Attacking the Heart of the Issue

Perhaps you have had occasions where someone has made some kind of outrageous and blatantly false charge against you. A good portion of time it is an attack against your motivation or your character. I have had it happen to me and I suspect I may have most likely been guilty of doing it to others.

When you are the victim of such things you have a few options before you. You can run away. You can ignore the charges and trust that truth will eventually work its way to the surface. You can get angry and make outrageous charges of your own. Or, you can clearly confront the charges.

This morning we will see Jesus as He faced the outrageous claim that His power was actually derived from Satan or that He was motivated by the desire to destroy others. Jesus confronted these charges and taught us some important truths as He did.

Jesus Came to Set People Free

Before we get to the attack we see a brief account of another life changed by Christ.

14 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.

A while back I was part of an exercise in Macomb where I was asked to listen for words that were distorted in various ways. This was designed to help me understand the nature of hearing loss. Next I was asked to put on various types of glasses which helped me understand what it was like to see with various eye maladies. It was a very sobering exercise.

I don’t know how to imagine what it would be like to not be able to speak or hear . . . perhaps for years. This man’s world had gone silent. Any communication had to be through hand signs or writing. The man would have been pretty isolated and lost.

The condition of the man, we are told, was caused by a demon. Demons are agents in Satan’s army just as angels are servants of the Lord. When we read accounts like this we often have a tendency to dismiss them as fantasy or exaggeration. Some conclude that demon possession was just a primitive way to describe what we today understand to be mental illness. Not all mental illness is demon possession but likewise not all demon possession is mental illness.

Jesus recognized the true source of the man’s problem and commanded the demon to come out of him. The demon obeyed and the man was made whole. He who could not hear the message of God’s love, now heard it clearly. The one who could not sing His praises now did so enthusiastically. Jesus came to set people free.

This account does not focus on the miracle itself but on the response to the miracle by those who were standing by. From their response we can glean several principles.

There will always be some who oppose Christ

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.

There are two expressions of disbelief. The first group slandered Christ. They attributed his work to the Devil. Beelzebub was a term that was a common synonym for Satan. These people attributed the miracles of Jesus to a sinister power. What these people are doing is a common tactic of attack. The approach is simple: if you can’t defeat someone on the merits of the argument . . . call them names! In logic this is called an “ad Hominem argument”.  In other words you attack the person rather than the idea.

We see this all the time in political campaigning. If you don’t like someone’s policies but don’t want to (or can’t) attack the policies on their merits, you instead try to create a negative caricature of the person and keep repeating that caricature until people focus on the caricature rather than the argument. Politicians can be labeled as “dumb”, “soft on crime”, “too liberal”, “radical”, a “philanderer”, “a crook”. You get the idea. This kind of argument is a diversionary tactic to take our focus off of the real issues.

The second group of people “tested him by asking for a sign from Heaven”. Their opposition was more passive. They had just witnessed a demon possessed man being healed but that wasn’t enough. They wanted more. They wanted something bigger and greater before they would believe. However, if Jesus had done something bigger they still would not have believed.

A House Divided Cannot Stand for Long

Jesus confronted the attack with a logical argument called “Reductio ad absurdum” which means to take an argument to its logical and absurd conclusion.

“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.

The argument of Jesus is pretty simple: Satan will never be victorious if he is defeating his own agents. If you soldiers are shooting at each other you will never defeat the enemy!

The phrase “a house divided” is familiar and many people attribute the phrase to Abraham Lincoln who said these words at the Republican Convention in 1858. He was  arguing that our country could not continue to be divided over the issue of slavery. What people don’t realize is that Lincoln was quoting Jesus!

Jesus took the conclusion a step further. Jesus argued that if He was casting out demons by the power of the devil, then it would seem others who were also casting out demons (presumably Jewish teachers) might also be agents of Satan (a charge they would not want to make).

Suppose you made the statement “you can’t trust a politician”. You believe the statement and repeat it often. However, having made such a statement you should not be surprised when people do not believe what your favorite candidate says or promises. Take it a step further, if it is true that you cannot trust a politician, it means that I also can’t trust you if you run for political office. When you take the statement to its logical conclusion we see the error. Once the error is exposed we now have to ask: What is our REAL objection? We might have to acknowledge that we don’t like politicians that don’t agree with us. That’s not a very persuasive argument. They called Jesus names because He didn’t do things their way.

Satan has Been Defeated

In verses 21-22 Jesus said.

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.

Jesus acknowledged Satan’s strength and formidabilty.  We must not underestimate our adversary. We are no match for the Devil in our own strength. However, Jesus has defeated the Devil. The Lord is more powerful than Satan and at the cross Jesus made it impossible for Satan to win the battle against those who belong to Him.

Ezekiel 28:11-19 and Isaiah 14:13-14 both seem to refer to Satan because the words look beyond the leader who is being addressed. These passages teach us that

  • Satan was originally created good
  • He was a leader of the angels
  • He led a rebellion against God (possibly after creation)
  • He was cast from Heaven and took up to a third of the angels with him

Satan is called the adversary (1 Thessalonians 2:18), the Devil, or slanderer (1 Peter 5:8); the Evil one (1 John 5:19), the tempter (1 Thessalonians 3:5), the prince of this world (John 12:31) and the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10).  Satan’s goal is  to turn people away from God (and therefore toward Him). He sometimes will attack in a  bold and aggressive manner (as with Eve) and other times his attacks are subtle and erosive. He patiently works to move us away from the Lord one little step at a time. And if Satan cannot keep us from the Lord He will try to keep us from enjoying the Lord.

After World War II ended snipers and guerilla warriors continued to kill people. The battle was over but these men didn’t know or accept that fact. In the same way, Satan has been defeated, but he and his agents refuse to accept the reality.

Our job is to respect Satan without being afraid of Him. We cannot take him lightly. At the same time we do not have to cower in fear before the Devil. As Martin Luther has written in his hymn “A Mighty Fortress”, “the right man is on our side”. Christ has defeated Satan through His death and resurrection. As long as we stand with Christ we cannot be defeated.

In Ephesians 6 we are told about the armor of God. These are things that will shield us from the Devil. Basically Paul tells us that if we hold to the truth, cling to God by faith, hold fast to the promise of salvation in Christ, rest in His peace, live the way God wants us to live, and have a strong grasp of the Word of God we will remain in His protection.

It is Impossible to be Neutral

Jesus boldly said to his listeners, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” It’s pretty straightforward: there is no middle ground.

There are stories from history and literature of a leader drawing a line in the sand or dirt and asking people to decide whether they are with him or against him. Those who try to straddle the line show that they are not fully devoted to the leader at all. Jesus is saying the same thing.

There is no such thing as a “part time Christian”.  If you are only a follower of Christ on Sunday morning then, according to Jesus, you are not really a follower at all. You cannot straddle the fence! If you are not working to advance His Kingdom you are working against Him. They are very sobering words.

We need to ask ourselves: “Am I hoping to be considered a true believer by God even though I live like the world?” There is no in between. Maybe you are sincerely and truly examining the evidence for Christ’s trustworthiness. If so, keep searching. However, understand that until you choose to embrace and follow Him, you belong to the followers of the Devil.

True Conversion means to be inhabited by Christ.

Jesus has one more point to make,

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.”

Jesus notes that the human tendency to try to live a better life as a simple act of the will usually doesn’t last long. We aren’t as strong as we think we are. How many people do you know who have quit smoking, drinking alcohol, drinking caffeine, watching television, swearing and on and on and have quit dozens of times? I think of all the times I have resolved to stop eating junk food! It is a resolve that is strong for a while . . . at least until the next strong craving.

Following Christ is not simply about eliminating bad things from our lives, it is to have a new passion that replaces the old passion for sin. The true believer trades in their addiction to sin for a hunger for God.

One commentator writes,

Jesus’ point is simple. When you are blessed by a cleansing of evil that allows you to receive fresh spiritual input, do not leave your inner “house” empty. The risk is that the void will be refilled with something even worse than what had been banished. Neutrality is emptiness, a void that eventually is filled by something—often something like what was there before. When we do not respond to God, opportunity becomes tragedy, and the chance for permanent reversal is lost.[1]


We’ve drawn several principles from our text this morning:

  1. Jesus Came to Set People Free
  2. There will always be those who Resist the Gospel
  3. A House Divided Cannot Stand
  4. Satan Has been defeated
  5. It is Impossible to be Neutral About Christ
  6. True Conversion means being Inhabited by the life of Christ

Let me add some practical observations.

  1. Any Church, organization or ministry that is truly leading people to become committed followers of Christ is of the Lord and not the Devil. Let me define my terms carefully. Any church, ministry, or individual that takes the Bible seriously as the sole authority of God’s truth, defines sin as the Bible does, and recognizes that we can only be made right with God by trusting and following Christ, is of the Lord. We may disagree with (and sometimes need to confront) some of the skewed beliefs or methods of these groups, but we must not attribute their work to the Devil simply because it is different from the work we do. God uses different people in different ways to accomplish the same goal. If people are being led to a genuine and transforming relationship with Christ they are working for the Kingdom and not against it.
  2. Life is difficult and some of the battles of life are hard, but as children of God we should never live as if we were defeated. Christ has conquered the grave and He has broken any power Satan had on us! We can rejoice even in the time of trial because we know God has defeated the enemy. We know the King is on the throne. We know: God is in Control; He loves us; and He never makes a mistake.
  3. We are reminded that the Christian life is not simply about getting rid of bad things in our lives. We must also be filling our lives with the things of God . . . things that will draw us close, help us grow, and fill us with His life. We want to be so captivated by the Holy Spirit that the forces of evil have no room to influence us. I encourage you to deliberately pursue the things of God. Fill your life with His Word, His people, His worship. Memorize Scripture, seek out good teaching, and fill your minds with songs of praise. Don’t make room for the Devil in your life.
  4. We must be prepared for spiritual battle. In the course of our lives Satan will try to trip us up. He will accuse us and try to draw us away from any sense of intimacy with the Lord. We must fight in the Lord’s power rather than our own. The best way to do this is to walk close to Him. The Secret Service is limited in what they can do to protect the President if he veers off course or dashes into a crowd. If we want to be strong in battle we must stay as close to Jesus as possible through prayer, studying His Word, and by doing the things He says. Jesus has come to set us free. He promises to show us the way but we must follow Him. We must not surrender our freedom in Christ to anyone.

As we conclude the account I find myself asking, “What happened to the man who had been deaf and unable to speak? Was he forever changed? Did he walk with Jesus or did he simply walk away? Did he face greater problems later because he did not replace the demon with something better?  We don’t know.

The real question this morning is about you and me. Will you be swayed by the slanderous comments of false religions, the secular media or popular opinion? Or will you be one of those who examine the evidence. Rather than be swayed by the name calling, listen to what Jesus actually said. Look at the evidence of His resurrection. See the changed lives.

The decision of whether or not to truly follow Christ is a big decision. Make sure you make the decision based on what is true rather than on the distortions of the Devil or those who follow Him.

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