Neutral is Not an Option
Neutral is Not an Option
If you’re new to River City, We have been studying the book of Luke since last Fall, and we are almost halfway through. We have one more week before we jump out of Luke and into something different for the summer.
For those of you who were not here in September when we rolled out the plan for the next couple of years, we’re taking two years to work through the book of Luke – specifically to see and understand the person of Jesus – and then we’ll take the following two years to go through Luke part 2, which is the book of Acts, specifically to see and understand how Jesus continues his earthly ministry through the Holy Spirit-empowered global Church.
The reason being, with what we’ve seen in the gospel of Luke these past few Sundays, Jesus makes it pretty clear that he does not intend the life of following him or being one of his disciples to have us be idle bystanders or consumers. He intends that we will be active participants in his work of bringing the kingdom of heaven on earth; and he intends to equip us and empower us and give us what we need to do the things he’s calling us to do.
And as we saw last week in the Lord’s prayer, what we need most is not his stuff, but HIM! And we saw him eagerly making himself available to us. Why? Because he knows what he’s calling us to, and he knows that there is a battle happening in the invisible realm. There is an unseen but very real enemy of our souls aiming his weapons at us, intent on destroying us. On our own, like lambs fighting wolves, we are powerless to do anything about it.
We know from the end of chapter 9 that he knows the time is near for him to be crucified and resurrected. We know that he is headed to Jerusalem where he’ll be betrayed and killed in probably less than 6 months. He’s predicted his death twice already, and today he’ll predict his own resurrection. But on the way there, he is still focused on the kingdom of God.
 Now he was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon came out, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed.
Everyone is amazed. I mean, this man hasn’t been able to speak for a long time, thanks to a demon, which is an active agent of Satan, who supernaturally had controlled this man, and in an instant Jesus got rid of the silence. This man can speak now! The facts are indisputable. No one can argue that a man who couldn’t speak now could speak. The crowd is amazed. But the way people interpret those indisputable facts often is very different.
We still do this today. Every time a new leader is installed, whether it’s the CEO of a company, a coach of an athletic team, a President, a new pastor of a church – The event is interpreted differently. Some interpret this as a step in the right direction, others as the beginning of the end.
That’s just one example. Speed limit signs would be another example. They have fashioned most speed limit signs in such a way that you can’t miss them. They even have reflective paint so they are brighter in your headlights at night. Some of you interpret a speed limit sign as a useful and necessary part of a functioning society. Others of you see the speed limit as something that tries to limit your potential to get to church or work on time. The sign is there. It’s not up for discussion. But our interpretations are different.
Jesus has just performed a miracle that everyone saw, but there are different interpretations of this miracle here:
Interpretation #1  But some of them said, "He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons. 16 And others, as a test, were demanding of him a sign from heaven." In other words, they see the demon cast out and conclude, Jesus must be working for Satan! And if you’re not, prove it! Give us an indisputable sign from heaven, let God rain down fire or something, so we know you’re not working with Satan.
17 Knowing their thoughts, he told them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and a house divided against itself falls.  If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?
Let’s say we’re watching a Hawkeye football game this October, and while we’re watching, the camera cuts to the offensive players screaming at the defensive players – there is pushing and shoving, some punches are thrown, players are hitting the ground with bloody noses – No one in their right mind would say, “wow, I think the team is really improving! They have a good shot at a championship this year.” No way! You’d say, they are falling apart. They are divided. And no team that is fighting amongst themselves, or divided against itself, is going to go very far or win many games.
Or worse, if you are prepped for heart surgery or eye surgery and as they wheel you in, you hear the surgical team arguing with each other about how you should be cut open – how excited are you about having them work on you?
That’s Jesus’ point. A house, or a team, divided against itself is trouble. You say I work for Beelzebub, which is just another name for Satan. Why would Satan want to cast out his own demons? Isn’t that the opposite of what he’s trying to accomplish? Isn’t he all about death and chaos and fear, and didn’t I just reverse that? Doesn’t evil look to destroy good, not bring more of it? How could I be on his team? But okay, let's say you’re right.
For you say I drive out demons by Beelzebul.  And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out?
Jesus wasn’t the only one who could drive out demons apparently; some Jewish leaders must have been successful in doing that as well. Jesus capitalizes on this fact to make his point: If you fellas are right about me, that I can cast out demons because I work for them, then you should probably question how your guys cast out demons. If I work for Satan, they do too.
However. Here’s what you have to reckon with:
 If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.  When a strong man, fully armed, guards his estate, his possessions are secure.  But when one stronger than he attacks and overpowers him, he takes from him all his weapons he trusted in, and divides up his plunder.
The facts are this: Demons are strong. Satan is strong, well armed, with plenty of weapons of warfare. No one on earth stands a chance against him, so his possessions are secure. But Jesus is the strongER man who just plundered part of Satan’s estate by setting this man free while hardly lifting a finger, meaning Jesus’ reign and authority and power is well beyond Satan’s. “Jesus’ work means that Satan is no longer in control” (Bock, 1083). “Evil has a strong grip on people, but that strong grip is broken decisively when the kingdom of God comes in. The kingdom is not beautiful words; it is the overthrow of evil” (Morris, 217).
Now, I don’t suppose there are many people who came to River City today thinking Jesus performed his miracles by the powers of dark magic or witchcraft. Maybe. But I’m pretty sure we’re all mostly on the same page, that Jesus operated in the power of God.
But here’s what IS at stake for us:
 Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters.
I apologize for using another sports reference, but it makes the point pretty well. The Super Bowl this past year was the LA Rams against the Cincinnati Bengals. I doubt there are many people here who regularly cheer for either of those teams. I would guess most of you were like me, you watched the Super Bowl with a plate of food in one hand, and a healthy dose of indifference in the other.
Even if you picked a team to win, you didn’t really care if they lost. You were an uninterested or impartial third party. No skin off your back either way. You ate the food, watched the game, enjoyed the conversation with friends, or you just don’t care about football at all and you went to bed that night completely unmoved or emotionally attached to the victory or the loss.
You don’t have that option with Jesus. Even here in America, a supposedly Christian nation, there is a massive, ever-expanding majority of people who live their lives as an unmoved, uninspired, “I’m just here to enjoy a good sermon and some good music” third party. At the end of the day, in their own minds, they’re certainly not worshiping Satan - they’re not that bad, but they’re not really loving or worshiping or following Jesus either. They would see themselves as a neutral third party, I’m certainly not “holy” but also not “evil.”
And Jesus is not sugarcoating the truth here in v23: There is no such thing as a neutral third party. If you are not actively, faithfully, willingly, choosing Jesus – with Christ in you the hope of glory as Colossians 1:27 puts it – if you are not actively choosing Jesus and helping him gather others into his kingdom, you are automatically choosing the team that is opposed to Jesus and working against him.
There is no neutral third party. Look at what Jesus said about this guy who had a demon cast out… even that man now has to choose.
 "When an unclean spirit comes out of a person, it roams through waterless places looking for rest, and not finding rest, it then says, 'I'll go back to my house that I came from.'  Returning, 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 settle down there. As a result, that person's last condition is worse than the first."
Even that man has to make a choice about Jesus. If he does not, now that the blinders have been removed and the lights have come on, fill up his mind, his heart, his “house” with Jesus now that he’s been set free, that evil spirit will return with seven buddies making his new situation WAY worse than it was before.
The new testament uses the language of putting off and putting on – when you take off the old, you have to put the new on or else you go right back to the old. But it seems like Jesus is suggesting that “Life must be lived in the kingdom of God with Jesus, or it is lived as a servant to the evil strong man. Take your choice” (Butler, 187).
And right while Jesus was explaining all this, a woman all of a sudden has a burst of courage and says, ... "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the one that nursed you!"
When I first started reading this, I thought, wow - she’s basically saying “I wish I had been your mom” which might be the worst pick-up line ever used.
But I don’t think that’s it. This is interpretation #2. Some people will respond to Jesus with acknowledgment and maybe even praise. She was there. She saw the demon cast out, and heard his words, and thought how blessed Jesus’ mother must feel to have raised a son like this. She thought of how much more blessed she would be if she had only been in his family, physically close to him.
I wonder how many of us have said, “man, if I had been alive in Jesus’ day, how much easier it would have been to believe.” But Jesus is setting up his resurrection and ascension.
I think the same concept goes for this woman as it did for the man who was freshly free of a demon – you aren’t saved or blessed or counted righteous just because you had a demon removed, or saw God do something awesome in your life, or even because you gave birth to Jesus.
 Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it."
Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, like the demon-possessed man, would have to make a decision about her own son, and carry on a life of ordinary, every day hearing and keeping. Though she trusted Yahweh, and she was a carrier of God’s Son, that was not enough to save her.
The greatest blessing in your life will come by hearing the word of God and keeping it.
And yet many people will hear God’s word and say, “but I just wish I had a sign, you know? Some proof that God is real. Like a message would be written in the sky, or the face of Jesus would appear in the melted butter on my toast.
 As the crowds were increasing, he began saying: "This generation is an evil generation. It demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation.
Jesus begins by saying it’s an evil thing you do, asking for signs. Asking to see more miracles. They had been given so many signs already, including this one. It’s the opposite of faith to make demands like this from God.
You don’t need to see more signs – you need to act on what you HAVE seen. But he said there is one sign that I will give you – the sign of Jonah. Let me explain.
Jonah was a prophet who lived about 750 years before Jesus, and is one of the more famous prophets in the Bible. Kids in the room, what do you think about when you think of the story of Jonah?
The big fish! He was swallowed by a large fish because he disobeyed God. That’s the first part of the story, and that’s the part we remember the most. Jonah was thrown into the sea as punishment for disobeying God’s command. He was headed for death by drowning, and he would have deserved it. But God, in his mercy, sent a great fish to rescue Jonah from death, lead him to repentance, and three days later return him to land and back to his life – and, back to the work God had commanded him to do.
Jesus will give them an even greater sign – he himself will be swallowed up by death, buried in a tomb, and three days later rise again back to life. That’s the sign! We are rescued from judgment and death by faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, according to God’s great and merciful plan. We too are brought out of spiritual death and made alive! We who should be dead are brought back from spiritual death and darkness and separation from God, restored to wholeness and life!
We ought to be as eager to hear God’s words as the queen who came all the way across the world to hear Solomon’s words. We ought to be as eager to act on God’s word and repent as the Ninevites were in Jonah’s day, because someone greater and wiser than both Solomon and Jonah is here in Jesus.
 "No one lights a lamp and puts it in the cellar or under a basket, but on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see its light.
There’s a reason the school put their lights up on the ceiling here in the gym and not behind the bleachers. Right? Romans 1 tells us that God’s divine nature and eternal power have always been on display in creation like a lamp on a stand. But the apostle John wrote that the reason Jesus came to the world to begin with is because we didn’t really want the lights turned on. We actually preferred the darkness, because we didn’t really have any intentions of following Jesus. We prefer to be in the neutral third party. There’s less skin in the game that way.
But because God has put himself on display in such an obvious fashion, through creation and through the cross, that no one will be able to stand before God and say “But I didn’t know you existed!”
Author and speaker RC Sproul said, “It is not that there is insufficient evidence or that God’s light is too weak. God has illuminated the whole world with the evidence of his own existence and the evidence of the identity of his Son. By breaking the bonds of death in the resurrection of Jesus, God turned on the lights for the whole world” (Sproul, 248).
Now that the lights have been turned on in the resurrection of Jesus, the world is responsible to see him. We cannot be idle bystanders. That isn’t even an option.
Jesus carries forward this illustration of a light on a lampstand to say that humans are responsible for seeing the sign of his resurrection, and making a decision about Jesus.  Your eye is the lamp of the body. When your eye is healthy (or sound, meaning when your eyes work together, you have a singular focus, fixed on what is good), your whole body is also full of light. But when it is bad (Not sound, evil, attention focused away from what is good), your body is also full of darkness (corrupted).
 Take care, then, (this is going to require effort from you; you are responsible for what I’m saying next) that the light in you is not darkness.  If, therefore, your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be entirely illuminated, as when a lamp shines its light on you."
In other words, Jesus is saying, now that you’ve seen and heard the good news, don’t close your eyes to it. That’s why we’ve been encouraged over the past several weeks to sit at Jesus’ feet – to learn from him like Mary; to trust him for our daily provisions like the 72 disciples; we’ve been encouraged to pray confidently, boldly, with our confidence in God as a loving Father who will always answer our prayers perfectly according to his sovereign plan.
“Let the word of Jesus enter your life and illuminate your body. Your body will be full of light. The dark deeds of evil will find no place. You will be listening to, obeying, and practicing the word. You will be part of the kingdom with no chance for [darkness] to find a place to live” (Butler, 189).
- Darrell L. Bock, Luke: 9:51–24:53, vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996)
- Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988)
- Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000)
- RC. Sproul, A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999)