MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV Luke 11: 14 And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. 15 But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. 16 And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. 18 If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. 19 And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. 20 But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.21 When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: 22 But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.
A Stronger Man
This Gospel has many verses worthy of a sermon, but these two verses are especially good to think about. They describe the victory of Jesus over Satan.
When we read through a Gospel, some verses seem very strange. This is one of those passages. Who is the strong man and the stronger man?
The context is the casting out of a demon. One reaction was wonder. But others made accusations against Jesus, that he was using Satanic powers to cast out demons. Beelzebub is one of many names for Satan. Jesus responded by pointing out that Satan cannot drive out Satan. If Satan did that, his kingdom would be engaged in civil war and would fall. (In fact, Abraham Lincoln used this image from the Bible in his famous speech. According to one account, Lincoln became a Christian and even taught the Scriptures to servants at the White House.)
Jesus went on to say that if He could drive out demons “by the finger of God,” then the Kingdom had come upon them. Liberals are always whining that Jesus did not consider Himself the true Son of God. But this expression, “I by the finger of God” implies that the finger of Jesus is the finger of God. Some do not want to see this.
The demons saw Jesus as the Son of God and confessed Him as such. They seem to know the meaning of the miracle better than the liberal professors.
KJV Mark 1:24 Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
James makes a distinction between saving faith and simply knowing something is true.
KJV James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
This is something we have to realize when dealing with apostates, the people who have lost their saving faith and yet remain in the visible church. Their knowledge is great enough to hate the Word of God when it is spoken to them. This mystifies people who are innocent and those who do not pay attention to Scriptural warnings. They see a man who is an ordained pastor, a professor of religion, or a synod official and they think he will respond positively to a discussion about the Scriptures. Instead they find someone who tries to wiggle out of any discussion, then tries sugary flattery, then loud abusive language or threats. The text says, literally, “They believe and their hides bristle.” They know enough to feel the threat and respond accordingly.
This world is divided into two kingdoms. One is Satan’s and one is God’s. The two are at war with each other, even though our side does not seem to think so at times. Someone cannot give up the Christian faith and simply be neutral. He will be antagonistic toward the true Gospel.
The comparison drawn by Jesus is very compelling. We see in our minds a strong man who is armed and has plenty of goods. He is guarding his house. This is Satan. Then a stronger man overcomes him and takes away “the armor in which he trusted”. And then he divides the spoil. This is Jesus.
The description is startling at first, but then it is very comforting. As much credit as we may give to Satan as “the prince of this world,” there is One Man who is stronger. Satan does seem to have everything in his house at peace. The vast majority of people do not believe in Christ, if we judge by worship attendance. Paganism is growing at a record pace. It is no longer startling that people worship the occult and openly worship Satan himself. When we see how terrible things are in the visible churches and in society, we can only conclude that Satan’s goods are well guarded and at peace.
Anyone who does not believe in Christ as his Savior is part of Satan’s household and serves him in some way. There are ravening wolves outside of the flock and apostate wolves within the flock, all eager to devour the flock. It seems as if Satan has every advantage.
And yet in one verse, the entire ministry of Jesus is summed up as a victory:
22 But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.
Jesus came in the form of an ordinary man. Satan had been waiting for Him ever since the first promise of the Gospel in Genesis 3:15. Luther pointed out that God was deliberately vague about the identity of the One who would crush the head of Satan, so the devil pursued Israel until nothing was left of it except a stump when Jesus was born.
Jesus is the stronger Man Who alone can defeat Satan. This shows us clearly that God alone can defeat Satan. No ordinary person can defeat sin and Satan. All those who attempt to become righteous through the Law alone will fall victim to the devil either through despair or through pride and self-righteousness. Those are the only possible outcomes of righteousness through the Law, or by works.
Satan thought he was defeating Jesus when he gathered his allies and crucified the Son of God. It wasn’t enough to kill him. A rock on the head would have done that. Jesus was betrayed by his own disciple Judas, arrested as a criminal, tried as a criminal, denied by his disciple Peter, tortured within an inch of His life, forced to carry His cross as another stage in His public humiliation, and then crucified in public, with no disciples (except John) present. To the world Jesus appeared to be humiliated in the most terribly way, tortured, and finally executed with common criminals as an enemy of the state and as a heretic.
Satan thought he had finally won the battle that began when he was cursed by God. The promised Messiah was dead. His disciples were hidden away and afraid. Satan can seem all powerful but he is also blind to God’s ways. He believes, but his hide bristles. So he can only perceive part of what God does, only enough to rage against it. The cross defeated Satan, sin, and death. On the cross Jesus paid for the sins of the world and conquered death forever. Because we sin, we must die. But because we receive the righteousness of Christ in faith, we also receive the promise of eternal life.
You will notice in this one little verse some words to add even more comfort and encouragement to the Gospel.
he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted…
Satan’s kingdom is a stronghold, well guarded and armed against attack. But God takes away that armon through Christ. Who are the greatest enemies of God? Jesus converts them and uses them against Satan.
Paul raged against the Christian church, actively persecuting it, until Christ Himself appeared before him and converted him by the Word. From Satan’s point of view, he lost his best agent at the time, who not only betrayed the devil, but went throughout the civilized world spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, sowing the seeds of a world-wide Christian Church. The Word of God was so effective in Paul that the entire Roman Empire was converted to Christianity, from the bottom up. Not that everyone was a believer. But the Roman Empire was pagan at the death and resurrection of Christ, but Christian at the time of the Emperor Constantine, when he saw to it that the Nicene Creed was established. That would be like seeing the premier of China working on Sunday School material in a few years.
God still works that way. Those people who seem to be the best agents for Satan are converted by the Word and work for Christ instead. I recall when Charles Colson was converted in prison. He had been Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, so his conversion was greeted with disbelieving laughter. Nevertheless, he devoted himself to helping prisoners with the Christian faith.
One of the early pioneers of the LCMS had been in prison for six years. He was as tainted by his early life as Paul was. Imagine this on a resume for someone you want as a seminary president – in prison for six years for crimes against the state. Such people know about their sins and weaknesses, far better than those of us who imagine we are pretty good, or at least above average. Satan accuses night and day, “How can you be a leader of young men. You were in prison. You should resign.” This only shows the strength of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel. Satan is not only defeated by the forgiveness of sins received in faith. He also rages that a puny man with so many sins could be victorious over a mighty man.
Alexander the Great was taunted by the Persian emperor before a major battle. He was sent toys because he was so young. Alexander wrote back, “Thank you for the toys. Now, if you win, it will mean nothing, because you defeated a mere boy. But if I win, then everyone will say, A boy defeated the mighty Persian emperor in battle.”
So we should answer the taunts of Satan, “I know I am nothing. And yet in Christ I am strong against you. In Him I have placed all my hope. I have no righteousness of my own, but Christ is my righteousness, my strength, my hope, my comfort.”
This is very important, because Satan does not defeat people by drawing blood but by draining them of hope, happiness, and peace. It is an emotional battle, a spiritual war. When Satan can get people thinking along the lines of defeat, they are defeated. I recall how WELS struggled against the closing of Northwestern College, which was known to be a liberal ploy. The opponents of the closing said from the beginning, “We will lose.” They dropped their heads and moped around. It is not difficult to defeat people who defeat themselves first. Secondly, no one was honest about the doctrinal issues, so the Word was never brought into play. If I had an Abrams tank against two men with slingshots, I would not hold back the tank. I would use it. The Word cannot be defeated by any human weapon. We will always be victorious with the Word.
Here are a few more words that add to the comfort of this message of hope:
and divideth his spoils…
Secretly, why do people end up following Satan instead of Christ? Because Satan has all the stuff, all the fun, all the money. Our experiences and feelings tell us that orthodox Christianity is always losing. The ministers are poor. The churches are small. If the building is large, the congregation is tiny. This is true of all the groups trying to gather people according to their original confession of faith, whether it is traditional Anglicanism, Methodism, or Presbyterianism.
When Christ overcomes Satan, he takes away the treasures of the devil’s kingdom and gives them to Christians. Oh how clever and wise the disciples of Satan are. God takes such gifts and turns them over to His people to use. Whenever Christianity has been at its lowest ebb, God has given certain people amazing abilities to overcome Satan. We often think of Luther, but we should also remember those who served immediately after Luther’s death. The Reformation was defeated after Luther’s death. The Lutherans were conquered by military might and divided in their confession of faith. And yet for that time, God provided Chemnitz and Chytraeus, who were among the greatest theologians and Biblical teachers of all time.
When Lutheranism came to America, every group was small and weak, with nothing in the bank. No land. No status. Foreigners speaking in a foreign language. And yet when I look at an old black and white photograph of the early days in the LCMS, I see men who wrote books all of us struggle to obtain today. There they are, in a faculty photograph: W. Arndt, Th. Graebner, L. Fuerbringer, F. Pieper, J. Fritz, J. T. Mueller, M. S. Sommer, Walter Maier, Th. Engelder, W. G. Polack, P. E. Kretzmann. All of them wrote books worth having today. (Arndt and Graebner became unionists.) And then I look at other faculty lists of the current seminaries of the LCMS and try to recall if anyone has written a book I would keep or recommend to others. Marquart yes. The others, no. The old St. Louis faculty did not co-author books with liberals. The current faculty does, without shame.
God chooses to do the most with very little, to show that His grace is sufficient. One time a slug got a ride on a turtle’s back. He had never traveled so fast. He said, “Wheeeee!” We think we are slugs, going nowhere and accomplishing nothing. But Jesus has invaded and taken over the palace of Satan. He has given His Church the spiritual gifts needed to preach and teach the Gospel. And He has shown that the finery of Satan’s palace is nothing but a vain show. We ourselves are not doing much, but God does a lot through us.
I used to watch Notre Dame football with our son Martin, in the 1970s, when I caught the football fever. Notre Dame had a bad habit in those days of winning the first half and losing the second half. My son had a disconcerting habit of rooting for ND while they were winning and switching sides when they were obviously going to lose. The Cotton Bowl was the worst. ND was behind by a huge score and the quarterback, Joe Montana, was sick with the flu. It was so painful that I changed stations. Later, I switched back to find out that Montana had come back into the game and was close to winning. And he did.
I have noticed in church politics that people wait to see if Christ or Satan is going to win. Then they jump in on the winning side. That is a bad mistake. Jesus is always the winning side. We should never feel defeated or act as if God went away on vacation. His promises are certain and true. He will keep His promises and give us far more than we ever expected.
When we experience feelings of defeat and despair, we should turn to the Gospel, especially John’s Gospel and read the simple message of Jesus’ victory over Satan. John’s Gospel is often called the Gospel of love, because God’s love for us is emphasized so often. And also, joy is a major emphasis. Jesus came that our joy might be complete.
KJV John 15:11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
KJV John 16:20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.
KJV John 16:22 And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
KJV John 16:24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.
KJV John 17:13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.