The Last Word
Why is the comic bit about having the last word funny? Two people refuse to let the other have the last word and from Ricky and Lucy to Bart and Lisa people laugh. In our text we have Jesus, a devil, and people speaking, and someone ends up laughing.
Sinners definitely want the last word. How many layman, not woman mind you but layman, have told me over the years sometimes proudly, sometimes loudly, sometimes nonchalantly, "No one tells me what to do." That's right; he has the last word on everything about his life. What he says goes.
Strangely enough this rather redneck, lowbrow attitude dovetails with a highly intellectual one. Postmodernism rejoices in there being no last word on anything. You can say black is white; I can say down is up, and a third can say color and direction are mental constructs, so what anyone says is valid. If there is no last word, everyone can rest in peace in whatever comes out of their mouth.
That's where all this matters: the grave. Sinners want the last word on their life. They want to have the last word about what is and isn't sin, what is true and what is false, what is doctrine and what is not, but can they rest in peace having the last word? Go ahead and try. Having the last word is fine as long as you're sure it's the right one. But I reconsider wanting the last word when I hear Jesus saying judgment comes from the last words a man says: "Out of your own mouth I will judge you." Another place, Jesus warns, "It's not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of it." You sure you want the last word?
In Greek mythology, the nymph Echo was doomed to have it. She was quite a talker and Zeus used her ability to prattle to distract his wife Hera while he consorted with other nymphs. Hera discovered this and cursed her to never speak again except to repeat what was said to her, "'You will always have the last word,' Hera said, but no power to speak the first.'" This is us sinners; we think we're speaking our last word but in reality we're merely echoing what the Devil, the World, and our Flesh first said. A lot of the time that's not so bad to us because they flatter; they speak what agrees with fallen reason; they speak salvation in being good enough. But while you may be able to live in peace with the last words of these 3 echoing in your ears, you sure can't rest in peace, you sure can't die that way.
Sinners want the last word, but Jesus has it. In fact, Jesus is God's last word to mankind for all time. If "all the promises of God are yes' and amen' in Jesus, as Paul says, what more needs to be said? What more can be said? As the Book of Hebrews opens, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these Last Days he has spoken to us by his Son." God the Son is the Last Word in these Last Days.
Jesus is God's Last Word to mankind by virtue of His incarnation. By taking on flesh and blood in the Virgin's womb, God spoke our language, but He could've done that without becoming man. God spoke human words to Adam in Eden's evening, to the patriarchs; and to Moses God spoke as a man speaks to his friend. God, however, wanted to do more than just speak information to fallen mankind; He wanted to speak redemption, and before you speak redemption you have to achieve it. You have to win mankind back from the Devil, the World, and their own Flesh. Jesus did that. He won the right to speak redemption, rescue, salvation to men, for men, as a Man.
Our text shows Jesus asserting His claim to fallen mankind over against an evil spirit. The Greek is "unclean spirit." A spirit that befouls ritually, morally, physically. You know such a spirit when you feel that everything is wrong in your life, when with the Psalmists, all your iniquities wash over you like a wave, when your sins are more than the number of hairs on our heard. You don't know such an unclean spirit when with Isaiah you rightly confess that all your righteous deeds are as filthy rags. You do know one when you wrongly confess that all your righteousness, i.e. your Baptism, your Absolution, your Communion, your Christ is filthy. This is concluding your sinfulness defiles Jesus' holiness. That's as foolish as thinking Jesus got defiled by the dead rather than the dead got life from Him.
Now I'm going to jump ahead but only slightly. It's Jesus authority that makes the unclean spirit known. It's Jesus being and claiming the last word that pops this unclean pimple out of the man, or perhaps woman (The text just says person.'). "The people were amazed at His teaching, because Jesus taught them as One who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a person in their synagogue who was possessed by an unclean spirit cried out." This person belonged to their synagogue. He or she sat there for years as their teachers of the law blathered on how this scribe said this, this rabbi said that. There was no last word about sin, death, or the Devil only conflicting opinions. The Last Word showed up speaking the last word and the filthy, ugly, wretched spirit couldn't take it. Luke's account says the demon made loud, inhuman sounds like the grunting and squealing of hungry swine.
Here's where the mystery of redemption: rescue from the Devil, the World, and your own filthy, fallen flesh deepens. The unclean spirit recognizes Jesus as the stronger Man come to plunder the Devil's kingdom, but we have the last word on how that was done and it boggles our minds. Jesus is the stronger Man who rescues by being the weakest. He raised neither His voice nor hand to defend Himself. He is the holy Man who redeems by becoming unholy. He was counted with criminals says Scripture. He is the sinless Man who saves by being made to be sin, so much so that not only God the Father had to turn away but the sun God created in the sky had to as well. Jesus is the perfect Man who redeemed fallen mankind by becoming less than a man. He cried out on the cross, "Behold I am a worm and no man!"
All of what Jesus became, we really are and the Devil, the World, and our Flesh affirm this. We are weak, filthy, sinners who don't deserve to be called human. You rightly belong to the Devil. Your sins prove it; the broken Laws of God prove it; your own unclean flesh proves it. But Jesus says, "No." He, she, these, and all those too belong to Me. I kept the Law that bespeaks them guilty, filthy, and lost. I paid the price you say, their consciences say must be paid before they can be freed. See how easily, how quickly, how cleanly Jesus freed the poor person in our text? That's how easily, quickly, and cleanly Jesus frees you from sin, and by freeing you from sin He frees you from the Devil, the World, and your Flesh too.
Sinners want the last word, but if they get it, it will only be the damning, dunning echoing of what the Devil, the World, and their fallen Flesh says. Jesus is the Last Word. The demons know this; do you? This is what having authority really means. We think of authority as expressing sheer force, raw power, so we look for Jesus to burst in where the Devil has us locked up with six guns blazing, but there are other Greek words to express force and power. This word expresses the idea that Jesus has "the say."
You all get this concept. The child with the birthday gets "the say" on what's for dinner. The boss has "the say" over your work. The cop has "the say" over whether to write you a ticket. Jesus has "the say" on whether you go to heaven or hell. Jesus has "the say" on your sins being forgiven. Jesus has "the say," which then also must be the last word, on whether a person whom evil spirits, the world, and whose own conscience declares unclean is or isn't.
Stop looking for Jesus to rescue you from the Devil, the World, and your Flesh by feats of strength, blazing guns, works of power. That's not how He redeemed you is it? He redeemed you by opening not His mouth. He rescued you by meekly suffering for you. He delivered you by humbling Himself under your punishment not exalting Himself over it. He brings you redemption, deliverance and rescue by words because He has "the say," and if you have "the say" on a subject that means you have the last word.
Jesus wants to rescue you today from the echoes of your fallen conscience, the fallen world, and filthy devils too. The One who gives orders and unclean spirits obey them is to be obeyed by us. He has "the say," "the last word" about our sin, salvation, truth, and falsehood.
He says Baptism washes you clean and clean you are without spot or blemish. That's the last word on the subject from the One who has the say. He says, "I forgive you," and that's the last word on your sins from the One who has the say. Let the Devil, the World, and your Flesh mutter all they want, they have neither the last word nor the say. Jesus says, "Take eat; take drink; this is My Body; this is My Blood," and though all the unclean devils in hell, all the reason in the world, and all the doubts of your fallen flesh, say, "This can't be," it is. He who has "the say" has the last word on this Meal. It is His Body and Blood that was given and shed on the cross for your sins to be eaten and drank by you today to forgive you, to give you life, and to grant you eternal salvation.
In a comedy, he who gets the last word, gets the last laugh. I don't care how may times, two people go back and forth or whether it is a laugh track from the 50s or a live audience from the 2000s, always the person who says the last word no matter how brief gets the last laugh. Jesus has won the right to have the say, the last word, about sinners, regardless of how unclean, sinful, guilty, they feel or are, and when He speaks it demons shriek, filth, guilt and sin vanish, and sinners who hear and heed it laugh. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (20090201); Mark 1:21-28