Signs and Blessings
Bible Text: Luke 11:14 – 28 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Luke – A Careful History | Luke 11:14 – 28
Signs & Blessings
Christianity is about responding appropriately to Jesus
If you’ve been around with us in recent weeks you’ll know that on Wednesday evenings at the moment we’re running Simply Christianity, which is an introduction to the Christian faith that runs over 5 sessions.
If you’ve missed it, but you think you’d like to be part of it, use that Communication Card and let us know, and we’ll gather some others, and start a new group sometime soon.
We’re running the same course here at Cornerstone at lunch times as well, and we’re averaging over 50 kids each week, coming along to that, which is terrific, but our smaller group on Wednesday nights is also really exciting, as the group of us, including some from here, and some friends who have been brought along, together we’re wrestling with the question of “who is Jesus?”
In fact as a starting point, Simply Christianity proposes a definition of Christianity, that’s slightly different from the kind of definition we might at first come up with.
We say in the course that Christianity can be defined as “responding appropriately to Jesus Christ.”
To wrestle with the question of what the Christian faith really is, we might need to put some of our previous ideas or assumptions on hold, like, maybe for example, that the Christian faith is a set of rules to follow,
Or a list of do’s and don’ts,
A philosophical framework.
At it’s most basic, Christianity is about responding appropriately to Jesus Christ.
And this part of Luke’s gospel account that we’re looking at this morning, is a challenge to do exactly the same thing.
We’re presented with Jesus,
We see him in action,
We’re told the response to him that some around him make,
And then we hear from Jesus himself, the explanation for who he is and what he’s doing
Which all then, puts the ball back in our court,
How will we respond to Jesus?”
What is an appropriate response to this man, and to the authority and power that he clearly has.
It becomes clear, doesn’t it, that there are a few responses to Jesus, that Jesus himself thinks are in-adequate
Which means it matters how we respond,
There are consequences, implications, for the shape of our response to Jesus.
How do you explain Jesus’ power? (v 14 – 23)
The first half of this section, raises the question for us, how do you explain what Jesus does?
Luke tells us in verse 14 that Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. Driving out demons, coming up against the real forces of evil, and defeating them, is something that the authors of the gospel accounts record Jesus doing a number of times.
And while it’s unusual to us, we tend not to see this kind of thing very often, as we’ve said before, if Jesus is bringing in the Kingdom of God, to use his language here,
If he’s introducing the rule of God, in a completely new and different way, it’s entirely understandable I think, that he would come face to face, repeatedly, with the forces of evil whose overthrow he is about to achieve.
Of course they’re going to come out of the woodwork. This is their last hurrah.
And so there are lots of records of Jesus encountering evil spiritual forces like this, and so those who are opposed to Jesus, interestingly, don’t try and deny the fact that this is happening, they know that would be utterly pointless, because everyone knows it’s happening.
Even people who didn’t like Jesus, who wrote about him at the time, they acknowledge in their writings, that Jesus really did have power over evil as he demonstrates here, but they try and explain it away.
They can’t deny the event, but they find some other reason for it.
So maybe if someone was opposed to the change of government last weekend. There’s no point saying, “It didn’t happen” is there? Because we all know it happened,
It’s on the front page of the paper and all that.
If you were upset by that, you can’t say it didn’t happen, but you might try and explain it away, or give a reason for it;
The vote was rigged,
Or the system’s flawed, or whatever you can come up with.
Does Jesus work by Satan’s power? (v 15 – 18)
Exactly the same thing here.
No doubt that Jesus has power over evil. No one can deny that.
So they explain these great works away by saying he’s doing it through the power of Satan. “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.”
Incidentally, you might remember a couple of weeks ago I talked about one of my favourite words in the Greek language of the New Testament. God sending out Christian people into his mission field to share the good news of Jesus. And I said it’s not quite God drop kicking workers out into the harvest field, but it’s not far off.
Well, guess what, it’s here again! It’s the word for Jesus driving out demons. It gives us something more of the sense of how God wants to move us out into mission, doesn’t it?!
Anyway, Beelzebul, or Beelzebub as some of the older translations used to say, is a name of one of the foreign gods that the Jewish people of Jesus day had adopted as a way of picturing a prince of demons, sometimes Satan himself, which is how Jesus understands it here.
Now, I don’t know much thought you give to Satan. A real, personal force for evil seeking to undo the good in God’s world, it can seem a little pre-scientific and anachronistic, can’t.
Satan is the sort of character that if you mentioned that you believed in his existence, you might get some strange side-ways glances from those in your workplace or family.
But back in 1991 at the start of the atrocities in the Balkans, Bernard Levin, who was a journalist at the Times newspaper observed, “We don’t believe in the devil. But the trouble is that the devil does believe in us.”
We see his influence everywhere.
And the opponents of Jesus, say that his work comes through Satan’s power. And Others tested him verse 16. It’s not a simple misunderstanding. They want to catch Jesus out.
They know that what’s happening can only be a supernatural work. There’s no normal, human, naturalistic explanation for what’s just happened.
But they arrive at the wrong conclusion.
Jesus thinks the people asking for a sign, wanting him to prove his spiritual credentials, they already have enough information to make a decision. He comes back to talking about a sign in the next section, but he says there’s already enough information to realise that Jesus acts through the power of God.
See, Jesus says he can’t be acting through the power of Satan, because he’s acting against Satan.
Verse 17, “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 Beelzebul.
Actually, if his opponents are watching, there’s their sign, isn’t it? “Show us your credentials Jesus,
Show us you really are from God.”
17 Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them
There’s your sign for who Jesus is!
He knows what’s in someone’s heart!
Casting out demons is supernatural work, yes,
But if Jesus is casting our demons by the power of Satan, then Satan is using is power against himself.
And if Satan is using his power against himself, then that’s going to spell the end for Satan.
This was exactly the reason that Greens leader Richard di Natale gave for the Greens failing in the Batman by-election last weekend. Infighting, brought the whole thing down.
Look at Syria. Civil war has led to utter devastation.
The United Nations is now releasing blank reports on the situation in Syria, because they say, “we have no words to describe the utter horror of what’s unfolding.”
It had in fact been an actual experience of Israel’s history. The kingdom had divided against itself and eventually it came to ruin;, destroyed by the Assyrians, conquered by the Romans.
It is entirely logical, and hard to disagree with.
a house divided against itself will fall
If Jesus acts with Satan’s power,
And Jesus casts out demons,
Then Satan is destroying his own work,
And it’s not going to be too long until there’s nothing at all left.
But there is still something left.
That can’t be argued with.
The people see the forces of evil, and the realities of evil around them all the time!
Satan’s kingdom is still standing. That’s a given. There is still evil,
There is sickness,
There is suffering,
Satan’s kingdom hasn’t yet come to ruin, he’s still having an effect.
Jesus’ opponents can’t argue with that,
So logically, Jesus can’t be acting through the power of Satan.
If there is still evil in the world, then Jesus can’t be evil.
Satan would be destroying himself.
I’ve spoken a few times about Christopher Hitchens’ book, God is Not Great, How Religions Spoils Everything, which, although touching on other religions, seems to have Christianity as its particular target.
But based on this evidence, it’s an impossible case to make, isn’t it?
Jesus is opposed to evil, so Jesus can’t possibly be evil, without the forces of evil imploding in on themselves.
But also Jesus isn’t the only one casting out demons.
The followers of the Jewish religious leaders, who seem to be in the background here, they also drive out demons.
They call on God to act, to work for the good of his people, and so if you automatically attribute Jesus’ work to the power of Satan, then you’re going to have to do the same for these others as well, these ones who are in your camp, Jesus says.
The point is, it’s entirely illogical, and inconsistent, to attribute Jesus’ powerful works, to evil spiritual forces.
Does Jesus work by God’s power? (v 19 – 20)?
So how does he do it?
Well, Jesus gives the explanation, doesn’t he?
Jesus acts with God’s power.
20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Just so you know, God doesn’t actually have, fingers. But this is a way of describing God’s activity. And we hear this language a few times in the Old Testament. Perhaps the occasion that would most come to people’s minds as they hear Jesus speak this, is back in Exodus 8, when God sends plagues on Egypt, to punish Pharaoh and his hard-heartedness, and Pharaoh’s magicians look at what is going on in their land, and they recognise that it’s well and truly beyond their capabilities,
This is no ordinary supernatural event, if there’s such a thing. No, they say, “This is the finger of God”
The explanation that makes sense of the evidence, is that Jesus has been sent by God,
He’s been sent by God to destroy the work of the devil.
What’s the evidence that the Kingdom of God has come?
And if that’s the source of Jesus’ power, then there’s a much broader implication.
if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Now there were others, as I say, who did battle with evil;, the followers of the Jewish religious leaders, for example.
But the demonstration of Jesus’ power, demonstrates something new and different.
For one thing, he had a one hundred percent success rate.
Jesus simply had to turn up, and the evil spirits were quaking in their boots.
Jesus would heal with a single word.
While there were aspects of Jesus’ ministry that were recognisable as the work of a Jewish religious teacher, he was in a league all of his own,
He was different to the rest of them,
What he achieved, no one else could.
And so Jesus says, the work of God that’s now taking place before your eyes, is evidence of something great.
If the finger of God is now at work, like in that great act of the Exodus, the greatest rescue ever, to this point,
If the finger of God is fighting against evil once more, then the next great rescue is here,
The next great leap forward in God’s plan has arrived,
the kingdom of God has come upon you.
800 years or so earlier, the prophet Isaiah spoke God’s promises to his people, and one of the great things that the people had to look forward to, one of the signs that God’s kingdom was coming, would be that people who were mute would speak. Isaiah 35 verse 6 speaks of the mute tongue shouting for joy. And that same promise is repeated numbers of times.
Someone who can’t speak, it’s not that they’re less of a person or anything like that, but their experience of humanity is broken. All of us, our experience of humanity is broken, but this one, it’s a more obvious, maybe, confronting sign of our brokenness, that things aren’t as God wants them to be.
And so people who can’t speak, being given the ability to speak, would be an obvious reversal of that,
And so this would be a sign, that God’s rescue and restoration plan was reaching the climactic stage. When you saw people being able to speak for the first time ever, that was the sign,
God was at work,
God’s kingdom was being established.
I wondered what a similar sign might be for us,
Something that we see, and automatically know what’s arrived.
I thought maybe, hot cross buns going on sale in the supermarket, that’s a sign that Easter’s nearly here. But it’s not is it?! It’s a sign that it’s boxing day!
But actually, election posters, which are all supposed to be down by now,
If you were driving through Mount Barker one day, and you saw big posters of Dan Cregan’s face everywhere,
Even if you’d been living under a rock and you didn’t know anything else that was going on in the world,
You see the posters, and you know it’s a sign. The writs have been issued, we’re having an election.
That’s the kind of sign that the mute speaking was supposed to be.
An immediate and obvious announcement, of what the time is.
The miracles of Jesus are not party tricks, but an announcement of what’s happening.
the kingdom of God has come upon you.
God’s rule is being established in a new way.
God’s king, is calling people into his kingdom.
How did this section begin? What’s the opening action?
the man who had been mute spoke
So to say that Jesus is working by the power of Satan, is not just a logical fallacy,
It’s to reject the sign that God gives for the arrival of his kingdom.
Oh, and what did these people want? They wanted a sign.
But they’re not even listening to what God’s said in the past, let along what he’s doing in their day.
What a tragedy,
To have the word of God,
To have read it,
To have heard it read and explained, these people would have gathered in synagogue every week,
They’re familiar with God’s word,
But they don’t hear what God wants to say them.
And because they refuse to hear what God says, they actually find themselves opposing God.
Little wonder that Jesus says down in verse 23, Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
The people are so deaf to what God has promised them in their Scriptures, and so determined to find some other explanation for Jesus’ work, that they attribute his work to Satan,
They set Jesus up as their enemy.
Now, there’ll be some here, I’m sure, who aren’t entirely sure what you think about Jesus,
What to make of his miracles,
They are out of the ordinary, that’s the whole point.
But don’t make this mistake, and in trying to find some explanation, actually set yourself up on opposing sides to Jesus.
Jesus defeats Satan (v 21 – 22)
So Jesus paints a hypothetical picture to help his listeners, and us, understand the significance of his power over the evil spirits.
Satan is real, and strong, and people are under his control. But he can be defeated.
“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 his plunder.
Sometimes Christians have trouble with this image, because they want to imagine Jesus as the goodie, the homeowner, and Satan as the attacker. But it’s actually the other way around.
Jesus pictures Satan as a strong man, armed, and on guard. The possessions in the illustration are people.
Satan is strong
Satan holds people under his control.
But Jesus says he’s stronger than Satan. And the evidence, is his defeat of evil, as we see in this chapter.
When Jesus heals,
And casts out demons,
And defeats evil,
And rolls back the effects of sin in our world,
He is attacking and overpowering Satan.
And in the little hypothetical, the picture of defeat is total, even the strong man’s armour is taken away!
Which says to us that Jesus’ defeat of Satan is total, and complete.
Christians sometimes talk about the battle between Jesus and Satan, like some boxing fight between 2 very evenly matched opponents.
There was once a boxing match that went for110 rounds over 7 hours and 19 minutes. Neither of the 2 men could get the upper hand, so eventually the referee stopped the fight, and it was all for nothing!
But the battle between Jesus and Satan is not like that,
It’s nothing like that.
It’s not that it could go either way,
Or that it’s too close to call!
Satan is overpowered and defeated, like a soldier completely overrun and stripped of his armour.
Yes, Satan is strong.
Yes, Satan holds people firmly in his grip.
But that grip is broken, his hand is prized open, when the Kingdom of God is established.
The kingdom of God means the overthrow of evil.
Some of you have heard me before, lamenting a conversation I was a part of, with some church leaders from our region, who were talking about going round cleaning people’s windows.
Now, that’s a nice thing to do. If you want to go round and clean someone’s windows for them, that’s great! You go and do that.
But this group of leaders concluded, in the words of one of them, “washing windows is a good thing to do, because this is why Jesus came into the world.”
No. That’s not right!
Jesus came into the world, to defeat Satan.
The kingdom of God doesn’t just mean people should do nice things for others,
The kingdom of God means the defeat of evil.
It’s one of the reasons that the gospel of Jesus is called the “good news”, I mean there are lots of reasons! But Satan is defeated.
Jesus triumphs over him.
And the works of Satan, the effects of evil in our world, we see them now absolutely, we know that Satan is powerful now, but one day they will all be done away with.
What we see here in Luke, with the defeat of evil, and the healings,
What we experience in our lives, in being brought from being Satan’s possession, to serving Jesus, it’s a taste of the kingdom.
The Kingdom of God isn’t yet established in all its fullness.
We still wait for that.
We still wait for all the ramifications of the defeat of Satan on the cross, and the establishment of the Kingdom of King Jesus,
But Satan is defeated.
And so when we see what the coming of the Kingdom of God means,
When we understand what Jesus’ miracles reveal about him,
And who he is,
And that he works with God’s power,
Verse 23 makes perfect sense.
If you’re not on the side of Jesus, you’re on the side against Jesus.
There’s no neutrality.
You either want Jesus to break down and destroy evil, or you don’t, in which case, you want evil to continue!
You can’t have a foot in both camps.
Each one of us, every person we know, has to reach a conclusion for themselves;
Where does Jesus authority come from?
Has he been sent into the world to push back evil, to defeat Satan?
Or does he act on Satan’s behalf?
How do we respond appropriately, to this Jesus?
If we say “I’m not going to listen to Jesus”, we’re saying “I’m not going to listen to God.”
How not to respond to Jesus (v 24 – 26)
And so Jesus gives an example, of how not to respond. This story is about an impure spirit coming out of a person, wandering, restless, and then returning. 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 person is worse than the first.”
This isn’t trying to be a step by step description of what happens when Jesus casts a demon out of someone. The fact that Jesus describes a person as a house swept clean and put in order, kind of gives that away, doesn’t it?
Jesus wants us to get a sense of how awful it is, to experience something of God’s work, but not follow it up.
You can respond to Jesus,
You can think, “this is great”,
“he has some interesting things to say”,
You can benefit from what Jesus says and does, you can be made ready for Jesus, like a house swept clean and put in order, and yet not respond to God’s work through Jesus in faith.
If someone sees God at work, experiences God’s power, but doesn’t respond in obedient faith, they’re at risk of being filled with, whatever evil force comes along.
We see it at a broad level in our society, we reject the rule of Jesus, so we’re empty, and evil and depravity floods in to fill the gap.
The focus here is more on the individual, though.
And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.
Having experienced something of God’s kingdom, we think we’ve got it all, but in fact without responding to Jesus appropriately, in obedience and faith,
We’re like someone who’s freed from one evil spirit, only to be tormented by 7 others also.
This seems to be exactly the situation of these religious leaders in Jesus’ day.
Israel has, seen Jesus at work.
They’ve tasted the great works of God.
The religious leaders have heard the announcement of the arrival of the Kingdom,
Jesus has taught them,
God has been at work!
Satan’s being defeated.
But they haven’t followed up that work of God with a response of repentance and faith,
And actually, even as Jesus is saying these things, the religious leaders are plotting to kill him!
What an awful predicament to be in.
We must respond to Jesus appropriately!
It’s not enough to be in the vicinity of where God’s at work.
It’s not even enough to enjoy some of the benefits of the kingdom, and the community of Jesus’ followers.
We must respond with our entire self, for God to enter in to us, and fill us and inhabit us,
Or we’re back where we started,
How to respond to Jesus (v27 – 28)
And so Jesus gives us the flipside.
What is it to respond rightly to Jesus?
What are we calling on people to do when they come to Simply Christianity, or when we share the good news of the kingdom with our friends?
Numbers of us, in these very next few days, are going to be having conversations with friends and family, in which we’re going to invite them here for Easter, in the hope that,
Well, in the hope that, what?!
In the hope that, under God, they’ll respond to Jesus appropriately.
And here’s what it looks like. See it right at the end there, 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.”
Pretty gutsy call on this woman’s part. Women were pretty much expected to be seen and not heard, but she calls out how great it must be to have a son like Jesus.
This kind of thing happens to my mum all the time!
No, no, just kidding!
Blessed is a bit religiousy sounding, but it just means happy, fortunate, to be envied.
And Jesus doesn’t rebuke the woman, actually the New Testament also calls Mary blessed, but Jesus speaks of something that will put you in an even better position than Mary,
And it’s something available to all of us, not just limited to Jesus’ mum.
Jesus draws our attention, to our response to him.
It’s better to hear the word of God and obey it, than to be biologically related to Jesus.
In GiG, our Friday night youth group, when someone is new or visiting, and we want to get to know them a bit, we play a game we call “would you rather?”
It’s a little gross, but we ask questions like, would you rather, starve, or be a cannibal?
Would you rather smell like fish, or smell nothing but fish?
Would you rather not be able to speak, or only be able to yell?
I know it sounds terrible, but it’s all about adolescent psychology!
Would you rather, be part of Jesus’ immediate family, or obey the Bible?
Would you rather have grown up with him, seen him face to face, sat around the dining table with him, played cricket in the back yard with Jesus, or do what he says, including the hard bits?
Would you rather?
It seems like an easy choice doesn’t it?
We’d think it’s better to have grown up with Jesus,
To have seen Jesus face to face,
To be the mother who have birth to Jesus,
Than to listen to him, and obey.
And yet Jesus flips that entirely on its head.
It’s better to hear the word of God and obey it, than to be in that position that would seem to us so fortunate and blessed.
The appropriate response to Jesus, is to hear the word of God as he speaks it, and to respond in obedience and faith.
And we can see the contrast, can’t we, to the example in verses 24 to 26, where the failure to, wholeheartedly embrace the Word and work of God leads to disaster.
There is an appropriate response to Jesus, and this is it. To respond with action. With faith and obedience.
The appropriate response to Jesus as we’ve seen recently in Luke
If you’re here regularly, you’ll know that our general pattern is to work our way through longer sections of the Bible on Sunday mornings.
And where we find ourselves today, shows us why it’s really important to read the Bible in context;, the value of reading, chapter 11 after chapter 10.
Think about the questions that might have been raised for Luke’s original readers, or that have been raised for us in the last chapter or so.
Why can Jesus, invent a whole new way of praying, and tell the community of followers “pray this prayer.”
How can Jesus say to Martha “Mary has chosen what is better, it’s better to listen to me, than to do the housework”?
What gives Jesus the right to announce woe and lamentation on the towns who reject his message?
What gives Jesus the right to send his followers out into the towns where he’s going to visit,
Or to call people to follow him in the first place?
Well, here’s our answer.
Because Jesus acts with the power of God.
Because the kingdom of God has come
God’s eternal king is here,
There’s a whole new way of relating to God,
The rule of God over his people that has been looked forward to throughout the history of humanity, and which the Old Testament gives us various tastes of, and pointers toward, it’s here!
the kingdom of God has come
But also, what does it look like, to hear the word of God and obey it? How do we know, what this appropriate response to Jesus looks like?
Well, in the kind of care for others that is pictured in the parable of the good Samaritan,
In whole-hearted devotion to Jesus, of the kind modelled by Mary,
In bringing our needs to our Father in humble dependence, praying for his priorities, and for our deepest needs, as we’re taught in the Lord’s prayer.
That’s what it will look like.
And because we know how disastrous the alternative is, like someone freed from a demon only to succumb to 7 others,
Won’t we encourage each other in these things?
Knowing the stakes, the terrible danger of complacency when it comes to God’s work, would you ask someone, what does it look like for you to respond to Jesus appropriately?,
For you to hear the word of God and obey it?
And would you let them ask you?