Good is regarded as evil. It happened to the Prophets and it happened to the One whom the Prophets foretold. Our Lord casts out a demon and instead of thanks, instead of acknowledgement that God Himself is in their midst, the people respond with unbelief. Their hearts are hardened. Some say that Jesus is in league with the devil, sent by Beelzebub to do showy things. Others treat Jesus like an entertainer and demand more signs and wonders under the thin veneer of trying to make a decision. They are like the people standing at the free sample carts in the grocery store, eating as much as they can, claiming “I’m not quite sure if I want to buy this. Give me another bite and maybe I’ll know.” Jesus rebukes both parties in no uncertain terms. To the first group, claiming Jesus was from the devil, He says that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Satan isn’t going to let himself be defeated for any reason. And besides, if Jesus is using demonic power to cast out demons, what kind of demonic power are their dear children using to do the same thing? To the second group He makes the declaration that there is no place for religious fence-sitters. You are either for Jesus or against Him. There is no contemplation, trying to make up your mind, seeing what each god has to offer. You are either for Jesus, gathering with Him, or you are working against Him, scattering what He has sown.
There is no middle ground. That’s the moral of today’s story, the point of today’s Gospel. “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” So says Our Lord. You can’t sit on the fence when it comes to your Christian life. A divided household falls. Today’s Gospel asks you who you will choose to hear: Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus or Satan. Of course, we know the answer in a Romans 7 kind of way—the good I want to do I do not do, and the evil I do not want to do, that I do. The new man created in each of us by Holy Baptism wants to hear Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus, and rejoices in what they say; he is happy to receive guidelines and boundaries. But the Old Adam, the flesh we all wear, cringes at those things. The Old Adam hates Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus. Today’s Gospel is a warning that it’s possible to fall away even after faith is created. It’s a reminder to guard our life and conduct. It’s an admonition to be one who hears the Word of God and keeps it.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.