Oculi, The Third Sunday in Lent: Blessed Are Those Who Hear the Word of God

Exorcism of the Dumb Demoniac

Lessons: Exodus 8:16-24, Ephesians 5:1-9, Luke 11:14-28
Hymns: LSB 592, 659, 422, 571, 438, 714

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      A difficult thing for new Christian converts to understand is that Christianity involves crosses. I’m not talking about all the crosses you may see in the church, or the crosses a person may wear, or the crosses a person may have in his home. Instead, I’m talking about the difficult times Christians face because of their faith.

      When Jesus invites people to follow Him, He doesn’t tell them they will have an easy time. He doesn’t say living a Christian life is simple. He doesn’t even say we’ll suddenly have peace with the world.

      Instead, Jesus declares, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

      When we are baptized into God’s family, Satan points his fiery darts at us. We become his target. The devil is not pleased when we become children of God.

      Today is sheer joy for us Christians as August is added to God’s family through Baptism. He is granted forgiveness of sins, rescued from death and the devil, and given eternal salvation. August is joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus so that he has died to sin and rises to walk in newness of life. Baptism is good!

      But the devil has lost one of his own, so he goes on the attack. When God builds a church, Satan builds a chapel. When God’s Word is proclaimed, Satan whispers lies into our ears and hearts. When God grants us His peace, the Devil is trying to wreak havoc in our lives.

      Many people prefer religious systems that guarantee an easy life. They want a religion which involves no sacrifice. They want the perceived conveniences of a religion without having to do much or even believe in much.

      That’s why many false teachers come in the name of God and promise their hearers nothing but sweet things—good times, good health, wealth, and happiness.

      And that’s what the Devil wants us to believe. He wants us to think that Christianity is all about these temporal things. He wants us to forget about Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. He wants us to live for today.

      And when life gets tough, the devil wants us to believe God isn’t listening, doesn’t care, or doesn’t love us. Satan is busy throwing his fiery darts at us, trying to destroy the faith God has worked in us.

      And we are tempted to believe we can have it both ways—a foot in the world and a foot in the Church, with most of our weight resting on the foot in the world. We think it is somehow better to delight in the ways of the world than in the Word of God. We pretend that we can still be a Christian while giving little thought to the Word of God. We mislead ourselves into believing that following Christ simply involves head knowledge and no matter of the heart.

      Repent. Deny yourself. Take up your cross daily. Follow Jesus. For He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We have no access to the Father, except through Jesus (John 14:6).

      Today’s Gospel reveals some of the devil’s power. Yes, demons can possess people. No, it doesn’t happen much in modern America. The reason why it doesn’t happen much is because the Devil knows other ways to corrupt us: He knows that we are easily swayed by wealth and mammon. He knows we can easily be succumbed into addiction to food, drugs, sex, or alcohol.

      These modern demons are no less powerful than the one which afflicted the mute man in today’s Gospel. The devil is attempting to use them to corrupt us and tear us away from our Lord and His gifts.

      But Jesus identifies something that is more beneficial, more powerful, and more life-giving than anything else in this world: God’s Word. This Word is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrew 4:12). A single Word of God is more powerful than Satan and his legions. Why? Because our Almighty God is at work through His Word.

      After Jesus drove out the mute man’s demon and preached to the people, a woman exclaimed, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” She’s basically saying she’s jealous of our Lord’s mother.

      After all, Mary had the easy child to raise—One who was never rebellious. He did what he was told. He never talked back. And then He grew up to be a great Teacher. He would make any parent proud.

      But Jesus replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” What Jesus is saying is this: Blessed are you. Blessed are you, for you are hearing the Word of God. The Word is entering your ears right now. There’s no better word for you to hear. There’s no greater blessing that you can have. And there’s nothing more powerful at work in this world than God’s Word.

      In his preface to the Large Catechism, Martin Luther wrote, “Certainly you will not release a stronger incense or other repellant against the devil than to be engaged by God’s commandments and words, and speak, sing, or think them. For this is indeed the true ‘holy water’ and ‘holy sign’ from which the devil runs and by which he may be driven away. Now, for this reason alone you ought gladly to read, speak, think, and use these things, even if you had no other profit and fruit from them than driving away the devil and evil thoughts by doing so. For he cannot hear or endure God’s Word… As St. Paul says in Romans 1:16, it is ‘the power of God.’ Yes indeed, it is the power of God that gives the devil burning pain and strengthens, comforts, and helps us beyond measure” (10-11).

      It is a blessing that God has given you His Word. It is a blessing that you can hear it in complete freedom. It is a blessing that God has established the church and the ministry for you to hear His Word.

      For the Word is the power of God. Just as Jesus’ Word drove out the demon, so also God’s Word is the means by which God takes your sin away. When God’s Word says you are forgiven, you are truly forgiven. When God’s Word declares you to be beloved in the Lord, you are truly beloved in the Lord. When God’s Word declares you to be a child of God through Baptism, you are truly God’s own child.

      Therefore, blessed are you when you hear this Word and keep it. Blessed are you because you are baptized into Christ. Blessed are you for you abide in Christ and He abides in you. Blessed are you for heaven awaits you. Blessed are you for you are at peace with God.

      Yet, as we bask in these blessings of God, we will still face challenges and crosses in this life. When the woman shouted out that Mary is blessed for bearing Jesus, she didn’t realize the crosses Mary carried for being our Lord’s mother.

      When a child is gifted, other parents may become jealous and may treat those parents poorly. Imagine being the mother of a perfect child—the mumbling and groaning people would have made for raising the sinless Son of God!

      Also, Mary was a witness to the things that would happen to Jesus. She saw Him beaten. She saw Him carry His cross. She saw Him nailed to the cross. She saw Him dying on the tree.

      It’s painful for parents to lose a child. Imagine the cross she also bore, watching her innocent Son be sentenced to death on the cross! She certainly had her crosses for bearing the Messiah!

      We, too, carry our crosses for hearing the Word of God and keeping it. The world dismisses us as a bunch of misled lunatics. The world mocks us for our piety and devotion to our Lord. The world scoffs and jeers that we actually believe these words of life.

      Satan will always be on the attack. The world and our own flesh will constantly tempt us.

      So, we take up these crosses and follow Him. He’s our Savior who goes to the cross to deliver us. He’s our Shepherd who guides and keeps us. He’s the One who brings us to the green pastures of Heaven.

      You are blessed because Jesus has been merciful to you. If He can cast out demons, Jesus can certainly cast your sins away from you. He does not cast you away from His presence. Instead, He creates in you a clean heart. He upholds you by His Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:10-12).

      He does this through the proclamation of the Word, which delivers to you what Christ earned and won for you. That is, Jesus earned and won for you the salvation of your body and soul. For He made the perfect payment for your sin. He bled and died in your place on the cross so that you can be set free. You are set free from sin in that you are forgiven of your iniquities and God remembers your sin no more (Hebrews 8:12). You are set free from death in that you now have eternal life through Christ our Lord. Just as He has overcome death and the grave and lives, so you shall also live. You are set free from the devil in that you are no longer a slave to Satan. You are baptized into God’s family.

      Christ has sought you out to save you. The Word of God and the Holy Sacraments are Christ’s gifts to you. They give you what they say: Access to Christ and eternal life.

      Blessed are you for hearing the Word of God. Blessed are you for being credited with keeping this Word through faith in Christ!

      Blessed are you for He cares for you. Blessed are you for nothing can separate you from His love! Thanks be to God! Amen.    

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen