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’s a reason why tonight’s Old Testament Reading didn’t have all Ten Commandments. We only heard the Second Table, those Commandments that deal with our earthly relationships, because the Second Table is where we get into the most trouble. It’s where we put all of our stock, thinking that if we can convince people we’re righteous in Commandments 4-10, then we must be just as good with Commandments 1-3. It’s why the Pharisees in the Gospel were more concerned with hand washing and tradition than their interactions with God. The reality is we’re all in the same boat as the Pharisees. It’s why we sang “Let not self your thoughts control.” We think that as long as we maintain an outward righteousness, a façade, all is well.
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.
When God gave His Law, He knew man could not keep it. The Law always condemns. In this world, after the Fall, man cannot keep the Law. It will always and only show where we have stumbled. It tells us what we ought to do, that which pleases God. But the Law is also supposed to drive us to our Savior, our only source of Help and Comfort. Condemned and killed by the Law, we flee to the Gospel, to the Christ revealed in it who "takes away the sin of the world."
In the Collect we asked God to “be our defense against all our enemies.” The Sunday Gospels in the season of Lent show us what our enemies are. Two weeks ago we learned about the temptation of the devil. Last week we learned that God allows our faith to be tested so that it becomes the strongest it can be, and our flesh would rather curse God and believe the worst of Him, that He doesn’t care about us, refusing to see Him at work in times of trouble. Today, once again, we learn that our enemy is the devil who wants nothing more than to see to it that our last state is worse than our first. In other words, he doesn’t just want us to be sinners who did not know God’s Law and therefore didn’t know any better. He wants us to be hardened sinners who very much know God’s Law and intentionally, spitefully do the exact opposite.
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.