed away.
Yes, Satan is still dangerous. He still prowls around like a ravenous lion. He still can and will lure you into sin. But he cannot accuse you, who are in Christ Jesus, of sin before God. God has forgotten your sins, removed them as far as the east is from the west. When you repent of your sins, God eliminates your guilt with Jesus’ blood.
Knowing all this, it should be well understood that we cannot then enter into league with Satan in any way. We must oppose him. We are not neutral. We are solidly on Jesus’ side. And we want nothing to do with Satan.
We read about the war in heaven, but we do not see it. We’ve all heard and read of the crucifixion of Christ, which conquered Satan for us. Yet, none of us actually witnessed it or know anyone who did. But you have been baptized. And even if you do not remember it, you likely know or have known someone who does. And every time a person is baptized, you remember that that same thing happened to you. Those words of God were spoken to you.
In Baptism, Jesus plunders Satan. God through the power of his word joins you to Christ’s victory in the cross. He pulls you out of Satan’s grasp. He washes away your sins. He makes you alive in Christ Jesus. In Baptism, God saved you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21)
In Baptism, God took you out of Satan’s strong hold and placed you into the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom the angel Gabriel tells us will never end. This means, that you are a sworn enemy of Satan.
At your Baptism you were asked, “Do you renounce the devil; do you renounce all his works; do you renounce all his ways?” And to each of these questions you, or your sponsors answered, “Yes, I renounce them.” You are on Jesus’ side. You are Satan’s enemy.
Many are confused by the Gospel, because God freely forgives our sins for Jesus’ sake apart from our works. And even if sin were to increase, grace abounds all the more from our loving God to forgive us. So, people wonder, “Why not just go on sinning?” St. Paul answers this very question in Romans chapter 6, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:2-4)
Baptism has changed you. Yes, you will still fall into sin. No one living does not sin, even those baptized into Christ. But Baptism means that you will repent of sin and trust in Christ for forgiveness.
It is possible to reject your Baptism. You do not remain in your Baptism simply by trying to live a good life. You remain in your Baptism by remaining in Jesus. When an evil spirit is cast out of a man, which is more or less what happened to you in your Baptism, the evil spirit passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finding none, he returns to his house. And if he finds it swept clean, put in order, and empty, then it brings seven more spirits even more evil than himself, so that the last state of that person is worse than the first.
That is what happens to those, who are baptized, but do not continue to hear and learn the words of Christ. Being baptized will not save you if you reject the words of Christ and refuse to hear and cherish them. Baptism saves through faith, even as the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ save only those who believe. It is a false notion that you can be saved simply by being baptized without continuing to cling to Christ. There is no neutral ground. Baptism places you on Christ’s side. But if you do not remain on Christ’s side, if your heart is empty of Christ, then you are on Satan’s side again.
The woman blessed Jesus’ mother for being the mother of a great man. I think that was nice. But it wasn’t the Gospel. Jesus says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Mary certainly was blessed to be the mother of the Lord. But that’s not her greatest blessing. Mary’s greatest blessing is your greatest blessing: the word of God. The word of God tells you that Jesus fought a mighty battle, shed much blood, and even overcame death to save you. He rescued you from the clutches of Satan’s kingdom and placed you soundly in a kingdom that has no end, where peace and righteousness and love endure. You are blessed if you guard these words as your precious treasure. By guarding these words, the very Gospel, you are guarding eternal life. And by God’s grace, through your Baptism, through the continued hearing of the Gospel, yes, by the very finger of God, you will keep this blessing forever. Amen.