In the Gospel readings appointed for Lent I, III, and V we have the repeated theme of our Lord's conflict with the powers of evil. This is strikingly different from the more typical Lenten emphasis on Jesus as the humble and submissive Lamb of God. On at least three of the six Sundays in Lent, our Saviour is presented as God's Warrior, the King of glory, mighty in battle. It is not for nothing that He was called “the Son of David.”
On Lent I we saw Him in the wilderness, in confrontation with Satan the tempter. In His threefold resistance Jesus scored a decisive victory against Evil, reversing Satan's victory over Adam and Eve. On Lent V we will see Jesus in another confrontation, with His unbelieving fellow-Jews, whom He declares not to be “children of Abraham,” but actually “the seed of the serpent” with the blistering words, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.” In today's Gospel, we have a striking announcement of victory. “If I by the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” Here our Lord is proclaiming a new regime. The old dominion of Satan and the forces of hell are being overturned; the reign of God in His creation is being reestablished. Satan, we are informed, is the “strong man armed” but Jesus is the One Stronger than he, who strips him of “his armor and all wherein he trusted.”
Of the numerous temptations with which Satan attempted to destroy Jesus, possibly the most persistent was the temptation of setting up the Kingdom of God through a secular or even political strategy. In John 6, from which next Sunday's Gospel is taken, we hear of the attempt, mind-boggling to us, of the multitude who ate their fill of earthly food to take Jesus by force and make Him king against His will. The same temptation comes to us as well—to make the church successful and the Gospel popular through secular marketing strategies.
The real and stupendous combat between Jesus and Satan was no ordinary conflict. It was a war which had its final battle on the Cross. There, at Calvary, was the final show-down between obedience and disobedience, self-sacrifice and self-assertion, faith and fear, love and hate. We know the outcome, which we will celebrate on Easter Day.
“O love of God! O sin of man!
In this dread act your strength is tried;
And victory remains with love;
For thou, our Lord, art crucified.”
As we come to the mid-point of our Lenten observance, let us remember that we have a victorious Lord who won a real fight.
In this Sunday's Gospel lesson, we hear Jesus making a truly extreme claim:
“The kingdom of God is come upon you.” What is this kingdom of God?
We might think of the kingdom of God as some worldly institution, system, or social order; such as a world-wide mega-church with a visible human head, or a political regime which strives to abolish war and poverty, or a social order in which everyone is happy and content. We might even think of ourselves as the builders of such a kingdom, laboring heroically for its advancement. But this would not be the kingdom of God. It would be more like the tower of Babel in Genesis, the great monument to human ambition where everything fell apart.
It would be much closer to the truth to think of the kingdom of God as His reign on earth, when He rules in the hearts and lives of those who know Him, love Him, and strive to serve Him. As good a definition as this truly is, it overlooks the ferocious opposition the kingdom must overcome and the pain, suffering, and sacrifice required to inaugurate God's reign in a sinful world.
The full context to Jesus' claim is His compassionate work in healing a demoniac who had lost the power of speech. This loving ministry on the Saviour's part aroused not gratitude and joy, but hostility and anger.
The supernatural evil of the demonic realm is reflected in the sinfulness of human hearts who fail to know the Son of God.
Jesus tells a brief parable: “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his good are in peace: but when One stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.” Here we see the conflict between the “strong man armed” (that is Satan, the chief devil) and the “One stronger than he” (that is Jesus Himself).
So the kingdom of God, then, is more than a reign in our hearts. It is a new epoch. It is a new chapter, in fact the next-to-last chapter, in the story of mankind. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the years A.D. 27—30, the world was turned upside down and a new state of affairs commenced as the broken relationship of God and mankind was permanently set right.
Notice the irony of Jesus when He speaks of the false “peace” which the “strong man” enjoyed, before the Stronger One arrived on the scene. The Roman emperor Augustus claimed to give “peace” to the world into which our Saviour was born, but that was the peace inflicted by tyranny. Jesus, the truly “Stronger One,” who truly has all power, is the One who brought the real and genuine peace which passeth all understanding, the peace which this world cannot give. LKW