Sermon Title: By Beelzebul or by the Finger of God

Sermon preached on Luke 11:14-28 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 03/27/2022 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

There is much mystery associated with demons in the Bible and the full nature of how they afflict humans. Yet, despite such mystery, there is also great clarity in the Bible that they exist and that spiritual warfare is a reality for the Christian. Today’s passage draws our attention again to some of the light that Scripture sheds on this subject. And let us be reminded again that ultimately victory belongs to the Lord.

Let us in our first point consider the casting out of demons that we see described here. This is something we’ve been seeing Jesus doing in Luke’s gospel. From the very start of his public ministry in Luke chapter 4 we see Jesus beginning to cast out demons. Luke’s gospel portrays the casting out of such unclean spirits as typical of Jesus, alongside his other works of power when he regularly heals people. Apparently, it was not just Jesus who labored to cast out demons at that time, because in verse 19 he references how his critics have “sons”, probably a reference to their own disciples, who also try to cast out demons. I would note that we should not equate how Jesus cast out demons identically with whatever his critics’ disciples were doing when they tried to cast out demons. How effective or even legitimate was the efforts that their disciples did in casting out demons is not here stated. Rather, Jesus simply recognizes that they had their own disciples who labored to exorcise demons. Whatever those disciples tried to accomplish, they surely did not cast out demons in the same measure and authority that Jesus did, given how much notoriety Jesus gained by his exorcisms. Otherwise, you wouldn’t see all the repeated marvel by the people when he did nor all the jealousy by his critics. But the point is that all the accounts of casting out demons speaks to the need of Jesus’ ministry in doing battle with Satan and his demonic forces.

In today’s passage, we see a specific example of casting out a demon in verse 14. There the demon is identified as a mute demon, which at a minimum referred to the effect that demon brought on the person he inhabited. The man was mute until Jesus cast out the unclean spirit, and then the man was able to speak. The result was that the people marveled at that power exercised by Jesus over that demon. One thing we see here is that such demonic oppression in many cases caused observable afflictions in people. Here it was to cause muteness. Or like we saw back in chapter 8 with that Legion of demons in that man, it caused the man to be out of his mind, taking off his clothes and wandering about in the desert. So, such demonic affliction could leave people physically or mentally afflicted. That is a horrible state to be in.

Near the end of today’s passage, Jesus also speaks of how someone could have a demon leave them and then later return. I refer to verses 24-26. There Jesus speaks of a demon leaving someone and wandering around in some waterless place. We can appreciate the imagery there – if we might tend to imagine angels inhabiting some paradise with God, we can appreciate that a demon might find itself wandering lonely in some desert-like place. But Jesus then imagines that demon deciding to return to the person it previously inhabited, only to come back and find the person’s life seemingly in order. But then Jesus envisions how that demon will go and bring seven more demons to then go and reinhabit that person. Jesus says the end result is that the person is worse off than before. So, just the casting out of a demon alone is not a sufficient solution since Jesus describes the possibility that one could be reinhabited. Again, there is much mystery to know how and when all this applies. But, I think there is one real obvious application that comes out of this. This demonic warfare is really serious stuff and we need Jesus to conquer these enemies. And yet that is the point of Jesus doing these exorcisms. It is to encourage us that he is able to overcome them and to ultimately save us from them.

And yet while this is the truth we should be taking from this, that leads us to our second point to see that this is not the conclusion everyone came to at the time. Starting in verse 15 we see the opposition forming. One expression of opposition came in the accusation that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul. As is clear from this passage, the name of Beelzebul, or its variant Beelzebub, is used as a reference to Satan. As an historical note, the term referred to at one point a Philistine god, as found in 2 Kings 1. But by this time, the name Beelzebul had begun to be used as an alternate name for Satan. So, they accuse Jesus of using Satanic power in his exorcisms. This a form of opposition that comes in negative terms. They opposed him by saying something negative against him in this accusation, that he was in league with Satan.

So then, we see Jesus’ response to such an accusation starting in verse 17. There, Jesus says that a kingdom or house divided against itself will fail. That’s what Jesus says in verse 17 and it is the analogy that Jesus gives. The application is in verse 18. “If Satan is against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” In other words, their accusing Jesus of using Satanic power to cast out Satan’s demons is flawed logic. Satan isn’t that foolish. It would be counter-productive for Satan to attack his own allies.

Jesus further rebuts their flawed accusation by referencing those among their number who have sought to cast out demons, verse 19. Again, regardless of how effective or even legitimate such exorcisms were, Jesus’ point is rhetorical and it is clear. His critics would not have claimed that their disciples cast out demons by Beelzebul. So, if Jesus’ critics start claiming that Jesus can only cast out evil spirits by Beelzebel, then they are going to make enemies within their own camp. Jesus says their own disciples who also seek to cast out demons are going to be their judges. They are going to condemn their logic even as Jesus condemns their logic.

And so, their flawed accusation of is a form of opposition using a negative approach, accusing him of something evil. But a slightly different expression of opposition is then found in verse 16. Some want him to show a sign from heaven. It says that they are looking for this to test him. This is a form of opposition where you express your opposition in positive terms. Instead of accusing Jesus of evil, they demand positive proof of Jesus’ claim. In other words, they are basically saying, show us proof that you really are doing God’s work here. Give us a sign from heaven to prove this. I can’t help but take this in the context of people accusing him of collaborating with the demons. The question that seems implied in the context is to say to Jesus that if you aren’t in league with the demons shows us a sign from heaven. Of course, casting out demons is a sign from heaven, which is the irony.

Jesus makes that point in verse 20. He says, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” I take that verse as his response to those expressing their opposition in these more positive terms. By this point in his response, he already established that one’s power to cast out demons must not be from demons. And it is obvious that mere humans do not possess the power to cast out demons. So, the only other option left is that it is God’s power by which demons are cast out. This assumes a hierarchy of power where humans are above all the creatures on earth but made a little lower than the angels, but God is above them all. So, his response basically is that if you want a sign from heaven, then it’s right there with every exorcism that I do. It’s God’s power boldly displayed before you. It is the kingdom of God breaking in. If you think about God’s kingdom being one where God reigns, then for God to cast out a demon who is an enemy of the kingdom is to be bringing his reign and rule right then and there. That was what God was doing through Jesus. God’s anointed one, God’s messianic king, Jesus, is the king of God’s kingdom and God is empowering his king to have victory over all the enemies of the kingdom. On a related note, you have to love that Jesus says God does this by his finger. In other words, it is such a small thing for God to cast out a demon. It is not a hard-fought battle for God to defeat Satan. If I can further anthropomorphize, God doesn’t break a sweat when he fights against Satan. As Martin Luther’s famous hymn goes, “The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.” And so, indeed, his opposition who ask for positive proof that he is working by God’s power have all the signs they should need.

Let us now in our third point turn to consider the larger teaching point that Jesus then makes out of this conversation. You have to love that Jesus seems to have never missed an opportunity to turn someone’s comment into a teachable moment. So, let’s look at this point that starts in verse 21 where Jesus speaks of a strong man versus a stronger man. This is basically a short parable he gives to teach something about himself and the kingdom of God. In the parable, it envisions a strong man that is fully equipped for war and full of his goods, but that then a stronger opponent comes and conquers him, removing his ability to conduct war and plunders his goods. This is a more detailed version of something similarly recorded of Jesus in the parallel account of Matthew 12:29. That’s when Jesus speaks of how you can’t steal from a strong man unless you first bind the strong man. Then you can plunder his house.

Remember that these are parables and that parables don’t have an exact correspondence in every aspect to the truths they are relating. But in this parable, the context helps us to understand that this is making an analogy between Satan and Jesus, and between Satan’s kingdom and Jesus’ kingdom. I will remind you that verse 18 did in fact use that language of Satan having his own kingdom. And certainly, this passage again speaks of the kingdom of God of which Jesus is the LORD’s anointed king. And so, Satan is likened to the strong man but Jesus as the stronger man as God in Jesus wields the mighty power of God. We should appreciate that Satan indeed is a strong kingdom with many spiritual weapons. The language here in these words for armed and armor might be better translated as armaments because the words refer to both offensive and defensive weapons and equipment. Satan is well equipped for war. But King Jesus and the kingdom of God is more so. So, King Jesus has come to conquer Satan. In terms of the parable’s plunder that the stronger man takes from the strong man, this is a reference to Jesus liberating God’s elect from Satan’s dominion. As Colossians 1:13 says of Christians, that, “He [God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”

In doctrinal terms we refer to this as the conquest of Satan. It is also sometimes referred to in Latin as the idea of Christus Victor. Rightly understood, is that Christ’s work includes him coming to destroy the works of the devil and to triumph over the spiritual forces of evil. Some have incorrectly made that their entire focus of Christ’s redemptive work, which is wrong. But rightly understood, it is a wonderful and joyous and very significant element of how Christ saves us. Remember from our first point today we noted the reality of Satan’s affliction and attack on us. He is a fierce foe and he and his demons would, if they had it their way, make all of lives worse than ever. But the good news includes that Jesus conquers Satan and his kingdom.

We begin to see this work of conquest of Satan in Luke’s gospel back in the wilderness temptation. There, the devil tried unsuccessfully to tempt Jesus to sin. But Jesus overcame those temptations. Then Jesus showed his continued might over Satan’s kingdom every time he cast out an unclean spirit from someone. The definitive death blow would come at the cross. There, Satan was striking out at the heel of Jesus, so to speak, thinking he was gaining the victory. But actually, in that, Jesus’ death on the cross, he purchased all the elect unto salvation, securing their ultimate liberation from Satan.

So then, while there is a sense that the battle is won and done, we are reminded in verse 23 that there is a little more to the story. This is a time of drawing up sides. This is a time of either gathering into Christ’s kingdom or trying to scatter people from coming into his kingdom. We see this in beautiful pithy statement Jesus gives saying, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Think of how this fits into the context. The context paints that there are two kingdoms, God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. Jesus has made clear that he is not a part of Satan’s kingdom. Jesus is instead the Messiah King of God’s kingdom. Jesus has been casting out demons as an expression of him bringing God’s kingdom near. But his opponents here would seek to cast out Jesus. Luke’s gospel has already used this same language of casting out, like casting out demons, to describe opposition to Jesus and his disciples. Like in Luke 4:29 where it says that that when the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus they tried to cast him out of town. And Luke 6:22 speaks of how followers of Jesus may find that opponents try to cast out our names on account of Jesus. The point is that if they are against Jesus and his disciples then they are acting against the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom would not have a kingdom divided against itself. Any who would oppose Jesus and his people oppose God and his kingdom. That means they are ultimately serving Satan and Satan’s kingdom. The very critics who accuse Jesus here of being in league with Satan may themselves be unwittingly serving Satan. If you are not with Jesus, you are serving Satan’s kingdom and trying to scatter those whom Christ would gather up. And that means if we are with Jesus, we are still today continuing that work of gathering. We are looking to gather all the elect unto Christ and his kingdom.

As we consider these two sides, these two competing kingdoms, our passage reminds us as the end that the battle is not of flesh and blood but spiritual in nature. This woman in verse 27, hears all these wonderful words of Jesus and declares how blessed is the womb that bore Jesus and the breasts which nursed Jesus. It was Mary who did that, and of course she is blessed. This was basically said three times back in Luke 1, by the angel Gabriel, by Elizabeth, and by Mary herself. This woman says it again here in verse 27. It is certainly true in itself. Yet, Jesus says “rather” in verse 28. He effectively corrects the woman, even though she made a true statement, to point her to something far more significant and far more the way of blessing. He says, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” To praise Mary’s role as mother noted Mary’s physical role in supporting Jesus. That was indeed a good and necessary role, and she is blessed for it. But far more significant is the spiritual benefit and use of hearing and heeding God’s word. This inherently contrasts something earthly versus something heavenly, something fleshly versus spiritually. And in context, it is a fitting reminder that the battle lines that are drawn up between these two kingdoms are going to be found along spiritual lines. Verse 27 draws the connection between this woman’s word and what Jesus had just got doing saying, so we are right to draw this connection. This woman illustrates verse 23, that she is affirming her allegiance to Jesus, that she is with him, and with his kingdom. So then, King Jesus directs her to the focus she and we will need as we serve in his kingdom. Ours is a spiritual battle. Let’s make sure we don’t neglect our chief weapon in that fight – the word of God!

Trinity Presbyterian Church, we are reminded today of the spiritual war that we find ourselves in. Yet, we are already reminded that we are and will be victorious in Christ. Let us then take to heart today’s teaching that a kingdom divided against itself will not stand. Let us seek to serve Jesus in line with his mission and instructions for us. If we lose track of that, we effectively stand in opposition to what his kingdom would have us be about.

So then, we remember then today that the advance of Christ’s kingdom has a current gathering component, while it also has a component of seeking the destruction of Satan’s kingdom. I love how the Westminster Shorter Catechism speaks of that in conjunction with the Lord’s Prayer petition of “thy kingdom come.” Prayer is also part of our armaments for this spiritual warfare. WSC answer 102 says, “In the second petition, which is, thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.”

So then let us remember to make use of God’s Word and prayer in this ongoing spiritual warfare. Indeed, may the kingdom of God come quickly, where God will guard us safe and in peace forevermore!


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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