Saint Paul says in Ephesians, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. There is an invisible kingdom where the devil and his angels reign. Satan seeks his rule among us even when others think we’re fools to believe in something that sounds superstitious. In fact, that’s one way Satan seeks to rule over the hearts of men. He makes his presence into something only fools believe.
There is also a Savior from this reign of terror. No wonder the devil and his angels rage against it. Their rule is over because Christ’s has triumphed over the devil in His innocent suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead. So instead of clinging to believing about the presence of evil spirits, let’s instead focus on recognizing our Savior in the midst of the devil’s short season. We recognize Him from what Jesus says about His kingdom in today’s Gospel. Jesus Christ is the Savior from the devil’s reign of terror.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Jesus is talking about Himself here. Christ came as the Stronger Man over the strong armed men and has destroyed him in his own palace. Our Lord did this in His bitter suffering and death. Jesus let His heel be bruised by the serpent for our sake, though the serpent’s head is crushed in the process.
This is just as God Himself promised the serpent in Paradise: He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. Hebrews chapter two puts it this way: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Jesus proves His destruction of Satan’s reign by His victory lap through hell proclaiming His accomplished struggle, His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven. God disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Christ. Jesus even proves His victory before the victory happens. You might call it a prelude of His salvation. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
Jesus also expels the kingdom of the devil from our hearts and allows us to enter into the kingdom of God. Our Lord says when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Those last three words are wonderful comfort. “To the victor go the spoils.” Jesus doesn’t hoard the spoils. He gives them to us. He sets us free and gives us His gifts.
He converts us through the Holy Spirit, the “finger of God”, so to speak. Martin Luther’s revised rite of Holy Baptism from 1526 gives us a visual and verbal proclamation of the finger of God at work through means. Luther has the pastor laying hands on the one being baptized and saying, “Depart you unclean spirit and make way for the Holy Spirit.” Some might look at this ceremony and think that this is crazy. No little baby can be possessed by the devil. This isn’t “The Exorcist”. Consider that the child is spiritually dead. The child cannot convert himself or herself. Bidding the devil to leave confesses that this child belongs to God and not to Satan. It conveys the Word that opens blind eyes, deaf ears, and mute mouths.
Consider the man who had a demon cast out of him. He could do nothing to help himself. Jesus did it all. Why would Beelzebul, the prince of demons, cast out one of his own? This is the finger of God at work, for God has become man for our sake. The man now speaks. The kingdom of God has come to him. The man is now with Christ and against the devil. He gathers, builds, and promotes the kingdom of God. He struggles against Satan. All of these confess that the kingdom of God has come to him.
Jesus also preserves us from a relapse into the devil’s kingdom. 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.” And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.
Perhaps you are familiar with C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia”. One of the three children you meet along the way is a girl named Susan. In the earlier Narnia tales Susan is a gracious woman who is given to be a queen of Narnia. By the last tale, however, she is no longer a friend of Narnia, according to her brother Peter. Another character says “she’s interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations.” Even C.S. Lewis is ambiguous about what happens to her. He says, “She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there’s plenty of time for her to mend and perhaps she will get to Aslan’s country in the end… in her own way.”
Susan relapsed. Satan seeks to enter us again just as he did with Susan. We would be easy prey if Christ had not made sure we are preserved from it. He warns us against false security. 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.” And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 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.
But what of those who remain with Him? Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it! They are given His Word. With the Word comes the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit comes comfort, joy, and perseverance. The Spirit brings to mind the promises of God in His holy Word. He puts us in mind of our Baptism. He draws us to the altar to receive the Living Bread that comes down from heaven under bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. He forgives our sins. He strengthens our faith. He prepares us to fall asleep in Jesus and awake a new creation.
Jesus Christ is the Savior from the devil’s reign of terror. He has entered the strong man’s lair and destroyed his kingdom. How blessed are we in His kingdom, for He has given us the spoils of victory in His gifts. Satan is real, but his reign is nothing. Christ has triumphed. His reign is our everything.