Midweek Lenten Series (Lord, Teach Us to Pray)
April 18, 2014
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. (Mark 3:22-27)
Deliver us from evil. “In Greek, this petition also reads, ‘Deliver us from the Evil One.’ It seems to be speaking of the devil as the sum of all evil in order that the entire substance of our prayer may be directed against our archenemy. For it is he who obstructs everything for which we ask.” To put it bluntly, the devil is a force to be reckoned with. He is the great opponent of God and his Christ, and he is at work in everything that opposes God’s will for this creation, and God’s will for you.  Every man, woman, and child in this fallen creation is in the dominion of the prince of this world, and is at times subjected to his temptation and to the havoc he wreaks. The power of God and the power of the devil are in the most severe conflict with each other, for the devil wants to be God. He wants to be worshiped by men. He wants to be the one in control of creation and human history. So God and the devil are fighting over you, fighting for your allegiance, fighting for lordship of your life.
And the odds are never in your favor. There is no neutral ground. There is no Switzerland in this cosmic battle. There are no Amish colonies to which we can flee in an effort to wilfully abstain from this conflict. Whatever or whoever is not of the Kingdom of God is in the devil’s kingdom. That is the kingdom into which we are all born. That is the kingdom in which we continue to live and move and have our being, the kingdom of this world in which we still struggle. We struggle because we are surrounded by a world that is still manipulated by Satan. We live in a world populated with people who are still unwittingly under the control of the evil one, people who for all outward appearances seem to be good and noble people, but who through the absence of faith are ultimately unsuspecting agents of the enemy, pawns in his great chess match with the Almighty. Satan teaches them to speak of Godly sounding ideals like faith, hope and love, but to speak of love only as an excuse to ignore or applaud all manner of sinful behavior under the guise of tolerance and open-mindedness; to speak of faith only as faith in one’s self and in one’s own abilities rather than humble confession of sin that looks to Christ alone for forgiveness; to speak of hope only as hope to be found through politics or programs or earthly institutions, never as hope for eternal life to be found through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We daily struggle against the incessant attacks of the devil through the voices, assumptions, values, and mores of a sinful world.
And struggle, not victory, is the best we can hope for in this life, for we ourselves are so often the unwitting agents of the dark one. We ourselves are the ones who casually embrace pride, thanking God that we are not like those homosexuals or prostitutes or murderers or sinners out there. We ourselves are the ones who unquestioningly embrace the ideals and standards of our culture, mindlessly enjoying the luxuries of smartphones and multiple cars and week-long vacations and HDTVs with hundreds of channels all while complaining that money is tight. We ourselves are the ones who have unsuspectingly embraced the lies spoon fed to us by the world around us. We ourselves are the unwitting pawns in the games of the demons.
And we ourselves are powerless to stop it; we are in bondage to it and cannot free ourselves. Were it not for the light of God’s Word breaking forth into our darkness, we would not even see the problem. Sure, we may recognize that things in this world aren’t perfect. We might have a sense that things like bombings at marathons or school shootings are pretty bad. We might experience that death sure hurts a lot, even when it is the peaceful passing of one who lived a full life. We might understand that there are some struggles in this world. But apart from the Word of God holding the mirror before our faces we would never recognize our own helplessness. We would continue on blissfully unaware of own contribution to the contamination of this creation. Without God’s Word we would continue marching toward our graves as if that was the only option, echoing back the world’s mantra that death is only natural. Without God’s Word, we would never know that our dilemma is something that far exceeds our abilities, that we are at war with the cosmic powers over this present darkness, battling against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
As part of this creation, we are born enslaved to sin. We are born captive to death. We are born belonging to the devil, and we are never free of our sinful flesh in this life. The best we can hope for in this sinful flesh is struggle, for struggle is an indication that there is something else at work within us. The world doesn’t struggle because the world doesn’t care about our Lord or his Word – it has bought Satan’s lie hook, line, and sinker. We struggle because we care, but the best we can hope for is to be a house divided against itself. Yet, in the words of Jesus, such a house cannot stand. We cannot stand. It would be useless to talk of gathering our forces together in mutiny against the prince of this world. Satan is far too strong for us, and we are far too valuable to him. He needs our allegiance to stroke his ego, so he will not give us up willingly. We are his treasure, precious to him only to support his delusions of grandeur, but precious nonetheless. He is no more eager to see us go than Pharaoh was to see the Israelites leave Egypt. No, we cannot hope to free ourselves from Satan’s clutches; he is far too strong. No one can enter this strong man’s house and plunder his goods, not unless he first binds the strong man. Only then may he plunder his house.
So Jesus entered the strong man’s house. Jesus entered this fallen and sinful creation. We may be valuable to Satan’s narcissistic delusions, but we are valuable to Jesus on a whole different level. We are valuable to him not because our worship and praise feeds his ego. We are valuable to him not because he is so gluttonous for power that he insists on dominating every aspect of our lives. We are valuable to him because we are his beloved creation. We are valuable to him because he is love, and we are his beloved. And so He who was by nature God did not consider his place as God something to clung to, but took the form of a servant. He took on human flesh. He took up residence in the dominion of the prince of this world. He saw us trapped in the strong man’s house, so he came into that house himself. He lived here as true man – experiencing our hunger, our thirst, our fatigue, our frustration, our temptation, our grief, our sorrows, our loss, our death. And in so doing he bound the strong man with cords that cannot be broken. The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil. That is why we are gathered together tonight, on the Friday we now call Good. That is why we are gathered together to remember the crucifixion of our Lord, for if we could have been made righteous by any other means, then what in the world is Jesus doing on the cross? If Jesus could have simply showed us a means of escape, a series of hidden tunnels or an Underground Railroad to extract us from the house of the strong man, wouldn’t he have done it? But there was no other way out. There was no secret passage by which we could find our way back to God. The only way to free us from the bonds of Satan was to come down here and bind Satan himself.
So that’s what our Lord did. He took Satan’s most powerful weapon, death, and turned it back on itself. In his own death Jesus destroyed the power of death. The sin that Satan used to chain us has been broken, for Jesus, the one who knew no sin, became sin for us. Sin was punished. Sin was judged. Sin was nailed to a tree and had a spear jabbed up between its ribs. He who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God. He redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, as it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” So, look tonight at that tree. Look tonight at that cross. Look tonight and see Jesus on that cross, and seeing Jesus on that cross, know that there’s no room for you. Hear Jesus cry out from that cross, “It is finished!” and know that he’s talking about the price of your salvation. It is finished; it has been paid. Remember how at the death of Jesus the ground shook and the dead were raised, and know that it is the undoing of the chains of death that Satan used to confine you. Remember how at the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross the curtain in the Temple was split in two from top to bottom, and know that the ropes of sin that Satan used to bind you have been cut in half. You have been set free. You or I may not have been strong enough to free ourselves from the grip of Satan, but one who is stronger than he has come into this house. He has bound the strong man. He has taken you for his own, and nothing can overpower him. You now belong to him, and nothing can steal you back.
Come now, let us ponder on his holy passion. Let us see his great distress, anguish, and affliction. Let us meditate on how it was our sin and bondage to the devil that wrought such deep affliction, and, with repentant grieving, let us find peace in our conscience, the peace that his cross gives, the peace of knowing that though his death we have been delivered from the evil one. Let us take comfort in the trust that because we have been delivered from the clutches of the evil one, even though the daily struggles of this life are difficult for us to bear, yet they cannot overpower our Lord. Let us find in the cross of Jesus the strength bear our own crosses in humbleness and patience until the day of our resurrection when we will be delivered from this valley of sorrow to our Lord in heaven. Come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and remember how he delivered us from evil.
 Large Catechism
 Much of what follows is from: Althous, Paul The Theology of Martin Luther p. 162-164
 Ephesians 6:12
 Mark 3:27
 1 John 3:8
 Paulson, Steven Luther for Armchair Theologians p. 147
 2 Corinthians 5:21
 Galatians 3:13