“One Greater is Here”
September 8, 2019
We have great confidence in the greatness of Jesus.
I. He overcomes great evil (Luke 11:14-22)
II. He offers great purpose (Luke 11:23-28)
III. He provides great assurance (Luke 11:29-32)
I’ve invited Dan Wales to come and open this message with a story from the trip he and his family took this summer to Chicago. Dan? “In July, on a trip to visit relatives near Chicago, my family visited the Pacific Garden Mission, an old rescue mission founded in 1877. It was amazing…the mission today provides shelter to hundreds of individuals daily, along with serving over 1000 hot meals each day, and it always shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ.We toured the mission and watched a live radio drama telling the true story of a man whose life had been transformed by Christ. And we met that man, Otis McClam, a former drug addict whose adultery and abusive ways had torn his family apart. Now he is restored and lives clean; he lives for Jesus.
Our tour guide , Gerald Casey, was also a transformed man. He had been a shoplifter and robber supporting his drug and alcohol habits. He says he considered himself an upper class street person, because he had staked out claims to dumpsters behind some ritzy resturants where he found good food in the trash. But Gerald’s circumstances worsened, and this upper crust bum ended up at the Pacific Garden Mission, where he trusted in Jesus Christ and was radically changed. He soon enrolled in the mission’s supervision, instruction, and mentoring program. He went from homeless to renting a small apartment to owning a 6 bedroom home. He went from unemployed (and unemployable) to working diligently and truly considering himself a servant…of Jesus Christ. These men were formerly enslaved to their sin, now unshackled…by Jesus Christ, who came to set the captives free.”
I think that story illustrates the power of God to rescue and save from even the most desperate situations in people’s lives. Now we know, from Scripture and from experience that Jesus doesn’t always work that way, but we also know that he can. Our text this morning, Luke 11:14-32 shows that we can have great confidence in the greatness of Jesus, because he is greater than any power, whether the power of evil, even demonic forces, or the even the greatness God had shown at any time prior to the advent of Jesus. And this is a truth we need to hear, because it is so easy for us to fear and falter and doubt. We go through this world, day in and day out, and we see the power of evil all around us. We see the mass shootings, the terrorism. We see the impact of addictions and drugs. We remember every day the tragedy of thousands of abortions. We see evil being passed off as good in movies, TV, the internet, and even the law courts. It’s easy to become discouraged, to fear that maybe evil is more powerful than good, that maybe God has given up on us.
Jesus addresses the power of good versus evil in the first part of our text. Luke 11:14-22 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.
Jesus does the kind of miracle that we are used to seeing. He casts out a demon who has held a man mute, and when the demon leaves, the man speaks. Some of the people there, rightly, marveled at the power of God, but some of them, out of self-interest, cynicism, fear of change or their own personal experiences and disappointments, doubt. They look for any other explanation besides the power of God and are desperate enough to blame this good deed on the power of the evil one. “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.”
Beelzebul, or Beelzubub, is an interesting name. It’s found in 2nd Kings 1: “Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.” 3But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?” So Baal-Zebub was the pagan idol worshipped at Ekron The idol's name means "the Lord of the Flies," But that may have been a mocking variation used by the Israelites for the original name Baal-Zebul, which means the lord of the high places. That’s why this New Testament text says Beelzebul instead of Beelzebub.
Clearly the Israelites had recognized in these local idols, the power of the prince of demons, but they were confident enough of God to then mock it. The baals, the false gods of the Old Testament, the idols and the demons, the servants of Satan, were one and the same. The Old Testament itself makes this parallel, and the Apostle Paul says “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God.”
Satan and his minions worked through idols for a good bit of Jewish history, but, as I noted earlier this year, when he could no longer tempt Israel to worship false gods, he switched his most obvious strategy to demonic oppression, which we see a lot in the Gospels. By the end of the New Testament his primary strategy became luring people into indulgence of the sinful nature, a strategy which is still in preeminent today. So while idolatry and more overt demonic activity and oppression still continue we need to be aware that the main strategy of the prince of demons in our day and culture is to tempt to moral and ethical evil through the selfishness and indulgence of the sinful nature. Idols, demons and the sinful nature are all evils that Jesus opposes.
But these people said that Jesus was defeating evil, because he was himself a more powerful evil, making use of a greater evil power to defeat even demons. So Jesus says “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” If Jesus was Beelzebub, or working the power of Beelzebub he would be fighting his own forces. He would be leading a civil war among the demons. As we’ve seen over and over even in our own lifetimes, a nation involved in a civil war is always devastated. Whether in Syria or Yemen or Sudan, when brother fights against brother and household against household the whole nation falls into anarchy and chaos. Jesus applies this timeless truth to the situation at hand. A kingdom divided against itself will be ruined.
In addition, he says “if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” There were, at the time, Jewish exorcists who attempted by prayer and ritual to foil demon possession. But if Jesus was acting on Satan’s behalf, what about them? Finally, he says “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Now that’s a great phrase, and just as true today as it was then. Because of the greatness of Jesus, working God’s work in a fallen world, the kingdom of his reign has stepped into human history, and Satan and his demons are defeated. Remember, Scripture says that Satan is the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air. But in Jesus God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son. Through his resurrection power he has made us part of that kingdom.
Jesus illustrates this with the brief parable about the strong man “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” Satan, Beelzebub, is the strong man, and prince of this world. But Jesus is stronger, greater. He overpowers the strong man. All that Satan thought was his is now subject to Jesus.
The lesson for us is that Jesus' strength overcomes every evil. Yes there is a strong enemy. He is the prince of this world, and his demons do incredible damage, tempting people to all kinds of sin. We might want to despair, tempted to think he has won. But Jesus is the stronger, the victor. Jesus has already won, in his death and resurrection. In fact in a sense, you and I are the victory over Satan. What Satan wants most is to keep people from believing on Jesus. Whenever Jesus gives the gift of faith, he snatches another person out of Satan's hands. You are evidence that Jesus has won. You and I were the object of a struggle, Satan struggling to hold on to us like a child trying to hold on to a forbidden toy. But Jesus took us away from Satan, like a parent taking a toy from a child. Not because of any strength we had, but because of the strength he had. Jesus is stronger, always the victor over evil. We can have confidence his greatness.
Not only that, but Jesus offers us great purpose. Verses 23 to 28 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.’ 25And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. The last state of that person is worse than the first.” 27As 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!” 28But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
When we fall into doubt, one of the first things to go is our sense of purpose. Is there really anything worthwhile we can do? What are we here for? Here Jesus implies that your purpose, your fulfillment, is in serving him. We have great confidence in the greatness of Jesus because he offers great purpose for our lives. Verse 23: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” There is no neutral territory. You can't be kinda with and kinda against Jesus. Jesus is out in the harvest field, and those who are faithful to him are out also gathering in the harvest. But there are other people in the field too. Some of them are actively messing up the harvest, knocking off the ripe heads of grain and trampling them into the ground. Others are just kind of milling around, not gathering, but getting in the way of those who gather, and knocking the wheat off the stalks as they stumble through the field. Those who are not gathering with Jesus are effectively scattering the harvest.
It’s a serious question to ask myself. “Am I with him, or in my half-heartedness and indifference, am I really against him?” Because, Jesus says, if I’m not actively filled with Jesus, I will eventually be refilled with evil. He says that when you drive the evil out, the life is empty, like a clean swept room.
But the evil one is going to come back and see if anything good is filling that space. If not, your life will deteriorate even more, and more demons will come and dwell in that house, and the end will be worse than the beginning. If you are not devoted to Jesus, your life will become more and more filled with evil.
I think this teaching is true both literally and, by application, for believers. There are times we may have confronted demonic oppression or possession. We’ve seen Jesus answer our prayers, oppression vanquished by his power, the person we were struggling over, freed. This is real. But if that person never went on to receive Jesus by faith and be filled with the Holy Spirit, then he or she could easily end up in a worse situation. I can’t give details, but I’ve been made very aware of that by a recent interaction with someone our family ministered to many years ago who did not and has not stayed free from this kind of evil.
So I believe the parable can be quite literal. But it’s also important to emphasize the application to believers. We may not be possessed from without by evil or demons, but we often ignore the Holy Spirit within us and indulge the desires of our sinful nature. If we’re not filled by the Spirit, evil can take hold and even seem to enslave us, and it’s miserable. But God’s grace offers us what I call the expulsive power of a new affection. We can instead be so consumed and filled by Jesus that evil does not have a place to get any new footholds in our lives, and even loses the places it had. We can experience substantial transformation in our attitudes, behavior and even our character.
That's the point of this final interaction, with the woman in the crowd. She says “blessed is the mother who gave you birth, and nursed you.” And Jesus says don't focus on that. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” It’s this hearing and obeying the Word of God that fills up a life. Don’t miss that. We talk about the Word all the time here at Trinity, and we encourage you to engage with it personally, with heart and mind. But I believe we get that emphasis straight from Jesus. It is those who take the time to hear the word of God, to study and learn it and to obey it, who are blessed.
It’s not enough just to get rid of evil. It needs to be replaced with obedience. We talked for eight weeks this summer about stewardship, how we are not our own, we were bought with the price of Christ’s sacrifice, and therefore we are to honor God with our bodies, our lives. Everything we have is God’s gift – our time, our energy, our money, and our attention or focus. To the extent that we live that reality by making God’s priorities and commands our priorities, then we find true fulfillment. To be focused on gathering with him, serving the kingdom, rather than being unfocused and scattering, is what makes life worthwhile. Jesus offers us great purpose in life, lived in commitment to him.
And finally, in the last episode from verses 29 to 32, we see that Jesus' himself is the assurance that these things are true. We have great confidence in the greatness of Jesus because Jesus provides us with great assurance. Verse 29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Remember that back in verses 15 and 16 some people accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebul, while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. Jesus responded to the accusers in verses 17-22 and he responds to the second group of people here, those who demanded a sign from heaven. This is far from the only place where the people demand a sign. In each case there’s already been some miracle that should have been sufficient to convince them that Jesus was doing the work and bringing the words of God, but they were hard-hearted and kept demanding something more. Unfortunately, this is pretty-common, even today. Jesus said “blessing comes when you hear my word and obey it,” but many people respond “no we need something more.”
Some commentators see this demand as a desire for a military sign, some kind of a miraculous victory over the Romans, proof that this man was the Messiah they expected. Jesus responds that the demand is wicked, and no sign will be given, unless you count the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man was a sign to that generation. Now in what ways was this true? One way is simply their presence. The fact that Jonah was there, preaching judgement and repentance, was a message about God's concern for that foreign country. The fact that Jesus was here, preaching the good news was a message from God to his generation. God loved them enough to send his Son to them. What greater assurance of his love could there be?
Second, was their message of judgment and mercy. The people of Jonah’s day, and Jonah himself, were quick to focus on the coming judgment of God rather than the promised mercy of God. But in Jonah, the God of mercy became real for the Ninevites. They received mercy rather than judgment. In Jesus God's message of mercy became real for all people. Jesus came in mercy to save rather than in judgment to condemn.
Finally, third, their lives given back to them was the greatest sign of all. The life of Jonah was given back to him, after three days in the fish, so that he was a visible reminder of the mercy of God, a sign to the repentant. In fact, even if Jonah hadn't said anything he would have been a visible reminder. We suspect that someone who survived in the belly of a fish, or possibly the belly of a whale, would come out incredibly bleached and splotched by the acids. The very appearance of Jonah was a message of God's judgment and mercy. Jesus implies here and says in Matthew, that he will be that kind of sign also. He has already predicted his death and resurrection. His life will be given back to him after three days, as Jonah’s was, and with the scars. He himself is the assurance, the confirmation, of all that he said about God’s mercy.
But in the end, it is simply the greatness of who he is that is the sign: The Messiah, the Savior, the Word of God Incarnate has come among you and you must be convinced by that sign. The queen of the south, often called the queen of Sheba, came to listen to Solomon's wisdom was herself wise because she saw the hand of God on Solomon. But now, Jesus says, someone even greater than Solomon is here. How are you going to respond? The Men of Ninevah were convinced by the preaching of lowly Jonah but will you be convinced when someone far greater than Jonah asks you to repent and believe? The English Standard Version says something greater than Solomon, something greater than Jonah is here. That something is the proclamation of the kingdom, which is greater than the wisdom of Solomon, greater even than the preaching of Jonah. But other translations, starting with the King James, have pointed these two statements directly at Jesus, that someone greater than Solomon is here, someone greater than Jonah is here. That someone is Jesus.
We have great confidence in the greatness of Jesus, because he overcomes great evil. because he offers us great purpose. and because he provides us with great assurance. But you will say to me: wait a second, it was easy for them, they had Jesus right there, could see his greatness. True. But we have something they didn't have, the testimony of his death and his resurrection to give great confidence in him, to encourage us to trust in him. He was not exaggerating the greatness of who he is. If anything he was understating it. This great Jesus was God the Son born as a human, born as a man, so that as a man he might die for our sins, and bring us back to God. Was Jesus Christ a sign? Yes, a miraculous sign. The miracle he performed was not so much healing people and casting out spirits, it was the miracle of giving himself. A sinless man with no reason to die gave himself in our place, and allowed himself to bear the wrath of God for our sins. That's the miracle that Jesus was, and is. That's the sign that he was and is. That's the assurance that he gave, and gives.
So we can, and I hope we do, have great confidence in Jesus because Jesus is greater. He is greater than any power of the enemy, any circumstance that daunts us. His purpose is greater than any purpose we can conjure up for our own empty lives, and he will fill us. And the assurance he gives is greater than any miracle we can imagine, because it is founded in his death and resurrection for us.
The stories Dan told at the beginning are real life evidence of this. The men who end up at Pacific Garden Mission are often deeply embedded in addiction, broken by poverty and homelessness, estranged from all relationships and suffering from mental illness. And yet time after time, for as long as I’ve been a believer and longer, Unshackled has been telling the stories of their radical salvations and rescues. These are real people who have moved from oppression to freedom, from fullness of evil to fullness of the Spirit, from doubt and death to assurance and life in the arms of the Savior who died for them.
This is the greatness of Jesus, and we, you and I, in this place in this hour can have the same confidence in this greatness, no matter what. We’re going to pray about some of those no matter what’s in a few minutes, but for now let me prayer and we’ll sing a song of transition.