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Everyone knows that a house, a team, a family, a congregation, a nation, that is divided is in trouble. If there is division on a sports team about coaching, or the commitment of certain players, or the style of play, that team will not win a lot of games no matter how good the players may be. If a family is divided over how to manage finances, or about the Christian training of children, that family is in for trouble and their children will be confused about religion if not completely turned off. If a congregation can’t agree on its purpose, to use the means of grace to make and train disciples of Jesus, it won’t be effective in doing that. If a nation can’t find some principle that the majority can agree on and rally around, sooner or later it will no longer be a nation.
When Jesus cast out a demon that was causing the person it possessed to be unable to speak, the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of performing exorcisms by the power of Satan. Notice, they didn’t deny that exorcism was possible or that Jesus had successfully driven out the demon. Those were facts that they couldn’t deny. But they refused to believe what the miraculous sign clearly showed- that Jesus was from God, that he was the promised Messiah.
Jesus responded by pointing out to them how foolish their accusation was. Their accusation showed that they were greatly underestimating Satan and that was a very dangerous mistake. Satan is not divided. He is not going to work against himself or his demons. Satan and his demons are 100% focused on a single purpose. John lets us know what his purpose is when he says in Revelation, woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. When he couldn’t devour Jesus, he was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring– those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus. And Peter warns us, Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Satan is not divided, he is intently focused on taking as many with him into the fires of Hell as he possibly can.
Is that a little scary? I hope so. In fact, Peter says it ought to make us sober, always keeping our wits about us; and vigilant, always watching and praying, so that we don’t fall prey to the devil’s schemes, one of which is to divide us. If he can distract the members of a congregation, if he can keep them from focusing on Jesus and sharing the good news of the gospel with as many as possible, if he can get them to focus on petty differences in traditions (not doctrine), or buildings, or where and when to have coffee, he wins. If Satan can convince us not to talk about him, or take him seriously, he wins.
Satan is not divided. Jesus says he is a strong man, fully armed, guarding his house. He fought to keep Jesus from driving the demon out of this person. He is fighting to keep his possessions, that’s all of us who are born dead in sin and slaves of Satan, safely in his grasp. We heard him pull out all the stops as he tempted our hungry savior who had been fasting in the wilderness. But we also heard the result of that all out attack. Jesus was victorious. In fact, Jesus describes himself as the one who is stronger than the strong man. Satan is united against Jesus, but Jesus is stronger. He has come to tie up the strong man, Satan, and set free all those he has captured. Jesus’ point is that the only way he could drive the demon out of the one who was possessed is that he is stronger than the strongman, Satan.
So, who was divided? His accusers were. They were divided over Jesus. Some thought he was of the devil. Some thought he was a prophet. Some thought he was the Messiah. Their division meant that they were in trouble. Jesus warned them the one who is not with me is against me. The one who does not gather with me scatters. You can’t be neutral when it comes to Jesus. You are either united to him by faith, or you remain a slave of Satan. Those who try to remain neutral about Jesus are like the house that a demon finds empty. When he finds a house, a heart, empty, trying to be neutral, lukewarm in regard to Jesus, he goes and finds seven other demons to take up residence in that empty heart with him. Our hearts will not remain empty. They will either be filled by faith in the one true God, or they will be filled with idols.
Our world is filled with people who are trying to be neutral about Jesus, but whoever is not with Jesus is actually against Jesus. All of us, by nature, are against Jesus. And, once the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, we live with a constant battle. Our stubborn sinful nature buys into Satan’s lie that true freedom means being free to participate in obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, coveting and immorality, when in fact doing so is idolatry. It’s making ourselves god, and leads to eternal slavery and separation from God’s kingdom for all eternity. You can’t serve both God and your own sinful desires. You can’t unite with the sinful actions of the world and stay united with Jesus. You can’t say, as some have actually said on TV, “Christianity is what I do on Sunday, the rest of the week is mine.”
By God’s grace, Jesus has caused his light to shine into the darkness of our hearts. Through our baptism and through the good news of the Gospel the Holy Spirit has enlightened us, enabling us to see the truth. The truth is that Jesus is the only one who is stronger that the strong man Satan. The truth is that Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work and to set those Satan held captive, to set us free. The fact that he cast out the mute demon was proof that he was defeating the strong man, tying him up so that he could plunder his house. The fact that Jesus rose on the third day and descended into hell to proclaim his victory to the spirits in prison, to Satan and his Demons, makes us sure that Jesus has destroyed the devil’s work. In Jesus, Satan is powerless. His accusations against us before the Father fall on deaf ears because Jesus points to his perfect life and innocent death as evidence that our every sin is paid for in full. Through his word Jesus gives us the power to recognize Satan’s lies and tell him to go away; and because Jesus defeated him, he must listen.
By God’s grace, Jesus continues to shine his light of truth into our hearts as we live our lives in the word each day. Every time we are reminded of our baptism, he reminds us that we are his dearly loved children; that he has purchased and won us from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death in our place. Being reminded of what he has done for us moves us to walk in love and to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, wholly devoted to God… walking as children of light in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.
While Jesus was speaking about Satan, the danger of taking him lightly and not seeing Jesus as the one who came to defeat Satan, a woman recognized that he was speaking the truth, raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Who wouldn’t have wanted to be Mary the mother of Jesus! What a joy it must have been to raise a perfect child who never sinned, who, at twelve was impressing the great teachers in the temple courts with his knowledge of God’s word! But Jesus reminds her, and us, who is even more blessed than Mary. He said, “Even more blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”
Satan is looking for a house, a heart, that is empty; a heart that is trying to remain neutral about Jesus. He is looking for a house, a heart that is cleaned and put in order, maybe one that is determined to be upright and moral, a good person, but does not trust in Jesus for salvation. Those are hearts where he can rule. Those are people he can make his slaves. But those who hear the word of God, who read and study it daily, are blessed because God promises the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts through the word. Those who hear the word of God and meditate on it; who think about how what God says applies to them; who are then moved to confess their sins and run to Jesus for forgiveness, are blessed. The Holy Spirit is dwelling in their hearts, their faith is growing, and their sinful nature is being drown every time it tries to bob up out of the water. Those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed because they have the most powerful weapon there is against Satan, the sword of the Spirit, the word of God..
Satan is not divided. He is focused on one objective. He is desperately working, doing all he can to take us to Hell with him. Don’t take him lightly. Don’t try to be neutral when it comes to Jesus. You are either with Jesus or against him. But with Jesus, you don’t have to fear Satan. Jesus has defeated him. As you regularly hear the word of God and take it to heart, you are blessed. The Holy Spirit is at work to protect you from every evil Spirit as he helps you grow in faith, walk in love, and bring forth the fruit of the light, which consists in goodness, righteousness and truth.