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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

Kingdom Divided

Luke 11:14 - 12:12

Jesus now begins one of those long arguments with the Pharisees. The last time we went through the argument with an eye to the question, “Who is this Jesus?” This time we shall go through it with an eye to the inner life.

(Luke 11:14-36 NIV) Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. {15} But some of them said, "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." {16} Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. {17} Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. {18} If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. {19} Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. {20} But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you. {21} "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. {22} But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils. {23} "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters. {24} "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' {25} When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. {26} Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first." {27} As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." {28} He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." {29} As the crowds increased, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. {30} For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. {31} The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. {32} The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. {33} "No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. {34} Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. {35} See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. {36} Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you."

The Kingdom Divided

Satan’s Kingdom

If you really want to understand a culture, look at its mythology. Our mythology, of the twentieth century, is found in the motion picture. Consider, for example, that enduring space western, Star Wars. The good guys come in several flavors, but the villain (wearing black, speaking in a base voice) comes in only one – evil. And what are the characteristics of this (pardon me, Mr. Reagan) evil empire?

·         It is based upon strength, upon the principle that might makes right. I am in charge because I have the power to be in charge. Strength is the ultimate virtue.

·         Authority and power need not go hand in hand, as they do in God’s kingdom. Note that Jesus’ hearers demand a sign. They know that with God power and authority come together. Moses was a powerful prophet, and therefore is to be listened to.

·         Since authority and power are disconnected, if I can gain the power, I can reform myself. I can become virtuous (in a Satanic sort of way) by my own efforts – because everything depends upon the power.

The futility of self-reformation

This last, of course, is the futility of the world’s (Satan’s) way. There is an easy (and all too common) example of this. I call it the “donut diet.” It is the idea that, just by refusing to eat donuts, I will lose weight. By my own power I will conquer my fat. Jesus makes it clear in this passage what will happen: eventually, this will fail, and fail so miserably that I will be worse off than before. Indeed, this is true; I become convinced that nothing I do will work.

This is the principle of spiritual vacuum. With all things regarding the will (and is not a diet a matter of the will?) it is not sufficient to drive out the demons. You must replace them with something else. The diet specialists will tell you the same thing. It is not sufficient to stop eating donuts. You must in fact alter your entire set of eating habits; you must replace something evil with something good (which, in this case, means something tasteless).

An example may be seen in criminals released from prison. There is one primary factor which determines whether or not a prisoner will return to crime. Does he get a job immediately upon release? If he does, the odds are quite good that he will never return to jail. Otherwise, the odds are quite good that he will return. Why? Because without a replacement life style – new habits of going to work each morning instead of taking drugs all night – the ex-criminal will soon relapse into his old habits – and a longer sentence.

Excuses, excuses

The Pharisees, of course, demand the sign. There are some interesting points in that demand:

·         First, just how much evidence do you need? It very much depends upon your pre-conceived notions. That’s why we use juries with no prejudice; we want a fair trial and the best way to get it is to have no pre-conceived notions.

·         Next, no matter your bias, if the evidence is overwhelming, you are responsible for the correct conclusion – no matter what your biases. Reality, created by God, portrays this. Just because I think I don’t need a parachute when jumping out of the airplane does not mean that the desert below agrees. If the evidence is there, you are guilty – whether or not you wish to acknowledge it.

·         Just because I have presented my excuses to God is not sufficient cause for him to cease to condemn me. The prosecutor tries me on the evidence and the law, not my opinions of what the evidence and the law should be.

The Searchlight principle

Jesus then presents the Pharisees with an argument which is difficult for us to understand, but would have been clear to them. To understand it, we need to know that their view of the eye was that of an active seeing instrument, not a passive receiver as we have it. The eye was thought to be a sort of searchlight. This is a Greek “scientific” concept of the time. So his argument could be paraphrased, “If your searchlight lens is cloudy, you’re in the dark all the time.” Let me rephrase the argument this way:

·         In every campsite there should be a tree. In that tree, at arm’s reach above the ground, there is usually a nail. Why? To hang your Coleman lantern on. Why there? Because that’s the spot at which the lantern will light up the whole campsite.

·         The “Coleman lantern” of your life is your eye – that is, your power of spiritual discernment, the ability to tell right from wrong.

·         If your “Coleman lantern” (your discernment) is lit, but kept in the box, it doesn’t do you any good. You stumble around in the dark.

The question, then, is this: how do we tell when this has happened?

Examples of the Darkness

(Luke 11:37-54 NIV) When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. {38} But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. {39} Then the Lord said to him, "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. {40} You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? {41} But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. {42} "Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. {43} "Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. {44} "Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it." {45} One of the experts in the law answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also." {46} Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. {47} "Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. {48} So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. {49} Because of this, God in his wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.' {50} Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, {51} from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. {52} "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering." {53} When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, {54} waiting to catch him in something he might say.

The Pharisees

The Pharisees do not get much good press here in the Scripture. With good reason; they have missed the point of the Law itself. Here are some symptoms which they had, and which we should watch for:

·         They concentrated on external things. The closest modern example I can give you is the baby kissing politician. It makes for good photo opportunities, but there is no real internal substance to it. This has two other issues with it:

·         First, they had no real charity. They gave money, but always to the “correct” causes (and we’ll see why later). Real charity, help for the poor and unfortunate, was far from their minds.

·         This does not mean that we can neglect the external observances. There is a temptation to say, “what you do doesn’t matter, as long as you have true faith.” What you do does matter – it is a reflection of your faith.

·         They loved the admiration of others. It is not wrong to be a role model. It is wrong to pattern your life in such a way that others feel obliged to praise you. It is not the praise, but the love of the praise of which Christ is speaking. This makes this particular symptom very hard to see in others. If the minister comes to dinner I may indeed offer him the best seat. Only he knows if he’s in the ministry because he loves that.

·         They were full of hidden unrighteousness. What they did in secret was not what they did in public.

The Lawyers

The lawyers (the phrase refers to those expert in the Jewish religious law, which was also the civil law of the land) also give us some tests of darkness.

·         They laid burdens on others. They made the religious law so complicated that others found it difficult to keep. Because they were the keepers of the law, they knew the loopholes. So it was that they put these burdens on others, did nothing to help them carry these burdens – and refused to carry them themselves.

In our terms today, this would be the censorious person who insists that (by way of humorous example) that everyone must wear a tie to church – she’s quite sure of it.

·         They make yesterday’s wrongs today’s right. This is what is meant by “the tombs of the prophets.” These are those who insist that hymns must be sung from the hymnbook, rather than praise songs on the screen (or, for that matter, vice versa).

·         They take away knowledge from others. By adding complexity and rules to what God has said, they make the faith something which cannot be understood by the ordinary man. The average man goes away thinking that Christianity is beyond him – his only hope is to do what he is told. The fruits of this are well known.

Christ now warns his disciples against such things – and deals with their excuses.

Warning!

(Luke 12:1-12 NIV) Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. {2} There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. {3} What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. {4} "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. {5} But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. {6} Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies ? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. {7} Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. {8} "I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. {9} But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. {10} And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. {11} "When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, {12} for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say."

It might be argued, by the Pharisees and Lawyers, “so what?” Christ is not content to have them die in their sins. A stern warning is their only hope, and warn them he does. Why then, should they care?

Because all will be revealed

From the earliest days of the church, dating from the teaching of our Lord Himself, it has been clear: Jesus is coming again. When he does, judgment will come, and the judgment will be based upon the evidence of our lives. What can you hide from God?

“But I’m afraid”

Isn’t that the case with most of us? We’re afraid – afraid of what people will think, afraid of what the authorities will do, afraid of “what might happen.” Jesus tells us not to be afraid, and gives us three reasons:

·         Fear God, Dread Naught. Just, precisely, what is it that we are afraid of? Does it make sense to be afraid of someone who can kill you – if the alternative is not being afraid of the one who can send you to hell for eternity?

A little humor here. During the Civil War a soldier was discovered by his company commander in the act of running away from the fierceness of the battle. The captain pulled his revolver out and threatened to shoot the soldier if he did not return to the battle. “Shoot and be *****,” replied the soldier, “what’s one bullet to a whole hatful?”

·         God cares for you. There is an interesting comparison here. In Luke’s account, on this occasion, it’s five sparrows for two pennies. In Matthew’s account, on a different occasion, it’s two sparrows for one penny. If you buy four, the fifth one is free, evidently. Now that tells us how little a sparrow is worth. And if God cares for the sparrow, how much more will He care for us?

·         Don’t worry about what to say. Most of us are afraid of public speaking anyway; it is often the greatest of terrors. Remember who your script writer is.

Principle of Confession

Christianity is a public practice. It is also one which has continuously been fraught with danger – physical or social – for those who practice it. The world does not like the Christian. I suspect that God so constructed things so that we would be obliged to make a choice. We cannot sit on the fence on this one. We have to decide.

Christ takes it a step further. When we decide, we have to announce it. No specifics are given; the manner will depend upon time, place and us. But announce it we must, for we are either for Him or against Him. There is no middle ground.

The Unforgivable Sin

One of the enduring puzzles of Christ’s words is the “unforgivable sin.” It is easily enough understood, however, if you take redemption as a process, beginning with the Holy Spirit:

·         What is the purpose of the Holy Spirit? It is to convict the world of sin.[1]

·         What is the first step in redemption or reconciliation, either one? It is to acknowledge that you have sinned, that you are a sinner.

·         If you will not take the first step, you are saying to the Holy Spirit, “No, you are wrong. I am not a sinner, I am righteous, in and of myself.” You are calling the Holy Spirit a liar.

·         To accuse God (= the Holy Spirit) of lying is to deny who He is; it is blasphemy, and in particular blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

·         And – get this carefully – if you do that, there is no way that you can be forgiven, for you will not ask for forgiveness. He is always willing; you are only unforgivable because you choose to be.

The choice is clear: God’s way, or Satan’s. Choose well; you will live with the choice for eternity.


[1] John 16:8

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