Lent 3, Oculi, March 8, 2015 A+D, Emmaus Ev. Lutheran Church U.A.C., St. Louis, Mo.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. DEARLY BELOVED:
A company is strong when all of its workers are united and working toward the same goal. A family is strong when all of its members are united and working toward helping and defending one another. A country is strong when it is united and virtuous, when no one is trying to overthrow the government. And a Christian congregation is strong when it is united under God’s Word, bearing with one another in love, working toward helping one another, working toward the same goal of edifying one another and bringing Christ’s Word to the unbelieving world. Unity is a requirement for strength. It is a requirement for protection. A strong house must be unified.
And it’s for this reason that the devil tries to scatter and divide. He doesn’t try to scatter and divide his own kingdom, he tries to scatter and divide God’s household, God’s flock. Jesus points this out to His detractors. The devil indeed scatters and divides, but he does this not to Himself. (Therefore when Jesus is casting out devils, it’s not by the devil’s power that He does this.) The devil tries to divide God’s household, because divided, God’s flock becomes weak and defenseless.
Faced with a divided kingdom and a divided Temple, Jeremiah, in the Old Testament, was unable to cast the demons out of the house. The evil spirits of the people of Judah had filled God’s Temple, and unity had been destroyed. Instead of being united to God’s Word, each of them were going their own evil way. Therefore, the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah, “Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds.” (Jer. 26:2–3). They were unified, in a sense, unified in resisting God’s Word. Unified in their evil ways, they spurned the most important unity—unity with God’s Word—and they stood in evil unity against God’s prophet. God’s plan was that they would stop being unified against Him, but would be unified in repentance. Later in Jeremiah, it seems that some people did indeed repent, but not all. Some found unity with God. Others remained scattered and divided, just as many people today remain scattered and divided as fornicators, unclean persons, covetous men, who are idolaters, not having any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (cf. Eph. 5:5–6). We are not deceiving you with empty words, but we are warning you of these things, just as Jeremiah warned the people of what comes from being divided and scattered from God’s Word. It’s too bad that Jeremiah spoke, but was unable to fully cast out the demons from God’s House.
But Christ, the stronger Man, has indeed cast out the demons from our house. Although the devil is depicted as a strong man, fully armed, who guards his own palace, Christ is one stronger than he, who comes upon him and overcomes him, takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. Christ is the stronger Man, who has cast out the demons from our house. That is to say, we all were once under the devil’s power. In Luke’s Gospel, our bodies are described as “houses.” Jesus spoke of the strong man and the one stronger than he, when He was casting out a demon from a mute man. The man himself is the house that Jesus speaks of. We ourselves are like houses. The devil ruled us and had us as his possession to serve him in unrighteousness, guilt, and misery. But Christ came to our house, that we might serve Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
So how did He come to our house? For the answer to that, turn to the creed. The creed explains how Christ came to our house, overcame the devil, took away the devil’s weapons, and divided his spoils. This is how He did it: “He came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us . . . And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures . . . Whose kingdom will have no end.” That’s how He came to our house and overcame the devil. And he makes His victory our victory by means of the last part of the creed, where we confess the Holy Spirit and His work. “And I believe in the Holy Spirit; . . . And I believe one holy Christian and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins; And I look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come.” That’s how Christ’s victory becomes our victory—through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church: the means of grace and the resurrection. So you see, Christ by His death and resurrection has cast out the demons from our house. And as a result, we live together as His Church, as a holy temple in which God desires to dwell.
Now we all have probably known businesses which just don’t work, where everything is in chaos, and very little good work gets done. Think of how pointless and futile it would be if everyone in a company was free to do whatever he wanted. The purchasing people would be buying supplies to try to fill the warehouse. The cleaning people would be thowing those supplies away to try to clean out the messy warehouse. Some engineers would want the machines fixed one way. Others would fix them the other way. The accounting people would try to sell the products too high, and the marketing people would undercut them by selling the same products too low. In this sort of a situation, with no clear leadership and no rules, the business would be in chaos, almost no good work would be done, and soon they’d all be out of a job. For a house to be strong, it must be unified. Businesses that are not unified in their goals and clear in their duties just don’t work.
It is similar for the Church, even though the Church should not be seen as a business. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, speaks of the Church as a unified body, where each part of the body has its own duty and its own vocation. He says, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (v. 12). He’s saying, just as the body must work together in order to live and grow, so also the Church. And the way that the Church works together is not by business plans, but by love. Paul says in today’s epistle reading, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” As long as there is unity of faith and doctrine, then we must bear with the weaknesses of others. Martin Luther had a good insight into this. He once wrote, “We are surely prepared to observe peace and love with all men, provided that they leave the doctrine of faith perfect and sound for us. If we cannot obtain this, it is useless for them to demand love from us. A curse on a love that is observed at the expense of the doctrine of faith, to which everything must yield—love, an apostle, an angel from heaven, etc.!”1 But where we have unity of doctrine, where we are unified in believing the true, biblical teaching, there love is necessary to cover over the many faults of others. We can and must bear with the weaknesses of others. Think of what would happen if people didn’t bear with your weaknesses: your laziness, your worrying, your impatience, your backbiting, your rudeness, your disrespect, your concern for yourself first and foremost. (And we all are guilty of these things to one degree or another.) Think of what would happen if people did not overlook these things and simply love you. Life in the home, in the congregation, and in the workplace would be ten times worse.
Look: Christ loved us so much that He gave Himself for us to be an offering and a sacrifice to God. This is the sort of love which binds people in unity, where previously there was strife. This is the sort of love that heals and makes friendship where formerly there was enmity. And first and foremost, this is the sort of love which fully and completely reunites us with God. Not that our love does this. But our love is a reflection of God’s great love for us. God’s love is that Christ would be our sacrifice, for a sweet-smelling aroma to cover up the stench of our sins in God’s nostrils. Now, as a result of His love, we too can begin to love one another by means of the Holy Spirit. The congregation, especially, is like a house. Christ our God is a Man stronger than the devil, who has cast the evil spirits out of this group of people. But not only does He cast out the evil spirits, He also fills this house with the Holy Spirit. It is this Holy Spirit, with His seven-fold gifts, who unites this house. Through His grace—through the Gospel and the Holy Sacraments—this house is the house of the Holy Trinity. It is the place in which God desires to dwell. It is the place where God’s kingdom has come upon us through His gifts. Jesus said, “If I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” And this is indeed the case. We pray “Thy Kingdom come,” and through His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, God’s kingdom is here, in this united house, this congregation gathered around the Word and sacraments. For God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word, and lead godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.
The devil tries to divide us in two ways: by destroying our faith in God’s Word and His mercy, and then by destroying our love and our mercy for each other. May Christ, who sits at God’s right hand, and the Holy Spirit, who is the Finger of God, always cast the devil out of our house, even as He promised He would. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Rev. Dr. Benjamin T.G. Mayes
1Galatians 1535, AE 27:38.