Third Sunday in Lent
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
14 And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. 15 But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. 16 And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. 18 If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. 19 And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. 20 But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. 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. 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.
27 And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. 28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it. Luke 11:14-28
We learn from the Collect of the Day that the boastful braggart need not appeal to God for defense because he believes that he does not need it. It is the humble in heart who may petition God for their defense, believing that He will grant it, and so shall it be. This is another Gregorian Collect that was composed when the enemies were at the gate. The Church has survived, and the prayer answered. It has a direct bearing on a defense from the spiritual powers of darkness that assail us daily; and it has a relevance to the Gospel text we read today from Luke 11:14-28. If we may consider the world a jungle (and it is definitely so from a spiritual perspective), we pass through that jungle with a thousand hungry eyes watching our every move. At the first stumble (at sin) those eyes are inform vicious claws and teeth to attack. That is the devil’s way, and it has not changed an iota since that Old Red Dragon fell from Heaven as lightning. He has never, and WILL never, be anything other than the mortal enemy of your soul. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) If it pleases you to sin, just be ready for the devouring lion. As God said to Job from out of the whirlwind (regarding that dragon, Leviathan): Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more. (Job 41:8) The same is true of Satan – his power is beyond that of man to oppose. Only God can win the battle against such a vicious creature.
This being Lent Season, it might be of benefit to remind ourselves of the solemnity of the season. I know that some of you went through the very private process of having a tiny dab of ash applied to their forehead at the season’s onset on Ash Wednesday.
Naturally, you did not desire that anyone recognize your fast thereby since we are supposed to keep that between us and God. But what is the meaning of ashes in Scripture? Have you been consumed by your love of God, and has He consumed your sinful nature (for our God is a consuming fire)? “12 ¶ Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: 13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.” Joel 2:12-13
Ashes represent being destroyed with fire, and our old persons along with their sins, are consumed by that fire in Christ.
Along with the donning of ashes (if we are going to be punctilious about it), the proper demonstration of repentance also requires the wearing of a garment of sackcloth.
I doubt anyone is so publicly pious as to wear that garment, so why not let the Cross of Christ be your Ashes, and the White Robe of Righteousness which He purchased for you be your garment of sackcloth? Why not obey the counsel of our Lord given in Matthew:
“16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; 18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” Matthew 6:16-18 (KJV)
We find Jesus in today’s text working a miracle of God in casting out a demon. Please remember that demons work for Satan and under his power and direction. They are the fallen angels which the tail of the great Red Dragon drew with him to earth at his fall. Man cannot fight such power as discussed earlier. So we need a power greater than that of the Devil – there is only One – GOD!
If a disciple will exorcise a demon, he must do so in the Name (by the power and authority) of Jesus Christ. Satan has all kinds of soldiers, and many of those soldiers are human. Let us observe three stark facts revealed in today’s text regarding those who witnessed the good works of Christ:
- There were many in the multitude that marveled at the works of Christ and freely admitted that only the promised Messiah could perform such miracles. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? (Matt 12:23) meaning, the Lord Jesus Christ – the Messiah!
- Others in the crowd, however, were more casual observers – much like those we see filling the pews of the mainline churches every Sunday.
They really did not WANT to believe so they asked for MORE than a miracle in overpowering Satan. 16 And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven.
Those who lack faith always seek a greater sign regardless the miraculous wonders they have already observed. Worship to such people is more a matter of entertainment than of solemn and reverent audience before God.
- The last group are those who were forever present to find fault with every move Christ made. They are still with us today – 15 But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. Matthew tells us who those culprits were, in case you have not guessed:
“24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” (Matt 12:24)
Be not deceived, the same people gather about you when you perform good works of love for Christ. You have many, as the villagers of Sychar, who will believe even a woman of ill-repute when she has been touched by Christ.
They will hear and believe the testimony you give of how Christ has changed your life (if the evidence bears it out). Others will search for ulterior motives in your action – they will want you to do something that they consider ‘impossible.’
But Satan’s best adherents are those who have a stake in the battle – his adherents who are damned already. The Pharisees comprise the largest contingent of that group in our text today. Livid with jealousy over their little profit-producing empire of the Temple, they seek every means to undermine Christ. Of course, a favorite tool of the devil is to always begin with a question. Or, they will assign false motives or causes for a miracle.
Let us examine a cardinal charge the Pharisees made against Christ: 15 But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils.
This name for the Lord of the Flies (remember William Golding’s book – morality in humanity) derives from an ancient Philistine god. I find it rather amazing that one of our required-reading texts in public schools today is “The Lord of the Flies”.
Beelzebub is Satan’s true name and the Jewish religious leaders used it to refer to Satan himself. It was thought that the fly covered dead bodies and manure heaps, and later, miraculously’ life emerged from those dead bodies in the form of maggots and, later, flies.
What a blasphemy against the Lord of Heaven! But the tactic is still used today when we see, on very rare occasions, an honest politician attempting to honestly address a problem involving the public largesse. He is labeled as one who is trying to starve the poor, murder the elderly, and reap profits for himself. How does Christ address these beleaguering imbeciles?
Though many may believe that Abe Lincoln was very original in his comment – “A house divided against itself cannot stand” he was only plagiarizing (without giving credit) the words of Jesus: 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. 18 If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub.
No military general would ever field an army comprised of half loyalists and half traitors. In the face of battle, every heart must be on the side of the cause else the possibility of victory is reduced commensurate with the numbers of traitors in the ranks.
Neither would a field commander allow two wings of his army to go to battle against each other over any trifling disagreement. The enemy must be the focus of our battle.
Satan is no fool – he is a cunning old genius. Even if he could do so, he would never allow righteousness in his ranks. This is what Christ represents – the perfect righteousness and power of God. God Himself has already proven that He will not allow evil in His ranks. When it reared its prideful head in Heaven, the rebel was cast out.
How strong do you consider that Finger which scattered the stars and distant galaxies into their places in space? 20 But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. Rarely has that Finger written on earth, but it has written. Can you count the times? Can you tell me how often that Finger has written on clay? Would you believe FIVE times! If you have difficulty finding those five times in the Bible, ask me and I shall tell you. That same Finger has more power than a million and more suns. If we see that Finger defeated the hosts of Hell in casting out demons, do we not recognize that God is Omnipotent and the devil cannot stand against Him?
Who do you consider to be the most powerful politician today? Obama? No, he is only a small tool to that greater politician – his name is Satan. He owns the hearts and minds of more people than all the churches combined. 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. Christ calls Satan the “prince of this world.” (John 12:31)
Christ is the Prince and Lord of Life that does not perish, but the Prince of the world shall suffer as the world that is destroyed. Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: (Eph 2:2)
I hope that you, Listener, are not disobedient before God for, if you are, the just quoted verse tells us that you have the WRONG spirit. We all had our bodily homes kept by a strong man (Satan), but a Stronger Man has come and taken over the premises of our hearts if Christ has made His abode there.
Perhaps we need a house-cleaning, but we ALSO need occupancy! 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.
Have you ever gone on a strict diet of small servings and no sweets? How did that work out for you? After a grueling few weeks (or days) you are famished! You return to the old diet of heavy foods with a vengeance and wind up doing more damage that the good you did for a time. Before we come to Christ, there is a repulsively wicked spirit in our members. It dominates all we do, think, and say.
It is comfortable there in our hearts, but it cares for no good thing. You cannot evict that demon. No other man can evict that demon for you. It must be the Lord Jesus Christ who calls him out just as this text relates.
When that wicked spirit is gone out, he will surely return if the One who evicts him is not at home in your heart. Jesus must take the place of the demon. He took the place of the demon in your heart on the cross at Calvary, did He not? Righteousness replaces sin.
So Christ has answered the henchmen (Pharisees) of Satan in three distinct ways. This is the same approach we should take when confronted by the evil of error:
1) He argued from the rational and scripturally reasonable point of view. Why would Satan be divided against himself? God and Satan are at opposite ends of the pole. Reason from Scripture is our fortress against error.
2) He argued from the premise of Godly power. Who is greater, God or his creature, Satan?
3)Finally, Christ argued from the point of accomplished results. Is the heart safe in the hands of Christ?
Though not a part of our text today, the following two verses of the text have much bearing here: 29 And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. 30 For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. (Luke 11:29-30)
Do not we see men and women of otherwise sound sense running from tent to tent of the modern wonder-workers seeking after a miracle and sign? These fools are promised the wealth of the world if they will only send all of their wealth to the evangelist. But do we need a sign to believe? Has the sign not already been provided?
Like Jonah, Christ was in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. He arose from the heart of the earth for you and me. What more do we need to know? Are we not an evil and adulterous generation if there ever was one?
Please notice that it is never the God-fearing people who desire a sign, but those opposed to the Kingdom of God:
38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. 39 But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matt 12:38-40)