3rd Sunday in Lent
February 24, 2008
Text: Luke 11:14-28 And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” And others, testing Him, sought a sign from heaven.
But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoils.
He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
THEME: The Battlefield of Lent
- There Is No Neutral Zone
Dear fellow soldiers of the cross, dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
You can find one between North Korea from South Korea. There is one in football. There is even one between the Romulans and the Federation in Star Trek. What is it? It is a neutral or demilitarized zone. These are territories in which there is to be no fighting. In Korea the demilitarized zone is a buffer between North and South Korea. The neutral zone in football it is a space which is to separate the offensive from the defense on the line of scrimmage. In Star Trek: The Next Generation the neutral zone was to intended to be a peaceful territory where the alien Romulans and the Federation could exist without fighting. In each of these examples, the neutral zone is intended to keep opposing forces separate from one another.
However, we dare never begin to think even for a moment that when it comes to our soul and our Christian walk that there is any such thing as a “neutral zone” where both sides can get along peacefully. Let us therefore consider that when it comes to the battle for your soul, there is no neutral zone. May God Himself be with us and graciously send us His Holy Spirit as we meditate on His word. Amen.
In your reading of Scripture have you ever come across a passage that just made you stop in your tracks? A passage that you had to back up and re-read? A passage that struck a chord in your heart and caused you to evaluate your life and the choices you have been making? We should not be surprised when God confronts us in His word in such a way. Scripture is “living and powerful,” the writer to the Hebrews tells us. It is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb 4:12) The Word of God can cut us and divide things which not even the knife of the best surgeon can cut. So we should not be surprised when we read Scripture and it cuts us as it discerns our thoughts and intents.
One such passage that can cut us to the core is found in our text. We find Jesus stating, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” Seems a simple enough statement, but consider the implications of what Jesus is saying here within your life and the friendships which you make. There are only two sides in this battle for the souls of men. There are those who are with Jesus and there are those who are against Jesus. There is no middle ground - there is no neutral zone.
Again, consider what Jesus is saying here and what this means in our life. We may think that we are able to be a Christian and yet be buddy-buddy with the world. Sort of a mentality that we can compartmentalize our faith on the one hand and our lives on the other. Think of it along the lines of what the gravity of the earth can do to a meteor. You know what a meteor is - it is a huge rock traveling aimlessly in outer space. As this meteor gets within range of earth’s gravity the earth begins to pull this huge rock towards itself - initially only a few centimeters from its original course. But as this meteor continues to travel closer and closer to the earth the gravity of the earth grows stronger until at last that large space rock is drawn into earth’s atmosphere where it burns up and produces a shooting star.
Those few centimeters sure didn’t seem like much initially, did it? But as it continued to travel along, the earths gravity continued to draw it in. Let no one here be disillusioned into thinking that the world has any different effect on us. The allurements of the world may only cause us to budge initially a few centimeters from our Christian walk, but the world can easily pull us into the flames of hell with itself. Make no mistake about it - the kingdom of the devil is not divided. Jesus is clear in our text that the devil and his evil angels are united in their cause of the downfall of Christians. “He who is not with Me is against Me,” Jesus says. A simple statement indeed, but the implications are far reaching.
Listen to what James writes in his epistle about friendship with the world: Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4) There is no neutral zone! Friendship with the world is enmity with God! The devil will use every weapon at his disposal to attack you. He will use the world to entice you into away from the kingdom of God and into his kingdom of darkness and death. The battlefield of Lent is scattered with souls who did not heed this warning.
The Apostle John writes in his first epistle says of our relationship with the unbelieving world - Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. (1 John 2:15-16) Again what do we hear but the words of Jesus echoing, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” The world in no uncertain terms is against Christ. The world is not seeking our spiritual well-being, but our spiritual downfall. On this battlefield there is no neutral zone - the devil is united in his cause.
If you do not think this Word of God applies to you and your relationships, take heed - watch out. It is he who thinks he can stand on his own and who can be friends with the world who is in especially grave danger. Consider what Jesus says in the second half of our text. He speaks of what an unclean spirit does after it is cast out of a person. Jesus says that spirit wanders looking for rest and finding none returns to its original dwelling place. And what does that unclean spirit find there? And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. He finds it better than when he left it. At that the unclean spirit goes and gets seven unclean spirits more wicked than himself entering and dwelling in that man. The result makes us shudder as Jesus says, “And the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
Now in the immediate context it would seem that Jesus is talking about what is going to happen to the man in our text that He just freed from demon possession. He seems to be suggesting that the mute man would soon be worse off than He was before. Yet we know Jesus - we know that He would not help someone only to harm Him more.
Rather than speaking about that mute man, these words of Jesus are words of warning to each and every Christian. Consider where we have been brought from and what it cost. By God’s amazing grace, we like the man in our text, have been freed from the possession of the devil. We have been brought from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the light. Born dead in our trespasses and sin we were born members of the devil’s kingdom. But Christ came and freed us from the bondage of the devil. Jesus is the stronger man who overcame the strong man and took us as His spoil.
Jesus entered the territory of the strong man the devil by first taking on flesh and being born true Man. Two weeks ago we heard how He was tempted in every way as we are - yet without sin. He overcame the strong man in the wilderness by wielding the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. But it wasn’t merely by temptation that Jesus overcame. He took a hit from the devil’s most powerful weapon - death. He did this that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Heb 2:14-15) Jesus tasted death and He overcame death by rising from it the third day. Jesus is the stronger man who overcame the devil.
This is what Jesus did for you. He laid down His life to rescue your soul from the clutches of devil and an eternity in the fires of hell. This is what awaited each one of us. But through the Gospel the Holy Spirit brings each soul from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. By the finger of God the devil was routed from the throne in your heart where Christ now rules. That unclean spirit has been cast out.
Knowing the cost and knowing where we have been brought from, the warning goes out to each believing soul - let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor 10:12) If there is any who thinks he can stand against this strong man, he is sadly mistaken. If you think you can be friends with the world and friends with Jesus, you are sadly mistaken. If you think the Gospel in Word and Sacrament is not an important tool in your life, TAKE HEED! A hard and possibly eternal fall is in your future. If it were possible for even ONE person to overcome that strong man by himself, then the birth and death of Jesus was totally unnecessary.
This is the warning Jesus is sounding to all - there is no neutral zone. Peter in his second epistle sounds the warning to all believers, For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2Pt 2:20-21) It would have been better, Peter writes, for them not to have ever tasted the goodness of the Gospel - than to have tasted and spit it out.
The writer to the Hebrews echoes this warning throughout his letter. In fact, I’d encourage you this week to sit down and read the 13 chapters of Hebrews. Hear the writer’s warnings and encouragement to stay steadfast in Christ. At one point writing, For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. (Heb 6:4-6) Take heed, lest you fall!
Why mention all these words of warning? Because we need to hear them! We need to be reminded that there is no such thing as a spiritual neutral zone. It is the devil or it is Christ. He who is not with Christ is against Him. There is a real devil on the prowl seeking to devour you. He is a strong man who will use every tool in his evil arsenal to draw you away from Christ. The world itself is one of his most powerful tools.
What hope is there for us on this battlefield for our souls? What hope is there when we see the strong man seeking to conquer us and devour us? Rejoice, dear Christians, in the message of Lent! It is here we see Christ our Lord tasting death for us as He is crucified. It is here we see our Lord emerging victoriously from battle on Easter. He has won. He has risen indeed. He ALONE is stronger than the strong man. He alone can and does give us the victory. To aid us He gives us His Spirit working through His Word and Sacrament. For that reason Jesus says to us in the closing verse of our text, “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it!” May God grant that every Christian soul may treasure His word and will above our relationship in this world. In Jesus name, Amen.