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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:No fence to sit on
Text:Luke 11:23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 95:1,2

Psalm 53:1,2,5

Psalm 95:3,4,5

Psalm 33:6

Psalm 115:6

Read:  Exodus 8:1-19

Luke 11:9-32

Text:  Luke 11:23.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we read through the gospel according to Luke, there is a question that refuses to go away, and that increasingly demands an answer:  Who is Jesus?  Is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God?  Is He the One whom He claims to be?  Or is it all a hoax?

Luke wrote this gospel account so that we might know who Jesus is.  He explained why he wrote this gospel in chapter 1:3,4

“. . . it seemed good to me also . . . to write to you an orderly account . . . that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed.”

Now the idea of “certainty” is something that many people today are hesitant to accept, especially when it comes to spiritual matters.  Our society is increasingly made up of agnostics.  Agnostics are people who say we can not be certain about anything regarding the existence or the nature of God.  “There might be a god,” they say, “but then there might not be.  The jury is still out, the evidence just isn’t there.”  When it comes to faith, therefore, agnostics are sitting on the fence.  “We are waiting for a sign” they say.  “We are waiting for the ultimate proof to come in, and then we will believe.”

But in the gospel according to Luke we are told that the facts are there, that the facts are sufficient for us to be certain that the claim that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is a true and verified fact.  He was born of a virgin.  He cast out demons and He healed the sick and the lame and the blind.  He stopped a storm and He raised the dead.  He fed 5000 and He taught with authority.  He died on a cross, and He rose on the third day.  The evidence that Jesus is the Christ is all there!  It has all been written down carefully and accurately so that you might be certain of what you believe!  The problem, therefore, does not lie with the evidence; the problem lies with whether or not we are prepared to accept the evidence that we have in the Bible.  The problem lies in whether or not we are prepared to receive Jesus Christ as the One He claims to be.

The Bible provides us with no middle ground, no option to be a fence-sitting Agnostic.  You either believe or you don’t.  You are either under Christ or under Satan.  Jesus said,

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”

And so this morning I preach to the Word of God as we’ve read it from Luke 11 under the following theme:

Receive Jesus Christ as the One He claims to be.

1.    The Case for Faith.

2.    The Tragedy of  Unbelief.

1. The Case for Faith.

When God sent His Son, He did so in order to wage war with Satan and crush the head of the Serpent.  The Kingdom that Christ had come to establish was not one of this world, but it was the Kingdom of God.  He had come to bind Satan and to plunder his house.  He had come to redeem a people for Himself, bringing them out of darkness and into God’s marvellous light.

Now Satan, of course, was not prepared to simply roll over and allow Jesus to overcome him, and so it is not surprising that there was such a high level of demonic activity in Israel at the time that Christ walked on earth.  These demons tried to attack Jesus through, for example, King Herod who tried to kill Jesus as a baby, and through Judas who betrayed Jesus, and through the Jewish leaders and Pontius Pilate, who had Jesus crucified.  But the demonic activity going on was not limited to that: Satan’s demons were also actively keeping many people in bondage. 

And that was the case for the man in Luke 11:14.  In Luke 11, Jesus met a man who was mute and unable to speak.  Being unable to speak is, of course, very often a physical problem caused by hearing loss, the vocal chords not working properly or a physical deformity.  And in the time of Jesus’ life on earth, the Jews also understood that physical defects caused people to be mute.  But in this particular instance, Luke – who happened to be a medical doctor – was convinced that the muteness this man suffered from was directly caused by a demon.  Now whether or not a doctor today, upon seeing this mute man, would also conclude that it was a demon, I don’t know.  I suspect not, as most people today don’t believe in demons and so they will rule out the possibility before they even begin, and even many of those who say they do believe in demons don’t expect to see any evidence of demonic activity.  A doctor today might attribute this muteness to a mental disorder.  For example (and I don’t think this is the case in Luke 11) there is a certain form of schizophrenia called Catatonic Schizophrenia which can cause people to be mute for extended periods of time. 

But whatever a doctor today might say about this man who was mute and unable to speak, Luke, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit declares that it was a demon.  Not only that, but Jesus cast out the demon, the demon left him, and the man began to speak.  And notice also that the crowds were in no doubt that Jesus had cast out a demon.  Their question was not, “was it a demon Jesus cast out or was it not?”; their question was, “How did He do it?  By whose authority?”

Today we might be more inclined to wonder whether or not it was a demon.  However, knowing what we do about demons, it should not surprise us too much that demons would like to cause such physical problems.  Because he could not speak, this man was unable to engage in normal life.  If he was a shop keeper, he would not have been able to effectively sell his goods.  If he was married, he would not have been able to tell his wife that he loved her.  If he had children, he could not have instructed them in the ways of the Lord.  If he went to the temple or the synagogue, he would not have been able to lift up his voice in the assembly, praising God.  And you can imagine that a demon would be pleased about that!

We don’t know how long this had gone on for.  Perhaps he was mute from birth.  I think – but it is only a guess – that since this was caused by a demon, his muteness came upon him later in life.  But whatever the case, we do get the understanding that it was a long term, rather permanent state of affairs.  Perhaps he had tried the local exorcists.  In Luke 11:19 Jesus refers to others who cast out demons.  In the Antiquities of Josephus (8.2.5) (A Jew who was born just after Christ’s death and resurrection) Josephus wrote that king Solomon had discovered how to use herbs and plants to cast out evil spirits.  Josephus wrote about a man called Eleazar who could cast demons out of a man.  Eleazar would get a ring that had some special root on it and he would put this on the nose of the man who was possessed.  Then he would use some special words and pull the demon out through the man’s nostrils.  When the man fell down, Eleazar would tell the demon never to return.  And to prove that the demon had left, he would tell the demon to turn over a cup or a basin full of water.  And this, the Jews believed, was done through God’s power by means of incantations discovered by Solomon.

If the man with a demon had gone to these exorcists, it had not worked, for he was still under bondage to this demon who prevented him from speaking.  And then he met Jesus, the One who had come to win the war against Satan.  The One who had come to bring recovery of sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who were oppressed (Luke 4:18).  And Jesus heals him.  There is no mention of Jesus pulling out demons through the man’s nose, nor of Him using special herbs or incantations.  Nor is there talk about cups of water being thrown over.  Jesus cast out the demon, the demon went away, and the man spoke. 

And the Jews marvelled.  Hallelujah!  Wasn’t that amazing!  Incredible!  Unbelievable!  You wouldn’t read about it! 

And in this miracle the Jews were confronted with the question that would not – and still does not – go away:  Who is this Jesus?  From Matthew 12 we learn that some began to wonder whether or not Jesus was the Son of David, the promised Messiah.  But others, and Matthew 12 says it was the Pharisees, said, “Jesus Himself is demon possessed.  He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”  And Beelzebub, in this case, is to be seen as another name for Satan.

But others were not so bold.  They did not want to say that Jesus did this by Beelzebub, but they also did not want to confess that Jesus is the Son of God.  And so they said, “Show us a sign from heaven!”  Give us more evidence, give us ultimate proof of who you are, and then we will believe.”  And does not that sound just like the agnostics of today?  Just like the people of today who say, “I can’t believe in the Bible because I just don’t know if it is all true.  For me to believe in God I need more evidence, more proof that He is real”?  For this is the problem with agnosticism.  “Prove it to us again!  Show us another sign!  I am going to set the boxes, and you tick the right ones, and then I’ll believe.”

But what sign would be good enough for these Jews who demanded one?  They had just seen a sign!  They had seen Jesus, before their very eyes, cast out a real demon.  And in casting out this demon, Jesus had declared Himself to have authority over the demons, and in that manner He gave a very clear sign to the Jews and to us that He is the Christ, the promised Messiah.  What other proof do we need?  You see, asking for another sign was not evidence of a willingness to believe, but it was a sign of their unbelief.

Jesus knew what they were thinking and so He responded, pointing out that it was foolish not to believe in Him.  It does not make sense for Satan to be divided against Himself.  It does not make sense that Satan would be at war with himself, destroying his own work.  And it would be inconsistent to insist that while all other Jews cast out demons by the power of God, Jesus did so by the power of Satan.  The fact that Jesus cast out a demon is all the proof we need to know that He is who He claims to be.  And so Jesus said in Luke 11:20,

“But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

When Christ declared that He cast out demons with the finger of God, He used a phrase that we also read in Exodus 8.  In Exodus 8, the people of Israel were in bondage to Pharaoh the king of Egypt.  In chapter 7, Moses and Aaron had already gone to Pharaoh, instructing him in the name of the LORD to let God’s people go.  Pharaoh refused, and God sent the first plague, where the water turned into blood.  But then Exodus 7:22 says,

“Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them (that’s Moses and Aaron) as the LORD had said.”

Pharaoh was not impressed by this first plague, for his own magicians could do something that looked the same.  Who then was God, that Pharaoh should listen to and believe in Him?  Then in Exodus 8, the same thing occurred with the plague of frogs.  Verse 6,7 –

“So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.  And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs on the land of Egypt.”

But clearly the magicians could not remove the frogs, and so Pharaoh begged Moses and Aaron to ask the LORD to do that.  But still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he refused to believe and listen to the LORD.  And then came the third plague, the plague of lice.  But listen to what it says in Exodus 8:18,19 –

“Now the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not.  So there were lice on man and beast.  Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’  But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken.”

The magicians had said, “This is the finger of God” when they saw the miracle done by Moses and Aaron.  But now in Luke 11 One greater than Moses was there.  And Jesus Christ performed even greater miracles than Moses or any of the Old Testament prophets had done.  But while the magicians of Egypt acknowledged that what they saw was the finger of God, the Jews would not.  The truth was staring at them in the face, but – like Pharaoh – their hearts were hard, and they would not believe.

“Show us a sign from heaven!” they said.  “Give us proof that You are the One You claim to be, and then we will believe in You.”  But a sign had been given.  They had just seen Jesus cast out a demon in such a way that the crowds were amazed.  Jesus had just demonstrated His power over the hosts of Satan.  He had just demonstrated His ability to bind the strong man.  Here was a man who had been captive to Satan, afflicted by a demon, but who was now healed and able to speak.  What further sign was needed?

“Surely,” said Christ, “the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Christ had not come to bring freedom from bondage to Egypt, but freedom from bondage to Satan.  Through Christ’s work we clearly see the very finger of God.  And Matthew 12 speaks not of the finger of God but the Spirit of God, and so Christ is saying here that He casts out demons not by Satan but by  the Holy Spirit. 

The case for faith in Christ, to receive Jesus Christ as the One He claims to be, is clear.  But in His grace, Christ did give another sign, the sign of the prophet Jonah.  Jonah was a sign to the people of Ninevey, for they saw in him one who had come back from the dead as it were, one who had been delivered from the belly of a fish.  In the same way, Christ himself would rise from the belly of the earth after three days.  But Christ did not give the Jews the sign of the prophet Jonah with the expectation that this would cause them to believe.  He said in Luke 11:32,

“The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.”

There is no need for another sign, for more proof than we already have.  In fact, if we do not believe what we have already received, if we do not believe the Word of God that has been given to us, no other sign would do it.  As Jesus said to the rich man in the parable about Lazarus of Luke 16,

“If they do not hear Moses and  the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”  (Luke 16:31)

So what is your response?  There is no opportunity to just keep on sitting on the fence.  Psalm 95 says,

“Today, if you will hear His voice: ‘Do not harden your hearts.’”

Receive Jesus Christ for who He claims to be.

2. The Tragedy of Unbelief.

Agnostics are sceptics who say they can not believe in the God of the Bible because there is insufficient proof for them to do so.  But that is not the problem.  Just as these Jews had seen Christ cast out a demon before their very eyes and still refused to accept the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah, so those today who say there is no proof that God exists are deluded.  It is, Psalm 53 says, the fool who says in his heart “there is no god”.  The problem is not a lack of evidence; the problem is a refusal to believe that evidence.  Romans 1:18-21 says,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, [did you hear that?  They suppress the truth] because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse …”

And yet people want to keep sitting on the fence.  “Show us a sign!  Give us the ultimate proof!  Convince us, and then we will believe.”

But the problem is not that there is no evidence; the problem is the refusal to believe the evidence that has been presented.  For the Jews, as well as those who do not believe the gospel today, the problem is that Jesus does not match their idea of what the Saviour of the world should look like!  He came from the wrong place!  His parents were virtually unknown!  He dressed Himself in the wrong clothes and He hung out with the wrong crowd!  And His message was one of grace and not of works.  And so many of the Jews said, “We don’t know!  We’re not ready to agree with the Pharisees that he casts out demons by Beelzebub, but we don’t think He’s the Son of God either.  So we’re going to be neutral.  We won’t make up our mind.  We’ll stay sitting on the fence.

But the tragedy of unbelief is that there is no fence to sit on!  In the war between Christ and Satan, there is no middle ground.

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”

And to underline this, Christ gave the parable about the unclean spirit who left a man, couldn’t find another home and then came back.  Finding the man’s heart swept clean and empty, the unclean spirit returned, taking with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself.

An empty heart does not remain empty.  Its master is either Christ or Satan.  And so the question comes to each one of us:  whose side are you on?

It sometimes happens that a person is struggling with some sort of a problem.  A character flaw, a struggle with anger, with lust, with envy, with bitterness, an addiction.  And this person really wants to get this thing out of his life.  Perhaps he looks for help: for the good advice of a friend, for professional counselling, for a self-help or recovery group.  And that is all fine.  But when you get that thing out of your life, then what?  What are you going to replace it with?  When the thing that we are struggling with is sin, then we need more than a technique to overcome it.  To use the imagery of our text, we need more than the defeat, the casting out of a demon.  We also need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!  We need the finger of God to touch us, for His Spirit to fill our hearts so that Satan is no longer welcome, so that he can not return with seven demons worse than the first.

Perhaps there is something wrong in your life.  Perhaps you are saying, “I want to get rid of that bad thing, because it is ruining my life.”  That is great!  That’s good!  But then what?  Do you also want to live for Jesus?  Do you also want every piece of wickedness removed from your heart and from your life?  Are you fervently praying for His grace and the Holy Spirit? 

There was a woman in the crowd who heard Jesus say these things, and overcome with emotion she cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts which nursed you!”  To which Jesus responded and said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”  Jesus’ mother Mary was blessed, but the reason why she was blessed was spoken by her relative Elizabeth in Luke 1:45, “Blessed is she who believed”.  May we too be blessed when we hear the word of God and keep it.

Unbelief is a tragedy.  When we are not for Jesus, we are against Him.  If we are not alive in Christ, we are dead in sin.  If we are not gathering with Christ, we scatter, working against Him.  But the promise of our text is that God is never far from each one of us.  Just as Jesus freed the mute man from bondage to demons, so He willingly frees us also.  Luke 11:13 says,

“If you then, 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!”

The gift of salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit are freely offered to you.  There is no one among us this morning who can say, “I’m too far gone, my sin is too great, the gospel is no longer applicable for me.”  The power of Christ is enough to bind the strong man  Jesus healed the man who was mute, and Jesus can heal you.  But the question comes back to this:  Who is Jesus?  Do you believe that in Jesus Christ the Kingdom of God has come?  Do you see in Him that the finger of God is at work?  Do you look to Him and find in Him your Saviour? 

Ultimately there is no such thing as an empty heart.  There is no such position as an eternal fence sitter.  Look to Jesus Christ!  Plead with God to fill you heart with His grace and the Holy Spirit.  And you will receive in Him all that is needed for your salvation.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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