The Right Attitude Toward Spiritual Warfare
Key verse 11:28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
When I found out that I was assigned to this passage, I thought to myself, “Crap! I am getting in a big trouble. What am I supposed to talk about Jesus and Beelzebul?” But when I studied this passage deeply, I realized there was so much to learn from this passage. It is not just another story of demons but it’s about the right attitude we must have when we engage with the spiritual warfare against Satan. This passage also presents important implications for both non-believers and Christians. May God help us to hear, accept, and obey Jesus’ words.
Look at verse 14a: “Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute.” Most demons in the gospels that Jesus encountered were talkative and loud. But the demon in this passage was quite different. He was mute. There are lots of medical reasons that someone could be mute. There could be something wrong with the vocal organs like your tongue, jaw, lips and throat. If they are born deaf, they cannot develop spoken language skills. Or, they may have a brain injury. There are also children who suffer from selective mutism. Abuse, neglect, extreme shyness, extremely embarrassing experiences like vomiting or having diarrhea in public places may cause so much anxiety in certain kids and suppress their capacity to speak. In today’s passage, it was a demon that made the man mute because when the demon left, the man began to speak. Speaking is the basic form of human expression. When he was not able to communicate with others, he became isolated from people. The demon oppressed the man’s spirit and crushed his mind using his dark power. “You are my possession. You won’t be able to speak forever. You will be abused, ignored, and isolated. No one will be able to save you.” The man wanted to cry out for salvation, but he couldn’t say even a word! Jesus heard the desperate cry of the man’s soul. He had mercy on him and drove out the demon. According to Isaiah, it was the promised Messiah’s work that he will make the mute tongue shout for joy (Isa 35:6).
Look at verses 14b-16. “When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons. Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.” When the mute person was healed, he must have praised Jesus for setting him free from the demon. When people saw this miracle, they should have praised Jesus altogether. However, we see three different types of reactions from the people who watched this event. The first type of reaction is shown among the crowd who was amazed by Jesus’ miracle. Their amazement showed that they were positive and open to Jesus. The second type of reaction came from some of the crowd saying that Jesus was driving out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. It is obvious that they were actively and purposely hostile to Jesus. According to Matthew 12:24, they were the Pharisees. Today, we will follow Jesus’ defense against the Pharisees who attributed his work to demons. Lastly, there was another group of people who were not hostile to Jesus, yet they were not fully convinced that Jesus exercised God’s power over demons. So out of their skepticism, they asked for another sign from heaven. Next week, in verses 29-32, we will see Jesus’ response to this group of people.
Look at verses 17-18 “Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebul.” Here, Jesus defends himself by presenting plain truth and claims that the Pharisee’s way of reasoning is completely against it. It is plainly true that if any kingdom or house is divided against itself and its members fight against each other, then such kingdom or house cannot stand and will eventually fall. The Pharisees would likely have agreed with this principle. On a national level, the division of Israel during King Solomon and Jeroboam’s time proved it to be right. On a family level, if a husband and wife keep fighting all the time and hurting each other saying “I’m right, you are wrong!”, the family will be eventually broken. Here, Jesus applies this principle to the spiritual world. Satan does not divide his forces and tell them to destroy each other. This would be similar to a military commander asking his own soldiers to shoot each other during a battle. Then the soldiers would soon recognize their commander is crazy and run away from him. Even the most foolish commanders in history were not that stupid. The Pharisee’s logic was irrational. Jesus’ power was not coming from Beelzebul.
Now, Jesus snatches their logic to counterattack. Look at verse 19. “Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.” Intertestamental Jewish literature gives us some hints about how the Jews of the first century performed the exorcism. The Jews believed the existence of angels, demons, mystical or ceremonial means of expelling a demon through a ritual. During the ritual, they often smoked the fish organs on the embers or used scents or read the psalms of David or Solomon to claim the higher authority than demons. They also knew the importance of prayer to God. So it appears that the followers of the Pharisees must have depended on the religious ritual rather than Beelzebul to expel demons. If the Pharisees applied their absurd logic to Jesus’ work, then the same logic should be applied to their followers for the same kind of work. Why did they force an odd idea onto Jesus’ work, which they could not apply to themselves? They just wanted to attack Jesus by any means to protect their social and religious standing. Spiritually, they were enslaved by Satan. When the poor mute man began to speak, they should have praised the great work of God through Jesus. Instead, they labeled Jesus’ miracle as Satan’s work.
Then, what was the true source of Jesus’ power of driving out demons? Here, the basic premise is that demons are very powerful and they are not polite or cooperative. They do not leave just because you say “Hey Mr. Demon, can you please go away from me? I just want to be alone.” Instead, they must be driven out. Who can drive out demons by just saying a word without much struggle? According to the Jewish Messianism, the Jews believed that only the Messiah who would bring salvation at the last day could bind the prince of demons. So in Matthew 12:23, when the crowd saw Jesus healed the mute man, they were astonished and said “Could this be the Son of David?” Therefore, through saving the mute man out of demon possession, Jesus demonstrated himself as the Son of David, the promised Messiah! But he did not say anything directly along these lines to the people. Instead, he wanted them to figure out the unspoken truth by hearing what he said. Then what is the implication of this miracle of driving out the mute demon?
Let’s read verse 20 altogether. “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” “The finger of God” is a powerful expression to represent the mighty power of God. It can also refer to the Spirit of God according to Matthew 12:28. The first time the phrase “the finger of God” appears in the Scriptures is in Exodus 8:19. When God turned dust into gnats, the Egyptian magicians could not duplicate it. So they told Pharaoh “This is the finger of God!”, acknowledging that they had reached their limitation to go against God. Likewise, Jesus’ exorcistic ministry was completely different from other Jewish exorcists. By refusing to use a ritual ceremony, fumes, smells or ancient incantations, Jesus demonstrated that he used the finger of God to drive out demons. By not appealing to outside higher authorities like David or Solomon, Jesus showed that he himself was the true Messiah King. Finally, in verse 20, by linking his exorcistic ministry with the arrival of the kingdom of God, Jesus identified himself as the one who could fulfill the promise of redemption. Jewish exorcistic ministry was just about physical or mental healing. They never able to bring the kingdom of God after healing demon possessed people. These differences point to Jesus’ own surpassing authority and power that belonged to God alone and was far greater than those of anyone in the world and of Satan. In verses 21-22, Jesus elaborated this idea of the superiority of his power and authority.
Let’s read verses 21-22. “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.” If Jesus wasn’t casting out demons by Beelzebul, then how was he doing it? Jesus continued with a parable to explain the spiritual dynamics of what was going on when he drove out demons. The strong man in verse 21 refers to Satan. He is fully armed to guard his own house and protect his possessions. His house refers to Satan’s kingdom or the world and his possessions refer to the people under his control like the mute man in this passage. According to Revelation 12:3, Satan is fully armed with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Satan trusted that his armors were strong. Indeed that is true. He uses strong armors of every kind of sins. He uses all sorts of addictions, hatred, and human ideas so that people keep staying in his kingdom. Who can attack the house of the strong man and rescue those prisoned there? Sadly, no one had been able to do it since Adam’s fall. But thank God that the stronger man in verse 22 refers to Jesus Christ. But remember that the difference in the power between the strong and stronger men is not just incremental. It is huge! If the strong man is like a wolf that can boss around wild animals and kill sheep, the stronger man is like the huge lion who is the king of the jungle. Through shedding his blood on the cross, Jesus overpowered Satan and crushed his head. When we repent and come to Jesus, he sets us free from Satan; we are no longer Satan’s possession! Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Thank and praise Jesus for overpowering Satan and bringing us into the kingdom of God!
Look at verse 23. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” After defending himself, Jesus is now asking them to make a right decision. In this context of spiritual war between demonic powers and Jesus’ kingdom power, there can be no neutrality. We live in a world where neutrality is sometimes considered a respectable alternative between faith in Christ and atheism. It is in the middle. It doesn’t say I don’t believe Jesus. It doesn’t say I do believe Jesus. It says I don’t know – I will see. This basically means that I don’t want to make any commitment to Jesus. But here Jesus makes it crystal clear that when the spiritual war breaks out, you must take side with Jesus. This is the right attitude that we must have toward spiritual warfare. If you are not with Jesus, it means you are against him. If you do not gather with Jesus, Satan will recruit you right there as his coworker to scatter Jesus’ kingdom harvest. How about you? Do you believe Jesus is the strongest man in the universe? [say Amen] Are you standing on Jesus’ side or Satan’s side? [say Jesus’ side] Let’s pray that we always and all the time stay with Jesus Christ!
But even up to this point, Jesus saw that some people didn’t want to make any decision. In order to help them make a right decision, Jesus taught them further about the work of evil spirits and the consequence of not standing on his side. Look at verses 24-26 “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. 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.” We don’t know why the impure spirit went out of a person. Perhaps it was driven out or perhaps it got bored and was looking for a vacation. But when the impure spirit did not find a place to rest, it decided to return to the person it left. The place was in good shape, swept clean and put in order and there was no one living there. So, it went out and gathered seven other spirits more wicked than itself and told them he found a cool place to live so let’s go party there. One is bad enough, but seven more? Here, we learn the nature of impure spirits. They always look for people to possess to make themselves at home because they can’t take a rest outside the living beings. That’s why the countless demons in the region of the Gerasenes begged Jesus to let them go into a large herd of pigs. When an impure spirit went out from a person, his condition has improved temporarily. His life has become more organized through his human effort, but his heart was still left empty. Matthew 12:44 explicitly tells us that when the impure spirit returned, it found the house unoccupied. The point of this parable is to illustrate that there is no neutrality in the spiritual battle. If you leave your heart unoccupied, demons will notice it and try to jump on you right away. Human efforts cannot stop them. Unless you are occupied with Jesus, there is nothing to stop the impure spirits. Then what shall we do? We must let the word of God completely fill and occupy our hearts. Jesus gives us the final direction along this line in verses 27-28.
Look at verse 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.” This woman thought that all of Jesus’ power and wisdom was a great blessing to his mother. She treated Jesus’ words as the words of a man of great wisdom not as God’s holy words. Jesus did not want such praise. She just missed the point of Jesus’ words. Let’s read verse 28 together. “He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Here, Jesus emphasized that what he had said so far was not just human word, but it was the word of God. So we must hear Jesus’ words with a humble and contrite heart. In verse 28, Jesus also emphasized the importance of obeying the word of God. We become blessed only after we hear and obey the word of God. Therefore the obedience part in verse 28 connects to verse 23 where Jesus demands us to stand on his side. If we obey this Jesus’ word and refuse to stand on Satan’s side, we will be truly blessed by becoming God’s kingdom members who have complete victory over Satan.
Today’s passage presents clear implications for both non-believers and born-again Christians.
First, for nonbelievers: This passage emphasizes that demons are real to us. Satan’s influence upon your practical and inner life is real and serious through all sorts of lies, deception and sins of this world. Under the complete bondage of Satan without any knowledge of the word of God, you can’t even realize you are under Satan’s control. But if you start hearing the word of God, God will convict you of your sins and give you a desire to repent. So if you feel God is demanding you to repent, it is a great sign of God’s love upon you. But somehow if your feelings of condemnation persist and you don’t want to repent and accept Jesus, it may be a sign that Satan is holding you tight to keep you under his control. When the mute man was possessed by the demon, he couldn’t say even a word for his salvation because the demon grabbed his vocal organs so tight. So what shall you do? You must believe the truth that will set you free from the power of Satan. The truth is that Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sins. His blood will wash away your shame and condemnation. To make this happen to your life, you must make a confession of faith with your mouth according to Romans 10:10 “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” So let us say this altogether. Please take a deep breath to fill your lungs with the air. Then push it out of your lungs and move your tongue, jaw, and lips to say “Jesus, I need your salvation. You can set me free!” Thank God for saving us through faith in Jesus Christ!
Second, today’s passage also presents an important message for born-again Christians. Living in this fallen world, there is always a high risk for us to compromise our faith by craving the world and following the pattern of it. If we fall into this trap, we will gradually lose the word of God and the Holy Spirit until our heart becomes empty and unoccupied. When I fell into this trap in the beginning of this year, Satan occupied my heart and tried to beat me down by tempting me to dwell on deadly thoughts. God had mercy on me and lifted me up by filling my heart with the word of God from the Sunday passage that I served in February: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace. Don’t be afraid just believe, and she will be healed (Luke 8:48, 50).” May God bless us to fill our hearts with his words and Holy Spirit to the full!
While I was preparing this message, I found a great example of waging spiritual war in Martin Luther’s life who wrote the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” that we sung this morning. Like many others in the Middle Ages, he feared that the Roman Catholic Church had become too corrupt to provide people with the biblical guidance they needed to obtain salvation. Luther believed that individuals could seek salvation through their own faith, without relying on priests. On October 31, 1517, he attempted to provoke a debate on reform by nailing a list of 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg University cathedral. So this year is very special as it marks the 500th anniversary of the year Luther made his 95 theses. Because he was on the front line of the battle to restore the gospel of Jesus, he had numerous encounters with the devil. One Catholic said that Luther was a “demon in the appearance of a man.” This person must have gotten an idea from the Pharisee’s words in today’s passage. In Martin Luther’s Table Talk, he shares the following chronicle of his own encounter with the devil: “When I awoke last night, the Devil came and wanted to debate with me; he rebuked and reproached me, arguing that I was a sinner. To this I replied: Tell me something new, Devil! I already know that perfectly well; I have committed many a solid and real sin. Indeed there must be good honest sins—not fabricated and invented ones—for God to forgive for His beloved Son’s sake, who took all my sins upon Him so that now the sins I have committed are no longer mine but belong to Christ. This wonderful gift of God I am not prepared to deny in my response to you the Devil, but want to acknowledge and confess…” With his conviction of faith in Christ, Luther never compromised with Satan or the world when he was fighting against the Catholic Church to carry out the Protestant Reformation. I pray that all of us may follow his footstep as 21st century Protestant Reformers by never compromising our faith in Christ. This may sound like a catchphrase and yes it is, but I believe it can be a great spiritual vision for us who want to win the spiritual war. To really implement this vision in our life, I suggest that we may honestly examine ourselves to find out our weakest points and bring them to Jesus. Because, it is your weakest point that Satan usually finds as his attack point to beat you down. They could be your bad habits, groundless fear and worry, anger problem, sense of frustration which is mine, and all things that you are addicted to. When Satan touches your weak points, your small decision will be that you rebuke him like Luther did: “Get away from me you Devil. I am no longer the person you used to know. I am a new creature in Christ Jesus. I have no business with you so you go back to your place, which is the hell.”
Now I’d like to conclude my message. Satan is strong, which is absolutely true and we don’t want to underestimate it when we fight against him. But more importantly, this passage teaches us that Jesus has incomparably great power for us who hear his word and obey it. If we go to Jesus and abide in him, we are safe and secure. He will rescue us from Satan’s kingdom and lead us to the Kingdom of God filled with righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. As I conclude my message, I’d like to read you one more Martin Luther’s writing from his letter to a young Christian who was struggling with his sins: “When the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal condemnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is, there I shall be also!”