In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is the way of the wicked to call what is good “evil,” and we have all done it. We have vilified those we disagree with. We rarely call our opponents in politics, at the work place, at home, or in the Church “evil.” But we’ve called them “closed-minded,” “hateful, ” “legalistic,” “Pharisaic,” “stupid,” “racist,'” and “liberal.” Our intentions in all vilification, in arbitrary accusations, character assassinations, and plain old name-calling has been to make ourselves look good and to enact some vengeance, born of envy or anger, disgust or ignorance, but never of charity, on our opponents. We’ve made ourselves the judge. We’ve relished our anger. Repent.
Our mothers were right. Whenever we point at someone four fingers point back at ourselves. Our insults and complaints reveal more of ourselves than they do of our opponents.
Hear the today’s Gospel and see yourself not in Jesus but in the pharisee’s. The Lord was working good, was casting out a demon. But some in the crowd hated Jesus, no matter what He did. Their hearts were full of envy and rage. They couldn’t stand or accept His good deeds. So they called him evil. They said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” They were saying, “Jesus is in league with Satan.”
The accusation tells us nothing of Jesus, except that He had power over demons, but it reveals much of the accusers. Who sides with the demons against Jesus? Who prefers the demons over Jesus? Who sows seeds doubt? Who demands a sign from heaven?
This is what the devil did in the desert when he asked Jesus to leap from the Temple. “Force the angels to catch you. Make your Father proved His power and His love.” The crowd already had a sign from Jesus: He cast out a demon. But unbelief always wants something more. Envy is never satisfied.
Jesus would later say to this same crowd that an evil generation seeks a sign. They refused to be satisfied and would not trust in Christ and His Word. They demanded proof. Jesus said He would give them was the sign of Jonah, the sign of a man buried three days in the belly of death alive out of death to preach repentance and salvation to the Gentiles. That’s the sign faith clings to–the sign of the cross, Christ crucified and risen to save sinners, death spitting up its prey.
You were once darkness, under the influence of demons, calling good things evil, being filled with rage, lust, and envy. Jesus has shone in the darkness. He has suffered demons. He has taken your accusations, your vilifications, your sins. He was executed as a sinner, with wicked men, to wash your sins way. He has thus rescued you from the devil’s domain. He gives His own mercy and grace to you. He has broken the devil’s grip on all creation and cast him into Hell to pull you out. He shines with the light of grace, undeserved and perfect love. He loves you. Thus you have been brought into the kingdom and given God’s own Holy Spirit. You are baptized. Your tongue is loosed to sing His praise. He has you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.
Still fallen men call what is good evil. They attack God’s Word by calling it a human-created fiction. They say Christians are intellectually foolish and psychologically weak, Christianity is an offense that should die its own death. But God has chosen nonsense in the world to shame the wise. God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen you, in His mercy, to be vilified with the Lord, to go the way of the cross, to move from the pharisees to Jesus.
The devil is obviously strong. He has great power. He is ruthless, and also clever. But Jesus is stronger. He exercises His strength not with spectacular power, violence, or deceptions, but instead He submits to all the devil has. He lets the devil do his worst, bring his full power to bear, and He turns the other cheek. He uses Satan’s strength against him. It is not a surprise. It is exactly what was prophesied. The devil knew. He quoted the Word of God in the desert. But in the end, he was a fool who could not resist the chance to kill God even though this is how he lost humanity. Jesus did not use not evil disguised as good, that is the way of the devil. Jesus used good disguised as evil. The unjust death He died, the innocent for the guilty, is good. His crown of thorns, His bloody arms and legs, His dying thirst are good. The centurion’s conversion and the repentant thief are good. The death of Jesus appeared evil but is the ultimate and greatest good. It is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. The strong man’s strength is no more. The Lord infiltrated the enemy’s camp. He destroyed death from behind enemy lines. The devil’s armory was turned on the devil and then demolished. So that he has nothing left to use on us and no way to keep us in.
It was by a tree that the devil overcame the human race and plunged creation into darkness. So it is by the Tree of the cross that the devil is overcome. It was by death that Satan sought to steal away man’s glory. So it is by the death of Jesus Christ that the glory of man is restored. Satan is caught in his own trap, succumbs to temptation, bound and defeated. The strong man is out-maneuvered by the Stronger Man whose strength is not hatred and rage but love and mercy. The war is over. Satan is defeated. Jesus is the Victor.
The devil is defeated. But he still lashes out in a frenzy, like a drowning man seeking to drag everyone down with him. His strength is gone. He has no accusations left. Death itself is undone. But the devil thrashes about with such violence that some are deceived and think it is strength. Thus do defeated, evil spirits return. And if the freed heart is not filled with good, the demons are not replaced with the Lord, then the last state of that man is worse than the first.
The unclean spirits must be replaced with the Holy Spirit. And those who have the Holy Spirit hear the Word of God and keep it and are thereby blessed. Blessed are those whose wickedness has been covered and sins have been forgiven. Blessed are those who confess what is evil as evil and confess what is good, even the Lord Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection, as good.
You are such people. For though you have called good evil and vilified your opponents, so also have you confessed your sins. You are not a hypocrite. You have not claimed to be anything other than a sinner. Neither are you wicked. For you do not call your sins good. You confess them. You call them evil. You repent of them. And you also confess the goodness of Jesus Christ, of His Holy Cross, of His power over death and the devil, and of His Holy Sacraments. You expect and receive forgiveness. You hear the Word of God and keep it, which is to not to say that you obey it perfectly but that you believe it, you trust it, you hope in it. Jesus Christ is your Lord.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
*modified from a sermon by Rev. Richard Futrell, Shepherd of the Hills
Lutheran Church in Kimberling City, MO