"A House Divided"

LUKE 11:14-28

MAR 9, 2014

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            On June 16, 1858 Abraham Lincoln mentioned a portion of our passage for today.  Upon accepting the Illinois Republican Party's nomination as an United States senator candidate, Lincoln gave his "House Divided" speech.  The speech launched his unsuccessful campaign for the Senate seat held by Stephen A. Douglas.  The campaign would climax with the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.

            Mr. Lincoln's House Divided speech created an image of the danger of slavery-based disunion, and it rallied Republicans across the North.  Along with the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address, his "House Divided" speech became one of the best-known speeches of his career.  The best-known passage of the speech goes like this ...          

 

            A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved I do not expect the house to fall but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new North as well as South.

 

            Let's take a biblical look at this "House Divided" image.  The image appears three times in the New Testament.  It occurs here in our passage from Luke, and also in Matthew's Gospel and in Mark's Gospel.  Matthew's and Luke's accounts are quite similar.  In both Matthew and Luke the same event, the healing of a mute man, triggers the attack on Jesus.  In Mark's Gospel, however, the trigger is quite different.  In Mark's Gospel Jesus has gone home to Nazareth.  He's outside his family's home, conversing with a crowd of people.  Someone in the crowd, after hearing what Jesus was teaching said of him, "He's out of his mind.  He's gone off the deep end.  He's off his rocker.  He doesn't have both oars in the water."  Then a group of scribes watching Jesus' exchange with the crowd, attempted to incite the crowd further against Jesus by accusing him of casting out demons in the name of Beelzebul.

            I don't know why the context of this exchange differs in the Gospels.  That's one of the questions I'm adding to my list when I get to heaven.  I have accumulated a long list of questions.  How about you?   Jesus, why did you curse that poor fig tree?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  What exactly is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?  What do you think of denominations?  Are some sins worse than other sins?  Are the Ten Commandments listed in order of importance?  Did we make a mistake in hiring Bo Pelini?  I have a long list of questions when I get to heaven, including why do some of the stories in the Bible, including our story for today, unfold in different places and in different ways? 

            Since I don't have an answer for that this morning, let's look at some things we can answer.  Specifically, let's look at the three responses to the healing of the mute man.  Did you notice them?  The first comes in verse 14 ... "Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed."

            Amazement.  That was the first response.  One person was so amazed at what Jesus had done that at the end of the event she cried out above the crowd, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!"  That sounds like a perfect passage to save for Mother's Day, until we consider Jesus' response to the outburst.  He said, "Mom's are great, but even greater are those who hear the word of God and obey it."

            Amazement.  It comes in different forms.  For instance, Ron Kellogg's Hail Mary pass against Northwestern.  What an amazing turn of events.  How unexpected.  How unlikely.   Or meeting someone in Europe, say in Germany, who lives in Bellevue, Nebraska.  What a small world!  How amazing two folk from Bellevue, Nebraska, who have never met, should meet in Germany.

            In 1971 a man named Jim Reid moved to Florida to work for Walt Disney World as a surveyor.  In his spare time Reid took up scuba diving and searched for sunken treasures in old shipwrecks.  One day he put on his gear and dove into a water hazard at the local golf course. To his amazement he discovered thousands of golf balls in that tiny lake.  Telling the course manager about his discovery he was offered ten cents a ball for all the balls he could retrieve. Reid made almost as much in one day as he did all week as a surveyor.

            Soon he quit his job with Walt Disney and submerged himself in his new business of golf ball diving. He became known as the Used Golf Ball King of Florida.  Trudy and I moved to Orlando, Florida in 1993 and a year later an article appeared in the Orlando Sentinel about how he had just sold his golf ball retrieving business for $5.1 million.  He had named the business "Second Chances." 

            Jim Reid made a good living finding golf balls that others thought were lost and irretrievable.  Jim Reid is not the only one who specializes in finding that which is lost.  Jesus is the ultimate finder of that which others have marked off as irretrievable.  What Jesus finds is not lost golf balls but lost people and lost voices and lost hopes.  Some in the crowd were amazed that Jesus had helped this man find his voice.  It blew them away. 

            Response number two:  Attack.  Verse 15 ... "But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons."

            Luke doesn't tell us who the "them" happened to be.  Matthew said it was some Pharisees.  Mark says it happened to be some scribes who had come up from Jerusalem, but Luke does not identify the "them."  We just know they had a very low opinion of Jesus.

            I think of the man who attended worship with his son one Sunday morning.  As the father drove home he griped to his son all the way.  Hed found fault with everything in the service.  He criticized the preacher, the sermon, the music, and everything in general.  The boy, who had noticed what his father put in the offering plate, said, Well, Dad, what can you expect for a dollar.

            Criticism, negativity just comes naturally to some folk, but what happens here goes beyond criticism.  What happens here is pure slander.  When Jesus' enemies weren't getting much traction by fair means they resorted to attacking his character.  They declared that Jesus' power over demons was due to the fact he was in league with the prince of demons.

            Jesus answered the accusation with an appeal to reason.  His appeal to reason went this way:  There is a war between God and Satan in the universe.  Both sides are struggling to win.  Exorcising a demon from a man is clearly a victory for good and God's side.  So why would Satan deliberately impede his own chances for victory?  This strategy would be tantamount to a general sending a battalion to the front lines with orders to shoot its own soldiers.  Satan is not going to fight against himself.  Therefore, the accusation that Jesus is winning battles against Satan by Satan's power is patently absurd.

            It's not uncommon for people to resort to slander when honest opposition is not working.  Gladstone, the great prime minister of England, was interested in the reformation of fallen women on the streets of London.  His enemies suggested that he was interested in them for very different and very suspect reasons. 

            There is nothing quite so cruel for slander is apt to stick because the human mind tends to think the worst, and very often the human ear would prefer to hear the derogatory rather than the complementary tale.  Think about it.  How often do we deliberately impute low motives to someone we dislike?  How often do we repeat a slanderous and malicious tale over coffee? 

            It's amazing that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson ever became friends.  At one time they were fierce political rivals and during those years they often imputed low motives in their assessments of one another.  Adams organization called Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-life fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."  They also called him an atheist, a weakling, a coward and a libertine.  Jefferson's people responded by calling John Adams a tyrant, a criminal, a hypocrite and a fool.  I'm sure if they would have had MSNBC and Fox News at the time, their listening audience would have swallowed those assessments as the gospel truth, just as viewers of those respective networks today swallow it all as truth.

            Then we come to the third response to the healing ... agnosticism.  Give us more to go own.  We dont have enough information to make an informed decision.  Verse 16 ... "Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven." 

            Several years ago, 1991 to be exact Christian speaker and writer Josh McDowell authored an apologetic book, that is a book making a reasonable and rational case for the Christian faith, entitled Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  He followed that up with a sequel in 1999 titled More Evidence that Demands a Verdict .  Both books were very successful and both went through multiple printings and they are still in print today.

            But here's the question:  Is Josh McDowell right?  Do we have more than enough information to make a decision or do we need more?  Do we need a few more signs from heaven?  Jesus certainly did not think too highly of the Pharisees or scribes who accused him of being in league with Old Redlegs, but neither does he think too highly of the people in the crowd who needed more evidence.  He says you have all the information you need to make an informed decision about me.  You don't need another sign from heaven.  Look with me at verse 23 ... "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters."  In other words, he removes any spiritually neutral ground.  He shakes up the fence sitters by saying, "You are either on the way or in the way."  Agnosticism, according to Jesus, is an untenable position.  Of course, if that were the case in Jesus' day, how much more so in our day?

            During the infamous O.J. Simpson trial, one of the counselors for the defense, Johnny Cochran, brought the jury to a moment of crisis, a moment of decision, when he uttered the phrase, "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit."   Likewise Jesus brings this crowd to a moment of crisis, a moment of decision. He says, "If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.  He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.

            I dont want to sound too Baptist this morning, but I cant help that.  The text demands it.  If you have yet to make a decision about Jesus, what more do you need?  What additional sign from heaven would convince you?  Whats the test Jesus must pass? 

             Chester A. Pennington in his book With Good Reason, offered a similar assessment of agnosticism as did Jesus.  He wrote,

 

            For some reason, agnosticism has gained status as a rather nervy position. But it requires no courage to say, "I don't know," and let it go at that. The agnostic runs no risk in taking such a position. He hides from all risk behind the facade of not knowing.[1]

 

            Pennington may be on to something.  Its not the lack of information thats keeping some of us from making a decision.  Its the lack of courage.  He who is not with me, is against me,  says Jesus.  Its as simple as that.  No middle ground.  We are rather in or we are out.  We are rather for him or against him.  We are either on the way with Jesus or in the way.  The real choice we have is between amazement and attack not agnosticism.  Amen.

 



[1] Chester A. Pennington, With Good Reason, Abingdon Press, 1967, p 55.