And He was casting out a demon, and it was dumb; and it came about that when the demon had gone out, the dumb man spoke; and the multitudes marveled. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." And others, to test Him, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven.
But He knew their thoughts, and said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own homestead, his possessions are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied, and distributes his plunder. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters.
"When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first."
And it came about while He said these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice, and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed." But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it."
Which Side Are You On?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
It is the singular divide in all of humanity. It is more significant than whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. It is more urgent than whether you are American or Russian. It is more encompassing that whether you are a man or a woman. It is the single most significant and decisive distinction. Jesus said, He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. There is no room for compromise, no shades of gray. Either you are a Christian, or you are an enemy of Christ and man. Either you are the Lord's, or you serve Satan. Either you are gathering with Jesus for eternal life, or you are scattering. Which side are you on?
That is the question of our Gospel this morning. Christian, or not? There is a philosophical distinction known in Latin as tertium non datur - that means, to be precise, that a third option simply does not exist. That is the situation here. Either you are Christ's, or you belong heart and soul to the devil. And the distinction is not decided by belonging to a church. Our lesson this morning illustrates that truth for us. The great divide in humanity is 'Christian' or 'all others' - and many who call themselves "Christian" are not. You can see that by the churches that call themselves "Christian" rushing to proclaim that Jews and Moslems are also saved and going to heaven - contrary to Jesus' own words, or that what God has clearly condemned is an acceptable option in the world today, in the light of our "modern realities" - like adultery, divorce for less that Biblical grounds, pre-marital sex, and homosexuality. Let us consider our Gospel text, this morning, and how it applies to our situation today. Our theme is, Which side are you on?
The calendar on Jesus' life is beginning to wind down in Luke. He is showing us how Jesus' enemies were beginning to organize their opposition to Jesus - opposition that would eventually lead to His crucifixion. He does indisputably good things, casting out demons, and his enemies take the occasion to attack Jesus. Some of them try to say that the only reason Jesus can cast out demons is that He is working hand in glove with the devil - the ruler of all the demons. The attack is to paint Jesus as an evil and even demonic person. Others, clearly in league with the first, challenge Jesus to show them a miracle - a sign - that would be indisputably heavenly. I am not sure, in the light of this attack, what that sign could be.
Jesus understood what was happening, what they were attempting to do, so He answered them with flawless logic. "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand?" The simple truth He presents to them is that if the devil is working against himself, his kingdom is doomed. But none of them believed that the devil was about to fail, or that he was working against himself.
Then Jesus answers them from another point of logic. If the only way that Jesus could be successfully casting out demons was to be in league with the devil, then what about those exorcists of whom the Pharisees approved? It is irrational and wholly inconsistent for them to assign one power to Jesus and another to their friends, without some clear cause. So Jesus said, For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges. Jesus points out that their condemnation of Him is also a condemnation of those exorcists that the Pharisees believed were genuine.
And then Jesus makes His final point, "But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." The kingdom of God has arrived if Jesus is not in cahoots with the devil - a point that is logically necessary - and which they themselves must acknowledge, since they accept as real the work of those other exorcists. Then Jesus describes how they are standing in the presence of something far more powerful that the devil, since the only way Jesus could be casting out demons is if the devil had been vanquished already. That is the meaning of the words about the strong man and his goods. The devil is the strong man, in this short parable. His possessions are the (in this case) the people he is possessing. The only way Jesus could cast him out is if the devil had already been overpowered, and his possession were then taken away.
Up to here, we have very similar experiences with the adversaries of Jesus. They will say anything, however indefensible, to stop us - which means, to stop Jesus. They, like the Pharisees, will call good "evil" and evil "good". They will challenge Biblical morality and call it judgmental and uncaring. They will call faithful doctrine old-fashioned, unrealistic, uneducated, and superstitious. The will describe sound and faithful church practice as uncaring, out of touch, uninteresting, and not able to relate to the modern mind. They say, "If we could just get away from doing things the out-of-date way, and stop teaching people the morality of a bye-gone era and the mythic doctrines of an unenlightened past, we could be applicable and relative to life in this day and age, and draw crowds like you would not believe."
We need to answer them the same way Jesus did - with simple logic, the plain truth, and bold faithfulness. The simple logic is that the Bible hasn't changed, nor has the sinful nature of man. The simple truth is that either it is true or it is false - you cannot reject parts of the Word of God and the Gospel and still claim that the parts you like are true and universally valid. And then we stand on the Gospel, and what it means for us and what it does to us. Then we say, with Jesus, Which side are you on?
Jesus once said, He that listens to you listens to me; and he that rejects you rejects me. When people reject the truth, or the fellowship of those who stand in the truth, there is only one place for them to go - He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. Error is the only place outside of the truth. Immorality is the only place outside of morality. "Against us" is the only place outside of "with us."
Obviously some people will not be entirely comfortable with that. It means that your friends who just haven't time for church may actually be your enemies. It means that people who reject Biblical morality for one reason or another are not just "of another opinion", they are evil. It means that those who want to water down our doctrine, or change our church, may not be simply more progressive than we are, or more liberal, or advocates of a more modern style of worship - they may well be wholly other - Against us, and scattering where we (and Christ) are gathering.
This is not intended to be a judgment of any specific person or groups. It is simply what Jesus said. He went on to describe the Pharisees , and Judaism of His day in general. They were pictured as the man cleansed in our Gospel lesson. John the Baptist and Jesus Himself had come among Israel and had cleansed the evil which had grown up in the worship and doctrine of Israel. And yet, when Jesus was gone, the last state of Judaism was worse than the first, for now it had rejected their own Messiah. Now it had sold itself to Satan to preserve a status quo which would last only forty years after the death of Jesus - and His resurrection. Having been cleansed, Israel became more polluted and less godly - and Judaism became utterly unfaithful, described later by St. Paul as the synagogue of Satan.
Christian churches and Christian people do the same thing when they rise up against the teachings of the Scriptures and deny the Word of God. We have seen church bodies stumble from the path of truth and become little more than social clubs over the decades. It is a warning. Which side are you on?
A woman cried out to Jesus, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed." She meant a compliment to Jesus by praising His mother. But Jesus did not let it rest. He did not deny that His mother was blessed, but He made a point about true blessedness. He took the opportunity to teach. But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it."
Our blessedness is in hearing the Word of God, and believing the Word of God. We maintain that blessedness by adhering to the Word and holding it pure and sacred, and keeping it clear in our minds and holy in our hearts. And what is that Word which makes us so blessed? It is the Gospel, the word of Jesus Christ.
We are blessed because we have heard the word of His life and His death on the cross for us. We are blessed because we have heard that our sins are forgiven, and that God has given to each of us that believes everlasting life. We are blessed because God has caused faith to spring up in us and has taught us to know Him and trust in Him. And because we are so blessed, we cling to that Word, and resist anything that would rob us of that Word, or adulterate that Word. By His grace, we have taken our stand with Jesus. By His power and invitation, we join our efforts deliberately with Jesus in the great task of gathering by faithful preaching and faithful worship and faithful living in and under the Word of God. Which side are you on?
This morning we take our stand with Jesus to receive from Him this precious gift of His body and blood, in and with and under the form of the bread and the wine in Holy Communion. We receive the forgiveness of sins and strength to live as God's child of faith as we receive the body once given for us and as we drink the blood once shed for us. And, in communion we confess together that we stand in His Word and on His side in the great battle between God and the devil. And we boldly mark who is with us and who is not - and just how urgent a thing that is - by our practice of closed communion.
We do not do it to be judgmental. We do not do it to suggest that we are something special in and of ourselves. We do it to confess. We confess that we have taken sides, that we stand with Jesus Christ and hold fast to His Word. Those who do not agree are welcome to hear the Word with us, but we mark our confession as unique and confess it to be the very truth of God's Word by reserving this supper for those only who share our confession.
Jesus said, He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. Which side are you on?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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