March 7, 2021
There has been a debate within the Lutheran Church concerning whether the Baptismal rite should include a rite of exorcism or not. An exorcism is when the minister casts a demon or Satan out of a possessed person, as Jesus did in our Gospel lesson, when he cast the mute demon out of the possessed man. Historically, the Roman Catholics had rites of exorcism in their Baptismal rites, so the Lutherans inherited this custom. It used to be that when a baby was baptized in the Lutheran Church, a rite of exorcism would be performed. We do not have a rite of exorcism in our current hymnal, but we do have an alternate rite of Baptism not in our hymnal, based on the one written by Martin Luther, in which the pastor says, “Therefore, depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The reason many Lutherans objected to the rite of exorcism was because it is not certain whether the unbaptized is actually possessed by an evil spirit, and since the exorcism doesn’t make Baptism a Baptism, but rather the words of Jesus which command us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit do, the exorcism is really unnecessary. Besides, unclean spirits are cast out by the word of God and prayer, so if a person were possessed by an evil spirit, then the actual Baptism would certainly cast it out.
Yet, the removal of the rite of exorcism from the Baptismal rite should not confuse you into thinking the unbaptized is in no danger from the devil! One possessed by a demon has an unclean spirit in control of his physical and even mental faculties. But everyone born of the flesh is born under the dominion of Satan. Now which is worse? A demon blocking your tongue from speaking or your eyes from seeing, or Satan himself grasping your very soul and keeping you from believing in Christ and his forgiveness for you! Scripture says that we are all born and conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5) and that by nature we are children of wrath following the course of Satan (Ephesians 2:1-3). No, the unbaptized have a much greater concern than being possessed by some unclean spirit, who will block the senses. All mankind is born in sin, under the tyranny of Satan himself.
Satan is the strong man, who guards his spoil. We are the spoil. Jesus is the stronger man, who comes to plunder the devil’s house. Yet, Jesus does not do this the way some ancient pagan myth would describe a battle of the gods. Rather, God’s own Son came disguised as a weak man to lure Satan to his doom. Have you heard of the alligator snapping turtle? It has a neat way of catching its prey. It has an appendage on its tongue that looks like a worm. The turtle opens its mouth wide and flicks its tongue to attract fish, who think it’s a worm to eat. But when the fish goes for the bite, snap! the turtle eats the fish! And so, Jesus, who in Psalm 22 is described as a worm and not a man, takes the form of one of Satan’s victims. He assumes our human flesh, so that he is truly and ever will be a man like us. Although Satan failed to get Jesus to sin in the wilderness, Jesus bears all our sins willingly, so that he looks like the most despised and miserable sinner to ever exist. On the cross, death goes to devour Jesus and Satan reaches to claim his prisoner, but it is death who is devoured and Satan whose head is smashed in and is locked up in prison.
Satan’s kingdom is divided, because our Lord Jesus conquered Satan and scattered his spoil. He did this by dying for our sins on the cross and rising from the dead for our justification. Yet, we remain under Satan’s power until we are freed by the Holy Spirit who gives us faith to receive this forgiveness and salvation. Jesus told the people that he casts out demons by the finger of God. The finger of God is a figure of speech meaning God’s almighty power. It by the power of God that Jesus casts out demons. In Baptism, it is the finger of God at work. Baptism is a greater sign from heaven than any we could dream up, because it works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe. In Baptism, God puts his name on you and clothes you in Christ, the same Christ who conquered Satan. That means that in Baptism, you become Satan’s conqueror. Scripture promises that Baptism washes away your sins, because it joins you to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21). Scripture promises that in Baptism we are reborn by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38; Titus 3). This means that Baptism is the greatest exorcism, because it not only casts out Satan, but delivers the baptized out of Satan’s kingdom and into the kingdom of Christ.
Yet, our Lord Jesus solemnly warns the baptized in our Gospel lesson, saying, “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.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 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.” This is a warning that baptized Christians can fall away. Baptism does not save apart from faith in Christ.
You are not baptized in order to become a prince or princess. You are not baptized in order to become an American, or a Jones or Smith. You are not baptized to become rich or powerful on earth or to acquire some earthly status or human abilities. You are baptized in order to be delivered from Satan’s kingdom and to become Christ’s own possession, to live in his kingdom, to be his little lamb, who listens to his voice and follows him. In short, you are baptized in order to be a Christian in Christ’s Church!
Jesus says, you are either with him or against him; you either gather with him or you scatter. You are either delivered from Satan’s kingdom into Christ’s kingdom or you are bound in Satan’s kingdom outside of Christ’s kingdom. There is no neutral ground. The purpose of Baptism is to be delivered from Satan’s kingdom, so that you can live in Christ’s kingdom. But if you do not live in Christ’s kingdom, you will return to Satan’s kingdom.
Too often people think this way: “The Gospel is not complicated. Jesus died for my sins. I believe it. So, why do I need to keep hearing about? What am I going to gain from church?” But this way of thinking does not come from the Spirit of Christ, but from Satan. We cannot believe in Jesus Christ and remain in his kingdom by our own strength, merit or works, but only through the power of the Holy Spirit, who works through God’s Word. We know that Baptism without God’s Word is plain water and no baptism. So likewise, we cannot remove the baptized from God’s Word. It is through his Word that God rules and guides us in his kingdom, as Jesus says, “My sheep hear voice, I know them, and they follow me.” (John 11:27) and “If you abide in my word, you are my disciple indeed, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
This is why Jesus responded the way he did to that woman in the crowd. She cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed.” She was calling Mary blessed! She was being a good catholic. Amen. Mary is blessed. But Jesus says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” We must never underestimate the power and craftiness of Satan. He is much more powerful than we think. He convinces us to commit sins we know are wrong and harmful to others and to ourselves. And he is very good at convincing us to sweep our house clean of God’s word and put it in order, so that it is ready for seven more demons to move in. Yet much more, must we never underestimate the power of God’s Word to forgive, to strengthen our faith, and to save. The one who holds fast to God’s Word holds fast to Christ Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, yes indeed, to the Holy Trinity Himself. And where God dwells, there is no room for Satan.
This warning does not meant that Baptism is a once and done event that won’t do you any good anymore. No, your Baptism continues to work with you and for you your entire life, but never apart from God’s Word and promise. Through Baptism, God leads you to repent of your sins, to crucify your sinful lusts and drown your old Adam every day, and to rise to live before Christ in faith and love. To walk by the Spirit, so that you do not gratify the desires of your flesh is to walk according to your Baptism, because it is in your Baptism that you received the Holy Spirit and were clothed with Christ. You can rejoice every day in your Baptism, because saying, “I am baptized.”, is to say to Satan, “I am free from you and you cannot harm me.”; it is to say to death, “You’ve lost your sting.”; it is to say to God, “I am your dear child and heir. I wear as a permanent garment Christ himself. I love you, because you love me.”
Through Baptism we are placed into the kingdom of Christ. And we live in this kingdom through faith in God’s promises. Faith comes from hearing God’s promises. God promises to forgive us. He promises to strengthen us. He promises to rescue us from every evil and give us eternal life for the sake of Christ who bought us with his blood. Through God’s word we keep hold of the promises of our Baptism and we remain citizens of Christ’s kingdom until he will come to establish us in it permanently. Amen.