The Stronger Man
In the Scriptures, whenever the Holy Spirit comes upon someone, it usually follows that the person opens his mouth and begins to prophesy. The Holy Spirit always testifies of Christ. So it’s no surprise that a man possessed by a demon, by an unholy spirit, would be mute, unable to speak. Satan hates the proclamation of Jesus and wants to silence it in any way possible. According to St. Matthew’s Gospel, the demon made the man not only mute, but also deaf and blind. Jesus demonstrated his power over demons by setting that poor man free. As soon as he cast out the demon, the mute man began to speak openly and the crowd was amazed (Lk 11:14). They witnessed something wonderful!
But not everyone was pleased. The Pharisees were jealous of Jesus. They couldn’t deny that he had power – that was obvious to all – so they tried to discredit him. “He casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Lk 11:15). They accused Jesus of being in league with Satan. They wanted to put Jesus in the same category and on the same level as the demons he was casting out. It’s a pretty ridiculous accusation, but that doesn’t keep it from being made again and again throughout history. The charge against Jesus is that all religion is the same. There’s no difference between Christian, Muslim, Jew, and Hindu. Religion is religion. God’s religion and the devil’s religion are essentially the same. It’s all just a chip off the old superstitious block. What does this mean? It means that the devil is no longer the devil. He’s just another God and all the gods are pretty much the same.
Those who reject the claims of Christ also dismiss the power of the devil as insignificant. This makes sense. If you want to justify yourself and refuse the One who comes to save you, you need at least to pretend that your spiritual condition is healthy, that you’re in no spiritual danger, that you don’t need the a Savior to save you. The religiously self-satisfied not only reject Jesus, they also view the devil as a relatively harmless sort of person. The Pharisees called him Beelzebul, which means lord of the flies. They displayed their contempt for Satan’s power as if he were merely an annoyance. Flies buzz around our heads and irritate us, but they can’t really cause us harm. The world pictures the devil as an impish figure in red tights with a pitchfork instead of as a serious and powerful spiritual adversary. And if the devil is harmless, why would anyone need a Savior?
God’s Word teaches that every one of us is born under the power of Satan. No one can resist him or cast him out. No man on earth is his equal. Unless God miraculously intervenes, every one of us would be destined to live as pawns of the devil, our tongues bound to speak only his words, following his will, and we would spend eternity in hell with him. But thanks be to God, he did intervene! The devil is the strong man, fully armed, guarding his possessions, but Jesus is the stronger man. He overcame Satan at the cross, stripped him of his armor, and plundered his house. What is the plunder? You are. You once belonged to Satan. You were under his power, slaves to your sinful passions and an enemy of God, but with the blood of Jesus you were ransomed, purchased back, and now you belong to Christ. You are a child of God. You are his possession. The strong man was cast out, and the stronger man has come.
You may be a bit shocked to find that the Church has always considered baptism to be a form of exorcism. Did you know this? People sometimes say, “Jesus was always casting out demons, but why doesn’t the church cast out demons today?” Oh, we do – regularly! The reason you might not be aware of this is because our ideas of exorcism have been shaped by Hollywood and not by God’s Word. But Luther’s Baptismal Rite contains these words: “I adjure thee, thou unclean spirit, by the name of the Father †and of the Son † and of the Holy Ghost † that thou come out of and depart from this servant of Jesus Christ, Amen.” Now certainly, there’s a difference between being born under the power of Satan and being bodily possessed by a demon, yet baptism still is an exorcism: “Depart thou unclean spirit and make room for the Holy Spirit.” St. Paul tells us, “Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Baptism is not a cute little ceremony. Baptism is spiritual warfare. Satan is cast out, and the stronger man takes up residence.
Many people see baptism as nothing more than an item on the to-do list for good parents. Take your child to the doctor to get vaccinated. Check! Take your child to church to get baptized. Check! Take your child to catechesis to get confirmed. Check! “My duty as a Christian parent has been met.” But Luther warns, “Remember, therefore, that it is no joke to take sides against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child, but to burden the child with such a mighty and lifelong enemy. Remember too that it is very necessary to aid the poor child with all your heart and strong faith, earnestly to intercede for him that God, in accordance with this prayer, would not only free him from the power of the devil, but also strengthen him, so that he may nobly resist the devil in life and death” (LW 53:108).
Baptism is the beginning of the Christian life, just as the wedding ceremony is the beginning of married life. But we’ve all seen marriages that didn’t survive. In the same way, if the seed of faith planted in baptism is not nurtured and watered with God’s Word, Satan will gobble it up. Jesus says, “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.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 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” (Lk 11:24-26). If your children are not equipped with the tools to fight the battle against the sinful nature, against the glittering temptations of this world, you can be sure that they will become low hanging fruit for the wiles of the devil. It’s possible to be baptized, but for lack of hearing God’s Word, to become that empty house, the house swept clean. And the last state of that person will be worse that the first!
In light of this warning how should we live? In fear of the devil? Seeing demons around every corner and in every shadow? No! We need not fear Satan’s power because we belong to Christ, the stronger man who defeated him at the cross. You baptism does make you an enemy of the devil, but it joins you to our Savior’s triumph over sin, death, hell, and the devil.
How should we then live? The life of a Christian is a life of daily repentance. Every day we return to the waters of our baptism where we died and rose again. We claim Christ’s victory over the devil. We put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness that renders us righteous before God. We hold on to God’s Word in simple faith. We keep our house full by filling it with the gifts of God. And where has God promised to bestow his gifts? Here, in church. So we come gladly to hear his Word, to be strengthened against the daily assaults of Satan, and to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ. We live on every Word, and we claim our rightful status as children of God’s kingdom of grace.
Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it! (Luke 11:28). Christ is speaking to you today. Whoever you are and whatever you think of your own spiritual condition, you need to hear and keep God’s Word. Daily confess your sins to God and daily claim the forgiveness God gives you in your baptism. Take his Word to heart as the one thing needful in this life and Jesus will drive the devil and his demons away from you and keep you safe. The war will rage around you, but you will remain blest forever. Amen.