Whose Side Are You On?

September 27, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: The Gospel according to Luke

Passage: Luke 11:14–11:28

Whose Side Are You On?

Whose side is Jesus on? That is the question that stirs up the crowd here in Luke 11. In the great spiritual battle that is raging in this world, the crowd is divided in response to Jesus. It’s clear, as we see in v14, that Jesus possesses incredible power and authority. Nearly everywhere Jesus goes, he’s casting out unclean spirits, healing the sick, and performing all sorts of mighty deeds – all things that cannot be ignored. You have to reckon with this man Jesus.

And yet, the crowd remains divided. The people are uncertain, and here in Luke 11, their questions grow more forceful. Whose side is Jesus on, anyway? Is he an emissary of God who works with divine power? Or, is he an agent of the evil one and therefore someone to be doubted and ultimately rejected? The crowd can see Jesus’ mighty deeds, but they are divided as to what it all means. And so, they question him – “Whose side are you on, Jesus?”

But in reality, the crowd has the question backwards. This is the hinge for understanding the passage. It is absolutely true Jesus’ ministry demands an explanation. His mighty deeds are too remarkable to ignore. But therein lies the problem for the crowd. It’s not Jesus who needs to answer for himself. The question is not, “Whose side is Jesus on?” That answer has been plainly revealed. No, the question of the moment in Luke 11 is more urgent, more personal – “Whose side are you on?” That’s the question. Are you with Jesus, trusting in his word and depending on him alone to rescue you from this present evil age? Or, like the crowd, are you foolishly content to question Jesus and even accuse him, despite the fact that the truth has been clearly revealed before your eyes. That’s the crux of this passage. God’s Word always demands a response from us, and the response today is to honestly answer this question. In the great spiritual battle that is raging in our world, whose side are you on? Are you with Jesus, or are you opposed to him?

As we look at the details of the text, I want you to see how the passage as a whole leads us to this question. At first glance, we might think the events of the passage are a bit random. We go from Beelzebul to spirits in waterless places to a woman shouting about how great Jesus’ mother is. It seems like a hodgepodge. But if we pay attention to the structure, we can begin to see how the parts work together to bring us to reflect on that key question we noted a moment ago. Notice how the passage flows together in three sections.

First of all, there is a controversy in vv14-23 over the question of spiritual authority. That’s the set-up for the rest of the passage. What kind of authority does Jesus have? Is he from God, or not? Second, there is some commentary in vv24-26 that explains the nature of spiritual authority in a person’s life. The human heart is like a house, Jesus says, and the key question is, “Whose power resides in your house, in your heart?” And then finally, there is a correction in vv27-28, where Jesus highlights the right response to his spiritual authority. It’s not enough to declare Jesus blessed. We must also submit to him through his Word.

Do you see how the structure of the text helps identify the theme? The controversy in vv14-23 focuses our attention on the key point – what kind of authority does Jesus have? The commentary in vv24-26 urges us to respond. And then the correction in vv27-28 shows us what the right response looks like. It’s really a masterful presentation of the truth about Jesus and, therefore, of the urgent need to respond to him.

With that structure in mind, let’s work through the passage together. Remember, in preaching, we always want the point of the passage to be the point of the sermon, so that structure we just described will shape our message. There are three sections, so notice with me three truths.


The Revelation of Kingdom Authority

First, from the controversy in vv14-23, we see the Revelation of Kingdom Authority. Jesus performs a mighty deed in v14 – he casts out an unclean spirit that has made a man mute. Luke doesn’t go into much detail because the focus is not the mighty deed. But still, we should note the powerful simplicity of Jesus’ act. He doesn’t use any magic formulas. He doesn’t require some elaborate ritual. Without any opposition, Jesus drives out this demonic spirit. The simplicity of that act is key. There is an unseen spiritual realm, there are forces of darkness that wreak havoc in people’s lives, and at the same time, Jesus reigns over all. In the great spiritual battle of our age, Jesus has no rivals.

But here in Luke 11, not everyone sees that truth. Some people marvel, v14, but Luke also describes the growing opposition. You can see it there in v15. Some in the crowd accuse Jesus of being a servant of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. That is a blasphemous accusation. Beelzebul is another name for Satan, the Evil One. Think about the perverse audacity of suggesting such a thing. Here these people have the Author of Life standing in front of them, and instead of submitting to him, they accuse him of serving Satan. It’s blasphemous, and it is wicked.

But the crowd is not finished. Notice v16 where some demand that Jesus perform a sign from heaven. Now, don’t miss the irony. What did Jesus just do in v14? A sign! He just performed a mighty deed by driving out the unclean spirit. But that wasn’t enough for these people. By sign, they want something that will eliminate the need for faith. They want something that meets their definition and conforms to their standard. That’s the main issue in v16. The crowd wants Jesus to serve them, and that is why they demand a sign.

Before we move on, we ought to note what a sobering display this is of human depravity. That’s one of the doctrinal truths we can take away from this text. Apart from God’s grace, the human heart is stunningly hard and obstinately opposed to the truth. These people see, but they do not see. Their hearts are so hard, they conclude Jesus is an agent of darkness. Their eyes are so blind, they cannot see that Jesus just did the very thing they are now demanding he do.

There are many biblical passages that explain the natural depravity of the human heart, but this passage illustrates it in stunning relief. And what we should note from this illustration is that evidence is not enough to make people believe the truth. It takes more than evidence to make someone a Christian. Just consider the crowd in these verses. They witnessed Jesus drive out a demon, and they think he serves the devil. They saw Jesus perform a sign, and yet, they demand a sign. The problem is not evidence. The problem is the hardness, the deadness of the human heart.

And what that means is that conversion must be more than a decision. You don’t become a Christian the same way you decide which car to buy. You don’t weight the pros and cons, and consider the evidence for what choice would be best. No, you become a Christian by rebirth. Conversion is an act of God. You become a Christian when God, through the preaching of his Word, takes out your dead heart and gives you a new heart that loves and trusts in Jesus. You become a Christian when God, by his grace, opens your eyes so you can see the truth that is plainly there for the world to see. Brothers and sisters, this not a theoretical point. This is our testimony! The crowd in Luke 11 is tragically blind, but so were we. So is every person who comes into this world. And therefore, as we watch this crowd oppose Jesus, we ought to be stunned that God would show grace to sinners like us, because if we were there, we’d probably accuse Jesus too.

As we keep going in the text, we note in v17 that Jesus begins to respond to the crowd’s accusation. His response is very deliberate, building up to the conclusion in v23. But instead of jumping ahead, let’s go step-by-step and see how Jesus gets there.

He begins by pointing out that their accusation is absurd. Notice vv17-18 – “But [Jesus], knowing their thoughts, said to them, ‘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.” Just on the basis of logic, Jesus destroys the accusation. A divided kingdom cannot stand. If Jesus is working with Beelzebul, then that means Satan is dividing his own kingdom, which would be absurd. Satan is a lot of things, but he’s not going to fight against himself. Just on the basis of logic, then, the accusation is false.

But Jesus is interested in more than logic. He also points out how the accusation proves more than the crowd intends. Notice v19 – “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” Some background helps here. In Acts 19, Luke mentions some Jewish exorcists who attempted to emulate by Paul by casting out demons in Jesus’ name. I know that’s a fascinating situation, but the point is that there were exorcists practicing within the Judaism of Jesus’ day. And that’s what Jesus picks up on here in v19. If it’s true that Jesus is in league with Beelzebul, then it’s also true of other Jewish exorcists.

Notice what Jesus has done. He’s backed his opponents into a corner. If they insist Jesus works with satanic power, then they also accuse their own people. And if the crowd goes that far, then the only thing they actually prove is their unwillingness to acknowledge the work of God in their midst. That’s what I take Jesus to mean when he says, “Therefore they will be your judges.” He’s not saying the Jewish exorcists will execute judgment on the last day. Rather, Jesus is saying that the mere presence of these other exorcists proves the crowd is unwilling to acknowledge God’s work among them. All of that to say, the accusation against Jesus would prove more than the crowd wants.

Jesus’ next step is to lay out the alternative to their accusation. Notice v20, where Jesus puts the truth front and center – “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Instead of accusing Jesus, the crowd should recognize what is really happening. This is no civil war within Beelzebul’s kingdom. This is the systematic overthrow of Satan’s kingdom. This is an all-out assault on the forces of darkness. Jesus could not be clearer. The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is breaking-in to this age, right before your eyes. That’s what Jesus’ miracles reveal. God’s kingdom – his redemptive rule and reign – is being inaugurated in and through Jesus. That’s why the Gospel so consistently presents Jesus defeating demonic spirits, healing the sick, and subduing the creation. It’s not simply that Jesus has the power to do miracles. No, it’s much more than that. The mighty deeds demonstrate that Jesus is King, that he is overturning sin’s curse, and that he is establishing God’s kingdom on the earth. That’s the truth the crowd cannot and will not see. Jesus isn’t working with Satan; he’s overthrowing Satan, for Jesus alone is King.

In fact, that’s the truth Jesus illustrates in vv21-22. He uses a striking image to picture his mission. Notice what he says, v21 – “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.” The illustration here is of a complete victory. Jesus says that a warrior, as long as he is armed, is able to guard his possessions. But if another warrior comes – a stronger warrior – he strips away the armor and utterly decimates the strong man’s palace.

Jesus is that Stronger Warrior. That’s his point. When Jesus drives out demonic spirits, it is evidence that he has stripped Satan’s armor away – he’s broken Satan’s power. And the result is that Jesus shares the spoil of his saving work with those whom he redeems. Instead of oppression, Jesus brings redemption. Instead of darkness, Jesus brings people into the light. Instead of bondage, Jesus gives freedom in the Holy Spirit. Do you see the picture? Jesus is claiming for himself absolute spiritual authority. In the great spiritual battle of this age, Jesus decimates the evil one, and every exorcism, every healing, every miracle proves that Satan’s power is being broken by Jesus Christ.

And so, the climax of Jesus’ response comes in v23. There are no more illustrations at this point – no more logical arguments. Now, it’s just kingdom authority in stark, personal terms. Notice what Jesus says, v23 – “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus could not put the issue any clearer. He alone has the authority of God. He alone brings the kingdom into this fallen world. He alone is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive promises. And therefore, you are either with him, or against him. That’s it. There is no middle ground. You either follow Jesus, serving him as he gathers together the people of God. Or, you reject Jesus, scattering people away from his life-giving authority. For or against. Trusting or rejecting. Following or opposing. There is no middle ground, for Jesus alone has the authority of the kingdom.


A Warning against Kingdom Neutrality

And this stark contrast – this either-or reality – takes us right into our second truth. Controversy gives way to commentary, and in vv24-26, we hear a Warning against Kingdom Neutrality. In these verses, Jesus presses us to see the urgency of response. Again, v23 put things in very clear terms – you’re either with Jesus or against him, but the one thing you can’t be is neutral. And now in v24 and following, Jesus tells us why neutrality isn’t an option. Look how Jesus lays out the danger here.

V24, Jesus describes an unclean spirit, wandering through this world after it has been driven from a person’s heart. Listen again – “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.’” Now, there are some interesting aspects to this verse. What are these waterless places? In Jesus’ day, the desert was sometimes viewed as a place of demonic activity, so perhaps that is the point of the phrase. Or, it could be that waterless deserts represent the absence of God’s life-giving presence. Whatever we decide, it’s clear the unclean spirit is restless. It’s wandering through this world. But upon finding nowhere to dwell, the spirit decides, “I’ll simply go back home, to the person I oppressed before.”

And notice what the unclean spirit finds, v25 – “And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.” Now, the key to v25 is that there is no one living in the house. Everything is cleaned up, the place is move-in ready, but there’s no one there. The unclean spirit was driven out, but then nothing else – or we should say, no one else moved in. And that opens the door for tragedy, v26 – “Then [the unclean spirit] 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.” That’s shocking, and Jesus intends it to be. Since no one moved in to the cleaned-up house, the unclean spirit comes back with his evil friends, and things are now worse.

What is Jesus getting at? That’s the question, isn’t it? What is the point? Go back to v23. According to Jesus, there is no neutrality when it comes to the kingdom of God. You’re either with Jesus, or you are against him. But there is no neutrality.

And here in vv25-26, we see why that is the case. The house in v25 represents the human heart, and Jesus’ point is that you cannot live a spiritually empty life. Just like an empty house is simply waiting to be filled, so also an empty heart is simply open to the spiritual powers of this age. Do you see it? It’s not enough to be free from darkness. It’s not enough to have the house cleaned up and in good order. You’ve got to put something in there! You have to be actively, purposefully filling your heart with the truth of Jesus’ gospel. Neutrality is not an option because spiritual emptiness cannot be sustained. Your heart will be filled with something. It will either be the truth of Christ’s kingdom, or it will be the darkness of this age. But either way, something is moving in.

Now, I want to be clear at this point. I am not saying that every person who rejects Christ is subsequently possessed by unclean spirits. That’s not the point of v26. Rather, the point is that our hearts are made to be filled with something. As people made in the image of God, we crave meaning, and we’re designed to give our allegiance to something or someone. If that something is not the gospel of Christ, then the only other choice is opposition to God. The only other option are the rulers and authorities of this present darkness, as we read in Ephesians 6. You’re either with Jesus, or you’re against him. The house of your heart is either filled with allegiance to Jesus, or your heart is open to capture and perhaps even domination at the hands of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

If you are not a Christian this morning, I urge you to consider the spiritual reality that you are facing. It is not enough to merely avoid the worst forms of darkness in this world. You must actively, purposefully bow the knee to Jesus Christ in faith. Perhaps you’ve heard the gospel before, but until now, your strategy has been to hold off, thinking, “I’ve got time. I’m not into really bad stuff anyway.” Or, perhaps you’ve been attempting to remain spiritually neutral – not serving spiritual darkness, but also not submitting to Jesus Christ either. Friend, if that is you today, then God’s Word says you are in a dangerous position. There is no neutrality in the great spiritual battle of our age. There is no neutrality when it comes to God’s kingdom. You are either with Jesus Christ, or you are against him. Don’t mistakenly believe that you can ride the spiritual fence. That won’t work. Right now, God’s Word is calling you to submit to Jesus Christ.

And the way you do that is by confessing your sin and trusting that Christ alone save. In fact, that’s what we learn about Jesus in this very passage. He alone can defeat the powers of darkness. He alone can break sin and Satan’s power. And therefore, God’s Word calls you to trust him. Turn from your sin, and trust that Christ is mighty to save. Wherever you are today, I pray you see very clearly that there is no middle ground. There is no neutrality. You are either with Christ, or not. Won’t you respond? Right now, bow the knee, and trust in Jesus Christ.


The Call to Hear the King’s Word

This emphasis on a response takes us into the third and final truth of passage. We move from commentary to correction, and in vv27-28, we encounter the Call to Hear the King’s Word. Very suddenly, a woman shouts out a blessing, v27 – “As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’” Notice that Luke says this happened as Jesus was saying these things. In other words, as Jesus is dealing with the controversy and teaching about submission to his kingdom, this woman cries out. The point is that this brief encounter is the conclusion to what has been going on. Here we find the response we ought to offer when we encounter Jesus.

And on the one hand, this woman in the crowd is right. She declares that Mary, Jesus’ mother, is blessed, which by the way, is what Mary herself said would happen back in chapter 1. Because of Jesus’ greatness, which is clearly on the display, there is some blessing afforded to Mary. The woman blesses Mary because of Jesus.

But surprisingly, Jesus responds by shifting the woman’s attention. He doesn’t disagree with her claim, but he does change the focus. This is key. Notice where Jesus directs our attention, v28 – “But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” Now, that should sound familiar to you. What characterized the good soil in Jesus’ parable, Luke chapter 8? The good soil heard the Word and held fast to it in faith. Who does Jesus identify as his mother and siblings, also Luke 8? Those who hear the Word of God and do it. This is the consistent theme across Jesus’ ministry. The central response to Jesus is not merely to admire him. The central response is to submit to Jesus’ Word. This is the one, indispensable act in discipleship – it is to hear the Word of God, to believe it, and then to walk by faith in obedience to it. When you live that way, Jesus says you are blessed.

You may agree with the woman in v27 that Jesus is a very praiseworthy person. You may acknowledge that he is significant and honorable and important. But if you don’t submit to his Word in faith, then you’re missing the true blessing, Jesus says.

This is the crucial point that Jesus’ opponents miss. They want to argue about Jesus’ mighty deeds, and they want to critique his every move. They think that Jesus is the One who needs to answer these important questions. But in reality, they are the ones who need to answer. They are the ones who face this crucial turning point – will they submit to Jesus’ word, or not? Will they believe what Jesus says, or will they continue to reject him?

As we prepare to close this morning, this is where we need to end – with Jesus’ call in v28. Brothers and Sisters, are you hearing the Word of God and responding in faithful obedience? Are you building your life on the Scriptures? Jesus himself tells you right here in Luke 11 that this is the pathway to true blessing, this is the central act of discipleship. We hear the Scriptures by faith, believing what God has said. And we keep the Scriptures by faith, obeying how God has called us to live. Trust and obey, as the old hymn says. There’s no other way for life and blessing as a Christian. I know we say it a lot from this pulpit, but we’re simply following on from Jesus. Build your life on God’s Word. Read it, believe it, obey it – all by faith.

And with that call, the passage ends. Whose side are you on? That’s the question of this text, but it’s really the question in all of life. Whose side are you on? And the only right response is to hear the Word of God and keep it. May God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, give us grace to do just that – to believe and keep Christ’s Word, to the very end. Amen.

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