The Word vs. the Devil
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus healed the sick. He made the blind to see and the deaf to hear and the lame to walk. He cast out demons and raised the dead to life. So why was it that the clergy were so anxious to grab stones and beat Jesus to death? What did He do? He said to them, “You are of your father the Devil!” What Jesus did was rob these men of their religion and their piety and holiness. These clergy, who thought they kept keep God's Law in holiness and loved to be loved by the people, had their false god stripped from them. The Pharisees of Jesus' day made a great show of being godly. But the ones they really worshiped were themselves! And when Jesus told them their good works were worthless and the religion was a hoax and the only hope they had was to repent of their sins and believe in Him, they wanted none of it!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, you, too, have your false gods and false religions. Jesus has come to demolish your religion, the religion of “me”, the religion of the devil. That's why mega churches are filled to overflowing with people: Satan's preachers tell their hearers exactly what they want to hear. But we're not immune from wanting to hear that! Jesus didn't come to tell you how great you are. Jesus came to rescue you from your selfishness. Jesus came to put to death the notion that you’re basically a good person. Every boast about who you are and what you've done is carried by Jesus to the cross. The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world, including your sin in believing you’re worthy of God’s goodness. Jesus lets evil men drag Him to the cross precisely because He knows they can never save themselves. He is nailed to the cross and bleeds and dies because they do not know what they do. He dies pouring out His blood for a world that loves itself. And all of that sin is blotted out because Jesus is the Lamb, the only-begotten Son of God who is given up for us all.
Beware this religion of the devil! The problem with Satan’s religion is that it often looks and sounds like the Christian faith. But it's not! The commandments say that we love God by loving our neighbor. Instead we love to judge others. We love to talk about ourselves and make ourselves the center of attention. Perhaps it’s about how we serve our congregation so faithfully while others sit at home. Maybe it's how long we've been Christians or how much better we've raised our kids, and how terrible so and so is because of something they've done. We’re so proud for showing up in church and being Christians! And then, should we ever be called to repentance, if our sins are ever pointed out, it’s gonna get ugly! “Don't tell me! Don't accuse me! Don't lump me in with the sinners!” Repent! Repent and recognize Satan’s religion for what it is. Turn from these sins of thinking yourself a holy person and making of yourself an idol. Turn away from thinking that your good works make you more impressive before God!
So how do you put to death the Pharisee within you? How can you be rescued from the religion of the devil? Jesus does that too. Three times He speaks about the Word of God. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.” “If anyone keeps my Word, He will never see death.” “I keep the Father's Word.” There it is. The rescue from the devil's religion is the Word of God. What word is that? The Word that delivers the forgiveness of sins. Jesus rescues you from your hatred of the Word by His perfect obedience to the Word. Remember, Lent started with the devil trying to twist God's Word; but Jesus threw the true Word back in His face. The Word that saves, the Word that rescues, is the Word that Jesus preached to the Pharisees. It's the Word that declares He is the Son of God who has come to give His life in the place of sinners. It's the Word we call the Gospel, the Good News. If anyone asks what the Gospel is, it is this: Jesus died and rose for you; and seeing His Son’s sacrifice, God doesn't count your sins against you. Those who have the Devil as their father keep his word. His word tells you to trust in yourself, that you're better than others, that God loves you because you're worth loving. The saving Word, the Word of Jesus, is that His blood cleanses you from all your sins, that His death counts for you, that He alone is your salvation. This is the Word which saves you.
But the Word that saves us is not just an idea. Not just a concept or a notion. It's real, powerful, active. It's the same Word that can take ordinary water and make it into a washing of new life in Baptism. It’s the same Word that forgives sins so that when even a pastor speaks it, that Word counts in heaven itself! It's the Word that we hear from the Scriptures and preached in sermons and taught in Bible Study and Sunday School and read in devotions—the Word that is always putting Jesus in your ears, His death for your sins, His resurrection for your life. It is the Word that adds the body and blood of Jesus to ordinary bread and wine so that you may eat the flesh that was given for the life of the world. The only hope we have against the religion of the devil and his preaching is the true and pure Word of God which is delivered to you by the Holy Spirit who turns your hearts away from your sins to believe His Word. That Word saves you! It promises your forgiveness. It delivers forgiveness. It marks you as God's child. It absolves and feeds you and keeps you in Christ. Ignore this Word, despise this Word, and your souls will quickly latch on to the devil's religion. Your sinful nature is born that way and always wants to go back! But you have been rescued from that religion of Satan. You have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus so that by His Word you will have eternal life.
Throughout Lent we've seen this one thing: Jesus drives out the devil wherever He goes on the way to the cross. The devil has filled the hearts of evil men who will be his tools to try and destroy Jesus. What a surprise, then, that Jesus uses the hands of evil men to destroy Satan’s power! What the devil thinks is his victory turns out to be his defeat! What the world thinks of as some nobody on a cross, God the Father reveals as the Savior of all people. Satan’s power is great, but it is no match for Jesus. By His suffering and death Jesus has cast down the Devil. By His Word He rescues you from Satan’s power. You belong to the Lord. Nothing is more sure than that, for the Word of God says so. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.