Thursday, April 15, 2010

Luke 11:14-28 Commentary

Jesus and Beelzebul
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. 15 But some of them said, "By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "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. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, 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 upon you.

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 his plunder.

23 "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 "When an evil [g] spirit comes out of anyone, 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 person is worse than the first."

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."

Dig Deeper
There is a remarkable scene in the movie, Amistad. It is a movie about Joseph Cinque and his amazing journey as he was captured by another tribe, sold to slave traders, taken to a slave auction in Cuba, and then escaped and took over the ship that was taking him to lifelong slavery. He and the other Africans on the ship were eventually captured and there was a trial that had to determine whether they were free Africans and would be released or would be put into slavery after all. The movie covers real events but it is to a fictional scene in the movie that I want to refer. In it, Cinque’s lawyer asks him, while he is still in jail, about rumors that Cinque had killed a lion with his bare hands while still in Africa (the event actually happened but the scene of discussing it with his lawyer is historical fiction). The lawyer was deeply impressed as were all of the Africans who had relayed the story to him. But Cinque thought it was nothing for which he should be honored. He went on to tell the lawyer that he been hailed as a great man in his village for killing this lion who was threatening his village but he shouldn’t have been. He then quietly tells his legal representative about how afraid he was and that he picked up a large stone in near desperation and threw it at the lion. The stone hit the lion just right in the head and actually killed it. He was no hero, said Cinque, because it all happened by sheer luck.

We often times, I think, tend to have that view of Jesus. No Christian doubts that he was brave and courageous and went through incredibly harrowing circumstances. But it seems that we often depict Jesus as a great preacher and teacher who was caught up in terrible opposition and awful circumstances during his final week and had to really keep his chin up and be brave as things swirled around him and violently blew him towards a tragic death, one that he, to make matters even worse, knew was coming and couldn’t avoid. That is just not the reality. Jesus was no Cinque. He didn’t get thrust into a fight that he didn’t want and then make it through with luck. That’s not the picture that the gospels give us of Jesus. Instead, we find a warrior. We find a Messiah that knew that his vocation included an assault on death, sin, and evil. And because of that we find a Jesus who made war wherever he went. He made war with the demonic. He made war with Satan. And ultimately he would make war death. No, he wasn’t a tragic figure who bravely faced a tragic end. He was a warrior who came to pick a fight.

As we look at this passage it becomes obvious that Luke is not so interested in this particular exorcism as he is the response to it. Jesus had won an initial victory over Satan after walking into the wilderness, the place of Satan’s victory over Israel in the war to get them to grumble against God, and had continue to make war with Satan’s demons ever since. There was no denying that Jesus had demonstrated some kind of incredible authority over the demons that could not be simply explained away or denied. This left two options. Either Jesus was working within the power of God or he was somehow in league with Satan. Some of his opponents claimed that he was working through the power of Beelzebul (a derogatory term for Satan that meant “Lord of the flies”). Others wanted a specific sign from heaven. Luke doesn’t tell us what that sign might be, but it may be the specific sign described in John 6 where we see that many Jews were expecting that when the Messiah returned he would bring back the provision of manna (which may have been the connection in Luke’s mind between the Jews asking for that sign and the previous passage which alluded to the daily bread of manna).

Jesus knew their thoughts though, something that tips his readers that he was far more than some charlatan operating under the dark forces of Satan. He then answers the objections that were being thrown out against him and shows the lack of logic and strength to those arguments. How could Jesus be operating by the power of Satan? His ministry was one of freedom and making people whole, calling them to do the will of God. Satan is certainly a counterfeiter and a trickster but surely he wouldn’t be engaging in the types of activity that were bringing down his own little kingdom. Satan’s strength comes through slavery, robbing people of their humanity, and persuading humans to do their own will rather than God’s. If Jesus was working with Satan, then Satan would be engaging in bringing down his own kingdom. This was war language that Jesus was using. A kingdom or a royal house that went to war against itself would make no sense but it would also be destroyed.

No, Jesus was not operating under the power of Satan. That should be obvious. And if they wanted a sign they wouldn’t get one. That was the whole problem was that they would not drop their preconceived notions of what the Messiah should be. The only sign they would get right now would be his word that he was driving out demons by the finger of God, a clear allusion to Exodus 8:19. The Pharaoh’s magicians conceded that Moses was doing things that their dark magic could not reproduce. It was only the finger of God that could do such things. But Pharaoh rejected that. His heart was hardened further by claim that this was the almighty God at work. The choice was now up to Jesus’ opposition. Would they accept the obvious point that this was the finger of God at work or would they harden their hearts like Pharaoh to the new exodus that was breaking forth as Jesus continued his march towards Jerusalem?

Make no mistake, though, this was a war that Jesus was engaging in. Satan had his own kingdom that he had set up on earth but Jesus was here to make war. Satan might be a strong man that was fully armed and prepared to guard his own house but a strong man can do nothing when a stronger man makes war on him. Jesus was that stronger man. He was attacking and overpowering Satan. This was a war. This was fight that Jesus was intentionally picking. Yet, he knew that this fight would end in his own violent death. That is what his disciples had such a hard time understanding. How could one defeat their enemy by dying? That didn’t make sense, of course, until they could grasp that Jesus was not just attacking Satan but was going to rob him of his most potent weapon, death itself.

With any war, sides must be carefully chosen. There is no sitting on the fence in this fight. One is either with Jesus, working to bring the kingdom of God into the world and continuing the assault on Satan’s stronghold or they are working against him, scattering what he is trying to gather. At first glance, this might seem at odds with Jesus’ words in 9:50, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” Yet, his point there was that the disciples should not try to limit the kingdom to a small group of insiders. If someone was doing the work of the kingdom then they should be accepted as part of God’s people. The point here is not contradictory but complimentary. Those who have not taken up with Jesus in his fight will be fighting against him by default.

Jesus was on a mission to cleanse Israel and subsequently the whole world from the influence of evil and to reconcile the ruptured relationship between the family of fallen humanity and God. He was calling people to join God’s promised family and engage in the work of brining the kingdom of God to every part of Israel and the world. But before that could truly happen Jesus would engage in the fight. He would sweep the house clean and defeat the foes that Israel could not on their own. But that was also a serious warning. Jesus was fighting the evil that was in Israel and exercising authority. He was giving Israel the chance to follow him and find the salvation that they had waited for so long but if they didn’t truly embrace him there would be trouble. The time was short. He was sweeping the house so that they could see what God’s kingdom looked like but they needed to realize, in a sense, that they need not a cleaned house but a new one altogether. They needed to realize that the house of Israel was doomed and that Satan and his minions would come down upon Israel in a much more complete and final way than they were now after Jesus was gone. They needed to abandon their path and realize that the relief that Jesus was brining to Israel was only temporary. If they stayed where they were, things would be far worse than were originally.

As Jesus was wrapping up his remarks, a woman cried out to him a standard Jewish blessing upon his mother. If a son was acting in a honored way, then the honor and blessing extended to the whole family. The family, after all, was the source of their identity as the people of God. Yet, Jesus used this as an opportunity to make the point again that he was redefining family. Physical descent was not what showed one to be blessed or the people of God. The family of God were those who heard the word of God and obeyed it. They were those who engaged in the war. This is a stern reminder for us who can so easily slip into the comfortable thought that what we do doesn’t matter as long as we’re part of the right church and have the right doctrines. Those things are important, but the real question is this: “are we engaging in Jesus’ work”? Are we with him or against him? Are we truly acting like his family?

Devotional Thought
In John 8, Jesus said that the Jews showed themselves, by their actions, to not be part of God’s family but to be part of Satan’s. If someone were to look at your life right now, what signs would they see that you were part of the family of God? Would they see the family resemblance of the Father in your life?

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