Monday, March 20, 2017

Sermon on Luke 11:14-28, for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (1 YR), "Christus Victor"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Early Christians found various ways to speak about the redemption that Jesus Christ won for mankind. They followed the descriptions in Scripture. “What was the center of Jesus’ redeeming work?”, they asked. Of course the cross of Jesus had to be central. But what exactly was happening there? A transaction? A tragedy? A judgment? A battle? An example? The most common description is that Jesus was our perfect, innocent substitute, facing God’s judgment against sin. A similar picture is Jesus as the ransom for our human bondage to sin. A third description found more in hymns than in theology books, is called the Christus Victor Theory. Christ is the Victorious champion who destroys sin, death, and the devil. It’s a more triumphal picture—but really all three images together describe facets of the one reality that Jesus has redeemed us from the power of sin, death, and the devil.
One key idea of the Christus Victor Theory, comes out of our reading today. The whole lesson is about God’s kingdom entering the world and overcoming the power of the devil’s kingdom—but several mini-lessons are tucked into it. Listen again to one of them: Luke 11:21–22 “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” In this mini-parable, there’s a strong man, and then a stronger man, who defeats him. Who is Jesus comparing the first strong man too? Following His miracle, the “strong man” is the devil, whose “palace” is well-guarded. The demon-possessed man, healed by Jesus, was a captive in the house of a strong man.
The devil is like the prince of thugs—he maliciously attacks people, brings evil, violence, and suffering upon our world. Many are bound up in captivity to the devil, through the slavery of vices, false religion, greed, lust, pride, or anything else to keep us in sin and despair, or blind self-security. The devil’s stronghold is not easily broken into; he guards his captives jealously. Satan’s power is no laughing matter. Do we measure sin lightly? Do we hear, or are we attuned to the cries of misery and suffering from those who are in Satan’s bondage? Do we have a sympathetic ear to those who cry for freedom, but don’t know where and how it might come?
The answer to our human bondage comes from the “stronger man” who attacks the palace of the strong man (the devil), overpowers him, takes away the armor that he trusted in, and divides his spoil. Who is that stronger man? Christus Victor! Christ, our Victorious Lord! Jesus portrays it as an epic contest between two powerful men—but He is clearly the stronger—and He defeats and disarms His enemy the devil.
But this isn’t a cosmic boxing match between Jesus and Satan—a brute display of force. Rather, it was His “divine act of righteousness on the cross, where Jesus stripped Satan of his claims against mankind” (Scaer). Innocently offered up for our sins, bound, beaten, and crucified, it appeared to be the devil’s victory. But the humility and apparent weakness of Jesus’ death concealed the surprise victory that He was going to win! As one Easter hymn sings, “In Satan’s domain, did the hosts shout and jeer; for Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear! But short was their triumph, the Savior arose, and death, hell and Satan, He vanquished His foes. The conquering Lord lifts His banner on high; He lives, yes, He lives, and will nevermore die” (LSB 480:2-3). Jesus turned the tables on them and routed them by His glorious resurrection! Jesus attacked and overpowered the devil by His cross and empty tomb.
And suddenly the devil was stripped of his most powerful weapon. He hurled sin and death at Jesus, killing Him, but Jesus rose with just a bruised heel, while the old serpent’s head was crushed. Whenever Jesus healed the demon possessed, this was a preview of Jesus’ authority and command over the devil. He drove them out by the Finger of God! With a touch, and with a Word of command, the demons were forced to flee in fear. This was so astonishing to the crowds, that they actually horribly accused Jesus of being in league with Satan. It seemed incredible to them that here was someone more powerful than the devil. They failed to recognize the Son of God, and that the kingdom of God had arrived! Jesus quickly dismantled their bad logic, and showed that neither Satan nor God work against their own interests, and if a kingdom or house is divided, it will fall. Jesus proved He was in command by God’s authority and power, and that He was releasing captives to spiritual freedom.
In Revelation, we read how the devil has been disarmed. He’s cast out of heaven, and no longer able to accuse the brothers. He’s bound on a heavy chain, like a junkyard dog or a roaring lion. Colossians 2:15 says at the cross Jesus, “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” The “rulers and authorities” that Paul writes about are the league of evil spiritual forces—the devil and all his demons. These Jesus has disarmed and put to shame. The traditional Christian understanding of the descent into hell, is not that Jesus endured any further suffering or shame after the cross, but rather triumphed over the devil by announcing His victory—that He has burst even the gates of hell!
Our reading describes figuratively how Jesus, the stronger man, disarms the devil, plunders His palace and divides the spoil. What does Scripture say about this? Ephesians 4:8–10
When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things).”

We are in the host of captives, Jesus followers, purchased for freedom. Purchased by His precious blood to receive His gifts to mankind. Every sinner freed from the “strong man” is given freedom, forgiveness, and new life. These gifts are wrapped up and presented to you in your Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, and in the hearing of God’s Word. Gifts purchased at His cross, are delivered to you by the means of His grace.
Reviewing once more: Jesus, the stronger man, attacked, overcame, and disarmed the devil, and then divides his spoil. Isaiah 53, that great prophecy of Jesus’ death on the cross, ends with this verse: (12)
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Jesus divides the spoil because He poured out His soul to death. This verse describes how the cross was the righteous act where Jesus conquered our sin. The spoil—all the ill-gotten gain of the devil, is stripped from him. The spoils of this spiritual battle rightfully belong to Christ to give out.
The victory of Christ is something to celebrate, for sure. But as Jesus warns the crowd in the next mini-lesson of this teaching, if a person is set free from the malign power of an unclean spirit, and his “house”—that is, his soul—is “swept clean”, but remains empty—he remains susceptible to another devilish attack. Someone better needs to take up residence in the soul, or it too will be unguarded, unprotected. Who else but our Lord and Savior Jesus, and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit? If God dwells in our house—our soul—if God makes our body His temple, then no demons will be welcome there. The Holy Spirit does not “cohabitate” with unclean spirits. If our soul is indwelt by Jesus, the “stronger man”, then we do not fear that the devil can get inside. Who better to entrust our soul to, than to the One who set us free?
An excited woman in the crowd begins praising Jesus, and essentially says—“Your mother is blessed to have you as a Son!” The Virgin Mary was indeed blessed to have Jesus as her Son—but He proclaims a far better blessing that is given not only to Mary, but to you and me and all who believe in Jesus Christ. “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”  This is truly our great treasure, to hear and keep God’s Word. For by God’s Word the kingdom of God comes among us, bringing all the saving gifts that Jesus brought that day in ancient Israel. Wherever His name is still proclaimed, the devil must retreat, his armor is stripped away, and captives who cry out for release are freed by the mighty name of Jesus. God’s Word still expands God’s Kingdom, and deprives the devil of all his ill-gotten spoil. Christ is Victorious! And whenever we are downtrodden or fearful, we need only turn our eyes to Jesus our Champion, and know that our victory stands secure in Him. In Jesus’ Mighty Name—the Name above all names, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Frequently during His ministry, Jesus cast out demons, some that were causing physical afflictions. How did the skeptics of Jesus’ healing say that He performed miracles? How does Jesus’ show that their claim is illogical? Luke 11:14-19.

  1. Verse 20 contains strong positive statements of what Jesus’ ministry is, and is bringing. What are they, and what does it mean for them? What is the kingdom of God?

  1. In vs. 21-22, who do the ‘strong man’ and ‘stronger man’ represent? How does this tie in with how our salvation is accomplished? What is Jesus saying about Himself in this? What has He done to the devil? Colossians 2:15; Isaiah 53:12; Ephesians 4:8-10.

  1. For the sake of those who have been purged of a demon by Jesus, what warning does He give for their future condition? Luke 11:24-26. In this mini parable, what does the “house” represent? Who may inhabit this house? Who ought to inhabit this house? 1 Corinthians 6:19

  1. A woman from the crowd praises Jesus and says His mother was truly blessed to have Him as a son. How does Jesus point her to a greater blessing available to her, and us as well? Luke 11:28; Luke 8:21.

  1. Christian theologians have explained salvation in several ways; one of them being known as the “Christus Victor” theory of the atonement. It explains that Jesus was victorious over the devil, and defeating the power of sin and death. How does this passage show His victory? Study the bulletin quote. How did Jesus’ victory come about?

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