Third Sunday in Lent
February 28, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Jesus teaches about spiritual warfare in today’s Gospel. The master class is instigated by the accusation that He has tapped into some sort of dark spiritual power of Beelzebul (which means, prince Baal) to do such impressive spiritual feats. Jesus responds with a little parable about a strong man guarding his goods until a stronger man breaks through his guard to plunder everything he protected. According to Jesus, it’s the Finger of God by which He casts out demons, and to paraphrase Dr. Luther from the Large Catechism this past Wednesday, there’s more power in the little finger of the Divine Majesty than all the spirits that have ever been created, combined.
After this little parable, Jesus pulls back the curtain a bit and shows what happens on the other side of a spiritual healing. Instead of going with the healed person or the crowds, Jesus takes us on a short journey with the unclean spirit and warns that the battle doesn’t end with a miracle. The true miracle is enduring to the end of the battle; and Jesus tells us how that is done as well.
“When the unclean spirit has gone out from a person,” says Jesus, “he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and when he does not find it, then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’” (v 24). Fascinating! Every unclean spirit that has ever been cast out of a person by God’s Finger goes to a waterless place. A desert. A wasteland. A wilderness.
The wilderness is a picture of God’s judgment. The Prophet Isaiah writes of God’s vengeance on the enemy of Zion: Her nobles will no more call it a kingdom; all its princes will be gone. Thorns will grow in its palaces, nettles and thistles in its fortresses. It will be a haunt for jackals and a pasture for ostriches. The desert animals will meet with the wolves. One shaggy goat will call to another. The night creatures will settle there and find a place where they can rest. There the tree snake will make her nest, lay eggs and hatch them, and gather her brood under her shadow. Yes, there the vultures also will gather, each with her mate (Is 34:12-15).
What is it about dry, waterless places that would be so attractive to the unclean spirit? Well, even nature and secular science knows the answer. Water means life. NASA’s Mars Rover was sent to look for signs of life, and one of the primary signs of life is water. Water means life.
And water also means the Holy Spirit. The very first time we are introduced to the Spirit of God in the second chapter of the Bible, the Lord and giver of life is hovering over the water. That marvelous verse in Peter’s epistle reminds us, They overlook this willfully, that the heavens were long ago, and the earth stood together out of water and through water by the Word of God (2 Pet 3:5). A waterless place is a place without life, a corruption of God’s good creation.
When an unclean spirit is cast out of a person it goes into a waterless place, Jesus says, but then he decides to return to his first home. “And when he comes, he finds it having been swept and arranged in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself and after going in takes up residence there; and the end of that person is worse than the beginning” (vv 24-25).
There is nothing the devil and his host of demons loves to see more than a sign that says, “Unoccupied.” And seizing the opportunity, he brings the desert to the person. This second state is even worse than the first because it’s not the kind of demonic possession that makes for good Hollywood movies. It’s a person who was perhaps baptized long ago as an infant, who went to Sunday School and got gold stars for attendance, who answered every catechism examination question perfectly, who was tops in the class, a model citizen, raises his family right, doesn’t use foul language, watches only wholesome television that teaches good, Christian morals. He has everything swept and kept in order.
But He’s without the Holy Spirit because he is not occupied with the things of the Spirit. For such a person, the Gospel is only something that he needed back when he was a sinner. But no longer. Now he applies himself to keeping God’s Law. But he’s forgotten the Gospel. Like the Church of Ephesus, he’s forgotten his first love. He’s focused so much on fruits, that the tree has gone to waste.
It sounds like a horribly helpless situation, but our Lord Jesus is not leading us to despair. He’s leading us to a renewed and strengthened faith to endure the spiritual battles we must face in this life.
The reason why an unclean spirit cannot find rest even in the wilderness is because our Lord, the Stronger Man, relentlessly pursues the devil and his demons. Even into the wilderness. For Isaiah also prophesies, The wilderness and the parched ground will be glad, and the desert will be happy and blossom. Like a rose they will blossom richly and be glad with joy and singing. They will be given Lebanon’s glory, the splendid beauty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God… The hot sand will become a pool and the thirsty ground will have springs of water. In the haunts of jackals, where they rest, grass becomes reeds and rushes (Is 35:1-2, 7).
Our Lord Jesus goes to battle for us. He brings water to the desert. Where death reigned, life is planted. But it’s not the kind of water that washes dirt from a body. It’s far, far better. Jesus says to the woman at the well, All who drink from this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks from the water that I give will never be thirsty forever. But the water that I give will become in him a well of water springing up for eternal life (John 4:13-14).
But what is the nature of this water? Jesus says later, at the Festival of Tabernacles, If anyone is thirst, let him who believes in Me come to Me and drink, as the Scriptures have said, “Out of His side will flow rivers of living water.” Now this He said concerning the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were about to receive. But the Spirit was not yet come because Jesus had not been glorified (Jn 7:37-39). But sure enough, when Jesus was glorified on the cross, He breathed His last breath and gave up His Spirit. And a Roman guard pierced His side and out came a river of blood and water. This is He who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ. Not in water only, but in water and blood. And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the Truth (1 Jn 5:6).
The Spirit and the water and the blood are in agreement that Jesus Christ died for your forgiveness. These are the rivers of living water that issue forth from the crucified body of Jesus. Thesea are the streams that you drink from when you are born of water and the Spirit. These are the streams that you drink from by faith when you believe the Word of Absolution. These are the streams that you drink from when you kneel to eat His body and drink His blood.
And the testimony of the Spirit, the blood, and the water is a testimony that says to all evil spirits: “Occupied.” This person is no waterless place, but is flooded with living water. It’s an unending well of forgiveness that drowns out all evil and washes away all impurities. It is water that breaks forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
When a woman heard Jesus’ teaching on the unclean spirits, she was so moved she exclaimed, “Blessed is the womb which carried You, and the breasts at which You nursed” (v 27). Yes, blessed indeed. But there is a greater blessing, an eternal blessing. But He said, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and guard it” (v 28). The Word of God is the thing that occupies you—by way of Baptism, preaching and Absolution, and Supper—so that no evil spirit can ever occupy you again. These are the means of grace, the means of the Spirit, and
The Holy Spirit Is a Flood of Grace and Forgiveness
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard