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?
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
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt