Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our text for this morning invites us to reflect further on a theme which we began to see unfold two weeks ago on Invocabit Sunday. Contrary to the Rationalist Enlightenment philosophy which has dominated much of mainstream western Christian thinking for centuries, the Scriptures teach us that spiritual warfare is real. Demonic oppression is all around us. (Just to be clear, demonic oppression and demonic possession don’t necessarily have to be the same thing.) Jesus doesn’t explicitly teach on this because everyone in the ancient world took spiritual warfare seriously. It wasn’t until modern times that humans decided that the idea of devils and demons was nonsense. I suppose we thought that we had become too “enlightened” for the demons to bother us anymore. But the reality is simple: To be a Christian means to believe in spiritual warfare. There are forces we can’t see or understand which are constantly at odds with one another in this world. Many of the symptoms and issues that we explain away with science are at their core spiritual problems. Jesus assumes that we will recognize this. In fact, he demands that we recognize this because to close our eyes to the spiritual realities around us is to no longer be with Jesus. And as our Lord says in verse 23 of our text, “Whoever is not with me is against me.”
2. Today we will be focusing on verses 21-23 of our text. Here they are one more time: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:21-23). In the context of our full text, it’s clear that this brief analogy of the strong man versus the stronger man is speaking directly to the issue of spiritual warfare. The “strong man” in this analogy is the devil. And notice what his problem is. The strong man’s problem is that he trusts in his stuff. His strength is fake. His strength is dependent upon his armor and weapons. And the armor and weapons in which the devil trusts is any and all techniques through which he can lead humans to sin and death. Ultimately, his strength isn’t real strength at all. His strength is fake because it’s dependent upon the power of sin and death. The lies, deceit, and temptations through which he leads humans into sin and death are the only source of the devil’s power. And so, he uses these tactics relentlessly against us as he seeks to maintain his influence and control over us.
3. These tactics of lies, deceit, and temptation seem to work for him so long as no one stronger than him comes around. But this is precisely where the devil’s problem is. There is a stronger man, Jesus, who came to earth to attack the devil, overcome him, and take away his weapons and armor in which he trusted. Our Lord Jesus’s strength is not dependent upon anything. He is by his very nature strength. He has defeated the devil through his death, resurrection, ascension into heaven. Through his death, Jesus has defeated the power of the devil. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice who died in our place to take away our sin. Remember, the devil’s only power is sin & death. By taking away our sin, Jesus has dealt with sin. And through his resurrection, Jesus has overcome the power of death. Whoever believes in Jesus doesn’t have to fear eternal death because eternal life has been promised to us. And now, because Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father, he reigns over all things and ensures that the power of the devil is kept at bay until judgement day. Until then, the devil’s only power is to lead people away from Jesus, so that sin and death have power again.
4. But for those of us who live in the new life of Jesus, the devil has no power because sin and death have been defeated and Jesus continues to protect us against the devil’s last remaining trick of drawing us away from Jesus. Now, the way in which Jesus protects us from the devil is revealed in verse 23. This verse reveals two things. First, there is no neutrality in the spiritual battle being waged around us. Either you are with Jesus or you are against him. But second, Jesus draws a distinction between gathering and scattering. Notice how those who are with Jesus are gathered while those who are against him are scattered. This gives us insight into how the devil works to draw us away from Jesus. He doesn’t use general lies, deceit, and temptation against us. He uses specific lies, deceit, and temptations designed to drive us apart—to scatter us. He wants nothing more than to scatter God’s people. Yet it is precisely the the reversal of this scattering that Jesus defends us against him. Jesus is the good shepherd who gathers his people together. Through his Church, Jesus gathers us together to protect us from the devil through his Word & Sacrament.
5. Now, this has some fairly significant implications for us. Jesus gathers us together so that we won’t be scattered by the devil. There are three primary ways in which the devil tries to scatter us: physical scattering, emotional scattering, and spiritual scattering. We’ll take these in reverse order.
6. First is spiritual scattering. The devil absolutely loves it when we are not gathered around one unified doctrine and belief. He loves to exacerbate denominational divisions, divisions of personal beliefs, or any other kind of division imaginable. The devil wants to see us scattered in our beliefs. The only defense against this is to gather together with other Christians to teach and study the Word together rightly. Don’t get me wrong, there is a right and a wrong way to do this. So many individual Christians or denominations want to ignore the differences in beliefs that we have. They somehow pretend that ignoring our differences creates unity. But it doesn’t. Unity around anything other than the truth is a false unity. There can only be true unity when we are gathered around the truth. We can’t compromise or be ashamed of God’s truth. At the same time, we need to find a way to have reasonable conversations with fellow believers focused on our shared identity in Christ. It is only when we are gathered around God’s Word that he will preserve us against spiritual scattering.
7. Second is emotional scattering. Sometimes we can be in the same physical space as someone, believe pretty much the same things, and yet still have a division between us. This is what I would call emotional scattering. The devil doesn’t give up when we come together around God’s Word. He will still do anything that he can to scatter us. Whether it’s someone’s annoying quirk, a personality conflict, church politics, or anything else, the devil does whatever he can to create emotional barriers and to scatter us. Carrying grudges against others, including your brothers and sisters in Christ, is sinful. There is only one way that a Christian ought to handle this sort of thing: confession and absolution. These are two words that the devil can’t stand to hear. When we gather with another believer, confess our sin to them, and receive their forgiveness, there is no greater way to drive away the enemy and strengthen our unity. You might be thinking, “Well, I don’t know if I can forgive so-and-so for what he did. I just don’t feel it.” If that thought has ever crossed your mind, I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my kids: I don’t care. I don’t care if you don’t feel like forgiving so-and-so. Do it anyway. Speak those words. Words have power. When you speak words of forgiveness and keep reminding yourself, “I forgive so-and-so”, eventually you will feel it. But even if you don’t, oh well. You need to lead your heart. Don’t let it lead you because the only place it will lead you is into an emotional scattering—the trap of the devil. It is only when we are gathered together confessing and forgiving one another that God will preserve us against emotional scattering.
8. Third and finally is physical scattering. Now, I’ve saved this one for last for a reason. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of challenges in this area. I fully recognize this. But not even a pandemic can alter the reality that we humans are physical beings. We are flesh and blood. We are made to be with one another—so much so that our God became a human like us so that he could be with us too. Incarnational, physical life together is one of the cornerstones of God’s will for his people. This is why the devil tries so hard to scatter us physically. He does this in so many ways that it’s impossible to number them all. Let me give you a few examples that I perceive to be the biggest threats. The devil physically scatters us by convincing us that so-and-so’s sporting event is a higher priority that church. Besides, we can catch the sermon online later. The devil physically scatters us by convincing us that our kids won’t grow up to be well-rounded adults if we don’t ensure they’re a part of every possible extra-curricular activity—even when they’re on Sunday mornings. The devil also physically scatters us by convincing us that “online church” is just as good as being there in person. Guess what. It’s not. I’ll speak just as bluntly as I did before. I don’t care how scared you are of getting sick. Being scattered by the devil is a far scarier prospect. We must gather together physically. There simply is no replacement for it. It’s only when we are gathered together physically around the Word and Sacraments that God will preserve us against physical scattering.
9. As we come face to face with the spiritual warfare around us and have serious conversations about priorities, forgiveness, and our faith, I pray that the Lord would grant us clarity and unity around his Word so that we might become blessed as “those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28b).
In the name of Jesus. Amen.