3/12/23 – Lent 3 – “Earthly and Spiritual Things” – Luke 11:14-28

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I. Earthly Things
1. Throughout the Gospels, our Lord Jesus constantly exhorts His hearers to set their minds on spiritual things rather than on earthly things. Our Lord’s hearers, however, continually demonstrate a desire to remain fixated on the things of this world, as seen in today’s Gospel text. Some of the crowd preferred to argue with our Lord rather than acknowledge His divine authority to cast out demons (Luke 11:15). Others demanded that He perform a sign from heaven—something more concrete—to prove Himself (Luke 11:16). In response, our Lord speaks to them at length about spiritual things—Satan, demons, and the strength of God’s Son (Luke 11:17-23). A certain woman, thinking herself enlightened, retorts with a blessing on the mother who brought forth a man of such wisdom (Luke 11:27). Our Lord, however, is not impressed with her focus on earthly things. “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28). It is the spiritual things and the things of God of which our Lord Jesus constantly exhorts His hearers to take heed, despite their continual tendency toward the contrary.

2. We can observe this tendency to focus on earthly things throughout the Scriptures. The laborers in the vineyard care only for a just wage (Matthew 20:1-16). The seed sown among thorns cares most for the riches and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:4-15). The disciples desired a political king, not a suffering Messiah (Luke 18:31-34). The hypocrites look for praise among men when they fast (Matthew 6:16-21). The scribes and Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus (12:38-50). The disciples want to be rid of the nuisance Canaanite woman who was crying out after them (Matthew 15:21-28). The sons of Zebedee wanted power and authority at Jesus’ right and left hand (Matthew 20:17-28). And even Satan himself thinks that our Lord will be drawn into sin with the temptation of bread (Matthew 4:1-11). The focus on earthly things goes on and on in the Scriptures.

3. So, too, is it for us. We desire the riches and pleasures of this life and justice for ourselves. We want to be saved from our country’s political nonsense. We desire praise from men, signs from Jesus, and freedom from the nuisances of our lives. We believe that if we just had more power and authority, this world would be a better place. And so, we put our heads down and do the best we can for our own sake and for the sake of our loved ones. Maybe we take the opposite approach, turning ourselves into political activists, so as to change the world. Or maybe we just spend too much time naval-gazing, indulging in food and drink, friends and family, with little regard for anyone or anything else. Like the men and women of the Scriptures, we continually focus on earthly things.

4. But perhaps the greater offense and danger is not our focus on earthly things, but our lack of focus on spiritual things. It is not as if the things of this world are evil in themselves, at least, not usually. But when the things of this world cause our focus to be directed too far away from spiritual things, there is evil and danger. Demons have a prominent place in today’s Gospel text. Yet how often do we think about these minions of Satan? Our Lord thought it important to cast out demons and talk about them on more than one occasion, but we, in our enlightened minds, think that we know better than our Lord, presuming that demons are an old wives tail believed by ancient people with no wisdom. And yet, our Lord, who is the very wisdom of God (Proverbs 8:12ff), considered demons to be quite real. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25), therefore we who think we are wise ought to defer to the One Who Is, allowing ourselves to “Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:9) in the Lord’s wisdom.

II. Spiritual Things
5. Demons are very real, my friends. We might not be aware of their presence in our everyday lives, but they are real and they are dangerous. We must allow our Lord to instruct us in spiritual things. Our Lord casts out a demon from a mute man. And when the demon had departed, the crowds were amazed. But Jesus warns them:“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” (Luke 11:24-26).

Our Lord’s warning is first directed toward the man from who He had cast the demon. Do not be deceived—the demon may be gone for now, but he will return. If you are not prepared for his return, your last state will be worse than the first. Satan and his demons have one goal—your eternal destruction.

6. Therefore, this warning is also directed toward us. In Holy Baptism, the Lord has claimed you as His own (Titus 3:5-7). Jesus is the Stronger Man who has delivered you from the armed guard of Satan and his demons. And so, during the baptismal rite, the pastor says: “Therefore, depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Lutheran Service Book Agenda, p. 13). When the pastor speaks these words, it is accomplished. The Stronger Man has overcome the power of Satan by His death on the cross. You are now joined to our Lord Jesus’ forgiveness and life through the water and the Word (Romans 6:4). The house of your soul is swept clean and put in order by virtue of your Baptism.

7. But what will happen when the demon returns? What will happen when he brings his seven friends who are more wicked than himself? Will the promise and benefits of your baptism be forfeit and your last state be worse than the first? If left on your own, the answer is, “yes.” Satan and his demons are too strong for you. You will not be able to resist them. The strong man will always overcome poor, miserable people like you and me who are unable to fully defend ourselves from the temptations and allures of Satan and his demons.

8. This is why we need the Stronger Man—not only to free us from the shackles of sin, death, and the devil. We need the Stronger Man to continue to defend us from the assaults of Satan and his demons (2 Thessalonians 3:3). So long as we live on this side of glory, the target is on our backs (1 Peter 5:8). Satan and his demons want to reclaim the home from which they were banished by the water and the Word. They will do whatever they can to reclaim your soul. They will tempt you to focus on the things of this world. They will twist the good things that God has given you. They will try to make you forget that they exist. But their tactics are all in vain, so long as the Stronger Man fights for us. This is why we must heed above all else our Lord’s words which end this Gospel text: “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28).

When we hear the Word of God and keep it, we are blessed because it is through the Word that the Holy Spirit works obedience in us (Isaiah 55:10-11; Galatians 5:16-26). It is through the Word that we are reminded of spiritual things and the things of God which truly matter (John 16:13). It is through the Word that the Stronger Man defends us from the assaults of the devil and his minions. In response to our Lord’s words, we immerse ourselves in God’s Word at home, we prioritize gathering around the Word and Sacraments with our brothers and sisters, and we trust that the Stronger Man defends us.

“Lord, be our light when worldly darkness veils us; Lord be our shield when earthly armor fails us; And in the day when hell itself assails us, Grant us Your peace, Lord:
Peace in our hearts, where sinful thoughts are raging, Peace in Your Church, our troubled souls assuaging, Peace when the world its endless war is waging, Peace in Your heaven”
(LSB 659:3-4).

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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