************ Sermon on Mathew 12:43-45 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 18, 2018
Difficult Passages #19
I The Morality of the Pharisees
A More than one politician has run on a platform of law and order. More than one preacher has issued a call for ethics and morality. People fall over each other in agreement because how can you argue with this?
However, there is a danger -- a huge danger -- to calls for morality. The danger is that morality can be worse than immorality. This danger is best illustrated by the Pharisees. There was no group at the time of Jesus more committed to ethics, standards, and morality than the Pharisees. They lived by a complex and demanding ethical code. Their laws covered everything. You name the situation and they had a law to cover it. Their life was totally and completely and utterly controlled by rules and legislation and laws. But you know what their morality did? It prevented them, it stopped them, it led them, to reject God in the flesh.
Here were some of the most moral people on earth. Ever. We would be hard pressed to find anyone as moral as they were. Yet, they were damned to hell. The more moral they became, the more they endangered their souls. Do you know why? Because their morality led them to believe they were righteous, moral, good. So, when the prophets, or John the Baptist, or Jesus came preaching a message of repentance, they didn't think they needed to listen, they didn't think the message applied to them. There never lived a group that was so committed to a moral code and yet was so far from God. Listen to how Jesus puts this in Matthew 23:
(Mt 23:25-28) "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (26) Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (27) "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. (28) In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.Ouch! Man, that might have hurt if they were listening. But they didn't listen because they were so convinced about their moral superiority.
Moral people are hard to reach with the Gospel. This is true whether they are Mormons, JWs, Muslims, the Religious Right, the liberal left, the Pharisees, legalists, or people who think they are good.
B The theme of Matthew 11 & 12 is the rejection of Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. They rejected their Messiah. They didn't just reject Him; they went so far as to say He was of Satan. This conclusion meant they were doomed, doomed to destruction, doomed to the fires of hell. Because anyone who rejects the clear testimony of the Spirit has put themselves beyond the reach of salvation.
Our Bible reading today, a parable, is the response of the Lord Jesus to the rejection of the scribes and Pharisees, and the people as well. In this parable the Lord Jesus gives us the results of morality; He tells us the results of the ethical, legalistic approach to life. Jesus is saying you are living under an illusion if you think all is well between you and God just because you live by an outward code.
II An Evil Spirit Leaves
A The main character in Jesus' parable is an evil spirit.
(Mt 12:43) "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.The phrase "evil spirit" is used several times in the New Testament to refer to demons -- fallen angels who serve Satan and make up his hosts. These spiritual creatures are evil, wicked, vile, and wretched.
Now, go to the end of our parable. Notice, there are spirits, demons, "more wicked" than the evil spirit of verse 43. Telling us what? Telling us not all evil spirits are the same. Telling us some evil spirits are more wicked, more vile, more wretched, more evil than others. This alone should make us shudder.
B Notice where the evil spirit dwells: his dwelling is in a man. This is where evil spirits like to be, want to be, so they can do their evil work. Their natural dwelling place is in man.
Now, go to verse 44. Notice what it says about the man: "I will return to the house I left." Our pew Bibles could have done a better job translating the Greek here: "I will return to my house, from which I came." MY HOUSE. MY HOUSE. The demon considers the man to be his house, his home, the place where he belongs. The demon considers the man to be his dwelling place, his proper dwelling place, his rightful dwelling place. This demon considers the man to be his permanent residence.
C Now, what happened to the evil spirit, the demon? In Jesus' parable it comes out of a man. It leaves. Why? How? Go to verse 44 again: it finds the house -- the man -- "swept clean and put in order." Do you know what happened? Law and order,
morality, ethics. In some way, the man cleaned up his act. Maybe he got rid of the worst vices in his life. Maybe he stopped being a drunk and threw away his wine skin or beer stein. Maybe she stopped being a prostitute and a gossip. Maybe he stopped beating his wife and kids. Maybe he stopped embezzling his clients. Maybe he stopped extorting more and more taxes. Maybe he got rid of his drugs.
You know as well as I do that men act this way. They reform themselves and stop their evil and clean up their act. Maybe they are scared of being caught. Maybe a loved one begs them to change. Maybe they are tired of their sin. Maybe it is the fear of prison or of death or of sickness or of AIDS. Maybe they want to give up their life of crime and live as a law-abiding citizen. Maybe they join a cult or become a Pharisee or a Jew or a Muslim or a Mormon or a JW. Maybe they make a New Year's resolution that is actually being kept. People vow to change. They make this vow all the time. One of my favorite expressions speaks to this: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In the setting of our Bible reading our Lord can only be describing an external kind of cleansing. I'm afraid this is what mostly happened in response to John the Baptist. John preached repentance and all of Jerusalem and Judea went to him at the Jordan; they confessed their sins, they repented, and they were baptized. Their lives were swept clean and put in order. But it was all external. It was all make believe. It was all show. Because when Jesus came, the vast majority did not believe in Him. Morality and legalism never works. They never make a man clean inside. They never change a heart.
D The evil spirit, the demon, comes out of the man. Then what? Back to the parable: "It goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it." The evil spirit is looking for something when it leaves. It is looking for a place where it can work its evil and wicked activity. It is restless, and ill at ease, and uncomfortable. Because it cannot find a place to dwell. Because it cannot find a man in whom to dwell. The evil spirit is restless until or unless it finds a human dwelling-place. That's what we are being told.
II The Evil Spirit Returns
A Now watch how this sad parable ends -- because it does end in a sad and dismal way.
(Mt 12:45) Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.Meaning what? More sin. More evil. More wickedness. A descent into moral filth. Hitting the bottom of the barrel. Becoming a Hitler or a Stalin or a Pol Pot or a Mafia chieftain or a drug lord. Someone, from a human point-of-view, with very little good left in him or her. Someone who becomes filled with greater evils such as pride, hypocrisy, contempt, and even hatred.
B Why? What happened? The man Jesus is talking about in the parable cleaned himself. A self-righteousness. On the outside like a Pharisee: swept clean and in order. But inside, inside, he is what?
There is a word in verse 44 that should be underlined and circled and highlighted in our Bibles. The word "unoccupied." The evil spirit comes back and find the moralist, the legalist, unoccupied. Empty. Vacant.
On one of my favorite bike routes is an old house. The windows are gone. The door is gone. You can look through the cracks of the wall and roof. Needless to say, the house is empty. No one lives there. I am waiting for the time I come by and find some homeless person inside. That's what happens to vacant properties: someone or something moves in.
In our parable the evil spirit comes by and sees the vacancy sign hanging out front. And he thinks only one thing: I need a place to live. So he collects seven of his friends and they move in and live there. That's what happens when someone is empty. The word for "live" means to settle down and be at home. A place where they are comfortable. A place where that becomes permanent. A place where they are safe and secure. When you are empty, the demons come in and settle down.
Don't we see this with King Saul? Remember what happened with him? The Spirit of God left him and an evil spirit moved in. Evil spirits always inhabit vacant places. David would play religious music, Christian music, that would soothe Saul's mind and the evil spirit would leave. Within a day or two the evil spirit would see the vacancy sign again and he would move in again.
Empty. Vacant. Uninhabited. You don't ever want to be in that position, my brothers and sisters. You don't ever want to be in the place where you are empty. Because then the devil will move in. Because then the devil will take over. Because then you are prime real-estate as far as Satan is concerned.
This is the problem with morality, legalism, an emphasis on rules and regulations: they leave you empty, they leave you ripe for a takeover.
C What am I saying? I want to know what lives inside of you, congregation? What lives inside of you? It is either the Spirit of God or it is the spirit of Satan. It does no good to merely cleanse yourself, to reform yourself, to sweep yourself clean and put yourself in order. It does no good to chase out the evil spirit without something taking its place. Because, because, evil spirits always inhabit vacant places. What lives inside of you?
Only those who receive Christ are under the control of the Spirit. Only those who believe in Christ and make room for Christ and accept Christ are filled with the Spirit. There is no other way.
Look at the Jews who came to John the Baptist. Look at the Pharisees. Theirs was a superficial, external morality. But there was no place for Christ, no room for Christ. The result? "And the final condition of that man is worse than the first." Of course it is worse because eight demons come back. A religious, self-righteous, moral person comes under the control of Satan. Unless they have Christ in their life.
What is true for individuals is true for churches and nations too. Look at Israel. In Egypt, in the wilderness, in the Promised Land, they had an unclean spirit. God sent them off to the Babylonian captivity. They cleaned out their house, they got rid of idolatry, but they were empty. So when Christ came they wouldn't let Him in. Instead, they rejected Him and despised Him and killed Him.
The church is in trouble when she preaches and teaches morality without Christ. The church is in trouble when she preaches against abortion and homosexuality and drunk drivers without calling people to repentance and salvation. The church is in trouble when she is more interested in making people moral then in bringing them to Christ. The church is in trouble when her focus is social issues and social justice rather than a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus didn't preach morality. He preached repentance and salvation. Jesus didn't preach social justice. He preached repentance and salvation. Jesus didn't preach social issues. He preached repentance and salvation.
When we look ahead in Matthew's gospel, we see that it wasn't immoral people who plotted Jesus' execution. It wasn't the prostitutes, thieves, murderers, and tax-collectors Who conspired against Jesus; it was the religions people, the moral people. They escaped the pollution of the world but did not believe in Jesus.
Morality without Christ is empty. Social justice without Christ is a vacancy.
What is inside of you? Does Jesus live in your heart? Escape the pollution of the world, congregation. Escape but not through an outward morality or legalism. Escape the pollution of the world by being filled with Christ and His Spirit.
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