Alfred Place Baptist Church

11:14-23 Jesus and Beelzebub

Luke 11:14-23 “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. But some of them said, ‘By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.’ Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: ‘Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armour in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.’”

There are some events that make your blood run cold, actions of unspeakable horror and pain lacking any rational explanation whatsoever so that you feel that you’ve got a glimpse of the pit. For example, a middle-aged man was a taxi-driver in a country town in the north of England, a man with little history of personal violence. His mother is alive and he was a devoted son; he had a twin brother and he was a caring father. His sons spoke up for him at his funeral yesterday, what a loving Dad he had been to them. But one day earlier this month he went off on a shooting spree murdering a dozen people including his own twin and others whom he knew, but many of the people he didn’t know, just driving up to them as they worked on their farms or passing them by on the road and shooting them dead. He tried to shoot them in the face. The cruelty and senselessness of these murders chills you and makes you aware of a power of evil in our groaning world. There are other acts like that. A whole nation can be affected by a spirit of wickedness so that millions of Jewish men and women, boys and girls are loaded onto cattle trucks and taken to camps and gassed to death and their bodies incinerated. Tens of thousands of people were involved in organizing that infamy without complaining. One also thinks of the spectre of a suicide bomber who kills himself and as many strangers as he can, and though there are religious and cultural reasons for that wickedness one also believes that other evil powers are involved.

Then one can think of another very different form of evil manifest in the financial crisis that banks and governments have passed though in the last couple of years almost all over the world. Am I crazy in seeing something of the activity of the god of this world in creating such a spirit which at the very highest levels in the most powerful nations of the world was a spirit of theft, unbridled greed and covetousness which itself is a kind of idolatry? The spirit of unbridled mammon comes from the pit.

When you turn to the Bible the third chapter of the Old Testament introduces us to Satan in the form of a serpent who is tempting our first parents. The fourth chapter of the New Testament introduces us to the devil who is tempting the Lord Jesus in the wilderness. Have you been tempted to do something bad? Then you have been influenced by Satan whether you believe in him or not. I am saying that you cannot go far into Old or New Testaments, but especially in the life of Christ, without coming across the influence of the devil. Modernists have attacked this feature of the Bible claiming that it shows Christ was a child of his time, that the people of Galilee believed in the devil and so he went along with them, but that surely, they claim, in Jesus’ heart of hearts he couldn’t have believed in demons. They’ve felt supremely confident in dismissing any thought of Satan getting involved in the lives of people today, particularly their own lives.

However, we notice that the Lord Jesus was always resisting the errors of thought of his fellow countrymen, correcting their wrong ideas, standing against the tide, even laying down his life for his own convictions which were often contrary to the system’s. So it is strange that Christ should constantly and relentlessly affirm the beliefs of ordinary people that men, women and children may be temporarily but pervasively influenced by an evil spirit and later may be delivered from it. In fact there are many examples in the first three gospels in which our Lord saves people from satanic powers. If in fact they were quite deluded about this, if the truth was that they were having a nervous breakdown, for example, or if they were under psychiatric pressures, or if they were mentally or physically handicapped in some way then why didn’t Jesus deal with them in truth and tell them, “It is not because of the devil you are like this, silly!” and deliver them from compounding their troubles by believing a lie about Satan? Is Jesus the great physician or not? Great physicians warn their patients about false self-diagnoses. If he loved them Jesus wouldn’t allow them to go on believing lies.

I have often told you that I have never met anyone whom I believe to have been demon-possessed and that most ministers I know stand with me in this regard. The case before us in our text is extremely rare in Wales today, maybe not existing at all, but it was not rare in Israel when Jesus walked this earth. Why did this sudden infestation of demonic activity occur during the three years of Jesus’ ministry? As I have thought about this I have come to these four conclusions, that . . .

i] We can’t read the inner state of men and women today, but our Lord knew the hearts of men and he could see what we cannot know. While we only see a man who couldn’t speak, Jesus could go in and into the mute person and discover the true reason for his silence. He could make judgment about the inner life of people that we cannot make.

ii] Again, God permitted such an outburst of demonic activity that we might know with certainty that our own lives are to be lived in this context of being aware of the god of this world and his activities, so that we might be deeply sure of man’s need of a divine Deliverer.

iii] Again, Satan and his hosts were busy in Galilee as a diversionary tactic, doing all in their power to draw people’s attention away from the ministry of the Lord Jesus. Cynical people would be encouraged to shrug their shoulders at the mighty acts of Jesus and say, “There are lots of strange powers at work these days, not just Jesus.”

iv] Again, it would seem to me to be very strange for Satan not to do all in his power to counter the work that Jesus was doing in Galilee, including taking over one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, and turning him against Christ so that he betrayed him. It is when the good and holy is most powerfully present that evil will most powerfully counter it. Today it is apathy and complacency that are everywhere and that suits the devil to keep things just like that. He won’t rock the boat. If there were a great work of God being done then more obvious indications of Satan’s devices would be seen today.

So I believe that today there is a widespread involvement of the god of this world with us all, just as much as in Bible times and maybe even more, but the devil’s cause is better served by not drawing attention to his activities. He is camouflaged. That angel of light you thought so wonderful – that might be him. That sheep you thought so attractive and harmless – that might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We all are aware that the reasons for people’s actions often lie under the surface. Suddenly a teacher will notice that a pupil, say in year five, has changed. His work suffers; he’s not paying attention; he distracts other children and is a disruptive influence in class; he cannot concentrate, and his notebooks that used to be neat are now full of shoddy work. Then the parents came to school one PTA evening and you discover that there’s been a death in the family, or sudden unemployment and there is little money in the home, or there is a long dying of a parent, or a divorce, or something equally traumatic and then the teacher begins to understand how this boy’s work and behaviour has nose-dived. What you see on the surface in the classroom isn’t the whole picture. What is going on out of sight at home has impacted this chap. That is how it is with the work of Satan. A man picks up his gun and goes off on a shooting spree but we may not see in our lifetimes what lies behind this wickedness. It is impenetrable to us, but it was not impenetrable to Christ. Banks and governments go mad borrowing what they cannot repay, and lending money that they don’t have, making promises they cannot keep of high interest rates for investors, and so the world is plunged into debt and many lives are ruined. Behind it all there is the god of this world, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience, but that fact is hidden from the secular media and only suspected by a Christian like me. The devil does not announce his activities.

When Joel Beeke was with Malcolm and Ruth Firth in Riga in 2002 he was going back to his hotel one evening when men burst in on him crying “Mafia, mafia” pushed him to the floor and tied him up and ran a knife up and down his back all the while shouting “Mafia,” and for about 45 minutes they ransacked his room taking everything that was valuable. Then suddenly they left without physically hurting him. The mafia is not always as aggressive and self-disclosing as that. They work and threaten in the dark. So it is with the devil and his cohorts. They certainly do not draw attention to themselves, announcing them selves as, “Satan, Satan,” but the devil is everywhere seeking whom he may lead astray and can take to the pit with him. He is busy here this morning even as I speak; Alfred Place is not a demon-free zone. How are Christians generally troubled by Satan? Here is a typical response that I have adapted from a pastor today; seven ways:

Satan can put blasphemous thoughts into your mind, and then whispers that you cannot be a child of God if you have such thoughts.

Satan can get you to question the truth of God’s word, his wonderful promises and the mercy of that Lord who has never treated you ill.

Satan can seek to persuade you that you have got no part in the matter of salvation, for you have only begun with the Lord but he has not begun with you. That is what Satan says.

Satan can suggest to you that no child of God could be like you: so weak in faith, so corrupt, so hard and prayerless, so foolish and vain.

Satan can come as your accuser, leading you to despair, or as an angel of light, leading you to presumption.

Satan can present the world outside this church in the fairest colours, the fun place to be, that what’s out there is real, while this world of Jesus Christ is fantasy (the very opposite of what are the facts) and Satan tries to move you back into its ways from what he suggests is the tedium of Sunday worship.

Satan can press you to abandon yourself to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (Joel Beeke, Striving Against Satan, pp. 34&35 Bryntirion Press). I am saying that Satan is active everywhere in our land today even though he has no need to possess and indwell people to the same extent as he did when Jesus walked this earth. So what lessons would God have us learn from this passage before us?

DEMONS MIGHT CAUSE SOME PHYSICAL CONDITIONS.

Here is an example of a man becoming mute because of evil powers. There is the case of blindness in Matthew 12, self-destruction in Mark 9, preternatural strength in Mark 5, all connected to the work of the devil. There are other cases in this gospel, for example, back in the ninth chapter of Luke we meet a child having convulsions and throwing himself to the ground through an evil influence coming upon him. Or if you go on to chapter 13 we read of how the Lord Jesus met “a woman who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all” (Lk. 13:11). Then Jesus says, “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years be set free” (Lk.11:16). Certainly those words of Jesus do not sound like someone who didn’t believe in his heart that this woman’s biomedical disorder was caused by Satan. Jesus declares the influence of the devil to have been the root cause of her physical condition. You remember that Luke, the writer of this gospel, was himself a physician. He would have widespread exposure to all kinds of illnesses and diseases both psychiatric and physical. Yet he mentions four times in verses 14 and 15 in our text the word ‘demon’ (or ‘demons’).

So this man had become mute. The splendid pastor today in a church in Blaenau Ffestiniog 60 miles north of us (where in fact we were married 46 years ago) had a major operation in Liverpool ten days ago, and one strange effect of the pain-killers he’s been given since that operation is that he has become mute in communicating in English. He can still speak Welsh, but that is not so useful in a Liverpool hospital, and they have had to ask his wife to come and stay in the hospital to interpret his speech. They are there this moment even as I speak to you. Of course his strange condition would not have anything to do with the activity of the devil.

I find this all to be quite fascinating, not because I believe that illnesses today are caused by Satan. I’d think that that was extremely rare and I’ve never come across such cases, but what is salutary is that it delivers us from stereotyping demon possession in the first century. I mean that we are not to think that whenever people of those times saw bizarre behaviour, or mental illness, or people with learning difficulty that they diagnosed immediately, “Ah, demons!” That is a very dangerous attitude. Today in most of the world people who are different, for example, albinos in Africa, can be stigmatized and tormented by people making such wicked and ill informed judgments about them, “Ah they are possessed with demons.” Don’t be a simpleton. Here is a man who is mute, here is a boy who has occasional convulsions, here is a crippled woman and a blind man and all those individuals we are told in Scripture were bound by Satan. But what the Bible also tells us is that all men are spiritually blinded by the god of this world. Your problem is not with an unusual person out there, but the blinkered person that you are today in your heart to truth and to the glory of Christ. Our Lord is telling us that the god of this world, the enemy of Jesus’ life – the one who’d tempted him in the wilderness – could also perforate the life of a poor man or woman and trouble them by taking away their speech or sight or hearing or create some kind of orthopaedic condition crippling them and Jesus restored them to good health by driving out the demon. We may never meet such a condition in our own lifetimes, but it is here in the New Testament for the reasons I have mentioned, and we are to make a place in our theological universe for its possibility however remote that might be from where we’re at right now.

So here is a case of muteness. Remember the context; Jesus has been teaching his followers to pray aloud like him, to say the Lord’s Prayer. This man could not say it. He could not praise God; he could not cry out to Jehovah in wonder or intercession; he could not express his love for his neighbour. He was trapped inside his own body; he did not possess power over his own body’s functions, and that was so restricting. We have been made to give glory to God and enjoy him for ever, to address him as a son addresses his own father, but the enemy of men’s souls had clamped down on this man and made him mute. He has locked up this man’s spirit within himself. That would be what Satan would do for everyone of us if he could, to make us a mute congregation, to turn Aberystwyth into a place like Mecca in Saudi Arabia where the praises of our God and king are never allowed to be sung aloud. How we would resist that. We cry, “O for a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise.” We say to those who do not join with us in praise, “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God.” You have read interviews with famous singers who at one time developed nodules on their vocal cords and they needed an operation to remove them. After the op. they were not allowed to make a single sound for two weeks until their vocal cords were healed. “Ah, what a relief,” they said to the person interviewing them, “when we could speak again, and sing again after those weeks of silence!” So it was with this man enabled by Christ to tell forth the wonderful deeds of God. So demons may cause some physical symptoms.

CHRIST DELIVERED THE DEMON POSSESSED.

The great theme of the gospels is the power of Jesus Christ, power over creation, over disease, even over death itself and in cases like the one before us, power over the devil. So we are to cry, “What manner of man is this that even the demons obey him?” You will notice how on every single occasion the deliverance is immediate. There is no tug of war. Who is in charge? Who is in the driving seat here? “Jesus was driving out a demon” (v.14). There was no resistance; you cannot resist omnipotence. Out it went. It is always like that in the New Testament, even in the case of the Gadarene demoniac in whom there was a horrible demon infestation, one word from Jesus and they all took off. Devils fear and fly, and the man was left clothed and in his right mind. The New Testament is telling us that we need the power of God in order to make us really sensible and lucid with a right attitude to life, God’s own attitude. Otherwise we might treat life as if it were all a laugh.

What is the great lesson for us? It is this, that it is through Christ that our assurance of victory comes. Our deliverance is grounded in him, in his past achievements and present reign, in his presence in us and alongside us, in his power and in his love. The power of the devil is his relentless hostility and cunning. His opportunity is our weakness, ill health, pride, memories, disappointments and a bad conscience. Through these he gets at us and moves us to turn against God. From all those we may be delivered and be victorious. That is why Jesus Christ came into the world, to deliver us from the devil, and that is why he brought you to read this message, to bring to nought Satan’s attempts to drive you to despair.

Satan used Saul of Tarsus to do terrible things against the early church, to encourage his buddies to stone to death the young Stephen. He guarded their coats from thieves so that they could have more effectiveness in hurling sharp rocks into Stephen’s body and dropping boulders onto his head and breaking his skull. But God met with Saul of Tarsus quite dramatically and suddenly – not all conversions are as instantaneous as that – and even in Saul it was followed by years of learning and maturing. God saved Saul from being domineered by spirit of darkness and evil, but he did far more than that. He more than conquered Saul, he made Saul his servant. He made him his powerful apostle, through whom he blew great breaches in the walls of the kingdom of darkness so that millions have escaped from that kingdom for over 2,000 years by the words and example of Saul of Tarsus. He broke Satan’s dam and we flooded out. I met a man yesterday at his 60th birthday who told me that he owed his conversion to read the first verse of Romans chapter five, “Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God more than conquered Satan in Saul, he used him to conquer Satan bondage of millions of others. It is through Christ we can overcome Satan. Luther said,

Did we in our own strength confide
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name,
For age to age the same,
And he must win the battle.

You put your entire trust in what Jesus Christ has done, in his power over everything in creation, his power over sickness, his power over death and his power over the devil. You have entrusted yourself to this one who says, “Come to me.” You have come just as you are and have entrusted yourself into his safe keeping. He will hold you in the hollow of his hand and no devil will ever pluck you from there. He has delivered you from the kingdom of darkness. He has delivered you from Satan’s tyranny, he has given you strength to resist the devil’s temptation. He ever lives to pray for you and so he can save you to the uttermost. Remember how Jesus told Peter that Satan wanted to destroy him but that he was praying for Peter. What then was Peter to do? Watch and pray. What then are we to do? Watch and pray. Keep watch. What moments or situations are you vulnerable? Are you with a member of the opposite sex and there is no one else around? Watch your heart, watch yourself. What times are you depressed and heart-broken and disappointed? Be on your guard, and pray. Ask the Saviour to help you, comfort, strengthen and keep you. He is willing to aid you; he will carry you through. Go to the one who has delivered every single person who was under the control of the devil. “Help me now Lord! Be with me now Lord! Direct and guide me now Lord.” Pray and watch. Watch and pray.

CHRIST’S ENEMIES HATED HIS POWERFUL WORKS OF MERCY.

The crowd was amazed to hear this mute man speaking naturally again, praising God for his deliverance. You would think that they would all be in tears, or fearful at what had happened, or rejoicing along with this man. That was not the case. There were some who simply wanted Jesus to perform another sign. “Again!” they cried, “. . . do one again.” We are told that they “tested him by asking for a sign from heaven” (v.16). Jesus told another group of people that it was a sinful and adulterous generation who were always asking for signs. They had seen miracle after miracle, the dead raised, the multitudes fed, every sick person brought to him restored, but they still wanted to see more. King Herod sent for Jesus wanting him to do a miracle. It is no sign of saving faith that people want to see miracles. It is a sign of lack of faith in the person of Jesus Christ.

There were others who hated what Jesus had done. It was a sign to them of the mighty power of Jesus. It was saying to them, “Bow to him. Submit to him as your Lord. Follow him. Serve him as your God. Worship him. Become his disciple.” That was the message that this mighty miracle was speaking to them, and that was the last thing they wanted to do. They liked their own lifestyles better; they’d defend them to the bitter end and any encouragement to change would meet strong resistance. The best method of defence is attack and so they attacked Jesus. What fools they thought the people were in being swayed by the transformation of this man. Sure for months, if not years, the man had gasped and mouthed words and wept his frustration at not being able to speak, but now his wife and children could hear his dear voice again. See them clinging to one another in their joy. Yes that was true. This was no set-up; they knew the man; they could not deny the change in him, but how had Jesus worked this miracle? That was the $64,000 question. Where had this carpenter’s boy from Nazareth got his power? From the devil, of course, “By Beelzebub, the prince of deomons, he is driving out demons” (v.16).

There are three alternatives in explaining the miracles of Jesus (if you exclude the explanation that it was all a hoax, a conjuring trick, sleight of the hand, the work of magicians, and the enemies of Christ did not suggest that this had happened here. The sick man had indeed been physically transformed, and his speech had been restored). The first explanation is that this is a sign that the incarnate God is present, that Jesus is the word made flesh and performs these miracles showing that he is the Son of God. The second is simply that some psychological trigger that has set off the body’s own healing work, and that, I recognize, is a possibility in healing. There are cases of that, and this deliverance of this man from being mute would fit into that kind of category, but others would not fit into it so well, such as the instantaneous cleansing of the skin of a leper, the recovery of sight of a man born blind, the raising of the dead. The third explanation would be that there was another power at work that was not from God, like the power of the magicians of Egypt, to turn a rod into a snake, demonic power was the explanation..

So here is Jesus on trial, having to defend himself against an allegation that he performs miracles by the power of the devil. How does he answer them?

i] Would Satan destroy the work of Satan? Then he would be ruined. If the demons are at war with one another then the days are numbered for the kingdom of darkness. Would Satan undo the work he was doing? Would one demon make this man mute while another demon give this man his speech? Common sense rejects that explanation.

ii] There were other followers of God in those days, men like Simeon and Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who were God-fearing men who were waiting for the Messiah to come, and some amongst that remnant in Israel had divine power to exorcise demons. They really did this; Jesus did not deny that, and the people were glad of their work. His enemies dare not say about them that they were casting our demons by the devil’s power. They were afraid of the people. So Jesus appealed to that fact; “Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges” (v.19). The people would be shocked if Jesus’ enemies said that the good people they esteemed were pawns in the devil’s hands. So their spiritual success supported Jesus’ deliverance of this man through the power of Jehovah the God of Israel.

iii] Jesus goes on the attack, “If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (v.20). He is asking them what does what they have seen and heard tell men about Jesus of Nazareth? That the hand of God and the power of God rests upon Christ. This is God’s beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. God’s reign over death and the devil is seen here in this world through Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God has come to you..

iv] Jesus strengthens his attack claiming he has more power than the devil. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armour in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils” (vv.21&22). See how powerful Satan is. He is the god of this world, he has principalities and powers and is the ruler of the darkness of this age, his is spiritual wickedness in high places. Yes, Satan doesn’t know everything and he can be only in one place at one time, but he has many demonic helpers and he is well organized. But the Lord Jesus is more powerful than all of the satanic hegemony; Jesus is omnipotent, and he is omnipresent, and he knows what Satan is up to. He can overpower the devil at will, take away his armour, and deliver those held captive by him. Don’t you want such a Saviour to be your Saviour? I can’t understand how everyone of you doesn’t ask the Lord to be with you and keep you and take you safely through this dark world through all the attacks of the devil and bring you safely home

v] Jesus tells them that they must decide. There are men saying that he is a servant of evil, but he claims to be a servant of God. Who is right? You have to choose. Every one of you has to choose. Remember, Jesus says, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters” (v.23). You cannot be neutral; you cannot say, “The jury is out.” You have the Sermon on the Mount; you have the discourses of John’s gospel; you have the claims of Christ; you have the godlike loving life of Christ and you have the miracles of our Lord, one after another. It is always the mark of the rebel that he shakes his head and clamours for more, more evidence, more miracles, more parables and then he might condescend to vote for Jesus. Have you read through the gospel of Mark? You say you have not, and so if you want more then I will give you more, I will give you Mark’s gospel to read. If you are not gathering with us, and gathering around the throne of God, and gathering around the cross of Christ and making that your plea, if you are not standing in unity and affection with the people of God whose only hope in life and death is their faithful Saviour Jesus Christ then you are scattering and dividing and opposing that unity. You want more? Go each Sunday with an open hungry believing heart to church and hear the word of God, and cry that God will make himself known to you. If you are not doing that then it is little reason that you are against Christ still, and that is a fearful place to stand. Come and take your stand with him, the mighty conqueror of Satan.

20th June 2010 GEOFF THOMAS