Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Palm Sunday Gospel Lesson previously read for the precession, as well as the two verses following that passage which read: And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
As we hear in those verses that the city of Jerusalem was “stirred up” about Jesus in the time following this Triumphal Entry on the first Palm Sunday, it’s clear that Jesus was making an impact. The word there, in fact, says that Jerusalem was eseisthe, where we get our word seismograph, the gauge for measuring earthquakes. The city was quaking in view of this man entering into it. Of course a couple of things go along with this. First of all, it’s clear that this isn’t the first time Jesus had been to Jerusalem. We assume that Jesus’ ministry was three years because there are three Passover festivals in the Gospel of John. This one that they were celebrating was that third and as was presumably their custom, Jesus and the disciples were going to the Temple as the Law instructed. In fact, the Law instructed them to go to the Temple for Passover, for the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, and the Feast of Pentecost. So, we would assume that Jesus was at the Temple for each of those, every year of His life, just as we heard of Him being there when He was twelve for the Passover in Luke’s Gospel. So, the first thing is that this wasn’t the first time Jesus had been to Jerusalem. The second is that this time was different. This time Jesus made special provisions as He went, provisions for getting the donkey. And He knew what was coming. He knew that His miracle work had drawn enough attention. He knew that His healings had stirred the crowd to sufficient fever pitch that as He rode in, the King coming to the people “humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden,” they would gather and celebrate. They would honor Him. Even though He had been in Jerusalem before, this time was going to be different. That’s the second thing.
And in this we see how this makes waves in the city. Jerusalem responds to this. Now, I looked this up and it’s uncertain how many people lived in Jerusalem at that time. Some guesses were around 70,000-80,000, others closer to 100,000. The lowest guesses say it could have been as small as 20,000, and the highest 250,000. Additionally, there would have been a huge influx of Jews there for the feast of the Passover. And Jesus made quite the entrance. He did so to the point that people knew Him. And what did they say? They said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
Now, we have to understand that as Jesus rode in the people hailed Him to be the Son of David, and now they’re hailing Him to be this prophet. This is messianic language, these are names calling Him the Messiah. It seems like they get it, doesn’t it? I think every time I preach on this passage, I find myself returning to this point, but we have to hear it over and over again. They do think He’s the Messiah. They do think He’s the eschatological Prophet, the One promised in Deuteronomy 18, the One who would be greater than Moses. They do think He’s going to bring the Kingdom of God. But they get it wrong. How so?
They think His Kingdom is going to be of this world. They think that this Jesus is going to rule where David ruled and bring the glory back to Israel as this Nation dwelling to the west of the Jordan, with their temple in Jerusalem being restored to a glory beyond comparison, even when considering the Temple Solomon ruled over. And if you look at that Temple Herod the Great had built, the One Jesus would be clearing out in this Holy Week, you can understand why. That structure was monstrous. It was dominating. Apparently, it was 150 feet tall, that’s fifteen stories. Of course, compared to the Sears’ Tower, that’s not that much, but it sure would have been then. You can picture some of the imaginations they had of what that glory would be. But they didn’t get it.
As I’m using that language of glory there, I think it’s a great time to bring up a topic I like to mention periodically. That’s a distinction we make as Lutherans between being what we call theologians of the cross versus theologians of glory. These Israelites looking for this earthly king, this earthly messiah, were theologians of glory. They thought the glory was going to be here. They thought the glory was coming now.
And of course, the reason why I bring this up, why I mention the Jews not getting it then every time I preach on this passage in some way or another, is because we have to watch being theologians of glory ourselves. We have to be careful that we don’t get sucked into the mindset that we will have the fulfillment of God’s promises now in this life. We have the promises of that glory now. We can be certain that the fulness of God’s Kingdom is ours. We can be certain that as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection next Sunday that the victory He won in that new life from the grave, that victory means something for us now, it empowers us new, it brings joy and new life to us now. But we also have to understand that the fulness of that isn’t ours yet.
I know I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I was struck by it again this week as we had the vaccine clinic. You know, we had a lot of people here that were not connected with the Church, and so I wouldn’t expect that they would understand the world as we do, but it still saddened me that some people were so excited about the vaccine. Now, as is hopefully clear, and as I’ve been saying, I’m not telling people not to get the vaccine, but as I’ve been saying the last few weeks, to think about how much more excited people are about the vaccine than they are about receiving the Lord’s Supper, about how here in this holy meal, we have the vaccine to the sin that truly ails us, and yet where is the excitement for that? The beauty of meeting our Savior here at this rail giving us His body and blood for our eternal good, and we’re more excited to be inoculated from the coronavirus. Why? Because we get more excited for the glory of things now.
And there are so many other ways we see this too. You see this in things like how we treat something like mental illness. Over the course of years, I’ve heard Christians speak of things like depression and act as though a true Christian shouldn’t have an issue with depression. That would be a theology of glory. Depression is something that we have as a consequence from the fall into sin. You see it clearly reflected in the Psalms even. The Psalmists speak of things like soaking their couches with tears, and the sorrow that fills their eyes. That’s the reality now. That doesn’t mean that a Christian who wrestles with it should stop wrestling, or that the light of Christ is meaningless for bringing light in that darkness even now. It also doesn’t mean that our faith can’t be extremely helpful in aiding our struggle with those challenges. But to assume that our faith promises we’ll never have depression is assuming the fulfillment of the glory now that we won’t have completely until Christ’s return.
The same goes for only talking about the happy things of the faith in Church, and not discussing our sin. That’s something that’s easy to assume as well. It’s easy to assume that all that we should talk about is just the love of God and the joy of the resurrection. Granted, I should tell you of that resurrection every week in one way or another, but the beauty of that hope that we have and will fully experience when Lord returns is understood for how amazing it will be when we contrast it with the brokenness of the world. But as we confuse all of this, this shows that we have an ingrained delusion that we will be able to have the glory now. It shows us that we are all theologians of glory. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be so nervous about the state of the world. The current political climate would create pits in our stomach. The fears we have about a viral pandemic wouldn’t arrest us into paralyzation. If we weren’t theologians of glory we wouldn’t have such high hopes and attachments to this world that this would create the anxieties we’re experiencing. But we think it’s going to be good now. And if we’re doing well, we maybe even think that Jesus is going to be the One who’s going to make it all good now. But of course as we think that, we put Jesus on the same earthly throne the Jews did. We too crown Him and quake about Him as the earthly prophet and messiah.
But, His Kingdom is not of this world. His reign in this world isn’t on a throne, it’s on the cross. And that’s where it actually results in the greatest glory. As we shift from being theologians of glory to being theologians of the cross, we see that it’s actually far better. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a challenge now. It’s that challenge that Jesus Himself speaks to you when He tells you to pick up your cross daily and deny yourself. It’s that challenge that comes with drowning our old Adam, our old sinful nature, in daily contrition and repentance as our baptism indicates. And it’s finally that challenge that only Jesus Himself could fulfill; that challenge He fulfilled on the cross for you. He fulfilled it on the cross for you, dying for where you have fallen short, and rising again that the fulfillment could be yours. And He gives you the promise of that fulfillment, the down payment, the earnest money of His Holy Spirit in baptism, and He continues to assure you of it in the meal of His body and blood in His Holy Supper. Christians, that cross is yours. That death is the death of your sin, and the glory is promised to you by His resurrection. The fulfillment will be when He comes again, but the promise is certain for you now.
Christians, as He rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday, as they called Him that prophet, as Jerusalem quaked with the news of His arrival as their King, that’s the true Kingdom He was bringing. The Kingdom that had to come through the cross. But understand that had it not paved its path on the road with that cross, you never would have the ability to enjoy it. Had Jesus been a theologian of glory, He never would have been able to share it with you. But Jesus knew the only way His Kingdom could ever come to you was by that cross. And His Messianic Kingdom wasn’t of this world. It could only be one which would arrive with the New Heavens and the New Earth. And as you hear of His arrival in Jerusalem, know that this is the prophet, this is the Son of David. He truly is. And He is that so that you could share in the ultimate and final glory He will bring on the last day. 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.
One of the things I have found myself struggling with of late is lies. I don’t mean that I’ve been lying, but I mean with seeing lies all around. With seeing how so many people get caught up in lies and don’t realize it. With how much dishonesty is present all around us. For example, I don’t know if you saw it but the Washington Post this week had to publish a significant retraction to a news story they had reported in January regarding Donald Trump and his concern for election fraud. The retraction noted that comments attributed to the then president were misquoted; the correct quotation bringing significantly different light to the story. And while a retraction appears honest, if the reporting had been honest in the first place and not so undercut by personal bias, this wouldn’t have been an issue. And as I say that, lest you think I’m speaking in partisan politics here, the opposite bias is true of many other news sources, and the President himself was not immune to his own incorrect comments. No, I’m not speaking politically, here, I’m merely expressing the frustration at the challenge of knowing what the truth is in the midst of lies.
And of course, on the one hand, I know where this comes from. You probably get tired of me alluding to philosophical underpinnings of things—and don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate why—but this is what has created the foundation for this. The death of God in philosophy created a moral vacuum that lost the capability for truth. And now what has trickled down to us plebs, us commoners, is a vast assumption that you can have a truth for you and that’s OK, and I can have a truth for me and that’s OK. “Lived experience” is the real truth, I have mine and you have yours. And that’s OK until those “truths” are forced into combat, then what? Well, we, of course, know the outcome, and that’s our comfort. We know that the truth of truths will win out, but what will be left in the wake of the destruction by lies? It’s scary, isn’t it?
And so as I said “on the one hand” before, the other hand is that this is nothing new. The devil has been spewing forth his venomous untruths since the garden. Yes, it was there that we heard the first lie. “You surely will not die, but you will become like God knowing good and evil.” Of course, there are two things noteworthy about this. First is that the lie was set up by the perfect question to bring it about: “Did God really say?” The second is that this lie, like every good heresy, had an element of truth to it. And as I say that, think about that. Every lie that people pick up, they do so because there is something they can identify as true in it. What was the truth in that one? They would become like God in that they would “know good and evil.” That became true, didn’t it? After all, what had they known before? They had known good. God had created the world and He had made it good. He looked at the whole of His creation and saw that, behold, it was “very good.” And as I often point out, this knowledge in Hebrew is an experiential knowledge. They knew good in the sense of experiencing it. But once they ate of that fruit, they would not just know the experience of good. No. Then they would know the experience of evil. And what evil would be the worst of all? The evil of death. You see we misunderstand death so often. Thankfully because of Christ death can be understood as what I would call a “useful tool.” It is the tool that carries us Christians into His loving bosom. But Paul doesn’t pull any punches. Death is our enemy. It is opposed to us. It is evil. And it was born of our sin which was brought forth by the lie—and all of this at the hands of the devil.
Look at how Jesus comments to this end in our lesson: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” You see, this is at the heart of the devil, these lies are from his “character” as it’s translated. They are of his own, literally. And in those lies he murdered. Because lies have consequences.
In fact, look at how Jesus describes that in the lesson: But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” Sadly, the consequence is that one is cut off by the lie. They are cut off from the truth and from God Himself. It’s that division that brings death. It’s that division that brings suffering. And it’s in that division that we see the perpetuation of lies around us. It’s also in that that we see that it’s a vicious cycle. The lie is perpetuated, the perpetuation draws more in and those drawn in exchange the truth of God for more lies, and so on and so on. And it can be so easy that we would be disheartened. In fact, this can even press us into assuming that the truth is inaccessible to us.
But look at what Jesus says twice there. “I tell the truth.” The truth is accessible to us in Jesus. Yes, there are lies all around, and those lies have consequences. But in Christ is the truth. In Christ’s word there is the truth. In fact, as I say that, look at how the devil has tried to take the Scriptures that have been handed down to us and make us think they’re unreliable. That we don’t really have access to what Jesus said, and that because of that, we don’t really have access to the truth.
But you know what’s interesting? You can do studies that verify that the New Testament is the most historically reliable ancient document we have. It’s more certain that the New Testament contains what was originally written than that we have the writings of Plato, or even Homer’s Odyssey. The point? Jesus is speaks the truth. Jesus is the truth, and Jesus preserves that truth in guarding the handing down of the Bible from generation to generation.
And what is the truth we see? Well, as I spoke about a couple of weeks ago, we see that Jesus has won the victory over the devil on the cross. We see that the devil, the liar, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning, we see that his own defeat and death is immanent by the work of the One who has crushed him underfoot. In fact, we see what is probably the most amazing part of this in this passage for today.
I always point this out when I preach on this passage, but it is one that is near and dear to my heart. It’s the passage that convinced me about the divinity of Jesus. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, in college I got connected with some guys that didn’t believe in God as triune. They said that if you look at the Bible you can’t definitively say that Jesus is “of one substance” with the Father, as we say in the Creed. But this passage told me otherwise. How so? It’s in that place where Jesus said, “Before Abraham was I AM.” Of course, there would have been sufficient proof even if Jesus had said “Before was, I was.” That still would have told us that Jesus existed before Abraham. But He chose the words carefully for a reason. I AM. The Name of God spoken to Moses in the burning bush. I AM who I AM, tell them I AM sent you. This makes you see why the Jews wanted to pick up stones to kill Him. They thought this was the worst of blasphemy: this MAN was calling Himself GOD!
But the mystery is the path that this God in the Flesh, this Truth incarnate would take to accomplish His victory over the liar. The great I AM came down into the body of the man Jesus, united with that man, and this God-man died on the cross. This God revealed the truth when He was hanging on the tree cursed for sin. Truth appearing to be overcome by a lie, but on Easter showing forth its victory.
And we see that the truth will win out over the lies in the end. And the truth will show itself, we will be vindicated as those redeemed, rescued from our sin by the great I AM, just as He rescued the Israelites from the tyranny of Pharaoh. The truth will win out over the liar, and life over death will be given to those born of that mercy.
As Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Now as we hear that, we can have confusion that’s similar to what the Jews reflect. We can say, “but I see Christians dying all the time. How do they not taste death?” Literally what Jesus says here is “he will absolutely not see death unto the age.” I think that helps, because you see unto the age is how the Old Testament and Jesus often described eternity. They will not see eternal death. They will absolutely not see eternal death.
The murderer will not be able to cling to them, the Truth will crush the liar, and the liar’s death will have no more power. And the truth is that you are in that word. You are baptized in it, and you hear it, and it is fed to you in the supper.
In fact, as I was reading this week a great quote from the Large Catechism came up in my study. Luther in the section on the Lord’s Supper referenced this passage talking about the devil as a liar. He said that the devil is “A liar who seduces the heart from God’s Word and blinds it, making you unable to feel your needs or come to Christ. A murderer who begrudges you every hour of your life. If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are at every moment aimed at you, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as possible.” Luther was saying that as we wrestle with the devil who is this liar, as we wrestle with the lies all around us, as we wrestle with the consequences of those lies, the death from this murderer, we have the Supper for our good. He was saying that because Christ has won the victory on the cross we should come to the sacrament as often as possible where that victory is fed to us. True victory placed on our tongues. True forgiveness for the sins we have exchanged for God in the lie. True life over death, true Truth over lies themselves. As Jesus even said, “Truly, truly, I say to you…” Amen Amen, yes, yes it shall be so. It shall be so because it is true. It is the truth of Christ, the I AM in the flesh who overcomes the liar and murderer, and who overcomes all lies with His goodness and with His truth for you and for the whole world. 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 which was previously read.
I think it’s common for us in the New Testament Church, for us as Christians seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises in the resurrection of Jesus, I think it’s common for us to look at the Israelites and sort of shake our head. Look at them in the lesson for today. Here they are in the wilderness. God rescued them from their slavery under Pharaoh. And think about what that entailed. By that I mean both the slavery and the rescue. For the slavery, it was backbreaking. We see that Pharaoh at a point made them not only build things but punished them with more severe work in the creation of the bricks. For the rescue we see that they witnessed the Glory Cloud, saw God’s presence with them as they left Egypt, then they saw God work His miraculous power in parting the Red Sea. God was clearly with them. And yet, what do they say in the reading that we had for this morning?
“Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” “Moses, we would rather have stayed under that backbreaking work than have been rescued.” And why? “Because we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full! Because we were able to have our bellies filled.” If you’re familiar with Paul’s writings, you might remember in his letter to the Philippians he refers to enemies of Christ by saying, “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” That’s the Israelites, here isn’t it? Their god is their belly. They have their mind set on earthly things. They would rather live under the burden of tyranny and have their meat pots than live in the wilderness and have provision from the Lord. And we see it again and again in that time. All of the things that they witnessed and yet they grumble and grumble and grumble. God has mercy and provides, and they rebel.
And it continues even to our Gospel lesson. Look at the end of that lesson. Here in that Jesus has fed these five thousand men, and Matthew tells us it’s women and children in addition to that, so even more than five thousand. Jesus has fed them, and—I guess we could say to their credit—what do they want to do? They want to make Him their king: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” At least there’s recognition of Jesus’ being kingly and worthy of honor, but why? Because He fed their bellies. Their god is their bellies, and they want to serve that god. They think if they make Jesus king, He’ll make sure to keep filling their bellies. Just like the Israelites in the wilderness, they want their meat pots.
Now, it might seem like this is a bit unfair as I’m making the comparison. To be sure, they’re not grumbling, they’re not whining, at least not in this section, they want to recognize Jesus. So, what’s the problem? Well, you see, if you read all of John Chapter Six, you find Jesus almost alone except for His disciples at the end of it. In this chapter, He gives a long discourse about how He is actually the bread of life. He describes how if you want to live, you must eat His flesh and drink His blood. And by the end of it the people have left. That sounds grotesque, right? Of course, they’re missing the point, but our point is that when this became more than just being about filling their bellies they were nowhere to be seen. Their minds were on the earthly things.
As I started today, I made the note that it’s common for us to shake our head at all of this. And on the one hand, rightly so. The idolatry the Israelites show in the desert, the unfaithfulness the crowd shows in John Six, that’s deplorable. It’s sinful and deserves recognition for its failing.
But as we do this, we need also to look into our hearts and examine them. Like Jesus says, we so often have that ability to seek to take the speck out of our brother’s eye, but fail to see the log in our own. Where are the logs in our eyes?
I think as we look around they are abundant. We show ourselves to still have those lingering dedications to the world and our bellies. Of course, as we speak of our bellies being our gods, we likely think that’s not much the case. And I think that’s hard for us to recognize in those terms because our bellies are full most of the time and we aren’t worried where our next meal is coming from. But how much do we have our minds set on earthly things? And to be sure, we can speak according to the gospel here and note that we know that this will always be the case. We know that our allegiances will always be at war within us, and there needs to be that struggle against sin. We know that we are, as we as Lutherans say, simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously justified and sinner, but that sinner in us needs to die in our repentance. We need the new life in Christ and His mercy, and the old life needs to be drowned in baptismal waters.
To that point, we need to examine ourselves. And I think the pandemic has brought great opportunity for this. You know, it appears that we’re sort of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with this. We’re certainly not done yet, but it seems that things are improving. And so, as they do, where will we align in the return to normal? Or even until that normal returns will we continue to rest in Christ or in this world?
Think about how we’ve responded in the midst of this. Things like toilet paper being gone and food hoarding happening in places. Where has our hope been? Has this driven us to prayer and repentance or worry and anxiety? Or as we are simul iustus et peccator, a little of both?
Or as we see the vaccine coming along, where is our hope? Is it in the vaccine injected into our arms by Pfizer, or Moderna? Or is it in the vaccine from our sin in Christ’s body and blood? And as I say that I want to be clear, I’m not saying don’t get the vaccines. Also, there have been movements in the Church in this time that wanted name Jesus as our vaccine for Covid, and therefore, they could just believe and they wouldn’t get sick. That is not and never has been what I have preached. I have preached faith and trust in Christ and His will in the midst of this but never to the exclusion of our care for our neighbor nor to the expectation that we would not get sick. If I was not clear in that and so have been misunderstood I apologize, but I’ve only sought to make the point I’m making now, the body and blood of Christ is our vaccine for what truly ails us: sin. And our concerns are toward His Kingdom.
This is hard to grasp, because when the Gospel is preached it can sound like there’s no care for the things around us. But the Law tells us what life in this world is and that grounds us in understanding how we are to relate and care for our neighbor and this world. But the Gospel draws our hearts to hope in Christ and Him alone.
You see our hearts are idol factories and they are constantly redirecting us away from that. That’s like I said on Wednesday, Jeremiah tells us that those hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately sick. That sinful nature still clings to the things of this world and deceitfully so. It draws us to make our bellies our gods. It draws us to want to make Christ a Bread King who fills those bellies, if we make Him King at all. But as we look at the depth of this lesson of Christ feeding the Five Thousand, we see something so glorious in the midst of it. And when they had eaten their fill, he 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.
This word there for eating their fill has a connotation of being satisfied, of being full to satisfaction. That and the word there for leftover fragments, that’s the fragments of abundance. You see, Christ gives us the filling of abundance. In fact, the twelve basketsful points to that even more. I’ve mentioned this in preaching about this lesson before, but twelve is symbolic. It’s symbolic of the Church. There were the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles. There is such a fill from Christ that it’s an abundance for the Church. And to continue to give us understanding, those baskets themselves are interesting too. You see, apparently those baskets were the type used by the Jews at that time if they were entering into a Gentile area. They would store their food in the baskets, such that it would be protected from desecration, protected from becoming unclean. In other words, the baskets protected holiness.
You are Christ’s Church, you are protected in His blood, you are made holy in Him and your holiness is protected in Him and in the basket of His Church. His protection, His care for you is an overabundance filling you to satisfaction.
Christians, we need to stop making Him a Bread King and find that filling of His abundance, because it’s there. You see the lack we might feel, or the fear we might have in anxiety, or the draw of the things of this world, even the hunger in our bellies, that won’t satisfy us. We chase and we chase after all these other gods, but they won’t fill us. Only He as the Bread of Life will.
And as I speak of Him in that way think about how He already has filled you. His mercy has filled you with His Holy Spirit in baptism, His absolution has filled and cleansed your guilty conscience, and His body and blood fills you at His rail. He is the Bread of Life, know that abundance and that filling. Know that and repent of your draw to false things.
Because, you see we all do it. We all are those Israelites in the desert, we’re all those in the crowd at the mountain. We’re all those would make Him a King who fills our bellies. But His satisfaction is so much more than that, it is the forgiveness of all sin, even that idolatry and finally the filling of the Bread of Life forever and ever. 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.
In preparing the sermon for today, I did something I often do, which is to look at other sermons I’ve preached on a topic. Interestingly, the one from last year on Lent 3 was on March 15 of 2020. It was weekend right around when everything shut down from the pandemic. And on the one hand that can make us reminisce on all of our fond memories from the last year. But on the other, as I read something from that sermon about going to Costco and the paper product and water aisle being stocked only to about a third of its capacity, I found something else that I appreciated. I found that the message I preached from this then is just as true now, and that is to say that Jesus is the Stronger Man who can overcome Covid. In fact, not only that but Jesus has already overcome COVID in His life, death, and resurrection.
Even beyond that, as we read this passage of Scripture, we see that Jesus has not only overcome COVID, but He has overcome the devil himself. And as I say that, it might be hard to see where that comes from in the lesson. Sure, we know it from other passages. We see it from that life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—namely in the resurrection we see it. Buy, how do we see it here?
Well, look at the lesson and what we have there. You have Jesus casting out these demons, and He says that He’s doing this by the finger of God proving that the Kingdom of God “has come upon them.” Now, as a quick note, we hear that wording there, and to think of the Kingdom coming upon them can give us an image of conflict and maybe even a battle. And that certainly is true, but the meaning there is really just to say what Jesus says in His preaching: the Kingdom of God is at hand. And how is that Kingdom at hand? It’s at hand in overcoming the demonic forces around them.
Now, that’s not language we use a lot, is it? I mean in our culture, we don’t think of things as being demonic a lot. No, language about demons is viewed as pretty superstitious. As we read Afraid last summer, I think we could see some of that reflected in the book and its discussion. And I think we maybe even reflect it in our own thoughts as well.
For example, I was talking to my friend that’s a pastor in Seattle at my vicarage congregation this week. As we were talking, he was describing some of the circumstances you see with people there. If you’re not aware of it, he was telling me that Seattle has the third highest homeless population in the country. Now, if you know Seattle, you know it’s a good size city, and as you combine it with the metropolitan area that is there including Tacoma, there are a lot of people, but it is not the third largest city. Sadly, there have been a number of policies that have contributed to that, though, including a very relaxed policy on drugs. This has resulted in this population being extremely prevalent. Now, to be sure as Christians, we should want to help those in need, and should help those in need, and that’s a part of what we were talking about. But the other thing we talked about is how mental illness is so prevalent among the homeless. Mental illness often goes so far in pushing people to a place where they can no longer keep a job and with that their homes. It also often plays a strong role in those who become addicted to drugs. And that’s what connection my friend made. He said, “Matt, you might think I’m weird for saying this, but there’s a spiritual component to all of this. It’s demonic.” And isn’t that interesting? We’re so conditioned by our culture to think that demonic activity is a superstition that a fellow pastor was afraid I wouldn’t agree that there was a demonic component to this. And I can relate to his concern that I would think he was weird. As a pastor, sometimes I experience that where I worry that I as I talk about demonic activity people might find that a bit too “unenlightened” and “superstitious.” And yet that’s what we see in Scripture. We see this demonic activity all around.
As my friend pointed out, and I think I even alluded to last week, when we see these sorts of things like what he’s seeing in Seattle. Or we could even say as we see a worldview prevailing that is opposed to our worldview as Christians, there’s a demonic component to it, an activity of the devil working through it.
But to come back to where I started, Jesus has won the victory over this. Look at what Jesus says in this lesson that tells us that He has won the victory. He says, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” I remember hearing this when I was young and not getting it. I didn’t get what it meant. I think I was afraid because this section has this whole issue with demon possession that it was saying that we were strong because of Jesus, but that if we didn’t watch it, we could be overcome by Satan. But thankfully, that’s not it at all. No, Jesus is making the point that devil is strong. In fact, as He talks about the Kingdom of God coming upon them, as He talks about Satan’s kingdom being divided, He’s making that point that the devil has a kingdom. He has rule and authority. In fact, as I often make the point, he has rule and authority in this fallen world through sin and death. He is strong. He has his armament. He has his minions battling for him. And he thinks in this he’s safe. But Jesus is the stronger man. Jesus is that One who takes away his armor. Jesus is the One who brings forgiveness of sin, who overcomes death in His resurrection, and now the rule, the authority, the tyranny of this devil is gone, and we are the spoils Christ carries away for Himself.
You are the spoils. As He has made you His own in baptism, He has carried you out of that kingdom of Satan, just like He rescued the Israelites from the tyranny of Pharaoh in Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea. As He feeds you His body and blood, He cares for you in the wilderness of this world until you can cross from this life into eternal life with Him. This is just like how He fed the Israelites in the desert until they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. He has won the victory. You need not fear, you need not worry. You need not doubt that the strong man cannot maintain his hold on you. No, the Stronger Man has come.
But look at how the world responds to Him. This was so interesting to me as I read the passages this week and studied them for the devotions. You know, one of the things I’m always looking for as I do that is the theme that stretches throughout. And as I thought about this theme being about Christ’s victory over the devil—which you can’t unsee in this—I couldn’t get the connection to the Old Testament reading in Jeremiah. Here in the Gospel, you’ve got exorcism, and you’ve got the language of the Stronger Man. You’ve got the illustration of the house and the spirits that will fill it—an image of us being filled by Christ through the Holy Spirit and thereby not allowing the space for the spirits to come. Then you’ve got this blessing from the woman. Where did this story with Jeremiah come in? Where does this fit that Jeremiah is preaching repentance and hoping the people will hear it and repent, but then the people putting him on trial? Where does that fit with this lesson?
Then I realized it. The people treat Jeremiah how they treat Jesus. They want to put Jeremiah to death, it’s clear they think he’s blaspheming. Of course, ultimately we know they do that to Jesus. They put Him to death. But we see it here. “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” They’re showing that mindset already. Here Jesus is helping them, He’s releasing their people from the tyranny of demons, and they think He’s doing it by the power of Satan.
Isn’t that interesting? I think we can learn a lot from this in this time. You know, as I mentioned the prevailing worldview that’s increasing around us. I said how it has demonic components. But look at how the worldview is approaching those who preach the faith. I think we could agree that the most central tenant of the faith is grace. Obviously, most of all it’s the grace of Christ to us. However, in that we ought to show grace to others. I was told a story this week of someone who was “cancelled,” who was cast out from their job for suggesting that someone esle who said something out of line with what’s considered orthodoxy in our culture should be treated with grace and forgiveness. I don’t remember what was said, if it was considered racist, or bigoted, or homophobic, or what, but some other person said that person who said it should be treated with grace, and the person who called for grace was fired.
We’re now seeing people getting fired for asking people for grace for others. Not even a justification of something being said that was wrong. No. A request for grace. Not even grace in Christ, just grace. That’s demonic, isn’t it?
And I think as the Church we’ll be seeing more and more of this. I don’t know if you saw that the so-called Equality Act passed the House this week. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s a bill calling for equal treatment for those of every gender identity, which goes against Jesus’ clear words that in the beginning God made them male and female. And while we certainly don’t want harm to come to people who struggle with such things, we have to recognize the concern this will bring to us as Christians if this passes the Senate as we speak the truth of God’s Word. However, we shouldn’t expect anything less. I’m not telling you that if your conscience prods you to contact our senators you shouldn’t. I’m not telling you that we have no human rights in dealing with things that will have backlash for us and we can’t take action. We can and should where appropriate. I’m telling you though, that the world saw Jesus as Satan, and so they will see us as Satan too.
But the victory of Jesus still stands for you. You know that Satan is overcome. You know that Jesus is that Stronger Man. As the devil seems to be increasing in his work, know that he is always restrained by Christ. Know that Christ is able to rein the devil like a dog on a chain, because He is that Stronger Man. We might be belittled or persecuted or even martyred as the Church. But in the end, we belong to that Stronger Man.
Take comfort in that, Christians. As we come to one year of the pandemic, take comfort in Christ. As we look at the world and culture around us, take comfort in Christ. As we fear even the demonic around us, take comfort in Christ. Jesus is that Stronger Man. He has overcome the Strong Man and taken you as His spoils. Amen.