The Third Sunday in Lent March 11, 2012
16, 347(1-3,5-6), 447, 48
And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters. “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
In Christ, whose kingdom is among us, dear fellow-redeemed:
Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh, the powerful king of Egypt. Moses told his brother Aaron to throw down his rod. Aaron did and the rod turned into a snake. Pharaoh’s magicians and enchanters threw their rods to the ground and they too became snakes. Then Aaron’s snake-rod ate the others.
Next came the first plague. Moses told Aaron to stretch out his rod over the water. Aaron did so and the water turned to blood. The Egyptian magicians did the same thing even though doing so was foolish since it just polluted more water.
The magicians were also able to duplicate the second plague making more frogs after God had started the plague. But when the magicians tried to duplicate the third plague and create more lice, they could not do it. The magicians told Pharaoh, “this is the finger of God” (Exodus 8).
The power at work through Moses and Aaron was God’s. The power at work through the magicians though significant, was weaker than God’s.
There are two kingdoms at work in the world: the Devil’s kingdom with his goals, ruling, and power; and Christ with His goals, ruling, and power.
When Jesus came doing signs and wonders the question arose, “from where does He get His power?” The answer lies in the truth that CHRIST’S KINGDOM OPPOSES THE KINGDOM OF DARKNESS I. His power works against Beelzebub, II. His victory removes the enemy, and III. His rule preserves the soul.
Jesus did many miracles of many different kinds. The miracle that was receiving the attention at this time was the casting out of a demon. was that He cast out a devil. “And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled.” [v.14] Matthew records this same event in his Gospel account and mentions that the one who was possessed by the evil spirit was also blinded. The casting out of a demon was not an every-day kind of event. The people took notice and were amazed that Jesus was able to do this. Matthew reports that some of the people were amazed and wondered if this might not mean that Jesus was the Messiah. They asked, “This isn’t the Son of David, is it?” (Matthew 12:23).
The crowds as a whole marveled and questioned who Jesus could be, but not all were so impressed —at least not in a good way. There were those who wanted to keep the crowd’s enthusiasm low so they attacked Jesus’ credibility. The Pharisees (cf. Matthew 12) in the crowd said, “‘He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’ Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven.” [v.15-16]
There was nothing to support the charge that Jesus was working for the Devil. In fact, everything pointed to the exact opposite. The charge against Jesus didn’t even make logical sense:, “But [Jesus], knowing their thoughts, said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub’” [v.17-18]
War stories occasionally report instances of “friendly fire”—an army’s accidental attack on itself. That kind of self-attack is a mistake. It is foolish to intentionally go to war against yourself! Families, relationships, cities and nations have all proven the universal truth that Jesus expresses to the Pharisees: a house divided will fall.
It is foolish to intentionally go to war against yourself and yet, this is exactly what the Devil would have been doing if Jesus was working for him and at the same casting out demons. How could Jesus possibly do this for Beelzebub, the Devil—the leader of the kingdom of darkness, when what He was doing was harming the Devil’s goals? The Devil’s goal is to destroy the works of God and lead souls to Hell. If Jesus was working toward this goal by casting out demons it was not a very good way to do it! In addition, Mark tells us that many of the “And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, ‘You are the Son of God’” (Mark 3:11). Even the demons themselves didn’t support the Pharisee’s claim.
Jesus made a second point in answer to the Pharisee’s charge. Jesus caught the Jewish leaders in their own false charge which was the kind of thing that angered them all the more. Jesus asked them, “if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” [v.19]
Apparently, some of the people and followers of the Jews were also casting out demons, or at least giving the appearance of it. If the conclusion was that Jesus could only be using the Devil’s power to cast out demons, then the same also had to be said about any one else who was doing the same thing. Would those who challenged Jesus be willing to say that their own people used the Devil’s power too? They would never say that so there was a terrible inconsistency in their conclusion.
Jesus’ conclusion was different. He said, “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” [v.20] If not from Beelzebub then Jesus’ power had to come from God because there are only those two options and no third party. If, Jesus did not do what He did with Beelzebub’s power then it had to be God’s and if His power came from God then Jesus was a special servant of God—sent by God and working to bring God’s rule into the hearts and lives of sinners.
The Pharisees were trapped. Jesus’ arguments were sound. Jesus using Beelzebub’s power made no sense, but neither did they want to admit that Jesus was from God and therefore, quite possibly, the long-awaited Messiah. They didn’t want to admit all of this, but those were the only conclusions that made sense.
We can use the same method of testing today when we hear about seemingly extraordinary events and apparent miracles. The first question ought always to be, “Is it real or just an illusion or fraud?” The second question is, “Who or what is served by the extraordinary event? Is it opposed to God and/or contradicting His Word? If so it has to be from the other kingdom. Is it in agreement with God’s Word and working for Christ and God’s glory, then good.
We do the same with those who preach and teach God’s Word, or at least what they call God’s Word. John wrote, “believe not every spirit but test the spirits whether they are of God because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Jesus’ power works in opposition to the Devil’s efforts. His power and effort against the rule of Satan continues. He is the genuine ruler of God’s kingdom.
Jesus continued with a small parable. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.” [v.21-22]
The palace in Jesus’ parable is a person’s body…his heart. The demon which possessed the man was strong and a force with which to be reckoned. The evil spirit guards his “palace” and intends to stay there. The evil spirit had its way until Jesus, the stronger One, came and removed it.
Jesus parable speaks about the man he had just healed from the evil spirit, but it applies on a larger scale as well. The whole passion account of our Lord’s suffering and death is the news of the “Stronger One” coming and overcoming the one who had been guarding his palace. Satan intruded himself in the hearts and lives of every human being when he was able to bring sin into the world. We are born with sin living inside us and we’re locked into it, and we know that the Devil works hard to keep it just that way.
Jesus came to destroy the works of the Devil. Jesus, the Stronger One, came to throw out the old occupants—sin and the Devil—and to live in the palace in their place. To the victor belong the spoils. The spoils of this battle are bringing salvation to sinners and ruling in them. The spoils of the “Strong One’s” battle are mentioned in Isaiah 40:10, “Behold the Lord God will come with a strong hand and his arm shall rule for him behold his reward is with him and his work before Him.”
Jesus defeated the Devil and “cast him out” when He rose again after dying on the cross for our sins. Each time we confess the Apostles’ Creed we say that Jesus descended into Hell. Jesus descended into Hell after He rose from the dead to proclaim His victory to the Devil and all the evil spirits. “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:15). “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison…” (1 Peter 3:18-19)
Jesus, the Stronger One, removed the evil spirit from the possessed man. Jesus, the Stronger One, removes the sinfulness out of our lives.
We heard in the epistle that we should be “imitators/followers of God.” We are to flee fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, coarse jesting…etc. because none of these are fitting. The working and rule of Satan’s kingdom of darkness wants to keep them in our hearts and lives. We get rid of them through the One who is stronger and the One who removes Satan.
We get rid of the sins of the flesh by daily drowning the Old Adam with contrition and repentance so that he dies with all sins and evil lusts. When we are able to keep our sinful lusts in check and glorify Christ it is a result of God’s mercy. It is a result of Christ, the ruler of the Kingdom of Light, living and acting within us, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
The victory removes. It removes sin, the workings of darkness, the “course of the world,” the deeds of the “ spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). The victory removes the guilt and punishment because we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The victory removes sin from our lives because our Savior lives and rules in us.
There is no neutral ground when it comes to matters of faith in Christ. “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” [v.23] Jesus states the simple fact that either one is opposed to Him or else for Him. Even things that appear neutral or are supposedly neutral are not. If parents do not lead by example or let their children “decide for themselves” in matters concerning Christ, some might call this wonderfully fair and a good neutral approach. Jesus says, that such a way is opposed to Him because it is not building up and gathering and if not gathering then the end result is still scattering and opposition. If it is not positive effort for Christ, it is destructive and is against Him.
Every heart is going to be “possessed” and ruled by one or the other of two kingdoms. There is no such thing as an empty heart. An open cup that is sunk into a dishpan filled with water cannot help but be filled. A heart that has forsaken Christ is left open and it won’t take long to be filled because the Devil runs into it.
“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked and they dwell there and the last state of that man is worse than the first” [v.24-26]
Christ is the Stronger One who pushes sin and wickedness out, but if the heart later rejects the Stronger One and forsakes Him, then the house is empty for a return of what was there before. This time, however, the evil spirit comes back with reinforcements. He has lost his palace once and does not ever intend to do so again.
In Peter’s second letter God says that it is a very serious matter of danger for those who have had Christ but reject Him. “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’” (2 Peter 2:20-22).
How are we to deal with the potential danger and keep the Strong One living in our palace? Jesus gave the answer after a woman cried out. “And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” [v.27-28]
Blessed are all who hear God’s Word and treasure it, who guard it and keep it as a special treasure. Guard the Word of God, use it as your guide, use it for help and direction. Guard it with your life. Keep it with your life and at the same time you will be fleeing sin, and the Stronger One will live in you and fight for you.
We have overcome our spiritual enemies and the kingdom of darkness because of our greater King. “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
We are confident in what Kingdom Christ rules. At the same time we are aware of the other kingdom and its danger. Christ our King gives us the power to be victors and to persevere. His Word is our defense. His kingdom forever rules in the hearts of God’s children so that we are able to say with Paul, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.