Spiritual Warfare

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
19 August 2018

The Devil is in the detail,
but so is God.

Sermon text: Luke 11:14-26

14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.

15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons,”
16 while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.

17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebub. 19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

The word of the Lord. The grass withers, the flowers fades, but the word of our God stands forever.

According to a fairly recent survey (2013) “a majority of Americans personally believe in the existence of the devil and believe that demons can possess humans.”

As Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition writes:

“The latest YouGov research has found that more than half of all Americans (57%) believe in the existence of the devil and a slight majority (51%) believe in possession by evil spirits. Regardless of religious identity levels of belief top 50%, except for Jews, who theologically reject the idea of a sentient Satan. “Born-again” Christians are the most likely to both believe in the devil (86%) and possession (72%).

Some of the more interesting findings from the survey include:

• Women are more likely than men to believe in the devil (61% to 53%) and demon possession (54% to 49%).

• Republicans are more likely to believe in the devil than are Democrats (65% to 55%)

• Black (72%) and Hispanic (60%) Americans are more likely than whites (54%) to believe Satan is real.

• Belief is highest in the South (64%) and Midwest (56%).

Read the whole piece here.

Surveys like this are interesting and intriguing. They remind us that, like our forefathers, some people still believe there is more to life than meets the eye / sense perception. They also remind us that some people believe that life is just a matter of what you can see, hear, feel, taste, touch.

In the time of Christ, most people believed in God and in the existence of angels and demons and spirits. The wall between the invisible and spiritual realm and the visible and physical realm seemed thinner and more open and porous. 

In those days God allowed the devil and demons to face Jesus with more force. “All hell broke loose” against God in the flesh. But this only served to allow God to demonstrate the power and authority of Jesus Christ over all created things, whether visible or invisible, in more dramatic ways.

Today the devil continues to work and trouble the world. His demons are still wrecking and damaging lives. Perhaps not with the same force as they could do in the time of Christ, but they still do it.

Sadly, we don’t always give the Devil his due. But we must be careful — he is roaming around seeking someone to destroy and devour. 

The good news assures us that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior. Nothing dominates him, but he dominates everything.

Now, in the story, Jesus drove out a demon from a man.

Although people were amazed at the power of Christ, some did not believe that Christ worked by the power of the Holy Spirit. They said he worked by the power of the devil – Beelzebub.

They did not mean to glorify Beelzebub but only to curse Jesus. Yet, in their ignorance they ended up blaspheming the Holy Spirit. How? By confusing his holy work with Satan’s evil work.

Jesus exposed the absurdity of their thoughts.  

17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. 18 And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebub.

Strangely enough, the forefathers of the the people who criticized Jesus had a lot of experience with Beelzebub and a divided kingdom.

Once upon a time, after Solomon, Israel was divided into two nations: Judah in the south, and Samaria in the north.

For a time, Judah continued to worship Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But Samaria began to worship and serve or other gods — the gods of the world, false gods formed by the imaginations of men under the influence of sin, the devil, and the flesh.

Beelzebul was one of the false gods of the cultures around the people of God. Some of the ancestors of the people who criticized Jesus actually worshiped Beelzebub.

In 2 Kings 1:2-8 we find Baal-Zebub (aka, Beelzebub) the god of Ekron in Samaria (the people of God). So says the narrative:

Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.” But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus says the Lord, You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” So Elijah went.

So Elijah did what the Lord said, and when the messengers returned, they told the king everything the prophet had sent them to tell him.

What I want you to understand is that sometimes even the people of God give place to the devil in their life, but we must see and believe that Jesus had – and still has – power over the devil and demons.

If he can expel devils and demons, how much more can he expel the worst things you can ever face in your life — things like sin, the flesh, and the devil?!

As it is written in Romans 8:

neither death nor life, neither the angels nor the demons, neither the present nor the future, nor the powers, neither the height nor the depth, nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love that God has manifested to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is the power of the love of Christ in you!

In this story, Jesus Christ is the true and best Elijah who marked the antithesis between the lies of Beelzebub and the truth of Yahweh.

He drew sharp lines and pushed back on his critics.

Jesus exposed their hypocrisy — their self-contradictions.

19 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Something that impresses me is that Jesus expelled the evil one with the finger of God.

The phrase appears in the Old Testament to describe the power of God in human terms. 

For example it was the finger of God that wrote the Law of God on the tablets of stone. Also, it was the finger of God that caused the plague of flies/gnats in Exodus 8.

16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” 17 And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. 19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

In the Gospel of Luke 11, we see that Beelzebub is described as the prince of demons. That is, he is the arch-demon of demons. 

What does all that have to do with gnats, magicians, and the finger of God? 

Beelzebub means (literally) Lord of the flies.

Just as Moses and Aaron expelled the gnats and biting flies by the finger of God, so Jesus Christ expelled demons by means of the finger of God.

The King of kings and Lord of lords has come to establish his ring and rule.

That’s what the first parable is about:

21 When a strong man [like Pharaoh or the Devil], fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger [Yahweh or Jesus Christ] than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.
23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

This is the interpretation of the parable: Beelzebub was like a strong and well-armed man. But Jesus is the man who is even stronger than him.

When Christ came to save you, he dominated and overcame the devil, he crushed the serpent’s head and undoes his evil deeds by the power of the finger of God.

What is the finger of God? 

The finger of God is a description of the Holy Spirit.

We might say that God has more power in his little finger [the Holy Spirit] than the Devil has in his whole person.

That’s what the second parable is about:

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

What does that mean?

It means that driving all the bad stuff out of your life is not enough. It is not enough to box up the bad, to throw out the trash, or try to clean yourself up, or put on a new mask, or maintain a disciplined and organized life.

There are all kinds of programs that encourage you to rearrange your flesh, modify your behavior, and fake it till you make it, but that is never ever enough.

We all know people who cleaned up their act, started a new life, but fell back in with the wrong crowd and bad habits.

The point Jesus makes is that you cannot make it on your own for long. You need a helper. You need Someone to help you stay clean and sober (so to speak) and to help you fight off evil desires and deceivers.

You have to fill up your heart and life with something good and healthy because if not, things will turn bad again, but with a vengeance.

What should we fill ourselves with? The word of God, the gospel of grace, and the Holy Spirit!

He is your Helper.

In a nutshell, this story of spiritual warfare points us to the power of Jesus Christ over the devil and our need to receive the Holy Spirit as a permanent resident in our hearts.

The Holy Spirit brings law and order to our lives. He reforms and conforms us to the image of Jesus. As it is written in Romans 8:

8 Those who live according to the sinful nature can not please God. 9 However, you do not live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And, if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not of Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit that is in you is life because of righteousness. 11 And, if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the same one who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

In addition, Holy Spirit protects us from enemies. As it is written in Romans 8:

12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation, but it is not to live according to the sinful nature. 13 For if you live according to it, you will die; but, if through the Spirit they kill the bad habits of the body, they will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 And you did not receive a spirit that will again enslave you to fear, but the Spirit that adopts you as children and lets you cry out: ” Abba! Father! “ 16 The Spirit himself assures our spirit that we are children of God.

Without the person and the presence of the Spirit of Christ in us we are under constant threat of spiritual dangers and risk of destruction.

But if the Spirit of Christ abides and resides in us, then we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us, for the law of the Spirit of life sets us free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:37, 2).

Now, since we so desperately need the Spirit of Christ how do we get him? How can one receive the Holy Spirit?

The answer might surprise you, but I pray it comforts you as well.

In context of Luke 11, the Lord Jesus Christ says, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (11:13)

If you know you cannot make it on your own (and you can’t), and if you need the Holy Spirit (and you do), all you need to do is ask God the Father to give you the gift of the Holy Spirit and he will do it.

The promise is for you, for your children and for all those who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God shall call.

May the Spirit of Christ be the master of your heart and life, for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.