14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
27 As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
As we continue in our series through the Book of Luke, Jesus has been travelling throughout the region of Galilee teaching the people and performing signs and wonders that testify to Himself. His followers asked how to pray and, in Luke’s Gospel, the prayer ends at “…lead us not into temptation…” but Matthew’s Gospel reads: “…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”
On the heels of this teaching, Christ encounters a man who is under the power of the evil one. Are we not commanded to confess Christ as Lord? Yet this man is under the power of evil and cannot speak. By Christ’s power, however, the man is freed and the people marvel.
But not all marvel. There are those in the crowd who have continually hounded the Savior throughout His public ministry: the religious leaders and skeptics. Faced with the power of God in their midst, there were those whose religious understanding made it impossible for them to conceive that Christ was teaching the things of God because He taught contrary to the teaching of their Rabbis. They reasoned that Christ truly had power but that power could not be from God because a man from God could not teach something contrary to their understanding of the Scriptures. Instead of having their minds transformed by the power of God, their hearts were hardened and their foolish minds darkly reasoned that Jesus must be casting out demons by the power of the demonic realm.
The others who were blind to Christ’s power were the skeptics. Notice, in verse 16, the text reads: “others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.”
Do any of you find that just laughable? Christ casts out a demon and the skeptics complain that they need a sign from heaven. This is proof positive that no signs from Christ are sufficient to convince a foolish mind hostile to the things of God.
Christ rebukes their unbelief by pointing out something obvious: a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Why, Christ asks, would Satan fight against his own kingdom? Why would a ruler dispatch forces to destroy or defeat his own army? It makes no sense and exposes their folly. Thus, if Christ is casting out the kingdom of demons by the power of God then this is a demonstration that the Kingdom of God is among them.
The problem with the religious leaders and skeptics is that their minds are in bondage. They can think. They can reason. Yet that thinking about spiritual things is imprisoned. They are slaves to the way they view the world and all the power of Christ is interpreted through a distorted lens.
Yet, in a profound sense, this passage of Scripture is all about the remedy to bondage. The Kingdom of God is in the midst of the people but they are not aware of what that power has been intended, from the beginning, to accomplish.
Christ, knowing the thoughts of the crowd, tells two parables: the first is the parable of the Stronger Man and the second is the parable of the clean house.
In verses 21-22, Christ tells a short parable about a stronger man. Simply put, when a strong man guards a house, the goods inside that house are safe. Until, that is, a stronger man is able to overcome that strong man and plunder the goods.
The fascinating thing about parables is how subversive they are. They are understandable and agreeable to common men on a certain level while a deeper meaning eludes them. We all understand the idea that it’s good to have a strong warrior defend your castle. You hire the best. Yet, if a stronger foe defeats that warrior then your castle is in trouble. The power that defends that stronghold has been overcome.
Yet, the people of Christ’s day were like many of us who measure the strength of God according to the kinds of strength that we naturally relate to. We only think of power in its raw form and often desire it. In a sense, this story would leave many of us with a wrong understanding that the Kingdom of God is just like political or military strength. We’d be just like the Jews of Christ’s day who were waiting for a conquering Messiah who would free the Jews from the unclean Romans. He would rally the Jews or use raw power to overcome the Romans and then all the good Jews would once again be a pure people in a pure land undefiled by all the evil people who were interlopers in their land.
The spiritual reality, however, is that it is all of mankind who is under bondage. It is all of the Jews of Christ’s day and all of us who were in bondage to a strong ruler. Sin and death have literally enslaved men since the sin of our first parents. We assume that our thinking is right. We assume that we see things and have common sense. We assume that we do well and even please God. Yet Romans 3:9-18 testifies of our true condition:
9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
The Scriptures must be talking about evil people but not me. My feet aren’t swift to shed blood. I’m not a gossip. My mouth isn’t full of curses and bitterness.
I can’t see that in myself. I know there are others that are sinful and evil but I thank God that I’m not like those sinners. I thank God that I’m in the Church and have been taught self-government. I thank God that I’m not a Muslim and worship a false god. I thank God that I’m not a Democrat and support big government.
Nicodemus came to Christ in John 3 in the middle of the night and knew that Christ had power from God but he just couldn’t grasp the things that Christ was teaching. Christ responded: “…truly, truly, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God….”
Do you know how Nicodemus responded?
He responded, in so many words: “I just can’t make any sense out of what you’re saying.” In other words, Nicodemus couldn’t see.
Blindness. Slavery. Darkness. Futility.
This is our condition apart from Christ. The Kingdom of God exists all around men and they cannot perceive it.
Because men are slaves to sin. Men are in darkness. Their mouths cannot testify of God but are mute to the things of God. The strong man has them locked up and guarded. The kingdom of this world consists of those born in Adam who are hostile to the things of God. They are under the dominion of sin and death.
In 1 Sam 17, Israel under King Saul had gathered for battle against the Philistines and the Philistines sent out their champion. His name was Goliath. He was a giant. His height and the weight of his armor and weapons were terrible. Measured by any standard, the man was born to be a warrior and he stood and challenged anyone to fight him. He cursed God and defied any idea that there was anyone who could defeat him in battle. The whole of Saul’s army, including the king himself, cowered in terror for days because they saw strength according to common sense. You don’t challenge the heavyweight champion of the world to a fight to the death.
Then, one day, a young shepherd boy named David walked up to bring food from his home to his brothers. He saw this giant come out that day and curse the living God and his response was not one of fear but of anger that any man, however big, could challenge those with the Lord on their side. All thought him a fool. All thought him naïve. Yet that young boy left armor behind and walked out of the ranks armed only with a sling and some stones.
Goliath scoffed at the tiny foe before him and promised David that he would be food for the birds. David did not walk. David did not weave back and forth. David ran straight ahead and would meet certain death if that stone from his sling missed its mark. David defeated the strong man and the Philistines fled in terror.
And so, when David’s greater Son came to this earth, many probably thought it would be another tangible victory and his success would be measured in strength and power they could see.
Yet, Christ’s power was to be manifested where nobody would have expected. Christ’s power, manifest during His public ministry, pointed to His power over the kingdom of this world. Christ’s power testified of His humanity and that He was God come in flesh. Yet nobody could see it.
Christ, seemingly powerless, submitted Himself to the power of death on a cross. He died the life of a scoundrel. He died the life of the accursed. He died the life of a failure in the eyes of the world.
His disciples walked away disappointed because, no matter how many times He testified that the Messiah had come to die on a Cross, they could not understand. The Romans were still in power. The Man they thought would deliver them with power they could see lie dead and broken and in a tomb. Jesus was not the Messiah. So much for salvation from the Romans.
Oh, but Beloved, there was unimaginable power on display!
As Christ writhed in agony on the Cross, it was not the physical pain that was most intense but it was Christ bearing in His flesh the sins of all of His people. Christ died and when He died, the sins of His people died with Him. Not only so but in a way we could never expect, the power of sin was put to death on the Cross. He did not merely pay for the sins of many but He defeated the power of sin on the Cross.
And then He was laid in a tomb. And on the third day He rose from the dead. Death tried to hold Him down. Death held with all its might but behold the Man! Do you ever just think about Christ taking that first step out of the Tomb? One small step for Man, one giant leap for all of mankind! Death was defeated by an indestructible life. Try as it may, Death fought with the Savior but the Stronger man overcame and plundered!
When you think of Christ’s work for you do you only reflect on his payment for your sins? Do you struggle, thinking it’s all up to you, against the power of sin in your life? Hear, Christian, reality as it truly is in Romans 6: “3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
You were not looking for it because you could not see it. You were not aware of your bondage because it was natural for you. Yet Christ died and we who believe are baptized into that death and we who believe have risen again. Believe upon Christ and see. Believe, also, with your new eyes that Christ has put the power of sin to death and that your life is bound up in Him. The mute man did not ask to speak for he could not speak. Christ broke the power of Satan that muted his voice so that he could confess, believe, and obey.
Thus, it is that Christ says in verse 23: “23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
There is no neutral ground with Christ. You are either in the kingdom of sin and death and cannot see the Kingdom of God or you have been set free from its power by the Stronger Man.
Some say this is a false dilemma: only unimaginative minds set up either-or scenarios. “I’m neither for Christ nor against Christ.” Some believe they speak well of Christ, affirming Him a good man and moral teacher, but there are many paths to God. Some say that it is closed-minded to claim truth for one way and completely reject another. Beloved, this is the philosophy of those under sin’s dominion. If we are not for Christ it is because we are still in the clutches of sin and very much against Him. If you take offense and reply “I don’t see it that way”, my simple response is: “I’m quite aware that you don’t see.”
Christ then followed with a parable about the clean house in verses 24-26. The main point here is not the nature of demons. Christ’s point is that a man can come to taste the things of God but distorts that knowledge and limits its purpose to house cleaning.
Some of us may be that man. We hear about the things of God and the only thing that strikes us about the Scriptures is our need to live a pure life. We hear the preaching week in and week out and see it primarily as a recipe for clean living and self-government. We see the good in Scripture and imitate the externals and reckon we are good men. We read of sin in the Scriptures and see wickedness in everyone except ourselves. We want prayer in schools, we want moral government, we want lower taxes, we want good neighbors, we want obedient children, and we want God to bless us for all the ways we’ve demonstrated our commitment. We want power to subdue all the evil people and throw the bums out! We want everything except a Crucified Savior who can deliver us from our bondage to sin.
And the power of sin deceives and appears, on the outside, to have left us. We are a swept house. Yet, all the time, the truth of the Word about our sin and bondage is bouncing off of us like rain on packed earth. Nothing sinks in. Notice in verse 24 that the demon says: “I will return to my house from which I came.”
“I will return to my house.” And when the power of sin comes back to manifest itself in the life of the “swept house”, it comes back more terrible than before. The Pharisees were good men on the outside but when they continually rejected Christ, their swept houses were filled with the demonic power of sin and they became wicked beyond measure. They despised the Savior and the things of God and plotted to kill Him whenever they got the chance. We who would justify ourselves with our lives will trample the Son of God underfoot with the same vengeance.
The passage closes with an expression of excitement from the crowd. A woman is so overcome by the excitement of the moment and the teaching of Christ that she yells out of the crowd: Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”
I imagine Christ paused for a moment before He gently replied that those who are truly blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.
It’s not as if He hadn’t said the same thing to His mother when she and the rest of the family summoned Him while He was teaching and He reminded the crowd that His mother and brothers are those who hear and obey. He wasn’t denying the blessedness of His mother here but her blessedness, by her own confession, was that God looked upon her. She heard the things of God and submitted.
Just like this woman who cried out, the things of God have a way of exciting us. There are things that we see and experience that may cause us to yell “Praise God!” All sorts of religious experience are sought to inflame our hearts with excitement.
Yet, notice that it is those who hear the Word of God, and because they can hear, obey. Obedience and hearing go hand in hand. If we cannot hear, we will not truly obey and will merely be swept houses.
I can leave worship this evening excited about the things of God and then, at the crack of dawn, rise to shave my face and go off to work. The ecstasy of the moment of religious worship will fade as life has a way of bogging us down in its drudgery and day-to-day burdens.
Yet, we have to consider that, if we have truly heard the Word of God, it is because we have been given ears to hear. If we have truly seen the Kingdom of God it is because we have been given eyes to see. If that transformation has occurred it was not because of our obedience or enthusiasm for God but because there is a Stronger Man Who has overcome sin and death on the Cross.
Our excitement needs to be born out of a life that has been set free from the power of sin. It is the recognition that God justifies sinners. It is the realization that Christ came to plunder the House of the Strong Man and found us cowering under its dominion and dragged us out of its dungeon. He washed us in our baptism and calls us His friends. He clothed us in His righteousness and calls us His beloved bride.
Sinclair Ferguson tells of a physician who is a medical missionary in Thailand. The physician sent him a picture of a man with a huge grin from ear to ear. Both his arms were amputated by this physician due to complications from the leprosy that oppresses his body. But do you know what this man said to the physician one day? He said: “I’m so thankful for my leprosy because I would have never met Jesus Christ without it.”
That’s true experience.
Are we thankful for the Christ who conquers sin and death or are we excited about the power that surrounds the Savior’s work?
Once, we could not see the horror of our sin and its bondage. Once, we could not speak of the things of God but uttered only curses. Unexpectedly, we saw our sin and, in our terror, wondered how we could escape the wrath it deserved.
But then we looked up and saw our Champion hanging on a Cross. We saw Him die and lay in a Tomb. We witnessed the Son of Man rise from the dead. The Stronger Man emerged, wounded from the battle, but He was utterly victorious!
A muted mouth is unstopped. We cry out with new voices:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Cor 15:54-57