With all that’s going on in today’s Gospel lesson, I’d like to look at just one part: the strong man.

If asked, theologically speaking, who the “strong man” in the Gospel lesson is, what would you say?

Most say Jesus.

We would all say that strength can be a noble attribute, and noble attributes belong to God, but we ought not forget that our adversary, the devil, “prowls around like a [strong] lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

The devil is the strong man in today’s Gospel lesson.

To say that the devil is weak—or toothless—or even defeated sometimes ignores the real angst going on in someone’s life.

It takes great faith granted from and sustained by our dear Father in heaven to confess that death has no sting.

Death has no sting—that’s the truth.

But does that mean you never remember the past, Grandma, Grandson, Best Friend, or Neighbor?

Does that mean you never remember them and weep for what could have been?

Does that truth mean that you can look through that shoebox in your closet full of your past and never shed a single tear for what you’ve lost?

Does that truth mean that anniversaries of births or deaths, simple pictures, and songs remind you only of joy?

Hardly.

The strong man is the devil.

He’s defeated, but he’s strong.

He has no bite but barks.

He is defeated and yet fights.

And we feel it.

Emotions get the best of us: anger, hatred, depression, fear all get the best of us. Sin gets the best of us.

“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe” (Luke 11:21).

Born into sin, dead in our trespasses and sins (cf. Ephesians 2:1), we belong to beelzebul, the prince of demons. He is fully armed, he guards his palace, and his goods are safe. The strong man fights to keep you.

But there is a stronger man.

“When one stronger than [the strong man, the devil] attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Luke 11:22).

Depart, O unclean spirit.

And make room for the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the Stronger Man, and He fights to win you away from sin, death, and satan.

And this is a fight on different fronts.

In a battle of wits, the devil uses perfect logic to show that you can’t be dead and alive at the same time.

Dead in your trespasses and sins, all the evidence suggests that nothing’s changed. The devil would have you believe, therefore, that salvation doesn’t include you.

That’s the devil’s logical conclusion: “Not you.”

“But we preach Christ crucified” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23) knowing full well that it’s foolishness to worldly logic. The divine logic of the Cross shames the worldly logic of the devil.

The Stronger Man, Christ, who died—does live.

So faith confesses before God and man and devil: “Even me.”

In a battle of strength, the devil will show you every weakness you have: How can a loving God let you suffer? Perhaps you suffer, perhaps you know people who are worse off. But so what?

Does that mean God is more just and right and good or less?

The devil’s practical conclusion is: “Your loving God lets you go through that. That’s not love.”

There’s a scene in The Passion of the Christ that makes this point, I think.

Jesus is being scourged, and the devil is walking through the crowd embracing his own demonic child—as if to say, “Here’s how I treat mine. Too bad that’s how yours treats you?”

“But we preach Christ crucified” knowing full well it’s a stumbling block to pragmatism.

Infinite in power and knowledge, having created all things that are, Jesus the Eternal Son of God endured the shame of the Cross: stripes, nails, splinters and all, so that by His stripes—we are healed.

The Son of God died, but our Father raised Him from the dead.

We are not promised to be spared.

We are promised eternal life.

So faith confesses before God and man and devil: “This is love. That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (cf. Romans 5:8).

In a battle for souls, the strong man, the devil speaks strong words in accusation, “You deserve death and hell. Your sins separate you from God. Salvation belongs to them, not you—otherwise you’d be better than you are. And nothing about you is good enough.”

Those are strong words.

But the Stronger Man speaks stronger words for your acquittal, saying, “For this one especially, for you, I died.”

So trust the words, “given and shed for you.”

All of Christ’s work was for your salvation: He “gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).

So faith confesses before God and man and devil:  “I admit that I deserve death and hell—what of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. And where He is I shall be also.”

The battle still rages.

The devil fights against faith in every memory of pain, every argument recalled, every anniversary, and even in the shoebox in your closet.

But the Stronger Man, Jesus Christ, fights for you here and now that you would have victory in all those places.

You see, the painful memories you have of your dearly departed Christians aren’t the last memories you’ll have of them. Those arguments—not the last words.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ breaks and hinders all the devil’s plans and purposes.

So we preach Christ crucified—and resurrected.

And as we’ll sing it a few minutes from now:

“In Thine arms [O God] I rest me; / Foes who would molest me / Cannot reach me here. / Though the earth be shaking, / Ev’ry heart be quaking, / Jesus calms my fear. / Lightnings flash And thunders crash; / Yet though sin and hell assail me, / Jesus will not fail me” (LSB 743:2).

With all that’s going on in today’s Gospel lesson, we looked at just one part, the strong man, but when it comes down to it, we never study the strong man, the devil. We always study the Stronger Man, Jesus Christ, who defeats the devil.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Oculi (Lent 3), 2021
Luke 11:14-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.

But not everything Jesus says is meant to comfort.

Today, none of the words Jesus says are words you want to hear on on a plain Sunday morning let alone a Sunday morning where the nation is seemingly ravaged by fear.

Jesus says, for example:

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls” (Luke 11:17).

Jesus doesn’t speak these words with the immediate intent of bringing comfort.

People accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of satan—that’s what’s going on—and Jesus responds with dead and cold logic: the devil doesn’t seek his own destruction. A divided kingdom falls.

“…If Satan…is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:18).

Jesus means to say that it won’t. 

He goes on: “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges” (Luke 11:19).

More cold logic.

It’s not that these people have a problem with demons being cast out.

In the previous chapter, Jesus “appointed seventy-two others and sent them on” to heal the sick (Luke 10:1). When they return, they say, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke 10:17).

The people critiquing Jesus in chapter eleven are happy about demons being cast out in chapter ten. Friends of the family can do no wrong.

But the crowd is unhappy when Jesus does it, because Jesus unapologetically calls people to repentance.

It’s as if Jesus says, “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

They’re not words we post on our walls—at home or on Facebook, but Jesus does say those exact words in Luke chapter thirteen, in context, not far from today’s lesson.

Today, Jesus says this next: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).

That sounds good—until you remember the other places in Scripture where God’s fingers do work.

If the finger of God and His Kingdom is upon you, in the Bible, that’s not immediately good.

It was the finger of God that afflicted Egypt with the plagues in Exodus chapter eight.

It was the finger of God that wrote the testimony of God, the Ten Commandments, on stone tablets (cf. Ex. 31, Deut. 8).

It was the very fingers of God that set the moon and stars and all the heavens in place. That’s Psalm 8, where David then prays, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4).

To those who know the Word of God, the finger of God is not immediately comforting. If Jesus says the finger and Kingdom of God is upon you, there is, at least, in the back of your head, a little voice that must ask, “What if I’m the one that’s wrong? What if now’s the time God has set to deal with me?”

God might use that virus to bring you before Him.

There’s no comfort for the man on death-row if the judge and executioner visits.

You don’t comfort a sinner with the finger of God.

Then Jesus says: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe…”

That’s the most comforting thing Jesus has said yet.

Who is the strong man?

It’s not Jesus.

That’s the most comforting thing Jesus has said yet until you realize He’s talking about satan.

The devil is the strong man who guards unbelievers like a miser his money.

The strong man is not at all comforting.

Jesus goes on: “…but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Lk. 11:21-22).

Even this is not immediately helpful.

That Jesus is stronger than the devil is only comforting if Jesus actually binds the devil.

We see the work of the devil all over the place.

Viruses, sicknesses, diseases, and death are the purpose and playground of the devil.

But why don’t you fear God as much as you do being without toilet paper?

The unlikely potential of being sick causes you to prepare for the next month as though it could be your last.

But it’s always been the case that it could be your last.

Why is there urgency now?

To make matters worse, Jesus says this next:

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23).

You can’t use those words to comfort any ailing soul. Here, Jesus is speaking only Law, and while there are many who have valid reasons to avoid mass gatherings of people, there are others who will use any conscience issue as a free pass from obligation.

As a warning, I say, you will fear God if you don’t.

Jesus adds to it. It’s worse before it’s better. He says: “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” (Luke 11:24-26).

So, casting out demons is good, but the demon came back the very next day.

Thought he was a goner but he wouldn’t stay away.

That’s neither helpful nor comforting.

“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!’” (Luke 11:27).

But even this Jesus corrects: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28).

But that doesn’t help.

Would you want that said to you?

Dying of coronavirus, your pastor visits you, in a hazmat suit, and says, “If you’ve kept the Word, you’re blessed.”

Does anyone want to hear that?

Could anyone be comforted by that?

But Jesus doesn’t say these things to comfort us.

He warns us, scares us, rebukes us, calls us to repentance—so that our pride is defeated.

Sin divides us from God.

There are no victimless sins. There are no sins without repercussions and fallout.

But Christ unites Himself to all who repent.

He will not and cannot unite Himself to impenitence.

God doesn’t ignore sin, He forgives it.

The finger of God works powerful signs, showing our fragility and God’s marvelousness. The plagues and the Red Sea preserved Israel and destroyed hardhearted Pharaoh and all his host.

The same is true today.

Plagues will run their course.

If it’s not COVID-19 it’s H1N1.

God preserves the faithful in the faith—that doesn’t mean Christians never die. That means God never loses any who are His.

God’s Word shows us our sin and calls us to repentance. God’s Word shows us our savior and creates in us a clean heart.

Hardheartedness is destroyed by sins confessed and forgiven.

Lost, Jesus finds us.

Broken, He heals.

Sick, He feeds us His own Flesh and Blood, making us well.

Faithful, He forgives all our sins.

Silent, Jesus casts out our demons so that we speak the orthodox truth: Jesus is Lord. He was handed over unto death, and God raised Him from death for our justification (cf. Rom. 10:9; 4:25).

What Jesus says today calls us to repentance and teaches us to fear, love, and trust the Living God above all things.

But Jesus’ words today don’t end there.

Jesus is the stronger man who bound death and satan with the Cross.

You are safe with God.

You are saved by God.

The Finger of God is at work in Christ Who separates you from death and hell, draws a line in the sand, and pulls you into salvation and keeps you in the one, true faith.

Hear His Word and do it—confess your sins, receive the absolution, and rejoice that—in Christ—all sin is forgiven.

Blessed are you who hear the Word of God and keep it.

Blessed are you who have heard the Word of God and are kept by It.

“O little flock, fear not the foe Who madly seeks your overthrow; Dread not his rage and pow’r. And though your courage sometimes faints, His seeming triumph o’er God’s saints Lasts but a little hour.

As true as God’s own Word is true, Not earth nor hell’s satanic crew Against us shall prevail. Their might? A joke, a mere façade! God is with us and we with God— Our vict’ry cannot fail” (LSB 666:1,3).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Oculi (Lent 3) Sermon, 2020
Luke 11:14-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt