Scripture Reference: Matthew 12:22-37
Come And See His EnemiesDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | February 29, 2004
Selected highlights from this sermon
Jesus had His followers, but He also had His enemies who feared His power. Many of the religious leaders were offended by Jesus, and they were so hardened to His message that they claimed that Satan was behind His miracles.
Jesus responds, rebuking their false claims. He even challenges them, illuminating that there are only two sides. Are we truly for Jesus? If not, we’re aiding the enemy. No middle ground exists.
One day Jesus said to His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” They said, “Well, some say John the Baptist. Some say one of the prophets.” And then He said, “Who do you say that I am?” He didn’t say, “Now tell Me. Do you like Me?” or “What do you think of the miracles that I’ve performed? Pretty good, huh?” He said, “Who do you say that I am?” He was asking about His person.
Now I want you to know today that your answer to that question determines your eternity. Who do you say that He is?
In Matthew 12:22 what’s happening is this. Jesus performs a wonderful miracle, and those around Him are trying to figure out who He is. They are trying to answer that question, “Who do you say that I am?” It says in Matthew 12:22, “Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to Him, and He healed him, so that the man spoke and saw.” The man had two problems. First of all, he had a demonic problem. He was demonically oppressed and maybe even possessed, and there are some of you listening to this message who understand those words very clearly because you are in the same situation, filled with condemnation and self-hatred, and some of you have battled evil spirits, or may be battling them.
The other problem with this man was that he couldn’t speak. Jesus healed both problems and it was verifiable. They could see it there. And verse 23 says, “And all the people were amazed, and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’” They were trying to figure out who Jesus was. That expression Son of David actually is a Messianic title. What they were saying is, “Could this be the Messiah?” And some of you may be asking that question. Some of you should be asking that question, “Is this the Messiah?”
The Pharisees (and those were the religious elite. We often put them in bad light, but they were trying to do their best in many situations.) really hated Jesus, and I’ll tell you why they didn’t like Him. First of all, it was because He trampled on some of their pet traditions. They didn’t like that. The other thing was, Jesus sometimes spoke to them with such a sense – oh what should we say? Jesus judged them. He called them hypocrites. He pointed out the sin in their hearts, and they didn’t like that, so they begin to panic here because you have an uprising of people who are at least questioning if He is the Son of David. Could it be that this is the Messiah?
And so these Pharisees, when they see this happening are in a situation where they make up an explanation for what they see. And this is what they said. I’m in verse 24. “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Wow! Beelzebul (or Beelzebub as it is sometimes written) is a Canaanite deity, and actually stood for Satan. So they are saying, “The miracle that you have just seen (and nobody could deny that a miracle had happened) is actually done by the devil. The devil cast out these evil spirits, and it is the devil who caused the mute to speak.” They are pretty desperate actually at that point.
Jesus in this context gives some reasons why that conclusion is false. And if you think that that conclusion is right, I want you to know today that it is false, and the reason that Jesus gives to these people to believe in Him is the same reason why you and I should believe on Him.
First of all the first reason - and I’ve titled it A Kingdom Must Be Unified! It may not be said in the best way but that’s the essence of it. Notice what Jesus said in verse 25. By the way, Jesus knew their thoughts. Did you know that Jesus knows your thoughts today? Some of you, God bless you, have come with open minds and hearts, and you’ve said, “Oh, Lord, speak to me.” Some of you have come sort of as if to say, “I wonder how boring this is going to be.” And others of you maybe have come and said, “There’s no way that I’m going to believe on this Jesus. I’ve rejected Him before, and this is going to be the same old story.” And Jesus knows your thoughts.
He says to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” You know, the devil does many destructive things. He overreaches and actually harms himself by his overreach. He is oftentimes the master of chaos. He absolutely loves chaos, and sometimes there is chaos in his kingdom. And sometimes he even will fake exorcism, pretending that he’s casting out a demon. Certainly that happens with false teachers who go through certain incantations and they pretend that they are casting out demons, and it appears as if it’s working, but it’s not really working.
Now here is Christ’s point. Don’t miss it. He’s saying that not even the devil… Or let me put it positively. He’s saying that even the devil is smart enough to know that he can’t be the one casting out his own demons, or his kingdom is going to collapse. Even he knows that when there is civil war within his own kingdom that he is going to be weakened and not be able to attempt to take on Jesus Christ and the Church. So the devil is not going to cast out devils, said Jesus, and that’s true, isn’t it?
The miracle that Jesus performed was so direct, so verifiable, so unique, and so unquestionable that they couldn’t deny that. And to say that somehow Satan was doing what Jesus was doing was utter foolishness. It was an act of desperation by those who were committed to not believing.
In fact, Jesus takes them a little further in this discussion and says to them in verse 27, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” You see, the Jewish community in those days had their own exorcists. They would go through these incantations and cast out devils, and I don’t know whether or not it was working. I have no way of knowing. But Jesus is saying, “Go to them and ask them by whose authority they cast out demons. If they say of the devil, which they would never say, they would be condemning themselves. Obviously they would not say that. If they say that they are doing it by God’s power, then why should you be critical of Me, and say that I’m not doing it by God’s power?” In other words, “If you go to them and ask them, it will undercut your own criticism.” That’s what Jesus is saying. So the first reason that they should believe is to know that the devil can’t do what Jesus did. He would never do what Jesus did. Jesus is not from Satan, but from God.
The second reason – I’m calling this, I guess, a house must be guarded. Jesus goes on and says in verse 29, “Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” I want you to imagine that there’s a hostage taker, who has grabbed some children and thrown them in the house, and now he’s holding them hostage and he’s threatening to kill them if any of the police get to him. Sometimes that happens, as you know.
Now the police can’t just go in and say, “Oh, we’re just going to walk in on this sunny day in Chicago and release the children. It’s no problem.” No, no, no, the strong man, the hostage taker, has to be arrested. He has to be neutralized. He has to be bound. He has to be taken care of, and then once he is taken care, why then indeed the police can go in and they can take the children and reunite them with their family.
Now Jesus is saying, “In light of the fact that I am doing so much damage to Satan’s kingdom, and the damage is extensive; that I’m actually casting out demons and delivering people from that; and also that I am able to take mute people and people with these disabilities and cause them to be able to speak and to see (and all the other miracles); don’t you see that I must be stronger than the enemy who is holding them bound? Don’t you see that I am able to crush the strong man, the hostage taker, and set captives free? You ought to know that I have triumphed over Satan.”
And Jesus has triumphed over Satan. Already then, He had power over Satan just in terms of power and then after the cross, He not only had power but He had moral authority, having destroyed Satan’s ability to claim certain rights. And so Jesus says here that you have to understand that I have bound the strong man. I’ve gotten to those whom he took hostage, and that proves I am stronger than the hostage taker.
There’s a third reason that Jesus goes into here, and that is that He is saying that a ruler must be served. Once again I’ve not said this as well as I should but the whole idea I think is that it’s better to simply say the myth of neutrality. Notice what Jesus said in verse 30. “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.” The imagery there is of the ancient imagery of the way in which they had a harvest. What happened is you took the harvest (the grain and the cattle perhaps), stepped on it, and helped to crush it and to thresh it. And then you threw it up in the air and the chaff blew away and you kept the grain. What Jesus is saying is, “He who is not gathering in the harvest and helping Me do it, he’s the one who is just letting all the grain blow in the wind and to blow it away instead of keeping it.” So either you are for Me or you are against Me. This idea of being neutral is impossible.
I want to say this clearly, and that is that if you do not belong to God, you are God’s enemy. There’s no neutrality there regarding Jesus. And so what Jesus is speaking about is the fact that you just can’t think that you are neutral “kind of.”
In order to illustrate the seriousness of this, Jesus goes on and talks about an unpardonable sin. This is very serious business, folks. Verse 31, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
There is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. I suppose that everyone who has ever heard of the unpardonable sin at some point in their life thinks that they have committed it. Here I am. I’m a boy of 11 or 12, riding my bicycle at the back of our house one Easter Sunday afternoon. It’s amazing how you remember such things with real clarity. And I had what I deemed to be some very blasphemous thoughts against Jesus. And I’ll never forget the turmoil that I was in for days, wondering whether I had committed the unpardonable sin.
I wish that I had kept all of the letters that have been sent to me over the years of people who believe that they have committed the unpardonable sin. I have some of them. I was going to read a few of them to you today, but I don’t think that we’ll take time to do that because you probably know already what those letters say. They say something like this. Like one man said, “Saturday evening three weeks ago I committed the unpardonable sin. I was angry and I blasphemed God and now I have to deal with the devil. Do you think that I can be forgiven?”
And then there are those who commit this sin or that sin, and they ask the question of whether or not forgiveness is possible for this sin or that sin. Have they committed the unpardonable sin? Well, let’s look at this with a little bit of care.
First of all, we are encouraged to learn that all sin - every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people. And Jesus even said, “If you blaspheme against the Son of Man, you’ll be forgiven,” because when Jesus was here on earth, if you didn’t pick up on the fact that He was Messiah and divine, that in a certain sense was forgivable. After you realized the truth you could be forgiven for that. After all, He did look like a man. He ate and He slept, and it took even the disciples themselves a while to understand that they were in the presence of divinity.
But if you commit a sin against the Spirit, it can’t be forgiven. What is the sin against the Spirit? Well, in context the sin against the Spirit is to take the marvelous miracles of Jesus and ascribe them to Beelzebul, to say that the miracles of Jesus are not real, to reject Jesus Christ’s Messiahship because you take all of His wonderful works and His miraculous abilities and you give credit somewhere else, other than Jesus, and to not accept Him as the miracle worker, as the Messiah. Now when you stop to think of it you realize that for these Pharisees, they had crossed a line, like a boat in the mighty Niagara River that gets to a certain point where all turning back now is too late. And for them that was unpardonable. They were set in their hardness against Jesus.
I’m not sure if “the” unpardonable sin can be committed today in the same way as it was in New Testament times, but I am absolutely convinced that there is “an” unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin is to reject Jesus until you get to a point in your life where you no longer care about Him or respond to Him because God says, “My Spirit will not always strive with man.”
The unpardonable sin is a hard determined heart to not be affected by Jesus no matter what. And that is unpardonable, because you need faith to accept Jesus to be pardoned. And so there is such a thing as an unpardonable sin, but I do need to tell you this: If you write me a letter and ask whether or not you have committed it, I’m going to write back and tell you that I’m quite sure that you haven’t, because the very fact that you are concerned about having committed the unpardonable sin is a marvelous sign that you haven’t. If you commit an unpardonable sin you will not be writing me a letter and asking and be troubled about it. You will say, “Nothing troubles me. I reject Jesus and am at peace with my rebellion.” That is unpardonable.
What are the lessons that we need to learn here as we begin to think about it? There are two in number today from this awesome passage of Scripture.
The first is a lesson about Christ’s power over Beelzebul, over the strong man. That’s lesson number one. About three weeks ago I spoke on the telephone with a student who called me and said he was very troubled by satanic conflict. There was no doubt that there was activity of demonic spirits in his life. So I asked him the question that is obviously one of the most important questions you could ever possibly ask. I said, “Do you have in your mind any recollection of when this began?” And he said, “Yes. At the age of 11 in a fit of anger I sold my soul to the devil.”
Alright, and then of course, the devil comes to collect. “You know, you sold your soul. You owe me.” And so there he is hassling, insisting, threatening, demeaning and causing people to have great self-hatred. What the devil loves is self-hatred, so that you just think, “I’m no good. Nobody will ever love me. God can’t love me. I might as well end it all.” Well, that’s the kind of thing that the devil specializes in, among other things.
So here he is. He’s saying that he is hassled. How do you think I helped him? What did I say in counseling? Lord, help me as I explain this to these people because for many of you this could be a tremendous moment of deliverance. What I say in the next 5 or 7 minutes is incredibly important. I only pray that I shall say it well and clearly.
I said to him, “The first thing that you need to know, since you are a believer in Jesus, is that your agreement with the devil was totally illegitimate because when Christ redeemed you, the Bible says that we were not redeemed with corruptible things but rather we were purchased by God and, catch this now, the Scripture says that you are not your own. Your soul was not yours to give to the devil. Your soul belongs to Jesus.” (applause)
What if someone were to come to you as parents (I’m speaking to parents now.) and say, “Do you know what I just did? I just gave your children to the devil.” You’d say, “Wait a moment. You gave my children to the devil? My children were not yours to give to him, thank you! They are not yours to put a curse on because you do not own them. I regard all of your remarks as illegitimate and D.O.A. I do not accept any such thing.”
The Bible says that we have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son, into the kingdom of light. When you make that transfer, all allegiances, all agreements, all commitments and all covenants that belong to the kingdom of darkness are broken as you have a new allegiance to the one who is the King of light. You no longer owe Him anything, and all agreements are null and void.
One time I met a man who took this a little step further. And he said, “I sold my soul to the devil in a blood covenant,” and then he came out with this. He said, “And I’m a man of integrity so I have to keep my covenant.”
Could I take my glasses off at this point? First of all, for openers, you’ve made an agreement with a being that doesn’t even understand the meaning of the word integrity. That’s for openers. You’ve made an agreement with a being in whom Jesus said, “There is no truth in him. When he speaks, he speaks a lie.” In fact, the only time you can believe the devil is if he were to say to you, “I’m lying.” Then believe him. (laughter)
And then I said something like this to him. “Because the devil is not a being of integrity, he probably didn’t tell you that any agreement that you made with him was illegitimate because he had no right to make any agreements with you. He didn’t tell you that, did he? Oh no, no, he doesn’t tell you that. All that he does is come and collect.”
When I teach homiletics, which is really a big word for trying to teach young preachers to get them to be better preachers, I always say to them, “Clarity, clarity, clarity!” Be clear. Don’t ever allow people to leave wondering what you believe. So I’m going to take my own advice today and I’m going to be clear. Okay?
Thanks to Jesus, the devil has no rights at all – none! None! (applause) None!
Those little children that are being held hostage by a hostage-taker may be foolish enough to make an agreement with the hostage-taker. When that hostage-taker is arrested, and when he’s carried off and the parents come and pick up the children, they begin to understand that all agreements with this evil hostage-taker are null and void, and they do not count. It is a fact that they belong to these parents to whom they owe allegiance. And you owe no one allegiance unless that person has ownership in your life, and when you are bought by Jesus, He is the one who owns you, and your allegiance is to Him alone. (applause)
Jesus has bound the strong man. He disarmed all principalities and all powers, making a show of them openly, triumphing over them. You say, “Well, yeah, he still hassles me.” Well, of course he hassles you, but his hassles are illegitimately based. They are not legitimate, and you need to know that, because Jesus is stronger than the devil, and He has proved it.
Satan has no rights at all. He does have some obligations, chief among which is to go to hell forever. That is his obligation. (applause) Amen, right?
There’s a second lesson, and that is the lesson of no neutrality, no fence sitters. So I’m going to end today by talking to you fence sitters. There are a number of you out there, and let me give you the fence sitters’ take that I’ve heard in my life. Some of you are out there and saying, “I’m not going to believe in Jesus. I’m not going to accept Him because I like my life the way it is, and I like to be alone, and I don’t want Him to disrupt anything.” It’s the “if I accept Jesus I’m going to have to stop sleeping with my boyfriend” syndrome, “and right now that’s not where I’m at.” So you are a fence sitter.
Some of you are fence sitters because of fear, fear of your family. What you are saying is like what a man said to me. He said, “I’m going to accept Jesus but I’m going to wait until my parents die because I don’t want to hurt them.” Fence sitters.
Some of you, bless you, are fence sitters because you are saying, “Well, I don’t have enough time. I haven’t investigated Jesus enough.” Well, that’s fine. You can go ahead and investigate Him, but some people use that as an opportunity to constantly hold Him at arm’s length, as if to say, “You know, it really doesn’t matter. I’m not against Him. I think He’s great. I’m just not going to accept Him.”
Jesus said, “If you aren’t for Me, you are against Me. If I don’t own you, you are My enemy, all the nice talk put aside.”
You remember when Pilate brought Jesus out and said, “Who is this man? What do you want me to do with Jesus who is called the Christ?” And today Jesus asks each of us this question, “So what are you going to do with Me?”
Some of you are visiting today and you need to face that issue. What are you going to do with Him? Some of you have been around a while. What are you going to do with Him? Are you going to say, “Yes, I accept Him as Messiah, as Lord, as King and as the One who bound the enemy and sets the captive free?”
Bless God! Let’s pray.
Our Father, we ask today for those who have never trusted Christ as Savior. We pray for all the fence sitters here today who have never believed in Jesus. They’ve heard the Gospel many times but for whatever reason have put it off and thought that that’s okay. Give them hearts today that are open, Father, hearts that say, “Yes, I believe; I embrace.”
In fact, I’m going to stop praying right now and give you a moment of silence because there are some of you who can be saved right where you are seated if you say, “Lord Jesus, I accept You as my deliverer; I accept You as my Savior.” Why don’t you tell Him that right there?
Oh Father, for those who struggle, we ask that You overcome the natural reluctance of people to come to Jesus, and may there be those who right now are saying, “I accept Him as mine. I choose sides. I receive Him as the One who forgives my sins, who translates me from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.” Grant, oh God, that grace, and where that grace has not yet been granted, help those people to be troubled all week until they receive You. We need You Jesus. We need Your grace and Your Spirit on which we rely totally. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.