Sermon Epiphany 4 2010

Sermon preached at First Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Chicago, Illinois for Epiphany 4 (January 31), 2010

            Text (Luke 4:31-44, ESV): 31 “And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region. 38 And he arose and left the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and they appealed to him on her behalf. 39 And he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her, and immediately she rose and began to serve them. 40 Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. 41 And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. 42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

            Beloved in Christ: Today’s gospel gives us much to think about. I could talk about the power of our Lord’s teaching and how “His word possessed authority.” Or we could talk about how our Lord healed many people as a token of the perfect healing that will be ours when we rise from the dead. But I have chosen to look at how our Lord cast out demons.

Healing_of_the_demon-possessed            John tells us in 1 John 3:8 that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” At first glance, that seems a little odd. We would prefer to say that the reason the Son of God appeared was to redeem sinners or to open heaven for those who had been shut out or to bring about a new creation or to teach the truths of God. All of those things are true. But it is also true that Christ came in order to destroy the works of the devil.

            To borrow a word from a previous president, we tend to “misunderestimate” the devil. I don’t care if that president was misspeaking; I like that word because it combines the concept of underestimating someone by having a mistaken impression of who they are. And that is what we do with the devil. We may think that he is an impish guy in a red suit with a tail and a pitchfork. Or we may think that he causes people’s heads to spin and to spew out unnaturally colored vomit. Whether we think too much of him or too little, we tend to “misunderestimate” him. We tend to think that the demonic world has nothing to do with our ordinary actions. Either we treat him as a joke or we treat him as a supernaturally scary creature. At any event, we don’t see how the devil is trying to ruin the lives of ordinary Christians through their ordinary deeds.

            You see, we don’t tend to think of our sins as really supporting the demonic realm, but they do. We tend to think that God and Satan duke it out, but we can sit it out on the sidelines. In reality, though, every sin we do further corrupts God’s good world and allows the devil’s kingdom to advance. The devil loves the chaos our sins create. He loves it when people go at each other’s throats. He loves it when people cheat others, harbor grudges, pilfer and plunder, waste their lives in excessive partying, disrespect and disobey those in authority, and neglect God and their prayers. No misdeed of ours is too small for him to rejoice.

            The devil is like a pyromaniac or an incurable gossip. Pyromaniacs aren’t happy to see a beautiful building unless it is engulfed in flames. They love to see destruction. Gossipers aren’t happy unless they see former “best friends forever” waging an all out war. No bad news is bad news for them. In the same way, the devil takes great delight in every action of ours that hurts people whom God has made or that defies God’s good and holy will. The devil doesn’t even have to be the instigator of the trouble, any more than a pyromaniac has to be the one who set the fire in order to enjoy it. The devil just enjoys seeing great things fall apart quickly.

            But is right for me to say that there is something demonic about our sins? John thought so. Just before he penned the words, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” he had written, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” Now I am not saying (nor is the Apostle John) that everyone who sins is demon possessed. But we certainly are giving aid and comfort to the devil every time we sin. We are doing his bidding. We may like to think of ourselves as having this vice or that bad habit, but God calls us to repent of our demonic ways.

            The good news, however, is that “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” As soon as Jesus entered the synagogue and taught with authority, the devil began to loose his grip on humanity. In some cases, as in today’s gospel, that meant that demons were expelled from people. In other instances the devil lost his sway over people, as they stopped trusting in idols and came to know and worship the living God. Wherever Christ goes, He destroys the devil’s works.

            Let us look at some of the specifics of our Lord’s dealings with the demons as recorded in today’s gospel. First, these evil beings knew exactly who Jesus was. They called Him “the Holy One of God” and “the Son of God” and know Him to be “the Christ,” that is, the Messiah. However, nobody else called Jesus by those titles for most of His career. Only toward the latter half of His earthly ministry did Peter make his great confession that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of the living God. But the demons were never that slow to comprehend. They knew that He had been appointed by His Father to be the Savior of the world. They didn’t think that Jesus was merely a great orator or teacher. They knew that He was so much more.

            And that is why they also knew about His mission. They asked, “Have you come to destroy us?” Of course, that is why He had come. Isn’t it interesting what these demons do? They cause so much destruction in the world that many people even lose any hope of salvation for all eternity. And yet these demons cannot stomach their own destruction. But Christ came to be “death of death and hell’s destruction.” He destroyed the devil and his works by reconciling sinful human beings to God, so that mankind would not be destroyed because of our evil deeds. Christ took on the guilt of our sins and He suffered its devastating punishment on the cross so that we would never face it. By rising from the dead He brought into being a new creation to replace the old creation corrupted by sin.

            When casting out demons, He frequently told them to be quiet. The devil likes to talk. (So does God, but the devil and God have different purposes in mind when they talk.) The devil likes to use words to throw people into confusion. One of the ways in which Christ defeated the devil was by replacing the devil’s trashy talk with His wholesome words. The devil loves to talk people into doing what is evil, but Christ tells him to be silent because we are listening to God instead. The devil loves to accuse people of all their sins, but Christ will not allow it. “Be silent,” He tells the devil whenever the devil badmouths us before God. Since Christ has become our Redeemer, He won’t allow the devil to continue to accuse us.

            Moreover, He doesn’t permit the devil and his minions to do us any harm. When the one demon had been rebuked by Jesus, he threw the man he was possessing down onto the ground. It looked as if the demon could inflict some more harm. But it was all bluster and show. As Luke tells us, the demon came out of him, having done him no harm.” In the same way, the devil can rant and rave against us, but ultimately he cannot harm us, for we do not belong to Him.

            Yes, we confess our sins as devilish indeed. But we also do not despair, for our Lord has come to destroy those evil deeds. They have been blotted out and forgiven. We now are no longer beholden to the devil. We stand, like that man in the synagogue, now free to live life for the first time, free from the power of the devil. May we live in the life that Jesus’ gives! In Jesus’ name. Amen.