Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read, especially these words: “Before Abraham was I AM.”
In times of trial as we’re experiencing, one of the things I find helpful is working on memorizing portions of Scripture. Now, I’m assuming most of you have heard me speak about that before, but it’s always a good thing to be encouraged to do. As it says in Psalm 119, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Or in the ESV that we use, “I have stored up your word in my heart.” What is memorizing that word besides hiding it in our hearts, storing it there, making it a part of our being?
As I say that, recently I have been working to memorize Psalm 46. You may recall that’s the Psalm that Luther was inspired by when he wrote his great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” I also included portions of it in the email that I sent when we first began having to address Covid-19 and these issues of social distancing. That said, here it is in its entirety:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
What comforting words those are in the midst of these times. The first verse I often think of with this is that one that so many of us know: Be still and know that I am God. That verse that tells us that God is in charge of this. The verse that tells us that He will be exalted, He will not let Himself be crushed and those who are His will not be put to shame. That’s comforting. And a good reminder for us to let our anxieties be quieted.
Then there are the first words of the Psalm: God is our refuge and strength. He’s a very present help in our trouble. He’s with us. He promises it. Yes we might not feel it. We might feel anxiety at what will happen. We might be anxious about our loved ones getting sick, our about our economy crashing with no ability to quickly revive. We might be angry about the way this is being handled. But no matter the emotions we feel, this word stands. God is there. He is present with you. Therefore you don’t fear. Though the earth gives way and even the mountains would crumble into the sea. There He is. With you. Not leaving you. In fact, you as the Church are the dwelling place of the Most High. As He comes to you by His Holy Spirit in His Word, as He meets you in His Holy Supper. There He is with you, you will not be moved. He will help you when the morning dawns.
Even further, the nations can rage at each other in war, kingdoms can fall, governments can fail, and yet there He is: standing firm and unflappable. There He is the Lord of Hosts, YAHWEH Sabaoth, He is with you; the God of Jacob, your fortress. And as I mentioned this as Luther’s inspiration for the hymn, I’m sure you can see it there: God our fortress, our Feste Burg, who will not crumble under any attack and who will shelter us in His care.
As I say all this, then, you might be wondering what this has to do with John Chapter 8. After all, I said that we’d be meditating on those words from the Gospel, not Psalm 46. Psalm 46 wasn’t even the appointed Psalm. Instead it was Psalm 43, “Vindicate me O God,” the Psalm for which this Sunday got its Latin name: Judica Sunday. And here I am talking about Psalm 46. Why?
Well, many of you have perhaps heard me read this on a visit to you in the hospital, or with a trial. You may in that know where I am going. You see, as comforting this Psalm is, and those words are utterly comforting, I always find it interesting that in the middle of it you have this verse that easily could rip all of the comfort away, if it’s not understood properly. That’s verse 8: Come, behold the works of the Lord, how He has brought desolations on the earth. Now, I said that about this needing to be understood properly, and so I want you to hang with me to understand it properly. Don’t stop listening when you begin to think I’m ripping away comfort. Trust me, the comfort that is here is great.
Now, in this verse about God bringing desolations, the Hebrew word there means waste or appalment, even horrors. The Greek in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint has the word terata, which connects to the idea of terrible signs, terrible miraculous wonders. When we see the things going on around us, I think we can identify with that. Behold how these things come. Behold how these “Acts of God” as we even call them sometimes, occur.
What does the world say about them? The look at this and they say that it becomes impossible to believe in the kind of God who works these sorts of things, don’t they? I saw a fair amount of criticism in the media about Vice President Pence’s statement that they would be praying for God’s help in this. They essentially said that you can pray about this, but the real help will come from science-as if praying for an answer precludes God working through scientists to provide it. But that’s the view isn’t it? That the God who allows evil like this, or “works desolations” is unworthy of trust.
What do we say to this? How do we continue in trust? Well Christians, we hide in Him who is our fortress. We come to Him in the realization that these desolations, these terrible wonders weren’t His intent for the world in the beginning. He didn’t want this world to suffer when He created it. His desire for creation wasn’t that it would groan under the curse of sin. His desire for humanity wasn’t that we would get Covid-19 or cancer or heart attacks, or even the common cold. But understanding that these come from sin, we hide in Him our Fortress. We hide in the Fortress of Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts.
And it’s there that we have the connection to this Gospel Lesson this morning. You see, and I think many of you know this, when we see the Name “Lord” written in the Old Testament with a large capital L and small capital ord, that means the Name written there in the Hebrew is Yahweh, or Jehovah. And hopefully you all know what that Name is. If you don’t go read Exodus 3. There on the mountain as the Lord appeared to Moses. And He revealed a Name by which the people would call upon Him. Yahweh. In English, I AM.
In our Gospel Lesson, what do we see? We see Jesus having this whole argument with
the Jews about them being children of the Devil. Not because Jews are especially evil, or anything of that sort. No, but because Jesus is standing there claiming that their God is His Father, and they don’t believe His Word. Finally, Jesus makes the point that they like to claim Abraham as their father, but Abraham wanted Jesus’ day to come.
And I love the way it’s said there. They look at Jesus and they laugh because Jesus isn’t even fifty years old. Abraham lived something like 2000 years before them, and yet Jesus says Abraham saw His day and rejoiced. You see He says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Now on the one hand I have always liked this because it speaks about Jesus’ existence. Before Abraham Jesus was there. But that’s not merely the point. He could have said, “Before Abraham was, I was.” Instead, though, He says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” “Before Abraham was, Yahweh.”
And you see Christians, there is the connection. The Lord of Hosts, the Yahweh Sabaoth, the God of Jacob who is our Fortress is the God who dwelt bodily in the man Jesus Christ. In fact, this week on the 25, nine month before Christmas, we had the Feast of the Annunciation; the feast celebrating the day the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she would have a child. And who does he say that child is? Immanuel. God with us. Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, the God of Jacob in the flesh as our Fortress.
And there is our comfort. When we hear that this Lord, this Yahweh, brings desolations, we see His real heart in Jesus. In the God who was willing to enter into our humanity and carry all of our sin to the cross, we see who this loving God actually is. In Jesus, our beloved we see the greatest desolation of all, the most terrible wonder of all: the perfect man, God in the flesh crucified in the place of sinners.
Christians, there we see what it means that He is our fortress. We see that this means no matter the desolations, no matter the wonders, no matter the sickness or trail, He has stepped in front of the attack, borne the cost of the war in our place. And in His resurrection, we see that His action in doing this has provided the proof of His victory; the proof of our forgiveness. It’s provided the promise that all of our sin is forgiven.
What does that mean for us, then? It means that as we endure the days ahead we do so in the assurance that this God loves us and truly wants what’s best for us. It means that as we look at the Crucified I AM, that we see the full judgment of God poured out so that we can experience our trials now in the knowledge of the love of this God, that we can experience them not as punishment, but as the loving chastisement and discipline of a Father who cares for us. It means that we really can understand that no matter the outcome of our circumstances, we can know that this God truly is with us. This God will truly never leave us, nor forsake us. We can trust that when Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” He was, but became man to give us the promise of His care for our humanity.
Christians, hide then above all that word in your heart. Store that promise in your being in this time, that you would not fear or have anxiety. Keep it that you would not overflow with anxiety, or anger, or any of the emotions that would draw your attention away from the good work the Lord of Hosts is doing. You see, when we know who this Lord is, then we have all the comfort in the world. Truly the comfort far beyond it, because we know the care, the protection, and the love this great God has for us as our Fortress. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Honor isn’t something that’s taken, it’s given. Those who are honored are given that honor, they don’t take it. When a soldier is awarded the Purple Heart, he doesn’t take that Purple Heart by virtue of being wounded. Theoretically, he could be wounded and not receive the honor of the award. No, it has to be given.
In our lesson tonight, the author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of another honor. He says, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.” Here he’s comparing Jesus and Moses and saying how Jesus is greater than Moses. And what is the comparison he uses? The difference between a house and its builder. Think about it. I’m sure you’ve seen some amazing houses. I remember when I was young we went to the Benjamin Harrison home in Indianapolis. The house itself had a glory, especially considering that it was built in the 1800’s. But as I say that, I had seen houses that people lived in that were bigger and had fancier and more modern comforts and accommodations. But this house had glory because of whose house it was. It was the house of a president of the United States, after all. So the glory came from the “builder” of the house. And of course, I could think of a similar comparison with Mount Vernon where George Washington lived. That house had a greater glory than Benjamin Harrison’s home, but the greater glory came because of the “builder” of that house as well. That house was preserved because of who George Washington was.
And as we hear this letter, hear this sermon, you could even say, to the Hebrews, we have to consider the honor that Moses was given. Think about Moses in the Old Testament. I think of all the key figures there, Moses presents himself as the one with the most honor. He is the one who had the honor of the most revelation received from God. He is the one who saw God in a way no other prophet or figure did. He has the honor of leading the people to freedom from their slavery. Moses had great honor. So, for the author to say Jesus has more honor is something really significant.
And as I say that, take a second to consider what all we see in Moses. Think about the pictures God gives to us in what Moses did. For example, the leading of the people out of the slavery from Pharaoh like I just mentioned. Which, by the way is why we didn’t do a regular Psalm, but the Song of Moses after the crossing of the Red Sea. You see, there he was, the people were bound under tyranny, and Moses led them into freedom through the Red Sea. Think about the picture there. This is the freedom that we have from our sin. We are under the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil, and we have One who frees us from that through water, the water of baptism. So in Moses, there’s a picture of Jesus, isn’t there? What an honor?
And again we see this work that Moses does giving us a picture of Jesus in his intercession. You might remember that there’s the story of the Golden Calf. The Israelites are in the wilderness, and God has spoken the Ten Commandments to them, the Ten Commandments that include in the First Commandment to have no other gods the explanation of this so as to not create graven images and worship them. But what do the Israelites do? They get tired of Moses being up on the mountain with God, and so they convince Aaron to lead them in a worship service. And what do they do for this service? They gather all the gold and they put it into the Golden Calf. They even call it a feast to the LORD, misusing God’s Name as they had also been told not to in the Second Commandment. In the midst of this, God’s anger is kindled and so He tells Moses that He will destroy the Israelites and make a nation from Moses. To this, Moses intercedes and pleads for God to spare them—not because they’re so good, not because they deserve it, but because of God’s goodness and His Name. In the same way Jesus intercedes for us before God. Not because we deserve it, not because we’re so good, but because of Jesus’ goodness and because He bears the Name that is above every Name.
Finally, then we also see this picture of Jesus, or our life in Jesus with Moses in the wilderness. I mentioned the connection to the water of the Red Sea and our baptism, so also we can see our life being in the wilderness of sin. We’ve been rescued from sin, and are in the camp with the presence of our Lord, but around us is this desert. Just as God fed the Israelites, He feeds us with the Lord’s Supper. And finally when we die, our baptism is completed and we enter into His eternal Promised Land, just as the Israelites entered their Promised Land through the waters of the Jordan.
In all of this, in all of these pictures of Jesus that we see in Moses, we great honor there, don’t we? Isn’t it great honor that Moses would even be given the ability to see God as he did, to be given the revelations he was given, to convey the pictures of Jesus he conveyed? It’s great honor. But it’s not the honor that Jesus has.
In fact, if you know the story of the wilderness well, you can see it there. Think about what happens in the wilderness. Do you recall what happened to the generation that entered the wilderness? Eventually, they weren’t permitted to enter the Promised Lan. They had been given a law. The Law had a promise with it: do this and you will live. They didn’t do it, thus they didn’t live. Even Moses at a point fell short, and so was forbidden from entering the Promised Land. And to drive the point home all the more, what was the name of the successor to Moses who finally led the Israelites into that land? Joshua. Yeshua. In Greek, Jesus. Moses didn’t have the honor to take the people to the Pomised Land. No, that was reserved for Jesus.
Why is this? Because these promises of the Law of Moses fall short. They’re earthly promises that will finally disappoint. They won’t carry us to the heavenly Promised Land. We can try and try and try to do them, but they won’t get us there, just like the Israelite generation that came out of Egypt couldn’t get to their Promised Land. The Promise of the Law is do this and you will live. But finally, it falls short. Not because of itself. No, it’s God’s good Word, but because it’s call for us to do is broken by our sin. We can’t do it.
As I say that I’m often saddened when I look at how many people cling to some of these promises of the Law. They see the upholding of the Law of Moses as the way to get this blessing or that blessing. But those blessings are temporary, they’re temporal. They’re temporal and conditional.
Now, to be clear, is it good to keep God’s Law? Of course it is. They are His good commands, do them! But, don’t lose faith when you do them and you receive only hardship. Don’t lose faith when you try to keep them and still have suffering. In our specific time, we shouldn’t be upset should we even fall prey to Covid 19. This is something that is not promised that we will be spared from. Even as we read something like Psalm 91, which says, “no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” That doesn’t mean that if we just believe the right way or do just the right thing, we’ll certainly be spared. That Psalm speaks of Christ, and all it’s good is good we have eternally, not temporally, eternally because of Him.
And you see that’s where the comfort of this honor of Christ comes in. Sure, with something like Covid-19, we can take some comfort that 80% of people only have mild to moderate symptoms for the infection. But there’s that 20% that still require some kind of treatment. And that 20%, one in five. That’s not all that comforting.
But in Christ, there’s the real comfort. There’s the real comfort that comes from the honor of the One who did all for us. He did that so that His promises are not conditional and they are not temporal, but eternal. Christians, there’s the greater glory. The fact that Christ did all that He did without any merit or worthiness in you, that’s your comfort. The fact that He went to the cross for your sins before you were born and won that forgiveness before you could ever ask for it, that’s the beauty and comfort that manifests this greater honor. And the fact that this means an eternity of the freedom of body and soul from the sorrows, pains, and death of sin, all in His resurrection, that’s the most comforting of all. It’s the comfort that helps us endure temporary suffering in view of eternal joy.
In fact, the author to the Hebrews says it this way: “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.” Just as a servant, especially a well-respected one, has many rights and maybe even good authority, the son has even greater. The Son has the full right of inheritance. This is the difference between Moses and the Law and Jesus and His Gospel. Under the honor of the Law, under the arrangement where your relationship with God is based upon what you do, you are enslaved. But under the greater honor, the Gospel, your relationship with God is based upon what He has done and what He still does for you in Christ.
This honor is the greatest. This is the honor that gives you the full inheritance of the Son, because we are His house. Not His building constructed out of stones and wood, not but His dwelling and eternal household line constructed by His Work given to us in His Word, in Baptism, and in His Supper. And just like all honor, that’s not taken, it’s given. It’s a gift to you in His love for you.
In our uncertain times, then, remember the honor He speaks to you in His Word, that He has adopted you in Christ, and made you His Sons, heirs with Him in the glory of the eternal. As shaky as the promises of keeping laws and commands are, and as shaky as all things in this life are, the honor of Jesus is certain, firm, and promised to you eternally. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read.
With everything going, it seemed appropriate read a letter Luther wrote to a man by the name of John Hess in 1527. You see in 1527 the Bubonic Plague struck Germany again. In view of that, there was an epidemic. In this epidemic, this pastor, John Hess had written Luther to know how to advise people in the midst of the turmoil. Luther’s response bears a number of his signature marks when giving pastoral advice. I think the thing I like the best about it, though, is Luther’s ability to balance between Divine Providence and human responsibility. In other words, his advice says not to tempt God, that is, don’t intentionally expose yourself, or don’t refrain from seeing a doctor with a sickness. In that same vein, don’t put your neighbor at risk intentionally. But on the flip side, where you are needed to serve your neighbor, be there. And as he describes the outline for that, he looks—as he often does—to the Scriptural understanding of vocation. What are your vocations? Are they ones that allow you to flee to a place where you can be a hermit? Then that’s OK! But do this in view of the commandments. And as I say that, you can think about that wording in the Small Catechism on Confession: are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, worker? If those demand that you stay to care for your neighbor, then don’t flee. Be where you need to be. But if not it’s Ok to go. To kind of summarize this there’s a quote from this letter that you may have seen, is it’s been floating around the internet these past couple of weeks.
Luther says: “You ought to think this way: ‘Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
Again, I think those are such great words of advice for our time. Having said that, another interesting thing in the letter was that Luther speaks also of encouraging people to go to church. I don’t know how he would respond in our day where we can distribute church in the way that we are doing right now, but I suppose it’s all the more an encouragement that when we are able to be with one another face to face we ought to be. And if somehow this gets to someone who doesn’t not have a church home, I encourage you to find that face to face connection in a church as well. Those of you who read my email read my words making the point that as Jesus came in the flesh, so also the Church, when she is able, gathers in the flesh. She gathers around the Living Word of Jesus and around His body and blood in the Supper.
In the meantime, however, one last point that Luther made is very fitting for our lessons this morning. He said that in the midst of an epidemic—or a pandemic in our case: “we can be sure that God’s punishment has come upon us, not only to chastise us for our sins but also to test our faith and love—our faith in that we may see and experience how we should act toward God; our love in that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor.” Something such as this comes that we may see and experience how we should act toward God and that would recognize how we should act toward our neighbor.
I make this connection because in the Gospel lesson and you could see also in the Old Testament lesson that there is this test in particular with regard to faith. In the Old Testament, the Israelites are out in the wilderness. As I say that I always like to give it the context that they are there after they have been freed in the Exodus. They had been in slavery in Egypt to Pharaoh. They had been rescued from that slavery by Moses. They had been led through the Red Sea and now they’re in the wilderness. And in that they’re being tested. How will they respond to God? And as they so often do, they grumble.
Here God has taken them from the burdens of their taskmasters, out from under the whips of their slave-drivers, and what do they say? “Why did you do this, Moses? Why did you bring us out to let us die?” And of course, God knew what He was doing. He wasn’t going to let them die. He wasn’t going to free them that they would then be abandoned by Him. No! These are His precious people! He’s not going to leave them.
The same is true for us, Christians. God has rescued us from the tyranny of sin, death, and the devil. He’s not going to let us wither and fall. He’s not going to leave us alone. All the more as we experience this trial that we’re enduring now with COVID-19. Now, I’m sure that some of you are more anxious than others, but no matter how worried you are, you can sense the overall tension around us. And in that, we have this comfort. The God who has rescued us from sin, will not abandon us now.
To connect this then to the Gospel Lesson, we see this test that Jesus gives Philipp. If you recall in the lesson, Jesus turned to Philipp and He said, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” And why? “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.” Jesus knew He had all these people there. He knew just how they were going to be fed, but Philipp didn’t. So, He tested him. How would Philipp experience how he should act toward God? Would Philipp trust Jesus in this seemingly overwhelming circumstance?
Well, then Jesus shows him. He takes the bread, He gives thanks, He breaks it and gives it to the people. And they eat. Not only do they eat, but look at what John tells us that they ate “as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, [Jesus] told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.” How much did they eat? They ate until they had their fill. They had plenty. In fact, not only did Jesus give them plenty, but an abundance overflowed from it.
Now, there are two things to consider from this. First, as we watch people running to the grocery stores in fear that there won’t be enough, this is a great reminder. Not only did we have our public officials saying over and over not to worry about this because all of the supply chains will remain intact, but we have the promise of our Lord that there’s not need for us to run to the store and hoard right now. No, we have this assurance that we will be taken care of.
And second, look at the number of basketsful that are left. Did you hear the number? There are twelve. In the Bible, the number twelve signifies the Church. There were twelve tribes in the Old Testament. There were twelve disciples in the New Testament. This is the Church. And what do we see? The Church will be filled. There’s not need for us to worry in the midst of this. There’s not need for us wring our hands and fear that God will not provide. May there be times we don’t get what we want exactly as we want it? Certainly. Consider that even the Israelites got tired of the Manna.
I always think about that. Here this was the miraculous provision from God, and they grumble about it. But that’s how we are, isn’t it? God abundantly and mercifully gives to us. He graciously gives and gives and gives and we worry it’s not enough. Or we decide it’s not enough. Or it’s not what we want. But it is best. It might not be what we want, but it’s best. And we see this because we see His goodness.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but we see at the end of the Gospel of John that he tells us this Gospel is written that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ and that by believing we might have life in His Name. In particular, you have John writing about these signs that Jesus did. The signs in John are a big deal. And you saw it in this lesson. “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” When they saw what? The sign! That’s how they knew. The sign of this care is how we know ourselves.
And what sign in particular? The sign of Jesus’ death on the cross. The sign that the sins that we commit, our sins of grumbling, our sins of worrying, our sins of doubting God and selfishness toward our neighbor, all of that is crucified on that cross of Jesus, and in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we have the sign that shows us our sin has been declared forgiven. As we see all of that, then, we see who our God is. We His love for us. We see that as we experience the trials that we have now, that He is loving and He will never forsake us. He will never leave us. He will make sure that we have the food that we need, and all the more the eternal care that is necessary.
Christians, as we hear Luther describing the testing of an epidemic as something God gives us “that we may see and experience how we should act toward God… [and] that we may recognize how we should act toward our neighbor,” our Lord Jesus’ action in this lesson makes it clear. The sign of His giving bread to the Five Thousand shows His desire to care even for our bodily needs. The sign of His death and resurrection for our sin shows His goodness and desire to love us not only now, but eternally. All of this then gives us the comfort that no matter what happens now, no matter the trials we experience, no matter sickness or hunger, our God will care for us and is trustworthy in His Love for us. May God comfort us with His peace, then in that love as we continue in the days ahead. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read.
As we hear this lesson altogether, it could seem a bit disjointed. We’ve got the description of Jesus casting out demons. Then there’s this discussion of the kingdom of Satan dividing against itself. Then there’s the strong man, and this image of the demon cast out and the house being cleaned with the demon coming back and filling the house with more spirits worse than himself. But you see, this all comes down to a simple understanding. The palace of the strong man is the world and the strong man is the devil. The world, ever since the fall, is under the tyranny of the strong man. And Christ is the stronger man who comes and takes over that palace, plundering the goods there. And we are the goods. Christ comes and takes us from the possession of the evil one and makes us His own.
In times like what we’ve experienced this week, what a blessing to consider. As we look at the chaos that has surrounded us in this time, it becomes easy to think that we are in a place where we should fear. What if we all get sick? What if COVID-19 becomes the modern iteration of the bubonic plague where vast swaths of the population succumb to it? What if the world collapses under the pressure of this illness?
I mentioned in my email that I sent to the congregation yesterday how odd it was making my usual Costco run in the midst of this. Seeing the aisle which is usually stocked full of paper products and a multiplicity of varieties of water was at a third of its usual capacity. And that third included no paper products at all. And as crazy as it was at 5:30 in the evening, the cashier said that when the doors opened that morning there had been something like 600 people gathered at the entrance of the building.
There’s a tangible taste in the air of eeriness and panic. It’s in a time like this that it feels like the strong man is maintaining his hold on his palace. Whether you are one who feels it because of the anxiety that can close in as our fears take hold, or whether you feel it because you can see the worry of the world around you, it seems dark.
But that’s where we have this joy. Christ is our Stronger Man, He is the One who has entered into the palace of the strong man and overcome him. Sure the devil received great power when the first sin was committed, sure he seized the dominion of the world that had been given to Adam and he’s been exercising that ever since, but when Christ came, the claim the devil could lay to having dominion was squelched. In Christ, sin was nailed to the cross in His body and in his resurrection His victory was declared. And with that the palace was plundered and the strong man defeated.
Luther likened this to going fishing. The weakness of Christ, the ability for sinners to so easily be convinced to crucify Him, this was the worm on the hook. And the devil grabbed on. And when He did, then he was caught. The hook was set, and he was defeated.
Christians, as we experience times like what we have now, that’s our comfort. We have our Lord who has overcome the strong man. We have Jesus who has won the victory: the Stronger Man who reigns in the world, and who has taken us as His plunder, carrying us into His Kingdom, His eternal Kingdom.
It’s in that comfort that we can view the stresses and anxieties, even the insecurities of this life. We have the assurance that no matter the chaos we know here, no matter the unsureness of what the days ahead will bring. No matter should we even lose our life here, we have the promise of the One who has won the victory over all the sorrows, fears, and over evil itself.
It’s in view of that that we should understand not only this part of the reading where Jesus talks about the strong man and the palace, but also the house. Now of course, what Jesus is saying there is that when an evil spirt would be exorcised from someone, that spiritual home that is that person would have to be filled. Sure you could cast the evil spirit out of it. You could make the house look really good, but then it’s easy for that house to be filled not only by that spirit, but seven more, worse than him.
And as we understand that, what’s Jesus saying? He’s saying that when the evil spirit is cast out, the “space” has to be filled with something. And what’s that? Well, I said something, but more so, it should be someone. And I think you know where I’m going with that. Just as the spirits dwell in the house of the person in Jesus’ parable there, our Lord comes and dwells in us. He comes and He dwells there in baptism. We’re filled by Him, Christ coming to us, dwelling in us in the water with the Word. Our being joined to Christ in His body and blood. Him filling us with His Spirit as He speaks His Word to us.
And you see, that’s the need. If the house is just organized in itself, that’s not enough. It needs to be occupied. Think of having an abandoned house. Sure, you can leave it empty, you can leave it pristine, but over the course of time it won’t stay that way. So it is with the spiritual house. Again, Jesus is talking specifically about exorcism here, but I think we can connect this to some other things.
For example, I look at our culture. Since the end of World War II especially, the culture had a very strong bent toward that which is Christian. Even before that, there was a strong emphasis on morality. Whether it was the case then, or became the case over time, this eventually became moralism. By that I mean that there was a strong emphasis on being a good person. There was a strong emphasis on living and upright life, but that morality was not grounded in faith for many. In that morality, there may even have been a lot of discussion about God, generically. However, this wasn’t true faith.
A book that I’ve mentioned before called Christless Christianity opens with an image like this. It says to imagine this extremely moral society, this society where everyone is nice and where no one drinks or smokes, or dances or cusses. In fact, in this society everyone is even in church on Sunday morning. However, at those churches, none of the pastors ever preach the Gospel. They never tell the people of their sinfulness and the joy that Christ has overcome this. Dr. Horton, the author of that book makes the point that this would be an ideal society in the mind of the devil. Why? Because it’s that house. It’s the house where everything has been swept clean, but it’s empty, and it’s waiting for the seven spirits to come in and take over.
I think we had that and now we are seeing the result. Look at our culture, it’s gone from being one which in many ways had all its moral ducks in a row, but has gone to chaos in terms of families and values, and even morality. Ultimately, the house was not filled with Christ.
And that should be a warning to us as well. As we heard in the Old Testament lesson, we must always be living in the way our Lord seeks for us to live. We must always be living in faith in Him, not just God generically, but the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; in faith in the God who entered into this world in the flesh of Jesus who bore our sin on the cross. And in that faith, we are called always to repentance. As we look around at something like the pandemic we’re experiencing, that should always remind us to repent. Look to our own sins—not to the sins of these people, or those people, but to our sins—and we should repent. Like I said, just as the Old Testament lesson tells us.
And what does that look like? Well, look at the Epistle lesson. As Paul speaks to the church in Ephesus, he describes that repentant life there. The life without impurity, without greed, without idolatry. And as I say that, we could even say a moral life. Again, however, this life is always grounded in faith.
And that’s how we must understand it at any time. It always comes back to faith; as I mentioned a few weeks ago, to that fearing, loving and trusting in God above all things.
And Christians, as we look at our current circumstances, we see so much fear and anxiety around us. But we have the One who is worthy of our faith. We have the One worthy of our fear, worthy of our love, and worthy of our trust. As we look to how our houses should be filled, we see Jesus the Stronger Man. He is the One who has cast the spirits who would seek to demolish our house. Likewise, we see that He is the One who has cast the strong man out of his palace. And as you doubt that in these times, look to the cross and resurrection. There you see the reality of this victory. And if you doubt that victory applies to you, don’t. Look to your baptism, look to this Word being preached to you right now. Look to this body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you, placed in your mouth that you can taste and see the strength of this Stronger Man. Taste and see the strength of the One who has taken possession of you and made you His own that you need not fear now or in any circumstance. Amen.