Though Devils all the World Should Fill
Do we listen to what we sing? In A Mighty Fortress we sing, "Though devils all the world should fill." That's impossible to the educated, unprovable to the scientific, improbable to the religious, and yet we sing it with gusto. While everyone else thinks the real threat is disease, war, poverty, or deflated footballs, we think devils are. Actually we sing even if the world should be full of them they aren't a threat to us. "They shall not overpower us," we sing. But that means little if you think your real problem is something other than devils and the sin and death they bring with them.
In our text Jesus exposes to a synagogue their real problem. Don't assume that everyone knew that John or Joan over there had a devil. By the way, we don't know if it's a man or woman. The Greek is person, not man. Anyway, we get no indication from the text that any one knew. Sabbath after Sabbath he or she sat there as God's Word was read and expounded by teachers of the Law who knew nothing of the authority of God but only of the authority of each other. Sabbath after Sabbath the doable Law, you should do better, be better, think better was heard, and Joan's or John's devil wasn't bothered.
Then Jesus came and all hell broke loose. Last week you heard the verses right before our text. They told you what the content of Jesus' teaching was. That's what He taught in this synagogue. That's what the devil reacted to. Jesus taught that no one could be good enough to go to heaven; it wasn't enough for a person to try harder to love his neighbor and God; doing your best wasn't okay. Jesus taught that good works counted nothing before God. Jesus taught that He had appeared to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus taught that in Him devils had no power over a person.
And this devil shrieked. Our text says "just then he cried out." This is the word for an animal noise, but it's intensified. He shrieked in horror, in pain, in rage. Imagine if you were sitting next to him or her. And remember when the devil asks "What do want with us?" you're part of the "us." The second phrase will really startle if you take it as statement not a question. As you know punctuation is not God inspired. There's no reason not to translate, "You have come to destroy us." If you're sitting in this synagogue, that includes you.
But just what sort of devil has Jesus exposed in the midst of the peaceful synagogue at Capernaum? The insert interprets, "evil spirit." The text says "unclean spirit." Luke calls it the spirit of an unclean demon." So it is a spirit but it's a demonic one, a devil. It's not "evil" but unclean. Are we to think ceremonially unclean according to Old Testament Laws? Well, everyone would have known that and he or she probably wouldn't have been in the synagogue to begin with. And being ceremonially unclean was part and parcel of everyday life in the Old Testament Church.
What did John the Baptist come preaching? A baptism, a washing, of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, a washing that Jesus continued through His disciples John 4 tells us. But there were lots of people who rejected that washing, particularly among the Old Testament Church leadership, and it never says they had unclean spirits. No, the unclean spirit Joan or John Doe had anyone can have not just members of the Old Testament Church or rejecters of John's baptism.
The spirit is unclean because it befouls everything in everyway. It's that green disgusting blob in the Muscinex commercials. An unclean spirit contaminates food, drink, house, home, marriage, family, work, life. Titus says, "To the pure all things are pure, but to the defiled nothing is." I have this unclean devil. He rises up and puts his stench on the past, the future, the present. He defiles my hopes, my dreams, my thoughts, my ways.
This unclean spirit makes me Charlie Brown's friend Pig Pen. Every move I make, every claim I stake, every breath I take is dirty, unclean. Nothing is pure, nothing is holy, nothing is right. And you can tell me that it will get better if I just try harder. You can tell me I'll win if I just keep on plugging away, and I will listen quietly. But if you tell me I'm done, doomed, and damned unless I'm perfectly pure, holy, and washed my unclean spirit shrieks like a wounded animal because that can only mean the death of him.
But this unclean, befouling spirit sees something clearer than I do. Devils aren't fooled when God works through means. Men are. Jesus will go to Nazareth and be rejected because of His humanity even though they all admit that God's grace is pouring out of His mouth. They can't see past His humanity to His divinity. This devil sees both. He says, "This is Jesus of Nazareth" the one born of Mary, the One raised as carpenter. But He is also the "Holy one of God." This devil is confessing the Second Article of our Catechism. Jesus is "true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true man, born of the Virgin Mary."
The devils aren't fooled by Baptism. They don't think it's simple water only. Why else does Satan attack the Man Jesus right after He's baptized? He believes Baptism bestows the Holy Spirit and brings the good pleasure of the Father. And God's Word is not lifeless, powerless sounds to devils either. Why else does Jesus say that when the Word is preached the devils are on hand to swoop down like birds and pick the seed of God's Word out of human hearts lest they believe? Sinful man really can be kept alive by every word that comes from the mouth of God and the devils know it even if we don't. And devils aren't fooled by bread and wine either. They know it's the Body and Blood of God on earth to destroy them. Judas can't stay in the upper room Communion service as soon as Satan enters into him.
Buy why do the devils shriek and tremble so at God in flesh and blood? Why does a legion of them ask weakly of Him, "Have you come to destroy us before the appointed time?" Why can't they help from running toward Him and falling down at His feet? Why can't they help confessing that Jesus is true God in flesh and blood? Because this this flesh and blood existence, this tangible world of molecules and atoms, this touchable word of muscle, blood, dust and mud is their battlefield. And God has invaded it.
We read in Revelation 12 that there was a battle in heaven and Satan and his devils were thrown out. The text closes ominously, "Woe to the earth and the sea, because the Devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short." Here is the battlefield, and God came down to it in Person to wage the war. Remember how He depicts Himself as the Stronger Man who is able to overcome the strong man Satan and plunder him? We were Satan's booty, his haul, his take, even as this John or Joan in the synagogue was.
What gave the devils power over us was God's own Law. God, who can't lie, said the only way people can go to heaven is to keep the Law perfectly. Once Adam and Eve fell we all did, and the Law accused and convicted us with every step or breath we took. You know that. Even when you can manage to keep your outward life clean, how dirty, how soiled, how hopeless is your inner life. The pure, holy Law exposes every speck of dirt, every unclean smudge. So the Devil says, "You're mine. The Law says you must be cast out from God and I can have you till your debt is paid." And so the John's and Joan's of the world are owned by unclean spirits, fearful spirits, gossiping spirits, hopeless spirits, unbelieving spirits. Their name isn't just Legion; their numbers are.
But there came a Man whom they had no beachhead in, no hold over. There came a Man who kept the Law not just outwardly but inwardly, not just in words and deeds but in every thought. There came a Man who stood firm in every single place you ever fell. There came a Man pure as the driven snow. There came a flesh and blood Man on to the battlefield that the devils themselves had to confess was the Holy One of God.
So where are those Laws exposing your filthiness, your dirtiness, your foulness? Kept, done, finished by the perfect Man, Jesus. Where there is no Law there can be no sin. That's the Bible. That's God talking. So if you want to sit there feeling filthy, guilty, lost because you don't do this, have done that, and can't keep this, go right ahead, but you find the Law that Jesus didn't keep in your place that shows your filthiness, guiltiness, or lostness.
Hebrews says the main club the Devil had over us was the fear of death because the wages of sin is death, because the soul that sins must die. This too is the Bible. These too are the very Words of God. God came into the world in the Person of Jesus not just to live your life but to die your death, and I mean the painful, hellish, shameful death of a damned sinner. So the death you fear, loath, and are sure in the rock hard bottom of your heart your heading for Jesus died already. Every pain, every shame, every hell, every damn a sinner like you deserves Jesus paid off to the last wince, blush, and flame. If not even Wal-Mart will make you pay twice, how much less the holy God?
You are free in Jesus' name. The devils have no hold over you in Jesus' name. They don't have a Law to hold over you heard or a bill for sins to hold in their hand because Jesus has taken both away. That's why the Man Jesus has the authority to order devils out of us. "Be quiet! Come out of him!" Jesus bellows in the waters of your Baptism. "Silence! Leave her!" Jesus declares in Absolution. And when Jesus says to you, "Take Eat, Take drink" devils trip all over themselves because they can't get away fast enough from His Body and Blood.
There's no "though" about it. Devils do fill the world. But we tremble not we fear no ill they shall not overpower us in Jesus. If we need not fear devils, then certainly not anything that follows on their heels be it disease, war, poverty, sin or even death. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (20150201); Mark 1: 21-28