Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: January 28, 2018

Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝

Cholla Garden

Cholla Garden

I don’t know if the paranormal explorers that are popular today are really prepared for what they are getting themselves into. For one thing, all of their assumptions seem to be the same: ghosts only come out at night, when the lights are out, they have to be the disembodied souls of people who used to live in a certain haunted place, even dressing and acting like the person they once belonged to, it always seems to help the hunters’ efforts in getting in touch with these spirits if they knew what life history they had and especially if they were to uncover what tragic event led to their demise. Their fancy instruments pick up electromagnetic fluxes, infrared temperature signatures, and you always get a kick out of it when they ask them questions. Most disturbing, however, is when they want to make further contact with ghosts, they sometimes turn to demonic practices like séances, consulting with mediums and psychics, or using voodoo or ouija.

Jesus does not treat the realm of evil spirits, or what the Evangelist St. Mark calls “unclean spirits,” as mere child’s play. This is serious business, and it can get pretty ugly and downright frightening or repulsive. We are not above this fray, because ever since the sin of Adam and Eve, you and I were born in sin, and kept in bondage as hostages to the Old Evil Foe. Saint Peter, to whom Jesus one time even said, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” warns us about the devil prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to devour you at any minute. (1 Peter 5:8) We need to treat his onslaught seriously, not just in our private, so-called religious life, but in every aspect of it. One of my seminary professors wrote: “To be sure, the world is interested in the eradication of evil, but evil is treated like some chemical imbalance that can be corrected by the right proportions of legislation, education, and money.” (David Scaer, What Do You Think of Jesus?, 33) That limp, lackadaisical approach is precisely why the world is listed in the catechism as one of the two enemies who are allied with the devil.

The other ally is our flesh, or our sinful nature. It’s that part of us that is constantly after serving the self. It is that part of you against which you fight a daily battle so that by forgiveness and the regular cleansing of God’s Word you would be purified from all unrighteousness. So the old line, “The devil made me do it,” is only half right. Because Satan knows his friends pretty well. He is aware of how he can, on the one hand, lure your flesh into the sin that tempts you the most, and on the other hand, use and twist God’s holy law to make you feel guilty and condemned, deceiving you to believe that you are out of the heavenly Father’s loving reach. You may know right now for a fact that is impossible, but later when trial and testing come, the good can easily be turned to bad and the bad made out to be good, and you-know-who is behind all of it.

And here is Jesus meeting His enemy in broad daylight; He’s not hunting for some erratic bump in the night. The confrontation took place in the middle of the day, in the midst of the teaching and preaching of the Word that was going on at Capernaum’s synagogue. How unsettling would that be if an episode like that happened here during the Divine Service! The massive foundation stones of the Capernaum synagogue are

actually still there for people today to walk over the very place where this happened. This unclean spirit is no faint apparition, but this time it has taken control of a certain man, and it can do nothing but scream in pain at the holy Words Jesus was teaching on that holy Sabbath. The Words of Jesus possess authority, and though most of the people were still stuck in incredulous wonder, the demon himself acknowledges the Lord very clearly, convinced that he’s done for: I know who you are, the Holy One of God. Here’s the seed of the woman, poised with heel raised up, ready for Good Friday when by His crucifixion and death He’ll crush the serpent’s head, and that means the utter destruction of all these evil minions, as well. There is no hope for their escape from God’s holy wrath, and all these spirits can do is plead for a little delay until the inevitable happens. James says in his epistle: “The demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19) As well they should.

What is bad for Satan and the unclean spirits is good for you. Notice from the Gospel reading that the Lord’s calm words are all that is needed to drive the demon away, and thrash and kick though it might, the poor man is thrown down, but not hurt. No mumbo jumbo, no flashy incantations nor any mysterious summons of supernatural powers. It wouldn’t get good TV ratings these days, since there’s no pizzazz. Take care to realize as you read the Gospels that whatever Jesus does to drive out spirits, He does the very same thing to cure fevers, open the eyes of the blind, make the lame jump for joy in the forgiveness of sins, and raise the dead. He rebukes the hold of the forces of evil and sin, setting the human victim free—all with a simple, ordinary, unimpressive Word.

That plain, ol’ Word, however, is the very kingdom of God that Jesus proclaims as good news. It is the very same Word that you hear today. You may not be thrown to the ground with demons possessing your body, but you have been afflicted all the same. Martin Luther realized that every person who was about to be baptized, whether newborn, young or old, was about to leave the grasp of Satan and be numbered among the Christian saints. He even “lamented” a little, if you could call it that, warning that newly baptized believer and his parents that now they’ve got a nasty enemy in the devil, who will not stop his evil attack upon those who now belong to Christ. What a powerful, mind-blowing Word that is, that we have connected to plain, ordinary water!

And Satan’s attacks don’t let up as you grow in the Christian faith, either. That healed man from the Gospel account, being a redeemed sinner, is going to need that wonderful Good News every day, just like you need it. No matter how often you’ve heard it, forgiveness keeps coming back to you to strengthen you in the one, true faith. The Body and Blood of Christ strengthen you in believing the promises that became yours when you were baptized. Though Satan will try his best to scare you, repulse you, or deceive you with good feelings and phony delights, you still have the calm, yet powerful Word of Jesus Christ preserved for you in Scripture and useful for your training in righteousness.

So whether it’s evil spirits masquerading as spooky phenomena, and I’ll grant you, that may very well happen, or an agonizing trial that you’re suffering, whether in health or otherwise, or, more likely, those everyday temptations that your sinful nature loves to justify that you just had to do it, even though you knew it was wrong, that evil needs to be brought out into the light of day. Shine the light of God’s Word on it, confess to the Lord all that is your burden of sin, and trust in the Gospel promise that Jesus has taken that burden away. That Word of assurance, paid for by the blood of Jesus, is the armor you need to withstand the attacks of the devil, the world, and yes, even your own sinful nature that’s going to stick with you until you die.

Now, if the publicly declared absolution announced here in Church doesn’t seem to cut through all that you’re up against, and you want to believe the words that you pray in the Lord’s Prayer, forgive us our trespasses, then maybe you ought to confess your sins one-on-one with your pastor. He is called and ordained to speak the very same simple, yet powerful words of Christ specifically to you in absolution. I mention that, not to lay a requirement on you, but to offer you a wonderful gift that our Lord meant for you to have as often as you seek it out.

Whether you read it in the Bible, hear it in church, receive it personally from your pastor, or eat and drink it in Christ’s Body and Blood, the calm, simple and mighty Word of the Kingdom of God that makes devils shriek and flee, that heals the sick and raises the dead, that Word is yours. It is not some magical power that you get to wield at your pleasure, but rather it is the power of God to convict you of your sins, and remove them, giving you the power of the Holy Spirit to live a life that your heavenly Father assures you is pleasing to Him, because it is the life that you live by faith in the Son of God, (Galatians 2:20) crucified with Christ and risen to new life with Him who has destroyed evil—including all those nasty unclean spirits—forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Deut. 18:15–20 a Prophet like you from among their brethren
Ps. 111 The works of the LORD are great
1 Cor. 8:1–13 beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block
Mark 1:21–28 He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.

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