Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sermon: Luke 11: 14-36 The Stronger, Something Greater Saviour

Have you ever been in the position where people don’t ‘get’ what you’re doing? You do something, perhaps you help someone, but the people watching on assume the worst. They reckon your motives are wrong. They get the wrong end of the stick. They only see the negative in your actions.

When we live for Jesus, we find that sometimes, people don’t like that. They start opposing you, when you’re only trying to help and do the best for other people. And you might wonder why that is. Why do people see evil motives when you’re trying to do good? Why do the knives come out when you’re seeking to follow Jesus?

This morning’s reading helps us to see that you’re not alone in those situations. The Lord himself was misunderstood, thought the worst of, and spoken evil of. But through it all, we discover another aspect of who Jesus is. This morning, we see that he is the stronger, something greater Saviour.

The trigger is something straightforward. Out of one verse, a simple driving out of a demon, so that a man who was mute could now speak, comes the rest of the passage. The exorcism displays Jesus’ power. This man couldn’t speak. He wasn’t able to sing, answer the phone, say goodnight to his family, or anything else. Jesus drove out the demon that was afflicting him. The man could speak, the crowd was amazed. We see Jesus’ power over demons.

But not everyone was happy. In verses 16-17 we see the two responses to the miracle. Some reckon that ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons’ while others aren’t satisfied and want ‘a sign from heaven.’ We’ll take each of them in turn.

So first up, verse 15. ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ This is the excuse that denies Jesus’ power. It seems that they were muttering among themselves, but Jesus knows what they’re thinking. Is Jesus really on the devil’s side? Is he working for his boss, Satan? Is that how he can move around the demons, like a demonic middle manager (maybe you’ve met one of those in your time...)? But that’s just silly. The man was made better by Jesus, there was deliverance here. As Jesus says, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert.’ A football team where the players tackle each other isn’t going to win games. If Jesus is working for Satan, and working against Satan, then Satan’s kingdom won’t stand either. We need another explanation for where Jesus gets his power from.

Look at verse 20: ‘But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.’ Away back in Exodus, the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. God heard their cry, and sent Moses to rescue the people. He sent the ten plagues on Egypt - blood, frogs, gnats, flies, plague on livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborn. After the first couple, the magicians of Egypt were able to do the same - although if your water had turned to blood, why you would want even more blood and not some water? But after the third one, in Exodus 8:19, they declare: ‘This is the finger of God!’ This is God’s doing. But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and wouldn’t relent, wouldn’t listen.

Jesus is saying that he is on God’s team, not Satan’s. Jesus’ power is the finger of God. He shows that God’s kingdom has come. And then he says this in a way we don’t expect to hear from Jesus. Look at verse 21. Picture a strong man living in his castle, fully armed, with his property under lock and key. Now imagine that a stronger man comes, attacks him, overpowers him, and takes away his armour and his property. At first glance, you don’t expect Jesus to talk about himself as this stronger man, coming and attacking. But this is what he has come to do. The devil has the world in his power. He holds us captive. He is the strong man. But Jesus is the stronger. He came to overpower the devil and take away what he owns.

[Jesus goes on to say that moral reform or self-effort isn’t enough. To get rid of a demon, whatever it is, by trying really hard isn’t enough, if you don’t then fill your life with Jesus. Otherwise, the demon returns, bringing others with it, making things worse.]

The excuse denied Jesus’ power. They reckoned he was working for the devil. But Jesus says that he has come to bring deliverance, the kingdom of God, by being the stronger man who defeats the devil. A woman in the crowd thinks this is great, and shouts a blessing on Jesus’ mother - wouldn’t it be great to have a son like him? But Jesus says that the blessing is rather for those who hear the word of God and obey it. It sits between these two objections perfectly - as he teaches who he is, and as he explains why he came - will we listen and obey and be blessed?

The first crowd reckoned he was working for the devil. But the second crowd ‘to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven.’ (16) The miracle they had seen wasn’t enough. They wanted something extraordinary; they demanded a sign of his power, like a magic trick. Then they would believe, or so they thought.

Perhaps we could be tempted to think the same. If God were to show up and do something extraordinary, then I would believe him. Then I would really follow. But Jesus says that this generation is an evil one for wanting signs. Instead, he points them to God’s word, to the sign for them, the sign of Jonah.

Now we all know the story of Jonah. He ended up in the belly of a fish because God said ‘Go’ and he said ‘No’. But after he came out of the fish, he did obey God, he came out of his deathly prison, had a resurrection of sorts, and proclaimed God’s word to Nineveh, that wicked city. As we heard in our first reading, they obeyed, they repented, and believed the message.

Yet this generation refuses to listen to Jesus! He points them to two stories in the Old Testament to show how wicked they are. The Queen of the South was a pagan queen who lived far away in Africa. Yet she travelled the whole way to Jerusalem because she heard of Solomon’s wisdom. The people around Jesus didn’t have to go anywhere, he was right there, yet they refused to listen to him. In the same way, the people of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s message, but the people of Jesus’ day wouldn’t repent when Jesus spoke to them.

But there’s a forward focus here. Jesus looks ahead. Do you see in verse 31? ‘The Queen of the South will rise at the judgement... and condemn... Nineveh will rise up at the judgement... and condemn.’ Yet something greater than Solomon and Jonah is here. The stronger, something greater Saviour is here. And they will not listen. They deny his power with excuses about working for the devil, or they demand his power in miraculous signs. They’re not satisfied with Jesus, yet he has come as the Saviour. He came to do good, but they only see it as evil. He came as the light, but they only see darkness.

And what about us? What do we make of Jesus and what he came to do? Will we look at him and say, the wrong sort of power, or not enough power? As we come to his table, let’s rejoice in our stronger, something greater Saviour, who has defeated the devil and sets us free.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 1st February 2015.

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