Peace with God through Jesus Christ

The Finger of God & COVID-19 – Sermon for March 15th, 2020 – Luke 11:14-20

Grace to you and Peace from God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Luke 11:14-20Jesus drove out a demon, which was mute. After the demon had gone out, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 16 Others were testing him by demanding of him a sign from heaven. 17 But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed. And a house divided against itself falls. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? You say that I drive out demons by Beelzebul. 19 But if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out? So they will be your judges. 20 Yet if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
We Pray: Heavenly Father, Be with us. Still our hearts and minds. Fill us with Your peace. Help us to see now and always Your Powerful Finger at Work among us. Amen.   
“Behold the Powerful Finger of God at Work in Our Lives!”
The 3rd Sunday in Lent was an important day in the church year for the early Christians. It was also known as “Scrutiny-Sunday.” It was the day when new converts to Christianity, known as “Catechumens”—those who would be Baptized as the sun would rise on Easter Morning—began their public examination, which would continue on through Lent. But this Sunday was the day when they would stand before everyone else and show that they were dedicated to the Christian faith; that they trusted in God above all else; that there was no divided loyalty in their hearts. They were professing that they understood that there were going to be hardships and sacrifices that they would face as Christians—and yet they were willing to face them. It was a Sunday of seriousness and commitment—which was also then reflected in the Scripture Lessons that were then shared on this Sunday year after year.
These lessons that we have before us today continue to encourage us to take our faith seriously. To scrutinize our own hearts to see that there are no divided loyalties—but that our trust continues to remain in God alone! How fitting this is especially for us right now. The whole world is under Scrutiny—A National Emergency! COVID19! What does this mean for all the rest of us! …Where is all this fear coming from? Why such panic and alarm? …Isn’t it because we are being forced to face our own mortality?! People realize that this illness is something that could kill you or loved ones! And the world offers no hope when these moments come where we have to stare death in the face—regardless of how much toilet paper you might have.
But YOU—YOU, my Christian brother and sister—YOU a Child of God, beloved of the Father—there is no need for YOU to join in the fear and panic of those who have no hope.  Instead, know that in Jesus Christ we Behold the Powerful Finger of God at Work! And WE possess comfort even in a world filled with panic and alarm—because this Powerful Finger of God is at work EVEN NOW for us, in our lives!
The powerful finger of God was on full display in our text. Jesus cast out a demon that had caused a man to be mute—unable to speak. Our text explained that the crowds were amazed, but not everyone in the crowds. There were some—described by Matthew and Mark, as they recorded this account—as being Scribes and Pharisees, who scoffed at Jesus. They didn’t deny the miracle—they couldn’t say that He was a phony or fake, it was obvious that Jesus had performed a powerful thing—but they were unwilling to admit the truth, they weren’t about to put their faith or trust in Jesus, so they come up with another explanation for how he was doing such things: He drives out demons BY Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons. He’s got to be in league with Satan himself!”
Beelzebul literally meant “Lord of Filth”—“King of the dung heap.” It was an insult that they leveled against Satan—who is in fact the lord of all that is unclean. But now they were trying to lump Jesus in with Satan—to implicate Him as working for Satan—even possessed by the devil Himself!…What the Scribes and Pharisees were doing here is also what our world knows as “virtue signaling.” By suggesting that Jesus worked for Beelzebul, they were not only trying to take people away from Christ, but they were indicating that they were the virtuous, noble ones that the people and crowds should really listen to!
How interesting that this continues to happen still today! There are strong voices in our world—especially in this time of high emotion—that are NOT directing people to Christ our Savior and appealing to Him for His intervention and help—trusting in Him in this time of fear and alarm. Instead there are far too many who are making and buying into the noise of panic. And Christians are being tempted to turn their attention away from Christ to share instead in the worries and fears of this world! And it seems that whenever some sort of tragedy or catastrophe occurs those who oppose God are quick to do what the Scribes and Pharisees do—they accuse God and Christ of evil. “Where is He in all of this? Isn’t He supposed to be on our side?! Maybe He’s NOT for us, but against us!”
What does Jesus say in response to those who accuse Him of evil? …First, He points out how illogical and absurd that is. Satan is not going to do anything to harm himself. “A kingdom divided against itself is destroyed!” Jesus says. He then goes on to point out how flimsy their argument is. “If you accuse me of driving out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out?” The Scribes and Pharisees had their own exorcists and ritual exorcisms that made use of some special root of a plant and some incantation that supposedly was recorded by King Solomon. Jesus doesn’t confirm that these exorcists or their exorcisms actually worked—but He simply pointed out that they couldn’t accuse Him of being in league with Satan because of exorcisms—how hypocritical that would be of them!
I think that Jesus’ appeal in response to the claims of His opponents also applies to us in our current situation. We should listen to Jesus in response to the strong voices of panic and alarm. “Don’t be absurd! Take a moment to be rational and logical! Think this through for a moment!” Could it be that perhaps we are allowing everything we are hearing get the better of us? Are these things causing us to let go of our trust in God? Are you letting your emotions get the better of you in this current situation? There is a direct correlation between a person’s emotions and being rational about things. When things like anger or fear start to creep in, it is easy to buy into silly, absurd ideas! Please don’t do it! Don’t let things like fear or alarm become an idol in your heart—chipping away your trust in God! And especially don’t buy into the idea that God is evil—or that He is causing this evil that is being faced in our world. That would be hypocritical on our part. To even suggest evil of God is ridiculous. He is good. And He isn’t against us. He is for us! We are the ones who struggle with evil—human beings are the ones who end up responding to evil with more evil. Sadly we see this now. In a time when humanity needs to come together in love and concern for one another—being “imitators of God…walking in love…[being selfless] as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us,” we see instead selfishness growing—and we contribute with our own selfishness. How else do we explain a toilet paper shortage?! More than ever, we need to call upon, and rely upon, and point each other to the GOODNESS of God!
This is something that we see time and again in Scripture. When things are falling apart God wants His people to focus on Him and on the Love and salvation He has for us. “Call upon me in the day of trouble.” God says.  When the Israelites were being bitten by poisonous serpents, what were they to do? Look upon the bronze serpent upon the pole and they would be healed. As Peter was walking to Jesus on the water, everything was fine as long as he was focused on our Savior. Only when he became distracted by the storm raging all around him did he begin to sink—and even then when calling out to the Lord, Jesus took hold of him and rescued him! This is needed still today! As we are bitten by a virus—or by the fear and panic of a virus—It is a time for us to look upon the Son of Man who was lifted up on the cross for us and for our salvation! As we tread upon the raging seas of this life don’t let fear distract us from our powerful Savior—and when it does distract us we cry out to Jesus as Peter did: “Lord save me!”
In our text, Jesus responds to the skeptics and proclaims to the crowds that what He brings into our world—and to us—is the very “Finger of God!” We heard that phrase in our Old Testament lesson, when Pharaoh’s magicians could not reproduce the power demonstrated by God through Moses and Aaron. And those magicians admitted: “This is the finger of God!” Now Jesus uses this phrase and applies it to Himself—emphasizing the fact that He possesses the power of God and that He has brought this power into the world to help people. How comforting this is! How comforting this is for us in a time like this! In a time when the entire world is afraid and lacking hope, Jesus proclaims to you and to me today: “I possess the finger of God—which means you can know the kingdom of God has come upon you!”
You are not citizens of a hopeless world in despair. You, Dear Christian, have the assurance of God almighty, that He has come into this world in order to make you a citizen of His Kingdom! In Jesus Christ the Kingdom of God comes to you—and with it comes all the benefits that Christ has won!
He won righteousness for you. He lived a holy perfect life for you and me. Even though He was facing certain death our Lord Jesus did not panic or fear, He continued with His face resolutely set to Jerusalem and to the cross—trusting in God and in God’s good plan all the way! And He didn’t allow the knowledge of that coming death to cause Him to act irrationally or in any selfish kind of way. We already acknowledged that we’ve fallen into that trap! Thanks be to Christ that He never fell into such traps—He continued to Love God and His neighbor with perfect love. With His holy life He earned righteousness that now covers all who believe in Him!
Jesus also has redeemed you. All the sins that we are guilty of—all of those times when we were not trusting in God, or letting fear and alarm become idols—even those times when we were not acting with love or concern for others, but were being selfish, Jesus took those sins and all other sins off of our shoulders and put them on His own shoulders as He hung upon the cross! He paid for them in full, so they do not count against us!
And because of this, you have the spiritual antidote to what is causing all this panic and fear. People are fearful that this illness might result in death! But the powerful finger of God has defeated Death! The tomb is open and empty. He’s Risen from the dead! “Jesus Lives! Henceforth is death But the gate of life immortal; This shall calm my trembling breath when I pass the gloomy portal. Faith shall cry, as fails each sense, ‘Lord, Thou art my confidence.’” (ELH 353:5)
Dear Friends, the Powerful Finger of God is still active and at work even now in our midst as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments. In a world filled with a lot of panic and pandemonium—this  brings you and me PEACE! We find it as we open, read, hear God’s Word! Jesus comes to us through the preaching of His Word and assures us that He has defeated sin and death and won eternal life in Heaven for us! As He directs us back to our Baptism, He reminds us how He has regenerated us and has given us new life—and continues to do so when we remember our Baptisms. In the Lord’s Supper He assures us that we have and receive His own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. As we gather around His Word and sacraments, Our Lord Jesus—the one who possesses the Finger of God redirects us away from the noise of panic to Himself and the words He speaks: “You have my PEACE! Your Sins are forgiven! Those Heavenly Mansions belong to you!”
On this “Scrutiny-Sunday” let us stand with those early church catechumens with a renewed commitment—with a seriousness about our faith. We acknowledge today that even in the face of a global pandemic, we have nothing to fear because God is with us! Even this pandemic is something that God is going to use for the good of His people and for the good of His Kingdom. And as those who know this—who have this peace—we can now “give a reason for the hope that we have!” In a sense YOU get to be the finger of God as you can share Jesus with the crowds around us who need Him! We get to be the unshakeable calm in the midst of the storm. We can let our lights shine in the darkness of despair. We know the Finger of God is with us—which means we have the confident assurance that in all things, everything is going to be just fine! Glory Be to God! AMEN.    
The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, Amen.
-Pr. Luke Ulrich