“14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” 16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Return of an Unclean Spirit
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.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
27 As 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!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:14-28)
“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” This is how Jesus answers his opponents, those who think he is using evil against evil to deceive the pious. But the accusation puts the Pharisees in a bind. There are other exorcists. The sons of Sciva in Acts come to mind. And they drive out demons, and no one accuses them of doing evil. But our modern minds are scandalized. I like to think I believe in demons and demon possession, but I’m rather skeptical when I hear stories of it. Sometimes I wonder if my skepticism is really warranted. I don’t think it is. And yet it is there. I can put it aside for Jesus driving out demons. Then I wonder if I really do.
In any case, Jesus has put these people in a bind. They really don’t want to believe Jesus is the messiah. No one debates what they just saw, Jesus threw out a demon, and a mute man began to speak. These people are not encumbered by our prejudices, they acknowledge what they saw, but not wanting to believe they begin to give different explanations.
Not wanting to believe is the biggest barrier to belief. Belief means giving up on the world. It means giving up on cherished beliefs. Perhaps it means giving up on family, in a way disowning them, not that you mean to, but you know they will disown you. Christians are never called to turn their back on family, but to let them go if they turn on you for believing in Christ. In this way it is very intimidating to believe. There are many incentives not to believe in Jesus Christ, as far as that goes. And some are weightier than others. Believing in Christ means giving up on you, it means disabusing yourself of myths created about yourself. It means acknowledging you are a sinner and need a savior. It means acknowledging that you are not in control of yourself. People, ever since Nietzsche talked about Christianity as a slave morality, have written songs about not being slaves to God. They deceive themselves into thinking they are not slaves. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” That is the reality we like to ignore. We think we are in control. We think of sin as being the really bad things we did when we were younger. We absolutely cannot understand that we are not basically good people, but at the core we are sinners incapable of doing anything for ourselves in the way of salvation.
This is why so many religions that demand strict obedience to rules can be so popular, even in Christian sects. Legalism is popular, because it gives you the notion that you are in control of your life. In a manner of speaking, it is the illusion that you are God, or at least a god and master over your own life. And that is a strong intoxication. It is sin itself, that right there, our desire to be in control of our own lives. And yet if we are honest with ourselves we realize that we are not. Even as Christians we find ourselves sinning, when we rather would not. We would like to be happy and rational, and find ourselves freaking out and getting worried. In a moment of anxiety we snap at our spouses, in times of frustration we yell at our children even when they aren’t to blame.
See this is the reality, we are slaves, and there is only one who can set us free, one who can change the equation, the one who drives out demons by the finger of God, who lets us know that the kingdom of God is among us. The kingdom of God is among us. He has bound our previous master, the strong man. He has put him in chains. That is what this is about. Jesus has overpowered the well armed strong man. He has set his slaves free. If we are with him, we divide the spoils. If not, then we remain slaves and our fate is with him who is bound.
Now, perhaps it doesn’t look so much as if the strong man here is bound. But he is. This is a reality already, he is bound, Jesus is casting out demons, he has changed the game. In reality this is what we confess to when we speak of Christ’s decent into hell. It is not that he suffers there, but he conquers there. It does not mean that evil is put to an end on earth straightaway. After all even if Satan was killed, we would still have our own sinful natures to contend with. Evil still happens, and God allows it to continue for one reason, he loves this world. He loves us, he loves you and your neighbors who are still bound, who have not yet been made free, who have not yet heard the gospel. And if them hearing the gospel and being saved from hell means another day in this world beset by war, disease, famine and crime, then he will allow it for that one person to be saved. As he says the world is condemned already, he has come to save the world. He drives out the demons. He alone can set us free from the strongman, we cannot overpower him, but Jesus can. And he does. He does for you.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.