St. Luke 11: 14-28
March 19, 2017 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We need to take heed of Our Lord’s warning today lest the unclean spirt cast out of us at Baptism return and find us swept and put in order not only for him but also for seven of his friends. This is a dire warning. It would be better to have never been baptized than to fall away.
God threatens to punish all who break His commandments, even the baptized. In the worst of situations, God punishes sin with sin. He threatens to harden and blind those who fall into false security, impenitence, and intentional sins. He threatens to hand them over to their baser desires and turn His back on them. His threats are not insincere or deceptive.
This does not mean that He did not want to save those who fall away, that their Baptisms were invalid. He did save them. He still loves and wants them. But He gives to the baptized, that is to us, free will. He does not make us His slaves.
That freedom is dangerous. Sons can renounce their fathers and run off to foreign countries. Foolish though it is, we are tempted back to the slavery of sin, like our forefathers were to the cucumbers in Egypt. To our shame, we sometimes indulge our sins and flirt with disaster. Repent. If we persist in our sins, refusing God’s grace, insisting on our own way, then we will be hardened, blinded, and eternally damned. God is not mocked.
This is what happened to Pharaoh. He was not destroyed because God did not love him or want to save him or because it was to God’s glory that he be damned. He was damned because he refused God’s grace. God does not want any to perish, not even Pharaoh. He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner. He has pleasure only in sinners who repent, who turn from their wicked ways and live, who receive His gifts.
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart as a punishment. He punished sin with sin. He handed him over to his own desires. He gave Pharaoh to his sins. This was God’s response to the arrogant rebellion of Pharaoh for he had had the benefit of every admonition and warning. He had even witnessed miracles. Finally, for the good of others, God withdrew his hand from Pharaoh and his heart became hardened and obdurate and God made him an example of divine judgment as a warning for us all.
Repent. This is not speculation. This is not philosophy. This is not a puzzle for us to explain away with clever rhetoric or politically correct speech. This is God’s revealed will. In the first place, God wants to receive into grace all who repent and believe in Christ. He has died for all. He loves all, even the worst of sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes, addicts and divorcees included. Yet, at the same time, and without contradiction, He also wants to punish those who turn away from holy prayer and entangle themselves again in the defilements of this world, who adorn their hearts for Satan, and who outrage the Holy Spirit.[i]
Thus does Jesus warn us:
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26, ESV).
God threatens to punish all who break His commandments. Therefore we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He also promises grace and every blessing to those who keep these commandments. Therefore we should not despair. Instead, we should love and trust in Him. In giving us the Holy Spirit, God gives us the ability to resist sin. We do not have to give into it.
That grace and every blessing is what Jesus is getting at when He responds to the woman in the crowd who yells out: “Blessed is the womb that bore you.” He says: “Blessed rather, or on the contrary, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”
The word “keep” is probably not the best modern English translation here. That word might imply that Jesus is simply talking about obedience. If that was the case, then those who keep God’s Word would be those who do nothing against God’s Word, those who obey it. It is certainly true that a person who never commits a sin would be most blessed, but none of us would have a chance. For we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. We don’t have to sin. We aren’t slaves to sin. When we sin it is our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault and no one else’s. Thus we need constant grace and forgiveness.
The word translated “keep” is the word that means “guard” or “protect.” The Holy Spirit creates in us a desire to obey God’s commandments and please Him. This is not only because we fear His wrath. It is also because we love and trust in Him. This is faith: to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Faith desires to keep the Law, not doubt or unbelief, but faith which trusts that God is good and His Word is good and His Law is good. Faith wants to do better, wants to amend our lives, desires to please Our Father. We don’t want to be like Pharaoh or like David in his lust and murder. We want to be like David when he sings the Psalms, when he is a man after God’s own heart, when he repents and changes his life and waits on the Lord.
For this reason, we guard God’s Word in our hearts. That means not only that we try to obey the Law but it also means that when we fail to keep the Law we repent. We guard God’s Word even when it accuses and condemns us, even when and where it is against us. We don’t reject the Law because it accuses or because it wants to tell us what to do and we don’t like moralism or being bossed around or because it is hard. We love God’s Law. We accept its judgments and its rules as truly good, even if they are out of place in our culture or embarrassing in the University or uncomfortable for our fallen flesh and income.
“Blessed is he who hears the Word of God and keeps it” means “blessed is he who hears the Word of God and says ‘amen’ to it.” Blessed is he who believes it, who does not turn away from God and insist on his sins. Blessed is he who does not come to God on his own terms and demand his own ways, but who hears and keeps the Word of God.
The Word of God thus kept, that is heard and loved, drives off the unclean spirits. It makes way not for seven more unclean spirits. Rather, it makes way for the Holy Spirit.
The Lord Jesus Christ does not cast out demons by demons. He does not forgive sins to give license for sinners to sin. The devil guarded his kingdom. He did so by presuming to hold our sins against us with the finger-written law of God. The devil even quotes Scripture. Christ disarms him by fulfilling that law. It was not the devil’s rightful place to accuse us. The miracles of Moses, the writing of the law into stone, and the casting out of demons is done by the same finger and without hypocrisy. Neither His Kingdom nor His testaments are divided. He has overcome the strong man, the devil, who sought to trap us in this mortality unto death and bring us into his rebellion and punishment. The Lord has taken away his strength by taking away his accusations, by taking the blows meant for us, by dying in our place, and loosing us from mortality, bestowing on us life eternal, and by making us holy.
He guards us, keep us, by that finger in the preaching of His Gospel, in His Word and Sacraments. We guard him, that is we hear and keep His Word, because he first guards and keeps us. It is not our response to the Gospel that casts our demons or which keeps them out. His sacrifice and gift do that. Yet, at the same time, we are not His slaves. We have free will. So when He calls upon us as His brothers and His bride to guard and keep His Word, we do so gladly because we love and trust in Him.
Guarding and keeping the full counsel of God, all of His Word, both Law and Gospel, repenting, confessing, receiving, and rejoicing, this is true blessedness. To hear and keep the Word of God is more blessed even than to be the womb that bore Christ. For to hear and keep the Word of
God is to be His Temple, not the place where He once was, but the place where He lives, abides, and rules forever.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
[i] These paragraphs are a modification and sometimes paraphrase of SD. XI. 83-85 in Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 653–654.