The Strongest Man
Preached by Jason Abbott
There is no audio recording of this sermon.
As a dad, I love it when my kids feel safe because I’m nearby. For example, my daughters just moved to a new room, and that first night they were scared while getting ready to go to bed. So, I sat down next to them and reasoned with them. I explained that I was literally closer to them now than when they were in their old room. I reassured them that they’d, consequently, be safe because I was still there to protect them. This seemed to do the trick, and it was a total ego boost for me since, to them, I meant safety. To them, I was the strongest man.
The only real problem is that I’m not actually safety in human form…am I?! There are any number of scenarios that would surpass my ability to protect them. And, at a higher level, this is true for all of us. We all want to believe we’re safe—bank accounts high enough, life insurance policies in place, home security systems activated—but deep down inside we know we’re actually vulnerable…don’t we?! We all know we’re not safe. We all know there are powers far stronger than we are at work in this world. We’re not the strongest men or strongest women.
And, in a supreme sense, in eternal spiritual terms, this is what Jesus teaches about in this passage. He teaches us that we need him—the Strongest Man.
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 Beelzebul, 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 Beelzebul. 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. 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.”
We’ll see three things in this passage: (1st) the charge brought against Jesus, (2nd) the response Jesus offers regarding that charge, and (3rd) a serious warning Jesus gives to all those listening. Let’s look at each.
1. The charge against Jesus (vv.14-16)
Here we find Jesus, as we often do, healing someone. In this case, it’s a man with a demon which keeps him from being able to speak. Luke doesn’t say much about this man. He doesn’t mention how long he’d been plagued by the evil spirit. He doesn’t tell us the man’s name. Luke simply explains that Jesus healed the man and that when Jesus did so some in the crowd accuse him of casting out “demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (v. 15).
There are a few things here that are interesting. First, note that not everyone is necessarily accusing Jesus of this. Luke stresses that it was just “some of them” who were doing it. Others are “seeking…a sign from heaven” (v. 15). The reaction, therefore, is mixed. Some have made up their minds about Jesus—He’s a bad guy; he serves Satan. Others—who Ben Bechtel will consider in next week’s sermon—are undecided about Jesus. They think he might be alright, but they need more info or proof before they make up their minds. This second group is riding the fence when it comes to Jesus. (It’s probably safe to say that Jesus doesn’t view either one of these reactions to his miraculous work positively.)
Second, we can certainly assume that there’s a third reaction to this miracle and to Jesus here. And while Luke is relatively silent concerning this third reaction, we can be pretty sure that the one reacting was not silent—at least, not any longer. This once mute man is now shouting for joy. He’s not accusing Jesus of doing evil. He’s not riding the fence about Christ’s goodness. The man knows Jesus is good because he can talk, because the demon is gone. Praise God! (I sometimes wonder if Jesus isn’t mainly upset with the crowd for its lack of compassion.)
Finally, notice that the judgmental reactions to Jesus were likely unspoken. This was condemnation at the heart level. This was judgment without a backbone. No one was standing up to Jesus here, pointing a finger at him, and accusing him of channeling the power of Satan to heal this man who was mute. They thought it, but they were far too cowardly to voice it. We can say this because Luke tells us that Jesus knew “their thoughts” (v. 17).
Before we move on, it’s important for us to confess that we can often react to the work of Jesus in negative ways too; we can often be a lot like this crowd.
- While we might not directly accuse Jesus of working by Satan’s power, we are often tempted to doubt that God’s purposes for us are truly good. Aren’t we?!
- Or, consider Marjory Stoneman-Douglas High School. How many of us heard about the tragedy there and, rather than prayerfully empathizing with the hurt families and weeping with those who weep, all too readily began again to debate our positions on gun control. When we act like this, aren’t we as callous as this crowd—passing over the recovery of this man to debate the power behind Jesus’ miracle?!
- Or, consider how often we make silent judgments and condemn others through false, sinful smiles. Do we think this pleases Jesus?!
Friends, if you’re reading your Bible and you’re tempted to judge some sin, like this crowd’s sin, before you go any further—pause, look inward, and consider how you are likely doing the very same things. And, this is not simply my advice to you. This is precisely what Paul warns us against doing in the New Testament. He says:
…you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things…because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:1, 5).
Our first response as believers must always be to humbly examine ourselves.
Well, let’s look at our second thing:
2. The response of Jesus (vv. 17-22)
How did Jesus respond to the crowd’s condemnation following this miracle? Luke records his words:
“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 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 finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (vv. 17-22).
The first thing Jesus does here is reason with the crowd about their thoughts. He wants them to grasp the error in their thinking. And remember, these are people who would have known about the danger of a divided kingdom. Christ is speaking to Israelites. Their history was a history of a kingdom split after Solomon’s death, and the downward spiral of both nations afterwards. So, this is a good argument considering the audience. They would’ve agreed with his reasoning—Satan casting out Satan doesn’t make sense.
Next, Jesus points out that, even if it did make sense, they’d have a problem. Namely, how to decide who was a good exorcist, casting out demons by the power of God, and who was a bad exorcist, casting out demons by the power of the devil. In short, Jesus tells them that they can’t have their exorcism-cake and eat it too. You can’t label one exorcist evil and one exorcist good just because you’d like to. If one is by the power of Satan, then so is the other. But, if they’re cast out by God, Jesus says, “then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (v. 20).
Finally, Jesus tells them a story to highlight his point. Basically, he explains that Satan is like a strong man who wants to protect the belongings in his palace. And, he’s able to do this, as-long-as no one stronger attacks him to take his stuff away from him. If this happens, the strong man stands no chance. He’ll lose it all. The point of the story is clear—one stronger than Satan has come.
Friends, the Bible is clear about the devil. He comes to “steal” what’s God’s. And, his plan is to devastate us—Satan seeks to “kill and destroy” us (John 10:10). Jesus, however, is the strongest man. He has been sent by the Father to plunder Satan’s faux kingdom. Jesus has come to render the devil defenseless and exposed: naked without the “armor in which he trusted” (v. 22). This story proclaims hope. The devil’s kingdom cannot stand against the Lord’s kingdom. And “the kingdom of God has [now] come upon” us in the person of Christ (v. 20).
Think about the sins you struggle with. Consider the brokenness and shame that you feel, or all the things you imagine will fill you up and finally bring you joy but, instead, only leave you empty. These are the wages of the kingdom of Satan. And, while he has a strong grip, it’s no match for Jesus. If you truly desire relief, turn to Christ and ask him to give you purpose and to give you freedom. He is able, and he is willing. He will steal you away from Satan.
Let me add one more thing to this. If you’re turning to Christ for this rescue, then pair it with full participation in his church. This kind of fellowship is assumed in the Bible. (Simply read through any of the New Testament letters and notice how the commands and instructions given there make no sense outside of regular and committed fellowship in a local congregation.) Thinking you can follow Jesus on your own, apart from a church family, is not just arrogant but also disobedient to the purposes and commandments of God for you. There is simply no such thing as lone ranger Christianity in Scripture.
Well, let’s turn our attention finally to our third thing:
3. The warning from Jesus (vv. 23-26)
Just after this story about the strong man, Jesus tells another story to warn us of a great danger—the danger of thinking that we can protect ourselves from Satan, the danger of thinking that we can defend our own palace from being broken into and plundered by demonic forces, the danger of thinking that we can pursue good on our own. First, Jesus warns us:
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Then, to illustrate what he means by this warning, he tells a second tale:
“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.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 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” (vv. 23-26).
Let’s think about this story. An evil spirit exits a person it’s been tormenting, to look for another person to call home, but finds nowhere better to take its chaos. So, the demon goes back to its first home. But, what’s happened in the meantime? Well, the person has attempted to clean him or herself up—“the house [is] swept and put in order” (v. 25). This person has tried to live in a moral or upright way. But, all their work is in vain. The demon simply goes and gets seven other demons “more evil than itself” (v. 26). And, so, that person’s state is worse than before.
This little story, that Jesus told two-thousand years ago, continues to be lived out today. People believe they can clean themselves up—tidy up their own palace and protect themselves. But, they can’t because they’re not good—we’re not good; we’re not even neutral. Remember what Jesus warned before this story?
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (v. 23).
We cannot clean ourselves up. We don’t even know what it is to be clean. Our very best works are filthy rags according to God’s holy standard (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, if we’re not with Jesus, we’re with the devil. We have more in common with Satan than with the Lord. We are simply not strong enough men and women to tidy ourselves up and change this broken, sinful reality. But God can!
Friends, the strong man lives in us. And, he is bent on defending his claim over us. The devil is hellbent on shielding us from the one who can bring us peace. Yet, as I mentioned before, Satan is no match for the strongest man. He is undone. He is defeated already. Nevertheless, we must claim the victory that Jesus has won. We must trust that his death is for us; we must trust that his resurrection is for us; we must invite him to enter our lives and, by the power of his Spirit, begin to live for him alone.
Only Christ can give us security. Only Christ can give us peace. Amen.