A Lesson On Frustration
Every one of us listening to this service would, I am sure, unquestionably agree that life is a battle these days. It’s full of tension,—tension at [an] international level, tension on [a] national level, political level, tension in labor relationships, tension in family life, tension in your own personal life. Far from these signs of tension decreasing, they are only increasing constantly and any attempt to deal with them seems to lead to utter frustration. If you and I could draw the veil a moment and look behind, we would find the answer to it all. For we would discover that behind all these outward tensions there are two great powers fighting for mastery, two great spiritual forces in mortal combat. The one, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; the other, the world, the flesh, and the Devil, each power seeking for the mastery of an individual soul, seeking to bring the whole race under the authority of one or the other.
We are God’s by creation; we belong to Him, but we have allied ourselves by rebellion from His sovereignty, with the powers of darkness. We find ourselves not living by nature in the kingdom of light, but rather in the kingdom of darkness, not in the kingdom of heaven but in the kingdom of Satan. Yet into this battle God has flung everything He has when one day He gave His well-beloved Son, to shed His blood upon a cross, to rise from a tomb and to come by the Spirit to dwell in the hearts of His rebellious creatures, that we might return to Him and love Him and live for Him and thus know the blessings and the joy of His salvation. Yes, the whole battle that rages today is a battle for the possession of the citadel of man’s soul.
These things are graphically portrayed in the picture and the story which our Lord told us in this chapter. He had been casting a demon out of a man and the Pharisees immediately accused Him of using evil power to defeat Satan. How could He possibly do that when He had come to destroy the works of the Devil? When He was engaged in conflict against Satan, He would never stoop to use satanic weapons in order to achieve His objective. Therefore, to show how He does work, He brought to us this story which is the subject of our thought this morning. It is the story of a man as he really is apart from the grace of God. It is a picture of what you are, what I am apart from God’s salvation. It’s man in his raw, natural condition. Then there is the picture of an attempt at reformation, an attempt to be different which only leads to frustration. Then there is a great picture of a mighty conqueror and of a final victory. I urge your prayerful attention to this theme because if you are facing days of tension, if you are facing conflict in your own personal life, here is the exposure of it and here in this story is the answer to it.
In the first place, look at what our Lord says about every man as he is, about you and me. Luke 11:21, “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.” “A strong man armed, keepeth his palace.” You notice that the heart, which is intended to be the throne of God, has become the palace of Satan. He is the strong man and how strong he is! Let every Christian dare to stand foot to foot with the Devil and he will soon come to understand how powerful is our enemy. Let any man who by nature is a child of Satan start to squirm under his clutches, to wriggle to get free, to seek to escape and he will soon discover how powerful is the enemy and how weak is the man himself and how helpless. He is strong, and the text says that he is armed. He is strong both in power and in wisdom. Even Samson with all his strength was no match for him, even Solomon with all his wisdom was no match for his cunning.
Satan has weapons, and his chief weapon is a lie. He tells us when we are children that we are too young to think about God and heaven. In middle life he tells us we are too busy. In old life he tells us we are too late, and he deceives us with a lie. He is a master at making us believe anything at all; even to make us play with coals of fire and think that we won’t get our fingers burnt; even to play with sin and think it doesn’t matter; even to tamper with the thing we know is wrong—beastly, foul, satanic, immoral—because we have a God who is a loving heavenly Father it is bound to work out all right in the end. That’s the language of Satan with which he deceives the human race. He makes us believe almost anything that suits him.
You notice that our text tells us that he is very watchful, “He keepeth his palace.” I have read and heard of sleeping Christians, but I have never heard of a sleeping Devil. He is always on duty. He rests not day or night. The restlessness of Satan, his constant persistency in his determination to damn humanity. “He keepeth his palace.” He doesn’t mind folk going to a church where they won’t get disturbed too much, but if they come to a church where they will be under the sound of the Gospel, Satan is very watchful and the moment the service is ended, he sees to it there’s an attractive, fascinating possibility at the door, or there is some friend there, or some seed is sown which would immediately take away the seed of God’s Word. Ah, how we have prayed, how we have worked, we’ve preached, how we’ve spoken in love and in tenderness, how we have spoken firmly and in rebuke and how many people have gone out no different from what they came in. Yes, it did seem one Sunday that God struck a mighty blow at some heart. For a while there seemed to be a difference, but by the time next Sunday had come around, that heart was still under the subjection of the Devil. It hadn’t lasted. Satan keepeth his palace. His palace. He has the audacity to declare that he is king of our life. There’s nothing [that] equals the pride of Satan as he stalks through every corridor of your life and says, “This is mine and that’s mine, and this belongs to me.” He’s king. Undisputed sovereign and, oh, how gladly we have followed him and how gladly we have submitted to him and how hard it is to get Christian people to submit the same sovereignty to the King of kings, as people do so easily and happily to the Devil. He’s lord; he’s sovereign. “He keepth his palace,” and says the text, “his goods.” Yes, he claims to possess everything that there is of us. He’s taken our life and he has caused it to flame with passion that is sinful. He has taken our sense of judgment and he has twisted it and perverted it. He has taken our eyes and made them lust. He has taken our memories and filled them with foul things and foul thoughts. He has taken our feet and made them walk in sinful paths. He has taken possession of the whole business of our personality. “His goods.”
Perhaps the most terrifying picture of our text are the two words with which this verse closes. “His goods are in peace.” “In peace.” Never disturbed, never troubled, never burdened, never concerned about their natural condition. His goods are in peace. Oh, yes, they will come and they will listen to the sermon and at the end they will fling it off with a comment about the style of the preacher and they go and eat chicken dinner and forget it with an orgy of food. They listen to something the man has said and then they will soon stuff themselves, for the apostle says, “Their god is their belly.” Restaurants today will be filled with people who have been in the house of God, but are glad to eat away every impression that has ever been made upon them. Yes, they have listened to the sermon with but a comment on the style of the preacher. They shed a few tears when death came in to their home and they stood over the grave and they have wept and they sobbed over the loss of a loved one, but in twenty-four hours the upper lip is stiff again and it’s over. “His goods are in peace.” Ah, the awful condition of a man by nature. Gripped by the strong man who is watching over what he presumes to call his palace and every aspect of the human personality has been yielded to him till he possesses every faculty we’ve got. And we are in peace.
But this story tells me in the 24th verse that he is an unclean spirit. And let nobody think otherwise. It is unclean to be a stranger to Christ. It is unclean not to be washed in His blood. It is unclean not to be born of the Spirit. It is unclean to be possessed by the Devil. Unclean spirit. Such is the condition of a man apart from the grace of God, whose human body which was made for Christ to use and through which Christ could be glorified has become a den for the Devil to live in and a tool for Satan’s use. God’s by righteous creation, but Satan’s by willing submission to the fool and the Devil that he is. Man’s natural state. But the Lord Jesus goes on to picture something which is shattering indeed for he speaks of an attempted self-reformation. “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places seeking rest and finding none, he sayeth, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11: 24–26).
I hardly dare to speak of these things that make me tremble in my soul to think about, but see what has happened, the Devil has gone out of his own free will. There has been no conflict, no battle, Satan has just chosen for a while to walk out. Does the Devil ever do that? Certainly, he does. He sees a man beginning to be anxious about life insurance, a man beginning to be concerned that perhaps the end of the journey is not far off, but he is not ready for it. A man who has been put through testing and suffering and trouble and he is beginning to question, and he is beginning to be disturbed and he is finding that Satan is not such a fascinating master as he thought, and so Satan just withdraws and says:
“I will watch him. For the greatest masterpiece that I can ever have is a man from whom for a little while I have withdrawn in order that just for a moment my throne in his palace may shake, but ultimately it will be established more firmly than ever. I will watch him. And I will let him go to church and I will let him change his life and I will let him get reformed and I will let people talk about him and say, ‘My, look at this man how different he is. What a transformation in his life. Isn’t he different? Let’s have him as a church member.’” “And I watch him,” says the Devil, “and he is joining the church today. He’s got in and he’s joined the church and he’s entered into the fellowship. See! He’s deceiving them; he’s not real.” And the Devil watches, and he looks on with a sneer and for a while he’s let go his grip and he is watching the man and he is coming into prayer meetings now and he is giving testimony and he is speaking about his faith in Christ, but after a while the Devil goes back again. What to find? The place is empty, empty. As he goes into the house and crosses the threshold, he calls out, “Jesus!” and there is no answer and the devil sneers, “I thought so,” and he cries out again, “Christ, are you there?” and there is no reply. And he walks back and he looks round and he finds no blood on the door posts, no mark of blood on the lintel—and the house is empty. “Vacant Possession” is written right across the front of it and Satan steps back again and across the threshold and he looks inside and he finds there is no living faith, but there is a picture of Jesus on the wall, and there is a text on the lounge wall. And lo and behold there are no ash trays. They are gone. Why, the cocktail bar has been turned outside. It’s swept. The man has swept the house. It hasn’t been washed, but it has been surface cleaned. Satan looks at it and finds it garnished. What do I see here? A bowl of flowers on the table, and I go up to them and I smell them and they are artificial. I look round and I find all sorts of nice pictures in nice framing. Then I go into the lounge and there is a fireplace but there is no fire and I just take the poker and I just scratch it and lo and behold it is only dust and ashes. There is nothing burning. What has happened to the man? You wouldn’t know, but one day he jumped into religion. One day he thought he was a bit tired of Satan and so he jumped into religion but, beloved, there was no repentance. There was no crying to God out of a broken heart for holiness, there was no hunger for victory, there was no concern about sin, there was no real cross applied to his life. He just jumped into it like a suit of clothes. That was all. There was no breaking power of the blood, no mighty incoming of the Holy Ghost and the man just jumped into a new kind of life. But he is empty, he has swept himself, he’s garnished. But the Devil has come back, and Satan looks round in this empty house and says, “This is too good for one of us,” and he goes out calling seven more of his friends who are worse than himself, and what a holiday they have as they recapture the tenancy of that soul. For Satan has now got a man who will not only swallow gnats but he will swallow a camel. He will never ask him any questions any more, for this greatest counterfeit his greatest argument, his greatest testimony is to find a man who has been in his possession and thought that he was going to get out of his clutches. Satan played with him like a cat plays with a mouse, and he’s got him again for the rest of his life to be cynical and hard and critical of the Christian faith and for whom there is reserved everlasting burnings in hell. Empty! Swept! Garnished! Reformed!—but never born from above. Oh, beloved, this is not my picture. It is Christ’s picture. But thank God that it doesn’t end there.
Ah, but look at the great and final victory. Listen to the language of this verse, “But when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted and he divideth his spoils” (v. 22). A stronger than he. This is not the man himself, because the man is the house and he is the victim of the Devil. No. This is none other than our lovely, wonderful, triumphant, victorious Lord Jesus Christ. A stronger than he. And he comes upon him. It is as if the Lord just comes in and gets hold of the power of Satan in that man’s life. He comes upon him. What a thrilling picture that conveys to my mind as the Lord Jesus in sovereign grace comes upon this poor soul that has been duped of the Devil and with one cut of His sword He smashes the man’s pride. He takes the sword of the man’s rebellion and He breaks it across His knee and He goes into the foul place where there has been impurity and uncleanness and He breathes the Holy Ghost there and He cleanses the temple. Just as in history He did it in person, now by His Holy Spirit. He takes the whip and the scourge and He enters the temple that is intended for Him and He lashes at the powers of darkness and drives out the lust and breaks down the pride and takes the place of sovereignty. And lo and behold, look at that man now. His prejudice is gone, his hard-heartedness has been broken, his pride has been crushed. He was at the end of himself. He was absolutely beaten by all attempt to put himself right. Satan was too strong for him and the struggle was so great that he had no power against it, but now our lovely, exquisite Saviour has stepped into the scene and He has done what no power on Earth or in hell can do and He has taken the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and by His own right arm He has got to Himself the victory, and I see all scattered round the room in which Jesus stands are the remains of the man’s shattered self-will and self-righteousness and religion. For that man’s memory has been cleansed and his thoughts are no more an ugly, sinful, foul thing that almost drove him to madness. They are upon the Lord Jesus Himself. “Whatsoever things are good and pure and true.”
The memory has been changed and the man’s affections have been transformed now he loves the Lord and he loves righteousness and he loves God and he hates sin. This thing had to happen to him to make his religion real. He had to be broken, he had to come to the very depths in order that Jesus might come, the enthroned, glorified Saviour and make Himself a reality. And you come through the house with me, my friend now, and upon every door there is the mark of the King of kings. Mine! My heart! My hands! My feet! My life! My child! You are mine! I have got for you this victory. And there’s no picture of Jesus now, but there is a living faith in the heart. There are no ashes on the fireplace that are just dust and dirt. Look! There’s a flame burning! The grate in the fireplace has been kindled. It’s alight and in the very center of the man’s soul, the love of God has been kindled. And he’s put away the broom, and he’s put away the vacuum cleaner, and he’s washed in the blood of the Lamb. Washed through and through, completely washed and cleansed in Jesus’ precious blood. And you see that bowl of flowers? They’re gone. Ah, but there’s another bowl of flowers there, and you go up and you scent them and they are fragrant, fragrant with the loveliness of love and joy and peace and longsuffering and gentleness.
Beloved, the best thing of all about that house now is that when you’ve been inside it and watched all the amazing transformation, you have come out side and you look on the door and the blood is sprinkled on the door post. When one day the destroying angel shall come to judge the quick and the dead, he shall pass over and overshadow the life that is protected by precious blood. Listen! That is conversion. The other is reformation. A conversion that leads to glory and victory. A reformation that leads to frustration and defeat. Beloved, are you saved? Are you born again?
Oh, let me tell you this simple story as I close. Some of you will know it: A man is walking down a road in Chicago and he comes to a house and he looks at it admiringly and he says, “That’s my house,” and he passes by. A moment later another man comes down the same road and he comes to the same house and he looks at it and he says, “That’s my house,” and he passes by. And a third man comes along the same road and comes to the same house, but he opens the gate, walks up the path, takes the key out of his pocket, walks in, puts his hat up and coat up, and sits down with a sigh of contentment and says, “This is my house.” Impossible? Ah, no. Listen. The first man built the house—he is a builder. The second man bought the house—he is the owner. The third man lives in the house—he is a tenant. Every one of you listening to my voice answer this question. He made you, He bought you, but who has got possession of the property?