“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the eleventh chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ: there is no neutrality between God and Satan. We think that we can compromise, that we can find some middle ground, that there is gray instead of black and white. But there is no gray when it comes to God and Satan; there is no neutral ground. The crowd understood this, better than we, with our wishy-washy, relativistic and subjective ways; they understood that either Jesus is serving God or He is serving Satan. He cannot be neutral. The crowd declares: “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” They understand what Jesus’ miracles mean. Such great power can only have two sources: God or Satan. They clearly think that it’s Satan; Jesus just happens to disagree. “If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” Satan isn’t such a fool as to work against himself. No, if the demons are being driven out, there is only one explanation: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” There is no neutrality between God and Satan; and if it is God who is doing these works, pay attention, for Satan’s house is about to fall.
“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.” Jesus comes to divide Satan’s house, to rob it, to plunder it, to bind our evil foe for eternity. When He is finished, Satan’s house will be laid waste, and his divided household will fall. Jesus comes as the stronger one to seize those in Satan’s house and take them out as plunder. Jesus comes to cast out demons with power of the finger of God. There is no neutrality between God and Satan. Either we belong to one, or we belong to the other. And from birth—indeed from our conception—we belonged to Satan. In the heart of every human being there is a throne. And if God doesn’t occupy that throne, then Satan will, and he does. There is no neutrality. We are creatures, we are not gods, we are always subordinate to another. You dwelt in bondage to Satan, with the evil one occupying the throne. You cannot control yourself; you live following Satan’s orders. All you can will, all you can do, is sin. Satan deceives you with his old evil words, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil.” He wants you to try to occupy that throne yourself, to determine good and evil according to your own thoughts and desires. But you cannot sit on your own throne, any more than a horse can ride on its own saddle. Satan knows that; he knows that when you try to sit on the throne, it is really he who is enthroned, who occupies the house of your heart, who holds you in his chains, as his plunder. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe.”
Satan’s goods are safe because he knows they aren’t going anywhere by themselves. You and I, deceived into thinking that we can sit on the throne of our heart, put the chains around ourselves; we are imprisoned, enslaved because we’ve bought the lie. Satan knows that he need not fear rebellion from inside the house. And he’s right; you and I are no threat to escape his bonds. Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay, death brooded darkly over me. Sin was my torment night and day; in sin my mother bore me. But daily deeper still I fell; my life became a living hell, so firmly sin possessed me.
Satan has nothing to fear from you and me; his house will not be divided from within. “But when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” Satan’s defeat did not come from us; it came from the outside, from an invader, a mighty warrior who is God Himself in the flesh, Jesus who is called the Christ. His royal power disguised He bore; a servant’s form, like mine, He wore to lead the devil captive. He came to do battle with the strong man in his own house, and all of Satan’s weapons, in which he trusted, proved powerless. The sword of temptation lay broken as Jesus triumphed over it in the wilderness. His mighty army of demons was cast out left and right by the power of the finger of God. And even his greatest weapon and ally, death itself, could not conquer Jesus. “Though he will shed my precious blood, me of my life bereaving, all this I suffer for your good; be steadfast and believing. Life will from death the victory win; my innocence shall bear your sin, and you are blest forever.” Satan put his trust in the armor and chains of death; he counted on them to defeat Christ our Lord. But when Jesus rose on Easter morning, He took Satan’s armor from him, transforming even death into the portal of life. And He takes the spoil, you and me, purchased and won not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
Jesus plunders the strong man’s house, casting Satan from the thrones of human hearts. “Get behind me, Satan!” He cries out through the baptismal liturgy, “and make room for the Holy Ghost.” There is no neutrality between God and Satan. The throne within the human heart has room for only one occupant. And in the waters of baptism, the former occupant is cast out, driven away. Every baptism is an exorcism, a driving away of Satan from his place in our hearts, the breaking of the chains the held us fast. The stronger one does battle with the strong man, and in the end it is Satan who is chained, not Jesus, not you or me. God promised through Isaiah, “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children.” Christ went to battle for us during His life on this earth, through His bloody suffering and death, and His victorious resurrection. And in the waters of Baptism, He brings that victory to you and me, casting Satan from his throne, cleansing the house of our heart and setting things in order.
There is no neutrality between God and Satan. Either one or the other will occupy the throne in every human heart. In a world where demons roam, there are no empty houses. “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’” Satan cannot dwell where the baptismal waters are present. He must seek rest in ‘waterless places,’ in those locales where baptism isn’t spoken of or practiced, where the waters do not flow freely over sinners’ heads. But even there he finds no rest, and he returns to his former haunt.
There he finds a remarkable thing: the house is empty! “And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.” There is the appearance of order; the house has been decorated, cleaned up, it looks good on the outside. An older gentleman lives a good life, he is likable and honorable, he is held in high esteem by all. But the throne is empty; the house is in order, he was baptized long ago, but he has long since quit coming to worship more than a couple times a year, his bible collects dust, the name of God is only used in vain. Christ has been driven away through indifference and unbelief. A child is being raised according to all the accepted conventions; she is healthy, well-nourished, she is learning her numbers and letters, and she brings joy into the lives of family and friends. But the throne is empty; the house is in order, she has been brought to the font, but she has never seen the inside of the church since; her parents do not bring her to worship or Sunday School, there is no reading of Scripture or prayer at home. Christ has been driven away by the negligence of those who brought her to the font.
There is no neutrality between God and Satan; either one or the other will occupy the throne of the human heart. And if the house is left empty for Satan to return, woe to that house! “Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” Christ cast Satan from his throne, but if Jesus is cast out through laziness, indifference, or negligence, Satan is ready to return, and he returns with a vengeance. There no neutrality between God and Satan; a house divided against itself will not stand. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
Woe to those who do not fill the cleansed houses of their own hearts or that of their children with Christ! They do not gather but scatter! Repent! Turn from Satan, take his assaults seriously and fill the empty house with Christ. It is only Christ that can release you and me from the bondage of sin and Satan, it is only Christ who, day after day, through Law and Gospel, can cleanse the house of the human heart and place Himself on its throne. Christ is the stronger one, who has defeated the strong man and plundered his house, and only He can keep that house clean. How does He do this? He works only through the Word. “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”
Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it, not in the sense of following the rules and never sinning; keeping the Word of God is instead a matter of faith, of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. It is that Word of forgiveness that drives out Satan day after day, that keeps Him from taking that throne again for himself. That is why the Church exists, that is why we proclaim from this pulpit God’s pure Word, why we give from this altar His Body and Blood. It is for no other reason than filling the hearts of the baptized with Christ that we teach Sunday School and offer Bible classes; it is the sole reason why this congregation has established and supports a school. The Word of Christ flows from this place into the hearts of the baptized, into your heart and mine, driving Satan away and placing Christ in His rightful place on the throne. This sanctuary is the place of divine combat, of spiritual warfare, for here the stronger one rules, and He has already overcome by His shed blood. He has conquered, Satan’s kingdom is divided, and it has fallen, never to rise again. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.