March 15, 2020
On June 16, 1858 Abraham Lincoln gave an acceptance speech for his party’s nomination for US Senate, where he emphasized his belief that America could not remain divided between free states and slave states. He opened his speech with the line, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” In his farewell address to the nation from the Oval Office in January of 1989, President Ronald Reagan defined a phrase he had made popular during his political career, “a shining city upon a hill.” Reagan saw the United States of America as that “shining city upon a hill,” because America was an example to the whole world of a beacon of freedom. In November of 2001, less than two months after the infamous attacks on America in which terrorists used commercial airplanes to kill nearly three thousand people, then President George W. Bush famously said, “Overtime it’s going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity. You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.”
All three of these presidents of the United States quoted Jesus Christ with these statements. In all three of these statements, the respective presidents were speaking of the United States and its fight against evil. In all three of these statements, Jesus spoke about his heavenly kingdom and its fight against evil.
It’s not necessarily wrong to quote Jesus to make a point about an earthly matter. Jesus often used earthly examples to make heavenly points. Yet, it is remarkable how consistently Jesus’ words concerning spiritual matters are used to focus on earthly matters that are far less pressing.
Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? People speak of “the right side of history” and the “wrong side of history.” Everyone wants to be found on the right side of history. No one wants to be found on the wrong side of history. But what is the right side and what is the wrong side of history? Who are our enemies? China? Russia? Iran? Democrats? Republicans? The coronavirus? Is America the beacon of all that is good? How do you know whether you are on the right side?
Jesus makes clear who our true enemy is. It is Satan. He is the liar, who tempts all people into sin and unbelief. He led our race into death and damnation. He comes to murder and scatter Jesus’ sheep. The Jews called him, “Beelzebul” meaning, “Lord of the Flies,” a term of derision that didn’t take Satan seriously. And Satan isn’t taken seriously today. When people think of their top ten problems, Satan usually doesn’t make the list. If you were to suggest that Satan were our greatest enemy in public, you would likely be looked at as a lunatic. Yet, Satan is real. And he has real influence on this earth. He is the true enemy. And Jesus came to conquer him.
Jesus conquered Satan by rescuing us from his clutches. Satan’s goal is for us all to go to hell and be separated from God forever. This is why he lied to Eve those many years ago. That is why he lies to us today. All people are born under Satan’s power, as St. Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 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.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
That is the situation we are all in from birth. This is why we needed to be rescued. Satan is the strongman, who guards his own palace. We are the goods he tries to keep in his control. Jesus is the stronger man, who comes and disarms the strong man and divides his spoil. Jesus did this by himself becoming a human being. Yet, when Satan attacked him to lead him to sin, Jesus did not fall. He remained obedient to God. Then Jesus took on the sins that plagued all mankind, and he died for them as if he himself committed them. Jesus silenced Satan’s accusations against us by taking our place under the Law and by being punished in our place. When Jesus was raised from the dead and exited the tomb, he left all our sins nailed to the cross. That means he left all of Satan’s lifework along with all his armor that he trusted in nailed to that cross. Jesus won. Satan lost.
And we share in Jesus’ victory through faith in him. It requires no works on our part. We don’t conquer Satan with our own holiness. Rather, we receive Jesus’ victory over Satan as a pure gift when we believe that God forgives all our sins for Christ’s sake. We are saved by grace! Jesus fights for us here and now.
We witnessed Jesus fight last Sunday when Bayla was baptized. We saw the very finger of God at work. Yes, they seemed like plain words spoken and ordinary water poured. But they were God’s words. And they carried with them the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Satan, who held Bayla captive was expelled. He was disarmed and sent away and his goods were taken from him. And that is what happened when each of you were baptized. The power of Baptism is the finger of God: God’s holy Word, specifically the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yet, Jesus has a warning for us. When an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none, it returns to the place where it was cast out and when it finds it swept and put in order, it goes and finds seven more demons more wicked than itself and the last state of that person is worse than the first. This is why babies who are baptized need to continue to be filled with the Word of God. Baptism drives out unclean spirits. So, the Holy Spirit must take their place. Where the Holy Spirit is, there is Jesus. Jesus must abide with that child.
It is a perversion of the Gospel to say that because Jesus forgives our sins apart from our works, we can continue to sin without fear. Holy Scripture says, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 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 6:1-4)
By the finger of God, that is, by the power of God’s Word, specifically the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which comes to us through words, God drives out Satan and his minions from us. He does this by forgiving our sins and giving us his Holy Spirit. Yet, when we do not continue in his word and do not walk by the Spirit, then Satan and his minions come back to claim their former place. The state of a former Christian is worse than his state before he was a Christian. This is why we do not just get our babies baptized. We baptize them and then we teach them every day of their lives the words and promises of their Savior Jesus. This is why we who have had our sins forgiven continue to be filled with God’s grace, so that there is no room in us for Satan.
Christians should not partake in sinful behavior. St. Paul warns, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.” Use your mind to think on God and his word. Use your mouth to confess Christ and sing his praises. When you do that your mind will not have room for impure thoughts. And your mouth will not have an opportunity to speak crudely.
God’s house cannot be divided, so we must not use our bodies, which are the temple of the Holy Spirit, to do what is evil. And Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” We also must remember that we cannot be neutral between God and Satan. There is no neutral ground. Silence in the face of evil is condoning evil. The man had a mute demon. This was an especially evil thing. The man could not praise his God or confess his Savior. Satan kept him silent.
Jesus says, “Whoever confesses me before men, him also will I confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever is ashamed of me before men, of him also will I be ashamed before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32; Luke 9:26) And St. Paul says, “With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:10) Our faith causes us to confess. We don’t just hold our faith privately in our hearts. We confess our faith. We acknowledge God with our lips.
Jesus warns against complacency and apathy. Jesus doesn’t drive Satan out of your heart, so that your heart will remain empty. He drives Satan from your heart, so that your heart will be filled with the Holy Spirit, faith in Christ, and love for your neighbor. Faith in Christ brings us to repentance every day. We seek to avoid sin. We seek to do good to our neighbor, to be patient with those who might annoy us, to forgive those who sin against us. We flee those sins that drag us away from Christ, lest Satan take hold of our hearts yet again.
Jesus wants us to be aware, that we are currently under assault from the devil. He doesn’t want to give up his palace without a fight. If he sees an opening, he will try to barge his way in. Yet, Jesus also tells us that we have a weapon that wards off Satan; a weapon that does not fail. This weapon is the finger of God, which is the very Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have the cross of Christ on which all our sins are nailed along with Satan’s armor. We have our Baptism through which God drove Satan out of us. We have the Lord’s Supper by which we commune with the very body and blood that conquered Satan here on this earth. We cling to the Gospel of Christ in order to drive Satan away from us and to keep us from sin.
A woman cried out “Blessed by the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed.” She was speaking of the Virgin Mary. Mary is certainly blessed beyond all women, having born our Savior. Yet, she is truly blessed, because she trusted in Jesus. Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
“Keep it” means to guard it. We guard our faith in Jesus Christ, because Jesus is our champion over Satan. We don’t get tired of Jesus. We don’t get bored with his words. We need his forgiveness every day. We need his wisdom every waking hour. He fends off Satan for us by strengthening our faith. And he undoes Satan’s work by forgiving our sins. When we guard the promises of Jesus in his word, we are on the right side. We are united with Christ. And no foe will ever divide us. Amen.