Preached March 11, 2012
Ephesians 5:1– 14
St. Luke 11:14–28
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The Gospel lesson for the Third Sunday in Lent is one of those difficult lessons which, if read just on the surface, seems to tell a quaint story about Jesus casting out demons, somewhat confused and disjointed, and that is about all. Much the same story is found in St. Matthew 12:22–37, St. Mark 3:19–30, and in our reading here from St. Luke. It turns out, not unexpectedly, that this surface reading misses most of the point. We really need to look beneath the surface to understand what this passage is all about.
The reading begins with Jesus casting a devil out of a man who had been made mute by the demon. After the demon was cast out, the man began to speak, and the people watching began to speak about what they had seen. It was perfectly clear that Jesus had worked a miracle. Many of the people watching no doubt knew the man to be truly dumb, and when they heard him speak, they knew that a genuine cure had been effected right there before their eyes. This was a real miracle. Many of them are amazed at the power of God, and others are also surprised that the power of God is manifest in this seemingly insignificant Person, not the regal Messiah they were expecting.
But some of them, our old friends the Pharisees, began to say, “He is able to this because He has a secret deal made with the devil himself.” They cannot deny the miracle, but they are unwilling to accept that it is from God. Their only alternative, in their thinking, is to attribute it to the devil.
Some ask for a sign from heaven, perhaps a sign in the clouds. And yet, this is pure foolishness. If they think that an outright miracle, performed right here before their eyes, is something contrived by a deal with the devil, could not a sign in the clouds be just as easily arranged by the same means? Nothing of this sort will truly satisfy them.
But Jesus is omniscient, and He knows their thoughts. He quotes what was apparently a common saying to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.” The first clause is entirely clear and requires no comment. The second clause is slightly ambiguous in terms of the meaning of the word “house” as used there. The Greek word being translated as “house” can mean either the structure of a home, or it can mean a family and extended family associated with a home. In either event, the meaning of both of these clauses is clearly that unity is essential for the continued existence of a kingdom, the physical structure of a house, or a clan.
The point of Jesus’ comment in this situation is that the devil would never agree to any deal that would allow himself to be even temporarily defeated by God. The pride of the devil is far too important to him and to his self image to allow such a thing. It would be a step toward willingly allowing his own defeat, and that the devil will never do. So Jesus is pointing out to His hecklers the foolishness of their accusation, how completely inconsistent with the real nature of the devil. While the devil might withdraw of his own choice at times, he would never do so willingly if it appeared that he was beaten by God.
Then Jesus wraps up His argument with, “If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub.” Applying the saying quoted previously, Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “How is it that the devil continues on so long among men, when you have said that his kingdom is divided within itself? That should indicate that it will soon fall, and yet we see the devil continues, and has continued, since the beginning of time.” Obviously the charge of the Pharisees is false.
Now here we have a name applied to the devil, Beelzebub. Beelzebub is a corruption of Baalzebub, the god of the flies. There was a tendency among the heathen to name their gods after the pests which they were supposed to avert. How Beelzebub became identified with Satan in the Jewish mind is not known.
Jesus goes on then to add a final note to his comment about a house divided when he says, “And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges.” He is pointing out the gross hypocrisy in the fact that when a follower of the Pharisees attempts to cure someone by casting out a demon, they do not charge him with invoking Beelzebub, but here is Christ who has actually worked such a miracle, and all they can do is charge Him with evil. Truly, the minds of the Pharisees are twisted. Do we ever see such things today? The hypocrisy is all the worse because of the fact that Christ had consistently reproved and upbraided the Pharisees, whereas the ones that they would not charge, “their sons,” would be those who flattered them. It is so very evident that the charge of invoking the devil is simply a refusal to admit the power of God at work through Jesus!
Then Christ says, “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” Look at the imagery that Jesus employs here! “… if I with the finger of God …” seems to suggest that what He has done was essentially effortless, the work of a single finger, but God’s finger. This was not some great labor, but simply the “finger of God” at work among men! And look at the implications: “no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.” He has told the Pharisees directly that He is the Messiah and that the kingdom of God is with them right then and there in that place. Only a blind man could miss that!
Suddenly the narrative seems to switch directions when Jesus begins a story. Luke 11:21 When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: 22 But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. 23 He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. Now what is that all about? Well, remember where we are, what is going on, and who is speaking. Jesus is still speaking, and we are still in an episode about casting out demons. Those facts still apply as we try to understand this passage.
The strong man, armed, is a demon in possession of a man, making that man an unconverted sinner. The heart of that man is the palace of that demon, and his mind and soul are the demon’s armor and goods. In that man, this demon is served and he uses that man for his own ends. The demon does all that he can to secure his palace, to fortify it against Christ. He hardens the heart against the truth and holiness as a fortification against Christ. Man’s heart, which was intended to be the dwelling place of Christ, is become the palace of the demon. He enforces a peace of sorts in his palace, a forced, unnatural, insecure peace. The sinful man has a very good opinion of himself, he is secure and happy with himself. The man tells himself what a fine fellow he is. Hearing the preaching of the Gospel disturbs the peace of the demon’s palace.
The attack in which the strong man is defeated by one stronger than himself is the destruction of the demon by the power of Christ. The demon was a strong man, and he was armed and thought himself secure. But our Lord Jesus Christ is stronger than any such, and He can defeat any demon. This defeat is the true conversion of the soul by the power of Christ, completely destroying the power of the devil, and reestablishing Christ’s claim upon that soul. When the Scripture says “He taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted,” this means that the power of sin in that soul is broken, the eyes are opened, the heart is humbled, the person becomes serious about their faith, and thus the devil’s armour is dispersed. The Bible goes on to say, And (He) divideth his spoils, meaning that Christ takes over all of the gifts of that man, his mind, his physical strength, his wealth, whatever he has, is all given over to the service of Christ.
Jesus wraps this up with the line, “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” What He is saying in the first clause speaks clearly for itself. The second clause carries much the same meaning, with the slight shift that He is also saying that those who do not support Him are working actively, as opposed to only passively against Jesus..
Then Jesus continues with an extension of the story with a new ending: Luke 11:24 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. 25 And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. 26 Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
Here we have a situation where the devil at least appears to leave a man, even though he has not been driven out by the power of Christ, in contrast to the previous story. The devil has apparently gone, but has retained an interest in the man; he still refers to him as “my house whence I came out.” Thus, the house is swept, but it is not washed; and Christ has said, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me; the house must be washed, or it is not His. Sweeping takes off only the loose dirt, while the sin that besets the sinner, the dearly held sin, remains untouched. The house is swept and the dirt visible to the eyes of the world is removed, but it has not been thoroughly cleansed of secret sin. It is swept, but the leprosy of sin is on the walls, and will be until something more is done. The house is furnished with common gifts and graces, so that the man appears externally to be a “good man.” The house is furnished, but the property is not really altered; it was never surrendered to Christ, nor inhabited by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, this man is a hypocrite.
When the devil returns and finds the house all tidy, he goes out to get seven more devils, each worse than himself. If the heart of man retains the interest in sin and Satan, the facade of righteousness comes to nothing. Those that are not fixed on true sanctity will not remain steadfast. Where the secret works of sin are continued, under the cloak of seeming righteousness, conscience is debauched, God is eventually provoked to withdraw his restraining grace, and the secret hypocrite becomes the open apostate. The last state of such is indeed much worse than the first, in respect both to sin and eventual punishment. Apostates are the worst of men, the most vain and profligate, the most bold and daring; their consciences are seared. They have thought that they knew Jesus Christ and have turned their back on Him. Theirs is a fearsome eternal destiny.
Finally we have a cry from a woman in the crowd, blessing Jesus and His mother, Mary. This is different from all of the other complaining that has come from the Pharisees, and Jesus does not deny it at all. We know that the virgin Mary considered herself to be blessed as we have in the words of the Magnificat, “For behold, from hence forth all generations shall call me blessed.” It is a welcome and proper response from someone in the crowd.
But Christ response is to say, “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” It is a great privilege for any of us to hear the word of God, yet only those are truly blessed, that is, blessed in the Lord, that hear it and keep it, keep it in memory, and keep to it as their way of life.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.