KINGDOM: Stronger than Satan (Matthew 12:22-29)
Jesus’ encounters with the real, humble people of His day continue to inspire me, not just because He was able to do the miraculous on their behalf, thereby changing their lives forever, but also because of the manner with which He did so; full of compassion and with true concern for the individuals involved.
Let’s be honest, we mere mortals can often do things because we “should” (and there is a type of virtue in that, to be sure), but as they say, sometimes “our heart is not in it.”
So, as we get started, take a bit of time to ponder just how remarkable this ability of Jesus’ is, and to note WHAT it is.
It’s integrity with a capital “I” — meaning, everything in Him was integrated into a harmonious whole; no schism, no duplicity, no hypocritical outer appearance with something much more toward the rotten side going on inside.
When Jesus did a loving act, He was LOVING the person with all that He was.
THE MODERN-DAY CHURCH NEEDS TO LEARN FROM JESUS IN THIS AREA
First, is the simple, personal inner-outer struggle each of us have that I’ve just described. Some examples…
When we notice that we’ve not added a vital ingredient to our “love recipe” (in other words, our hearts are not in it), then we need to pause long enough to express a prayer of contrition and repentance, submit our whole selves to Jesus anew, and ask Him to love and live through us in that moment (Galatians 2:20).
When a close friend or loved one reveals that we’ve hurt them through insensitivity or neglect or inaction, we need to hear their words for what they are; a hopeful cry that we will be sorry that we’ve hurt them and work, with the Spirit’s help, at not hurting them in that same way again. Then we need to honestly and WITH our whole heart repent of the harm we’ve caused — to the person and to the Lord — and avail ourselves of the ever-present power of the Holy Spirit to make things right with the person and to set a new course for the future in regard to our relationship with them.
Notice what was NOT in that reaction: defensiveness, justification, blaming, excuses.
Those are examples of the “personal” side of how the church needs to make some improvements in the “love others as yourself” category, but what about the corporate side?
Let’s try on this one for size…
When the policies that govern local church benevolence funds require such a strenuous application and vetting process (for fear of being swindled or tricked by a greedy no-good) that it takes days of committee meetings and hours of discussion, and receipts and verifications in triplicate, are we making it so difficult for a truly needy person to receive help that the process is just as painful as the need?
Yes, we need to be wise (Matthew 10:16).
Yes, we need to be responsible (1 Corinthians 4:2).
But when we make it difficult to love people in practical ways, the compassion has been sucked from an effort once created to lovingly help human beings in need.
Or here’s another real-life situation to try on…
When a local church “can’t” help a single mother with car trouble get her car repaired because “that’s not how our budget process works,” yet we can approve that budget to pay six-figure pastoral salaries, a mortgage on a multi-million dollar facility, and the corresponding utilities to keep it running even if it DOES sit empty 70% of the time, then it seems obvious that scriptural priorities are out of whack.
In my view (and I hope I’m not alone in this one. In fact, I know I’m not, there’s my wife…), when a local church chooses financial priorities that prevent it from financially helping its local MEMBERS who have legitimate needs, it has missed a lesson or two in the Apostle Paul’s “one body” curriculum.
I’m not saying that every need requires or will bottom-line-benefit from an infusion of cash.
But there are many, many that will, and on more than simply the level of immediate relief. The generosity of God, expressed through His body TO those within His body can serve as a catalytic moment, a strengthening of a flagging faith, a tangible reminder that in life’s hardest moments God sees and cares and even acts on behalf of His people.
They will know we are Christians by our love for ONE ANOTHER, remember? (John 13:35)
Jesus is our example of what Kingdom living looks like, and it looks a lot like genuine compassion expressed through acts of sincere love.
Why is that the case? Because we’re supposed to be showing onlookers as well as those who have bought into the Kingdom but are still uncertain what it means, that said Kingdom actually has something to offer, that the Kingdom of heaven has indeed come to earth in tangible, helpful, loving ways.
Yes, I’m throwing stones and I hope they hurt.
We need them to hurt if we’re to wake up from our westernized, consumer, self-preoccupied slumber.
Yes, it’s more complicated and nuanced than I’m making it out to be, but it can’t be rationally denied that the things I’ve described happen EXACTLY AS I’ve described in some quarters.
IN LIGHT OF THE KINGDOM
With all that background, let’s begin our stroll toward the “Kingdom” passage for this session.
In Matthew 12, verse 22 we find Jesus receiving a man who Matthew describes as “demon-oppressed” and as a result is both blind and mute.
Let’s avoid the modern tendency to pooh-pooh the existence and influence of spiritual beings like demons. Let’s avoid it by simply accepting that what Matthew says was the case, was the case.
And let’s pause to consider what that really means, so that we better grasp what this situation has to do with the Kingdom of heaven.
The devil is a scary guy… spirit… being. Can we agree on that? The very best MMA fighter or fictional Hollywood tough guy would run like a little girl if he came face to face with the prince of darkness in real life. No doubt.
But there’s something related to this fact that we Christians need to ponder, a LOT.
When we became Kingdom citizens, we stepped into a realm where that same scary spirit-being has NO authority and NO power. In fact, his lack of power over us or to thwart the plans of our King, Jesus, is one of the defining marks OF the Kingdom we serve.
It’s like Superman suddenly falling powerless when Kryptonite is brought into the room. The devil and his hoard of cronies have nothing to say, do, or interject into the workings of the Kingdom, not really. Jesus Himself said so.
Let’s set the stage for what the Master has for us by reading Matthew 12:22-24.
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. And all the people were amazed and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard it they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.
To summarize, a demon (a real being even in our day, by the way) was having its way with a human being… in this case, making the man physically blind and mute (unable to speak).
So, with all the proper respect given to the discoveries of modern medicine, no doctor or surgeon was going to help this guy, even if they tried. It would be one of those “medical mysteries” we hear about where the cause of the physical problem cannot be determined. That’s because it’s not a physical problem at the root, it’s a spiritual problem manifested in a physical symptom.
So, let’s stop for a moment and acknowledge that these spiritual beings the Bible labels as “demons” can cause physical problems, physical limitations, or physical sickness in human beings.
While we’re at it, let’s concede also that angels can do the same type of things (Luke 1:20, for example). They are the same type of beings, after all.
We should also notice that Matthew simply states that the demon was the cause of the condition. He doesn’t tell us how he knew that.
We can fairly safely presume it’s because, being the one who’s telling the story, he knows how things turned out; Jesus casts out the demon and everyone says, “Ohhhhhh! That’s why Joe was blind and couldn’t talk!”
Another possibility is that the people of the town knew Joe’s story, that once upon a time he COULD see and talk, but then something happened to prevent him from doing so. Matthew could have heard the murmurs making their way through the crowd about “crazy old Joe” as his friends led him toward Jesus.
It’s also possible that the demon made its presence known in other ways not described here, ways that made it particularly EASY to recognize AS a demon. You know, like the high school jock who never goes anyplace where he is not wearing his wool-blend letter jacket – even in the summertime.
So Jesus takes care of the man, expressing that amazing love of His, by removing the influence of the demon over the man’s life.
Let’s not rush by this event as if it’s commonplace, it’s not.
First of all, Jesus cared for someone the likes of crazy old Joe. He wasn’t put off by his oddities, his smell or bad breath, his inability to see or hear; Jesus’ heart of compassion overcame every feeling of discomfort or repulsion that would be normal for us in a situation like this one.
Read that last sentence again. Seriously.
Have YOU ever been in a situation where the evidence of a needy person’s need was repulsive to you (body odor, bad breath, lack of social graces, the smell of alcohol oozing through their pores)?
Have YOU ever felt uncomfortable when someone with an obvious malady or handicap enters the room?
I have. Those feelings are natural.
Sometimes, it’s disgust that we feel, and we should be disgusted by the affect and effects of sin.
Sometimes, the feelings flow from a very real recognition of our own inadequacy and limitations. We would help the people if we could, but we know that their situation is way out of our league.
Whatever the cause of the feeling, we cannot let the feeling win out over godly compassion and care for the individual. Jesus, who lives in us, is eager to love that person through us.
So, let’s make a commitment together, shall we?
Let’s not allow our discomfort to move us to turn our backs on them, or shuffle our feet, or look away, or refer them to someone with a program, or a degree, or an office and a payment plan.
When we do that, we display our ignorance and lack of faith; we do not yet see or believe the authority and power inherent in the Kingdom of heaven, of which we are citizens and ambassadors.
You’ll see what I mean as we keep reading. But we’re not finished with our summary yet…
When Jesus heals the man (interesting, removing the influence of a demon is called “healing” instead of “casting out the demon”), the crowd is amazed and has a few questions.
I would too.
Some asked, “Is this the Son of David?”
Interpretation: “Is this the Messiah?” That was exactly the right question to ask, by the way, because the descriptions of the Messiah given by the Old Testament prophets where quite grand, including the power to heal and set captives free. Some of those prophecies about the Messiah specifically referred to blindness (Isaiah 29:18, 35:4-6).
So yes, ask that question. IS this the long awaited, prophesied Messiah? It sure looks like it.
But then there is the unreasonable response to that reasonable question.
The self-appointed religious authorities of the day (Pharisees) seem to be upset that some of the people are even considering the possibility that Jesus could be the Messiah. We’re not told why they’d be upset, but it probably rhymes with “jealousy.”
So they posit a second theory, “He’s casting out demons by the power of a stronger demon (Beelzebub).” In their thinking (if I may presume to know it), this not only discredits the Messiah talk of the obviously-ignorant crowd, it also casts Jesus in a very negative and scary light. After all, if He’s got the prince of demons on His side, this is not at all Kosher and everyone should be wary of Him.
And let’s not think that the Pharisees are necessarily being duplicitous in this. They could very well have believed their own misinformation. The view of God’s work that they subscribed to did not include so-called bastards as the Messiah (and you can be sure they had investigated such things as Jesus’ lineage and birth), so they felt quite justified in making the conclusions they did. In fact, it was probably the only explanation that made sense to them.
So there’s our setting.
As is often the case in the gospels, it’s a setup for Jesus to teach us something grand and we will do well to listen and learn.
We’re going to first hear what Jesus said about what He did by healing the man, then we’ll get a lesson about how what He did relates to the Kingdom of heaven.
Knowing their thoughts, He said 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?
First, notice that Jesus (being Jesus) knows what‘s going on. He reveals to everyone present that the Pharisees are thinking what they’re thinking. So He provides a bit of instruction from the course “Kingdoms 101,” it’s general information about the general concept of kingdoms and they way they work.
Keep that in mind, He’s not talking about the Kingdom of heaven, yet. He’s just talking about your run of the mill, earthly kingdom.
What does He say about them?
They don’t divide their forces in such way that they wind up fighting against themselves. It simply isn’t done because it is a dumb move. Any kingdom that divides its forces in this manner will be “laid waste,” it cannot stand.
So, stepping out of “Kingdoms 101” class and into “Kingdom of Heaven 101” class, we can see that Jesus is making the point that the very idea that Jesus (or anyone) is in league with Satan and their coordinated plan is to do the actual works of the Messiah (which Jesus just did), is ridiculous. It’s counter productive and could not work.
In His follow-up instruction, Jesus takes a deeper step into the pool of Pharisee foolish-thinking by putting a question to them…
And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
It may come as a shock to you that the Pharisees had a spiritual deliverance ministry at all, but it seems that they did. That’s what Jesus is referring to here, and He’s putting their most successful efforts at casting out demons up against His own.
Let’s look at the comparison ourselves.
Jesus just cast out a demon, evidenced by the fact that the formerly blind and mute man can now see and speak. There were plenty of people around who could confirm that it was a legit healing.
For comparison, we don’t have an actual case before us of a Pharisee doing the same thing, but it’s assumed that like any human effort in this realm, there were some successes (or seeming successes) and some failures (probably a LOT of failures).
This is because God is God, Pharisees are not. He knows His will and timing and purpose regarding every sickness or oppression and allows deliverance only when and if He chooses.
Even in the best case scenarios, where people of great faith and godly wisdom seek to help those in need through a miraculous deliverance like this or a simple food distribution to homeless people, they can get their understanding of God’s will twisted, mixed up, and otherwise wrong — and attempt to do things in God’s power and for His sake, that He isn’t ready to do just yet.
In contrast, Jesus lived and breathed a direct line to the Father, doing only what He saw or heard His Father doing (John 5:19). There was no confusion or muddled communication between them, so Jesus always experienced success in His healings and deliverance.
Jesus is simply pointing out that if the Pharisees are going to claim that His “best in class” efforts are fueled by the devil, then their “runner up” efforts are no doubt fueled by something even worse.
He’s not finished yet…
But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. 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.
Since He’s made it pretty obvious that the suggestion that “the devil helped Him do it” is utter nonsense, Jesus turns to the only option left; it is by the Spirit of God that He casts out demons.
I had to stop writing for a moment and let that sink in. What I mean is that I had to get my mind out of the “churchianity, spiritual-speak, sentimental” mindset I (we) can so often fall into when reading the Bible.
This is not a nice story, a warm account designed to make us feel something sentimental and happy or awestruck.
Though those feelings may arise as we read it, the words we just read are in fact, the King of the universe telling us exactly what He was up to when He left heaven and came to earth. What was it?
“The Kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus was initiating, starting, introducing, establishing the beginnings of His Kingdom on earth.
Let’s connect some dots… remember how I pointed out that the Kingdom is a realm where the devil and his cronies have NO power or influence? This is why I say so.
Jesus is pointing to His power to command and control the demonic realm as evidence that the Kingdom of God was present among the people of His day. Jesus and His Kingdom are the devil’s Kryptonite. It’s simply the way it is.
That fact has grand implications for Kingdom citizens and the effects of the work we are called to do in advancing the Kingdom. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s learn from the rest of Jesus’ instruction on the matter.
The whole “strong man” illustration Jesus introduces here has been twisted and turned every which way in the history of the church.
People have used it to create all kinds of spiritual warfare theories and manuals that in my humble opinion, go beyond the teaching of this passage. So let’s look at what it says for ourselves. Clearly, the “strong man” represents the devil and Jesus / the Kingdom represents the “someone” who wants to enter the strong man’s house to plunder his goods.
The point Jesus is making is at least two-fold; one, the strong man is strong enough that his house (could we call it HIS kingdom, or realm of influence?) is not going to be plundered by just anyone.It has to done by someone strong enough to bind him so he can’t interfere.
Jesus / the Kingdom of God ARE strong enough to bind the “strong man” — the devil, and did bind him — in the specific case of the man who could not speak or see.
That is the POINT Jesus made by telling the parable. He bound the strong man, at least in that case.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD VS THE KINGDOM OF SATAN – IN OUR DAY
By writing the above header in the way I have, I do not mean to imply that the two things mentioned are equal, or even comparable. They are not. The Kingdom of God triumphs over anything Satan may attempt, every time.
And that’s the point Jesus was making, isn’t it? His parable makes it clear; when someone strong enough to bind the strong man shows up, the strong man stays bound as his house (kingdom) is plundered. Jesus bound him (his demon) and plundered his house (releasing the man from his oppression).
You and I are not in the habit of thinking of Jesus as an invader, but that’s exactly what He is; except He’s a beneficent invader, coming to liberate the citizens of the cruel and deceitful dictator’s regime. But because the dictator has been quite effective with his deceit, there are many of those citizens who don’t want his reign to end, even if they can see that he is clearly beaten.
Isn’t that a description of the world we live in?
Jesus beat the devil with the big, wooden stick of the cross. He solidified His victory through His resurrection, breaking the curse of death Adam experienced when he gave way to the deceitful dictator way back at the beginning of human history (Genesis 2:17). But many of those who live in this fallen world have experienced the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25-26) and are not too happy about those pleasures, as temporary and fleeting as they are, being removed.
That’s where Kingdom citizens come in.
We rub shoulders with those people in the course of everyday life. They work with us, frequent the same grocery stores and restaurants we do, have kids on the same soccer team as our kids, teach in the schools our children attend, and it’s likely that some of them even attend and serve in our churches. We are the invading King’s ambassadors, sent to win them over with divinely empowered weapons (2 Corinthians 10:4).
Love is one of those weapons and we are to express it in our behavior and speak it when opportunities to do so present themselves.
A Kingdom lifestyle is another powerful weapon.
When we demonstrate through our behavior, our attitudes, our worship, and many other things that we value greater things than what the present kingdom has to offer, the citizens of that kingdom become curious. They can’t understand why we are not running into the flood of disippation alongside them (1 Peter 4:4). Little by little the dissonance they feel between our lifestyle and theirs nudges questions forward in their minds, those questions befuddle and confuse them, and they eventually have to know why we have such hope in the face of the hardness that is human life on planet earth, so they ask.
When that happens, we have to be ready to tell them in clear, Jesus-exalting, glorious terms that we serve the new King (1 Peter 3:15).
A FINAL QUESTION: IS SATAN’S DEFEAT REAL?
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ encounter with the demon oppressed man, and Jesus’ subsequent commentary about it, teaches us that in that instance, the “strong man” (Satan) was bound and overcome through Jesus’ superior strength. That was the only explanation Jesus gave for the man’s deliverance and the only argument He presented to defend Himself against the Pharisee’s malignant accusations.
But it begs one question that could be asking at least two things:
Q: How far does Jesus’ Kingdom-power over Satan and his cronies extend?
1) This COULD be asking: Do we as Kingdom-citizens possess that same kind of authority?
2) It could ALSO be asking: With the arrival of the Kingdom during Jesus’ time on earth, was Satan bound permanently?
This passage doesn’t answer either of those questions. We have to go elsewhere in scripture to find the answers, and there are a load of different proposed answers to both questions.
But what this passage DOES tell us is that the Kingdom of God, by its very nature and in the manifestation of its full power (seen through Jesus in this passage) is able to overcome the power and work of the devil.
As Kingdom citizens, it should enourage us to know that we’re on the winning side, that our advances for the sake of our King and His Kingdom will at the very least, be backed by His Kingdom power.
We can be confident that the work we are about in this world, done in obedience and deference to our King, is work that matters, work that will progress by His power, work that adds brick upon brick to the building and establishment of His Kingdom on earth.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 CORINTHIANS 15:58)
Would you join me in this prayer?
Thank You for teaching us that our Kingdom is better and stronger than anything this present world has to offer, Jesus. It’s good to know that our faith in You is solid and secure, that You do not fail to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Give us confidence in our loving and in our living, the strength to stand against the flood of dissipation and godlessness that is arrayed against the growth of Your Kingdom, and the hope to know without a doubt that You are gaining ground all the time. Thank You that we get to be a part of that, that You have ordained that we be saved and set apart as Your Kingdom citizens. Destroy the work of the devil in our lives. Bind him and plunder his house so that we can be liberated from his influence and oppression, whatever forms it take sin our individual lives. You are the King and we want Your power to flow through us so that we can declare it in every way; in our thinking and attitudes, by our words, and through our actions. And do so corporately, revealing the ways the devil has deceieved us in the guise of good stewardship or church policy. Enable us to love not only in word, but also in deed (1 John 3:18). Amen.
Kingdom Insights (cumulative list)
The Kingdom of heaven/God was long anticipated by the Jewish people (and others)
Entrance into the Kingdom requires repentance
The entrance of the Kingdom brought the Messiah and judgment
The Kingdom began with the advent of Jesus and continues growing, even today
The Kingdom of heaven is characterized by humility and righteousness
Those who enter the kingdom must do so by the righteousness of Jesus
Kingdom citizens are to be praying for the Kingdom to come and grow
Trust enables us to focus on the Kingdom first
The Kingdom is populated by those who trust what the King says
Kingdom citizens should speak and act to spread the Kingdom and ask the Lord to send more workers into it.
The Kingdom of Heaven was present, being inaugurated in Jesus’ day.
POST 12: (THIS ONE)
The Kingdom of God always triumphs over the evil plans of the devil. Kingdom citizens should be bold and hopeful as a result.