I was once talking to a person about the things of the Lord. This particular person, knowing that I was a minister, had asked for my advice regarding a relationship he was having. I have to confess that I had to be rather blunt about certain things—some very personal and intimate things at that.
It may go without saying that the conversation became extremely awkward.
Every once in a while a preacher comes along and rattles the coffins of the dead.
For instance, in 1740 a minister by the name of Gilbert Tenant preached one of America’s most famous sermons. It was entitled, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” In the 1740’s America was experiencing a spiritual revival. People were coming to Christ in record proportions. But there were some clergymen who did not back the revivals. They disdained all the whoopla and shenanigans. They actually spoke out against them.
Some of you might have heard something similar to that in more recent years. In 2006 a man by the name of Paul Washer preached what has come to be known as "The Shocking Youth Message.” In that message he decried the spiritual deadness and apathy that characterizes the church of our day. He even said that many of the youth that he was speaking to would not even be admitted to churches that existed in places like Chili and South America because they really had no faith at all.
I believe that the words that Christ speaks in this text are of that same tone and tenor. Much of the church in his day was dead. And preaching to them was akin to giving CPR to a corpse in rigor mortis.
In these words here Jesus decries how comatose they had become. What is said here was meant to rattled the coffins. And I hope it continues to do so today. For, as you read this passage, you cannot help but see the great sin and doom of those who reject Christ.
I. The great sin and doom of those who reject Christ
The first verse that we read started out by saying, “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation.”
Now isn’t that seeker sensitive! Imagine if our church started growing in this kind of pace. People started swarming here from all over. It came to the point where we had to build a new building, and even after that we still had to hold 3 different Sunday services. Then one Sunday I got up in the pulpit and said, “You all are an evil generation.” I’m sure that might not go over very well.
But that’s what Jesus does. He is very forthright about their sin and how great it was.
You might ask, “Well, what was their sin and why was it so bad?” If you look in the passage (v.29) you will see that it says that they were seeking a sign. You might remember from last week’s message that Jesus cast out this demon and immediately after people said, “Ok, if you are from God, show us a sign. Give us a little confirmation on that.”
I mean, what more confirmation could he give?! A man had just been freed from demonic possession! That should be sign enough!
And Jesus takes this opportunity to show them just how evil this was. He uses the illustrations of the Ninevites and the Queen of the South. He says essentially says, “the Ninevites heard Jonah preach and they repented.” Now you remember the story of Jonah and the Ninevites. Jonah didn’t want to preach to them. So he ran the opposite direction. God taught him a little lesson with a big fish and Jonah said, “Ok, I better go.”
But he was still a bit begrudging in it all. He walked up to the city and preached, “40 days and this city will be over thrown.” Now, I’ve always thought it was interesting that it makes mention that the city was 3 days journey in breadth. But it says that Jonah went a day’s journey. I’ve always wondered if that indicated that Jonah was less than enthusiastic in conducting his ministry. I’m not sure if that can be proven or not, but we do see that he goes up on a hillside and starts to pout. I think it is safe to say that Jonah was not someone who we’d hold up as an exemplary prophet.
Think about those Ninevites though: They had very little revelation. They had a sermon that was about 8 words long. Perhaps the shortest sermon ever. It was preached to only a small portion of the population, and not even to the king himself. And the messenger seems to be less than ideal when it comes to delivering the message.
But what happens? The Ninevites repent in droves. The whole city breaks out in a revival. This is an amazing story of how people made great use of the revelation that they were given.
The same sort of thing is being said in the illustration of the Queen. Here is a woman who lived in the distant lands—the farthest reaches of the world. She comes to hear about Solomon’s wealth of wisdom and she comes and checks it out. Now, how many of you would travel thousands of miles on foot or camel just because you heard a rumor about a really smart guy living in Israel?
The point is that both of these stories illustrate people who made use of very little amount of revelation.
But here you have someone who was greater than Jonah and greater than Solomon. Here you have one who is the very incarnation of God himself. He was standing right there in their midst and yet they would not accept it.
I’ve talked to you before about how greater revelation means greater responsibility. It wasn’t that long ago that we discussed this. As a matter of fact, it was just back in chapter 10; it was just a few weeks ago. Now we are hearing it again.
There are people who only have the testimony of creation. The creation declares the glory of God. They will be held responsible for how they handle the amount of revelation they have. The people in the Old Testament received the oracles, the prophecies, the law and sacramental rites. They had more revelation, and they will be held accountable for whether or not they accepted it or rejected it. It was a great blessing to have it, even thought it was still the shadow of things to come and not the full revelation of Christ.
But here you have Christ clearly manifested before the people. The pagans just had a candle. The Ninevites and this Queen had maybe one of those florescent bulbs that are being pushed today. It was a bit brighter, but not by much! The Jews in the Old Testament times had a lot more truth revealed to them. They had a pretty powerful Maglite Flashlight. But when Christ was standing there, it was as if the sun were blazing right in front of them.
That’s the evil. That’s why Christ calls them an evil generation. Though God himself stood right there and held out the offer of redemption and life, they would have none of it.
That’s why, of course, they will face the doom they do. Jesus says that these Ninevites and this Queen will rise up on the last day and condemn them for their foolishness and lack of repentance. The last thing these Jews will see on the Day when all are gathered before the Judgment seat of Christ is a grand jury of what had been a bunch of pagans frowning upon them.
This just makes me reiterate to you how important it is to hear God’s call to you to turn to Christ. It is true that we do not have the level of revelation that these guys did in this passage. Jesus isn’t standing right here. But the amount of revelation we have is tremendous still. We do have the clear testimony of Scripture about the Son of God. And every time you hear Christ preached it is as if thousands of high energy floodlights are blazing right in your face.
You certainly have received more revelation than that of the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba. It would be perilous if you did not respond appropriately. Your sin would be just as great, or at least rival the magnitude of it. Most certainly doom would be the same because you too would be condemned in the last day.
I want you to notice though that this passage does highlight something else. Even though it does make plain how great a sin it is to reject Christ and how terrible will be the judgment of them, it also tells us something of how great our hope is if we accept Christ and how great our salvation will be.
II. The great hope and salvation of those who accept Christ
You have to remember that though this passage is something of a spiritual tombstone for these Jews, that’s not what it has to be for us. Ultimately, this passage is here to direct us on what we must do so that we don’t have the same epitaph written over our heads!
We haven’t talked about this, but you have to remember that Luke was writing this book to his friend, Theophilus. He was seeking, not just to give him and account of the things that Christ said and did, but to point him to the gospel. In other words, Luke put this here to be a stimulus to his friend. Basically he was saying, “Theophilus, don’t be like these Jews! Embrace the gospel and turn to Christ!”
And even though this passage contains a dreadful account of the sin and future judgment of these Jews, we find here a glorious testimony to the great hope and salvation that there is in Christ.
Luke reminds us how these rank pagans were delivered from their fate. I mean the Ninevites were some of the most depraved people that ever walked the face of the planet.
We are doing an overview of the prophetic books of the Bible in our Sunday evening study. And we studied the Ninevites not too long ago. They were horrendously evil people. To say that they were cruel would be an understatement. They were ruthless people. They put fishhooks in the mouths of their captives. After defeating an enemy they would make pyramids out of their heads. They did all kinds of horrid things.
But Luke reminds us that at one point they repented. As a result, they did not experience the terrors of God’s wrath.
The Queen of Sheba too, she was a pagan. Yet She heard Solomon and rejoiced in his wisdom. As a result, she will stand in the last day, not as one who is condemned, but as a fellow condemner.
And Luke tells us that one greater than both Solomon and Jonah is here. If eternal life came through these faulty men, then how much more will salvation come through those who listen to Christ!
What’s more, this passage gives us a picture of the gospel and the way salvation comes to us. Jesus rebukes these guys for seeking a sign other than the clear ones that he has already given. But he goes on to say, “Ok, you want a sign? I’ll give you a sign. I’ll give you the sign of Jonah!”
What does he mean by that? Well, remember what happened to Jonah. Jonah is most famous for having spent 3 days in the belly of a giant fish. After he was hurled up he went to Nineveh to preach.
What Jesus was talking about was his resurrection. He was basically saying, “I know how virulent your hatred of me is. I know that it will only be a matter of time before you crucify me. But know this, I will rise again, just like Jonah did, and the gospel will be preached, just like it was preached to those Ninevites!”
So right here—in the same passage that talks about the doom that men will face—we have a testimony to the life giving power of Christ. Christ rose from the dead as the victor of life. And because of this there will be a resurrection!
Just like the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba, there is hope that we too can once again stand on the face of the earth!
This passage then, provides us with more than just a detailed account of one’s sin and condemnation. It is not just a tombstone hanging over the calloused hearts of rotted souls. This passage reminds us of the glorious promise of the gospel! It reminds us that this life is not all that there is. When we trust Christ we can have the assurance that the grave will not swallow us up forever. Rather, a time will come when we, like Christ, will be brought up from the grave.
In his book 33 Strategies for War Robert Greene seeks to lay out the key tactics used in military maneuvers throughout history. His book is, you could say, a textbook on how to run a successful military campaign.
It is divided into 5 sections, the last section seeming to be one of the most stimulating. The last heading is that of “Unconventional (or Dirty) War.”
The first strategy mentioned in this section is that of misperception. The goal of this tactic is to weave a seamless blend of facts and fiction so as to deceive the enemy and throw them off course.
One of the examples that is given of this approach was during WWII. In order to confuse Hitler—and so disarm his ability to make effective decisions when the Allies stormed Normandy on D-Day—the United States built up a fake army on England’s shores. There was no army in that vicinity, but Hitler’s forces were receiving intelligence that a large number of troops were being mustered in a given area. The result was that it looked from the German perspective as if an attack were going to be slated from a completely different region.
The deception worked brilliantly. Hitler’s reaction time on D-Day was slowed immensely, and the Allied forces were able to gain the upper hand.
Deception and “dirty war” have always been useful tactics in combat situations. We might even say that it is the oldest of strategies because it has been around since the beginning of time. Satan, you know, is the Father of Lies. And in the Garden of Eden, when the war between good and evil first began, Satan implemented deception.
Since then, it has been his main approach. And as we come to our passage today, we see something of his dirty warfare being practiced.
In our text today we see that Christ has just done a miracle. He has cast out a demon. And it is so clearly demonstrated that no one can deny it. The people who oppose him are even convinced that a miracle has occurred. But rather than acknowledge it, they attempt to pervert its interpretation. They seek to deceive the people so as to keep them from following Christ by attributing it to the power of Satan.
And as Luke develops this story we learn a number of things about the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. You might say that Christ cleans up the dirty war by giving us a clear perception of the nature of Satan’s kingdom.
At the very outset of our passage we see how Satan’s kingdom is doomed.
I. Christ reveals how satan’s kingdom is doomed [14-22]
Verse 14 tells us of the exorcism that Jesus performs. We are told about a man who had been in such bondage to a demon that he could not talk. This demon had paralyzed his tongue . But along comes Jesus and he casts out the demon. Immediately the man’s tongue is loosed and he begins to talk.
What you need to remember is that all of Jesus’ miracles have a redemptive focus. They are almost sacramental in that they give a visible testimony to the kind of ministry that Jesus conducted.
Every time Jesus casts out a demon we are told that he had come to liberate us from the dominion of Satan. This miracle pointed the people back to Genesis 3 and that first gospel pronouncement. This was a sign that that Christ was the promised Messiah who had come to crush the head of the serpent. Each exorcisim is a reminder that the kingdom of Satan was being besieged and would soon come to an end.
But it is not just this act that testifies to Satan’s doom. We also see it in jesus’ argument.
The very next verse we see that some of them who were there said that the reason he is able to cast out demons is because he himself is possessed. He casts them out by the power of Satan/ Beelzebul (Beelzebub). And Jesus refutes this charge by saying, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.” In other words, this charge is absurd! If Satan casts out Satan, then he is fighting himself. He would be defeating his own territory and giving it over to God. That is ridiculous.
It is like the Roman Catholic priest who was once denouncing the revivals that were occurring among the Protestants in Ireland. He warned his people against them by saying that these revivals were the work of the devil. A little boy then said to the priest, “Just think, father. It must be a new kind of devil, because that’s not the way the old devil used to make people behave themselves.”
The old devil would make them more scandalous, not more holy & devote!
But look at what Jesus says in verse 21. In verses 21 and 22 he compares Satan to a strong man. And he says that there is no possible way of beating a strong man unless you have someone stronger come along. Jesus says that if a stronger man comes along and disarms him, then he can then plunder his house.
And Jesus, by virtue of this exorcism, is saying, “I am that strong man. I am here to plunder Satan’s house.” What this amounts to is a prophecy of what we have witnessed for the last 2000 years. For the last 2000 years we’ve witnessed the plundering of Satan’s house.
Satan’s house is the entirety of the world. He has guarded it nice and safe up until the time of Christ. The nations were blinded by him and under his dominion. But ever since Christ came, and ever since the Spirit of God was poured out on Pentecost, Satan’s house has been plundered. The gospel is going out through the world and people all over the globe are turning to Christ.
Think about how the gospel has advanced. In the early centuries it raced through the Roman Empire. In just 300 years it was turned upside down and went from persecuting Christianity to having it as its main religion.
It became so prevalent that by the mediaeval ages they used to call the European continent “Christendom” (i.e. Christ’s kingdom). In the 17 century the gospel was carried across the sea to America, and from there it has gone around the world. Admittedly, the gospel has waned quite a bit on these two continents, but it continues to grow like wildfire in other places. It is said that it is only a matter of a decade or two before there are more Christians in China than communists. There are also testimonies of how the church is moving like a wild forest fire across Latin America and South America.
One pastor put it this way,
“Two hundred years ago less than one per cent of evangelical Christians lived outside of the West. Today, 70% of believers are non-Western. It took 1,430 years for Christianity to reach one per cent of the world’s population. By 1940 that level had risen to three per cent. Since the Second World War evangelical Christianity has grown to 11.2 % of the world’s population."
There can be no doubt that the house of Satan is being plundered. Jesus Christ is the stronger man and he has Satan pinned down. It is all just a reminder that Satan’s kingdom will not last.
But not only do we see that Satan’s kingdom is doomed, the passage goes on to show us how Satan’s kingdom is manifested.
II. Christ reveals how Satan’s kingdom is manifested [23-26]
In verse 23 Jesus says, “Whoever is not for me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus says, “Hey guys, there are only two sides to this whole shebang. There is my side and the other side. You are either on one or the other. There is no in-between And the way you can tell is by examining you act.”
What Jesus is doing here is really showing who is on the side of Satan. He is telling these guys exactly where satanic alliance really lies. Jesus is saying, “You accuse me of being of the devil? The truth is, you are the ones who are aligned against God. I am doing the works of God. But you have attempted to slander me and soil the clear manifestation of the finger of God.”
Another way to put it would be to say that the Satanic spirit is that which is anti-Christ. Christ represents all that is good. Opposition to him is allegiance with the forces of hell.
The way Satan’s kingdom is manifested is in those who refuse to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Their lack of faith and their inability to acknowledge His saving power are the tell tale traits of where their loyalties lie.
In verse 24 gives an illustration of what he’s talking about. He draws on the exorcism that he just performed and talks about an evil spirit that come out of a man. After it is cast out it goes all over seeking a place to settle down, but it can’t find it. So what it decides to do is go back to its original dwelling place. He grabs seven other spirits that are even worse and he takes up residence once again in his former dwelling place.
What Jesus is doing here is giving a little illustration of what the Jewish people he was talking to were like. He’s not saying that they were all possessed by a demon, don’t think that. He’s talking about how they demonstrate a form of religious piety, but lacking the reality of it.
These Jews were moral. They gave the impression of being cleansed. They made great attempts at reforming their life and their culture. They gave the impression of being incredibly religious, but in reality they weren’t. There was no true working of the Spirit within them. What they lacked was that inward renewal that is the heart of the Jewish religion. That’s why Jesus says these demons were able to come back and take up residence again.
Jesus’ point is that unless you have the inward transformation of the Holy Spirit, you are in league with Satan.
You must not confuse moral reformation with personal regeneration. It does not matter if you’ve cleaned up your life or mellowed out with age. If your heart has not changed, then the chains that bind you to the devil’s rule have not been loosed.
One of the greatest mistakes a man can make is what we see in this passage. A man can deceive himself into thinking that he is a great man of God when, in all actuality, he is not.
You might have undergone a great transformation. You might have, as they say, “Got religion” and left your old ways of drunkenness and debauchery. But if you have not had a true changing in the inward man, there is nothing with which to be happy. You are still a friend of the foe and an adversary of God.
The truth is: You cannot be part of Christ’s kingdom unless you are born again.
Again, these Jews with whom Jesus was speaking were likely perceived as some of the religious establishment. They were scholars when it came to Scripture. They were exemplary when it came to moral discipline. But despite all this, they were the embodiment of Satan’s forces.
And anyone who has not had that heart transformation is going to be like. No matter how moral or pure you may appear, you will manifest the spirit of Satan by opposing to the person and work of Jesus.
III. Christ reveals how Satan’s kingdom is escaped [27-28]
The way it is escaped is found in verse 28. In verse 27 a woman, so impressed with what Christ has said, stands up and says, “Blessed is the one who gave birth to you and nursed you.” But Jesus says in response, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
Now don’t think that there is anything wrong with what this woman says. Jesus is not rebuking her or correcting her. The adoration she offers is fine and good. Jesus simply takes the opportunity to tell us what it takes to be aligned with his side.
He has just said, “Whoever is not for me is against me.” And he has pointed out that the kingdom of Satan is doomed. So there might be some people sitting there thinking, “Well, how do I know if I’m on the right side?” or they may be thinking, “How can I get to the right side?” There may be people living in their sin and they may want to defect.
So Jesus says, “If you want to be blessed—if you want to be relieved of the curse that is upon the house of Satan, then what you must do is receive my word. You have to believe me and obey the law that I am lay down.”
This is something of what the Heidelberg Catechism gets at. In the Heidelberg Catechism there is a question that asks, “What is true faith?” The first part of the answer says this, “True faith is… a sure knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His word.” It goes on to be more specific about the gospel. It says that true faith is also, “a firm confidence … that the forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given to me by God.” But we should not overlook the general statement. What is true faith? It is a sure knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His word.
Perhaps we can understand it better this way.
What Jesus is saying here can be illustrated by noting the difference between someone who is a terrorist and someone who comes to our country peacefully, wanting to be a citizen of it. Someone who comes as a terrorist will perhaps come through the same portal as an immigrant. He will likely be received and processed at the same place. He will be instructed in the laws of our lands and will likely take the same test. But what is the difference between them? The one who comes seeking citizenship is one who believes in America and what it stands for. As a result, he is one who hears those laws and seeks to obey them. There is a true heart affection for this nation and a desire to be a part of it. He leaves his former country and cleaves to this one, and it is demonstrated by his obedience.
That isn’t so for the terrorist. The terrorist comes to our land, but doesn’t wish to be a part of it. He loves his homeland more. Though he hears the same instruction and learns many of the laws that govern our land, he isn’t swayed by it. He may give some outward compliance here and there, but it is not true obedience. Defiance is in his heart. He is only here because he wishes to destroy it. Ultimately, the terrorist defies the laws of this land by striking out against it.
Now, do you see what Jesus is saying. He is laying out for us the way to come into the kingdom of God. If you are a citizen of Satan’s kingdom (and we all are by nature), Jesus says, “This is the way you can come into the land of blessing. This is the way you transfer your citizen ship. You must not only hear what I say, but you must receive it. You must demonstrate it by seeking to obey me and living by the laws that govern my kingdom.”
Anyone who doesn’t take heed to the word of God is nothing but a Satanic terrorist—just like these people we’ve been talking about in this story. But anyone who listens to Jesus and accepts his word, he is a child of God.
The beginning of John Bunyan’s classic work Pilgrim’s Progress presents us with a man who lives “In the City of Destruction.” He is presented to us as a man who has received a correspondence. The letter tells him that the city that he lives in will be soon destroyed and all who are in it will be lost. The man is so vexed by this that he becomes fanatical. His family even declares him to be mad.
He carries on in a fit for some time. Until he finds that the only answer is to run from his land. He covers his ears and dashes away from the city saying, “Life! Life! Eternal Life!”
The scene from that book sums up well what we find here in this passage. Satan’s kingdom is doomed. All who are against Christ will one day find themselves facing the wrath of God, and there is only one way to escape it. You must run to Christ for life. If you are to find the blessedness of life, you must forsake the ways of the devil and submit yourself to Christ.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.