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Oculi, The Third Sunday in Lent

March 03, 2024; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz, Pastor
Proper 5 B. bind the strongman.jpg

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The Finger of God
in the Presence of Men

I can remember some pretty immature schoolyard confrontations that were all very serious business at the time. It was all about trying to show who had the upper hand. Perhaps it would start with one boy grabbing another’s hat. “Hey, give that back!” “Why don’t you make me?” “Give it back now, or I’ll beat you up.” “You couldn’t, if you tried.” “I could beat you blindfolded.” “Oh ya, well I could beat you with one hand tied behind my back.” “I could beat you with my little finger.” “You couldn’t hurt a fly.”


And on it would go until the bystanders lost interest or one of the two combatants decided to really do something. Often, the hat would just be tossed back before any punches were thrown and each would turn away and strut off as if they had won. That is sometimes the way that schoolyard confrontations go.


The Bible is full of confrontations because sinful people always want to be on top, to be in control, to rule by intimidation, and to take away the power of anyone else by confronting them. People who are blind in such sin will also confront God, challenging Him to do something, calling for Him to prove it, saying to Him, “O ya, make me.” We heard those kind of sinful challenges in the Old Testament and Gospel Readings for today.


In the Old Testament Reading it was the great showdown between the LORD and Pharaoh, with God saying, “Let My people go” (Exodus 8:20) and Pharaoh replying, “See if You can make me.” And in the Gospel Reading it was one of the confrontations between Jesus and the people who said He did not have God’s power, but the devil’s power (Luke 11:15).


If you want to assert your dominance over someone else, you have to make it seem like you have more power than they do, and that there is no one else around who is going to step in to save them, no big brother or sister to come to their rescue. You don’t even have to be stronger than the other person, you just have to make people believe that the other person has no power. These are the dynamics of bullying, which we have all been taught is wrong, but which we are all tempted to do.


We don’t just see these tactics on the schoolyard, do we? After all, Pharaoh and Moses were not schoolchildren, neither were Jesus and His opponents. Bullying like this also takes place in families and governments, in workplaces and in volunteer organizations. We try to assert dominance over other people not just by claiming we are physically stronger, but also when we try to make people think we are smarter, more experienced, have better skills or more resources. It is good to use those things for the benefit of other people, but not to use them in order to keep people under our thumb or make them do the things we want them to do.


Pharaoh did not want to relinquish his control of the people, and Jesus’ opponents did not want to have to listen to Him. Both of them denied that God was present there with His power to save the people they wanted to keep under their thumb. They had to give the impression that they were still the strongest on the playground.


Pharaoh would not believe the LORD God had come to deliver His people from Egypt. God showed forth His power through the works that He did by Aaron’s staff. He turned the waters of Egypt to blood, but Pharaoh got his sorcerers to do something like that too. The LORD filled the land with frogs, but Pharaoh had his magicians show that they could summon frogs, too. Then the LORD had Aaron strike the dust on the ground with his staff and He brought forth gnats or lice, some kind of tiny biting insect. Pharaoh called his sorcerers to do that too, but they couldn’t. They didn’t have that kind of power. They told Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).


“The finger of God” was not their name for the staff that Aaron held with which he struck the dust of the earth. They really meant that they recognized the power of God at work in bringing forth gnats from the dust. This was beyond their powers of trickery and beyond the evil, demonic powers that they could summon. The sorcerers could see what Pharaoh, blinded by his bullying could not.


This was the finger of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, not being summoned by Moses and Aaron, but directing Moses and Aaron. It was not Moses’ will that Pharaoh let the people go. It was the LORD God’s own will, His own action. He was there and He was going to bring His people out and not let anyone stop Him. It was only a question of how much destruction Pharaoh’s obstinate refusals would bring upon Egypt, and consequently how great the name of the LORD would resound throughout all the nations of the earth.


In today’s Gospel reading we heard that Jesus was casting out demons and some people accused Him of doing it by the power of the devil, rather than the power of God. They wanted to see more miraculous signs, to have Him prove that He had God’s power. Jesus pointed out how ridiculous it would be if Satan was using his power to cast out his own demons, and He cautioned His detractors when He referred to Pharaoh refusing to believe the LORD had come to save His people in Egypt. Jesus referred to what Pharaoh’s sorcerers had said at that time by saying, “If it is by ‘the finger of God’ that I cast our demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20).


The finger of God worked through Aaron’s staff to change it into a serpent, to turn the waters of Egypt to blood, to make frogs come on the land, and to bring gnats out of the dust of the earth to show His power to Pharaoh and thereby save His people. Jesus is God incarnate, not just a finger, but the whole body of the LORD who has come to save His people. Jesus warned His opponents that the same God who brought His people out from under the tyranny of Pharaoh with great signs and wonders, was among them to save His people from the tyranny of the devil.


God has more power in His little finger than all of the dark arts of Pharaoh’s sorcerers, and whether Pharaoh would acknowledge it or not, he was powerless to hold God’s people from Him. Someone mightier than the world’s most powerful ruler, and mightier than all of the dark demonic powers banished from heaven, had come into the schoolyard, and Pharaoh would have to learn his lesson the hard way. A stronger man had come to bind him up and to plunder his house, and the children of Israel were delivered from Egypt, taking the riches of the land with them.


Jesus revealed that this finger of God which delivered His Old Testament people was pointing forward to an even greater deliverance. God came to His people in the person of Jesus, who proved to be the stronger man, even stronger than Satan, in order to deliver His people from this tyrant’s hold. Long ago He had revealed His power and His presence through Aaron’s staff, and now His power and presence is revealed in Jesus, the full-bodied God who has come to save us.


The denials of Pharaoh and of the people who saw Jesus cast out demons, did not stop Him. He was not deterred. He acted for the salvation of His people, striking the enemy into submission, proving that He was present with power to deliver and save.


People continue to deny the presence of the LORD among His people. They do that so that they can maintain their dominance over others, asserting their tyrannical power to make people do what they want and to keep them under their control. That is what you are doing when you try to manipulate others into doing your will, when you try to use your influence or your wisdom or your strength or your experience to force things to go your way. You are relying on your power over others with hopes that they will submit and that no one stronger or wiser or more experienced will come along to call you out.


And that includes their heavenly Father, who does not want His people to be under the tyrannical control of the devil or of political tyrants or of you. He is present with His people to deliver them and set them free. If you deny that, it will not stop Him from lifting His finger against you.


The LORD is present with His people here and now. Try to deny it, if you will, but it will do you no good. Rather, acknowledge His presence and confess that your desire to be in control of others is actually you willingly submitting to the tyranny that sin and the devil hold over you. Open your eyes, like the sorcerers of Pharaoh and see the finger of God at work for His people. Hear the voice of God sounding forth from His holy Scriptures. See the body of God held in the hand of the pastor. Drink the blood of God shed upon the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.


By the powerful finger of God, the Holy Spirit, your tyrannical heart will soften in repentance. Your eyes will not only see one stronger than you, they will also see the One who will pluck your feet out of the net of sin in which you are caught.


God is present with His power to act for the salvation of His people, to deliver them from the tyranny of sin and the bondage of the devil. He is present to set His people free. It is while God is at present with His power in Holy Baptism that we confess this as a continuation of Jesus’ work casting out demons. We declare the threefold renunciation of the devil, and all his works, and all his ways, as the LORD’s finger dips into the water that releases us from the enemy’s net. That water pours over us, the old sinful man in us, like the waters of the Red Sea poured over Pharaoh’s army after the LORD had led His people safely through, and separated them forever from the tyrant’s power.


People may deny it. They may say it is just water. They may even say it is an act of demonic ritualism. They are trying to maintain a hold of tyranny over you, claiming that they are more enlightened, more spiritual, more knowledgeable, stronger Christians. To which we have the response of Jesus Himself, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”


And that is precisely what we believe has happened. The Kingdom of God with all of its power for salvation has come upon us in the person of Jesus Christ, to deliver us from the tyranny of the devil and of our sins. He is present with His power to save His people. He is the stronger man and He has come upon the scene to rescue His people. “My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for He will pluck my feet out of the net” (Psalm 25:15).



The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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