Realities We Don't Want to Confront (but songwriters do)
There are realities of the Faith revealed in Scripture that Christians don't want to talk about, think about, confront. Take our text. Clearly God the Son states that Satan is a real personal, powerful being that needed to be cast out of some people and needed to be bound in order for others to be rescued. That's a little too plain spoken for most. We'll talk about a general evil in the world, but a personal devil? No that sounds too much like the bogyman of childhood, doesn't it? Not for hymnwriters, not even for modern, secular songwriters.
Don McClean has no problem seeing "Satan laughing with delight the day the music died." See? He can see Satan as a here and now reality fiendishly laughing when things that delight man go wrong, but us? It's bad luck or bad genes when things go wrong. I've heard "Christians" credit bad karma rather than an evil spirit named Satan. Before McClean wrote of the reality of Satan, the Rolling Stones admitted he'd "been around for a long, long year." They saw him behind the Passion of the Christ and Pilate washing his hands. They credit the personal Devil with the Russian Revolution in graphic language, "Killed the czar and his ministers/ Anastasia screamed in vain." The Stones could see Satan was behind the Blitzkrieg, and the 100 Years War. And while we love to speculate about who killed the Kennedys, they're not afraid to give Lucifer credit.
Secular songwriters aren't afraid to confess the reality that there's a personal Devil we're no match for. They confess what Luther does in A Mighty Fortress. Satan has not just "great might" but "deep guile." Two lesser known songwriters saw this in 1964 when they wrote that the devil might come wearing a blue dress. And Terri Gibb writing in 1981 considered that the devil could show up knocking on her door with blue eyes and blue jeans. Not us, we only see him red-faced, pitch-forked, and cloven-footed.
Yes, the world will respect you for solemnly intoning on your yard sign; "Science is Real", but you're crazy if you think Satan is. Well that's another reality this text deals with that we don't want to face. To be faithful to God, you will be crazy to the world. Paul Simon in 1975 wasn't ashamed to be "still crazy after all these years." And even stoner Willie wrote an ode to being crazy. Yes, our world permits you to be crazy in love, even respects it. But if you show zeal for religious matters, if you sacrifice for religious truth, you're crazy in a bad way.
This is Jesus. He is so dedicated to doing what He came to do which 1 John says was to destroy the works of the Devil that He didn't even have time to eat. When His family, Mother Mary included, heard about this they came to "take charge of Him, for they said, "He is out of His mind." "Take charge" is better rendered "seize". You know like those people do who rescue loved ones from cults. And "He is out of His mind" is translating "be beside one's self" or even "insane." This is what Jesus' family thought! His enemies think worse. The Satan we don't like to think of as even being here, they thought possessed Jesus personally.
Well isn't it crazy to devote your whole life and energy to a kingdom that is not of this world? Isn't it crazy to sing as we do in "In Thy service pain is pleasure"? That's so crazy some hymnals leave that verse out of Jesus, I My Cross have Taken. It's so very crazy that our denomination's 2006 hymnal left the whole hymn out. Isn't it crazy? Don't you have to be possessed by some sort of spirit to charge into the Devil's kingdom, into his very house, to carry off those he has captured? Don't you have to be real crazy to do this for those who are perfectly happy in the Devil's house? Neither Sylvester Stallone, Stephen Segal, nor Chuck Norris is crazy enough to do that!
You know the saying, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king"? Marshall McLuhan says, "It has been pointed out that, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is not king. He is taken to be an hallucinated lunatic" (Understanding Media, 333). That's because he sees what no one else sees. Jesus sees that wherever the Gospel is preached Satan swoops down like a bird and picks the seed of salvation out of hearts so people can't believe. Jesus sees wherever the Gospel is preached Satan falls like lighting out of heaven. Jesus sees that to rescue sinners He will have to become sin in the eyes of His Father; Jesus sees that to save sinners from God's wrath for their filthy sins, He alone is will have to drink the cup of wrath.
In a world, where Satan acts like god with Death and your own sinful flesh under his thumb, Jesus sees that in His perfect flesh and blood the Devil has no part. Jesus sees by living the perfect life in place of all sinners and dying their damned death, He has delivered them all from Sin, from Death, and from the power of the Devil. Jesus sees that water used by His command and in the name of the Triune God can forgive sins. Jesus sees that one man standing in His place and by His command can send your sins away with one Word of Absolution. Jesus sees that through the Bread and Wine used by His command He comes back to earth in His Body and Blood to give physical and eternal blessings. That's crazy.
Don't believe me? Protestants don't believe the water of Baptism actually forgive sins. No, it's just simple water only. Baptism is an ordinance and mark of profession. It's something you do for God to show Him that you have accepted Jesus. It's not the means by which God reaches down, calls you by name, and drags you out of Satan's house. Protestants don't think absolution sends anything away. They don't believe it's the very voice of God on earth from the lips of a man. And as for Communion, it's crazy to Protestants to believe the God-Man is back on earth giving His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine. It's okay to think of Communion as a reminder, a sign, a memorial meal you do for Jesus, but it is downright blasphemous to think Jesus comes today just as real as He came on Palm Sunday. That's why you'll never hear them singing before the Communion altar as the crowd did on Palm Sunday: "Blessed is who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna!" He isn't really coming to their altar.
No, we don't want to face the reality of Satan in this world or that true Christianity is crazy to this world. And we really don't want to face the fact one thing is unforgivable. Randy Travis can sing about waiting to be forgiven and "feel like a stone" that has been picked up and thrown to the hard rock bottom of someone's heart. And we probably get that too. A person might never forgive us, but Jesus says before God a person could be guilty of an eternal sin that will never be forgiven. Well, that ain't you.
No, you're sitting here surrounded by the things whereby God in Christ promises to be with His people even to the end of the age. The Font, the laver of forgiveness, the Water of Regeneration is right in the midst of where you're sitting. And standing right in front of where you're sitting is a pulpit from which the Ancient of Days deigns to speak in these latter days. Jesus assures you, comforts you, promises you that whoever hears me, hears Him. And what is front and center of where you're sitting? The Altar, the Table of the Lord, the place on earth where heaven and earth meet. No, no, it ain't you babe that is standing on the outside perhaps guilty of the sin that can never, ever be forgiven.
I'm drawing a comparison the text does. Some are seated in a circle around Jesus. They don't think they can be His mother and brothers. They're too sinful, too fallen, too unforgiven. And you got Jesus' mother and brothers described as standing outside. And Jesus looks at those seated seated where you are in the midst of His presence in Water, Words, Bread and Wine and declares they are His mother, brothers, and sisters.
Two things to note. Jesus is not saying that His physical mother and brothers are blaspheming the working of the Holy Spirit. I am saying that standing outside of Jesus is where that sin happens, but it's not an inadvertent sin. It's as plain as what the Holy Spirit says it is: It's saying, "Jesus has an evil spirit." It's saying that the Holy Spirit knock, knock, knocking on your heart right now through these words is an evil spirit.
But we do, what even Randy Travis didn't. He allows that his wife might never forgive him, but he focuses on the fact that their home is built on a foundation of solid ground. Well, the only Faith that is actually Christian is built on the Words of Jesus which is bedrock. And while Jesus does speak of an eternal sin, He also says, "All the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them." The insert is a weak translation. Jesus says, and hear this in light of an earlier sermon about the seriousness of Jesus saying amen.' He says, "Amen, I say to you that all things will be forgiven the sons of mankind, the sins and the blasphemies however many."
Go ahead line them up in your head, heart, conscience. You find me one sin of yours that Jesus didn't carry to the cross. You find me one law of God that Jesus failed to keep in your place and so removed it from hanging over your head like the Sword of Damocles. Find me one time when you blasphemed by misusing the name of God as an exclamation that in Jesus name I didn't absolve you of today. Find me one time you blasphemed by doubting that Jesus bore all the pain, all the agony, all the hellfire your sins deserve and your Baptism failed to scrub you clean of it.
Let all the people in your life declare you unforgiven; let your own conscience float up in the dead of night to accuse you with all the terror of Marley's ghost; let the Devil show up in blue jeans, in a blue dress, with blue eyes laughing with delight over your guilty conscience, and God in flesh and blood is greater than all these. He sends those sins, that guilt away from you as easily as He cast out demons. And you're not crazy for seeing that or singing it. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday after Pentecost (20180610); Mark 3: 20-35