A Kingdom Divided against Itself (Luke 11)

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Service Notes

Third Sunday in Lent + March 24, 2019
  • Liturgy: Prayer & Preaching
  • Hymns: LSB #697, 659, 422, 433

Audio:

A KINGDOM DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF

Theme Verse

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls." (Luke 11:17)

Sermon Text

As Jesus is casting out demons, He is accused of using Satan's power against his own minions.[1] Jesus asks the basic question, "If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?"[2] Why would Satan cast out Satan?[3] It makes no sense! Except that the people didn't want to acknowledge Jesus as being a true man of God.

The alternate Old Testament reading this morning has the same thing happening to Jeremiah. God told Jeremiah to prophesy that He was going to make Jerusalem "a curse for all the nations of the earth."[4] The priests and all the other prophets declared that Jeremiah should die.[5] He was speaking treacherously against the Temple! He was speaking lies about the LORD's house! That was the ultimate insult! How dare the LORD tell anyone that He was going to take away His presence from His people?![6] That was unthinkable! Unimaginable! And going to happen in the very near future.

A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. It hasn't ever worked for a kingdom to survive when it is torn asunder by the devil, the world and man's sinful flesh. These three always seek to destroy any sense and source of peace.

When Jesus is casting out demons, the Jewish leaders want Him to stop. How better to get someone to stop doing something than to say the devil is making him do it? Isn't that one of the oldest excuses in the book? "The devil made me do it"? But no one wants to admit to demonic influence. When a kingdom or a house is divided, no one wants to see the wrong in their side. They only want to see the wrong in the other side. But the Bible is very clear on this topic:

  • "If we say we have no sin, we deceives ourselves, and the truth is not in us."[7]
  • "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"[8]
  • "Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us."[9]

This is one of those times where God shows He is truly involved in the day-to-day, Sunday-to-Sunday business of His Church. He brought these readings to us today because we need to hear them. God set all this in motion long ago to have us reach this moment with these readings.

Who is really in charge?

When we come together as a congregation, who is really in charge? Whose kingdom is it? Is it our kingdom? Or do we still truly pray, "Thy kingdom come"?[10]

"How does God's kingdom come? God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity."[11]

The kingdom is all about the Spirit guiding us to believe the Word proclaimed. The kingdom does not depend on you or any other single person. The kingdom is a pure gift from our loving heavenly Father. A gift through the Holy Spirit that brings about faith in even the most hardened of hearts.

St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "Walk as children of light."[12] Paul was one of the most hardened hearts to be softened in the Apostolic Age. He was one of the most ardent persecutors of the Church. Going from town to town, seeking to imprison those who bore the name of Christ. His eyes were opened to the Light by God blinding him for three days. He spent that time in prayer, trying to reconcile what Jesus had said to him in the vision and what he had studied in the Old Testament Scriptures. His heart was finally softened when he allowed the Holy Spirit to take up residence in his soul.[13]

Saul of Tarsus had sought to divide God's kingdom because he wasn't part of it. After his conversion, he followed Jesus wherever He opened a door of opportunity. When Jesus closed a door in front of him, Paul went whatever direction was open. When he was not allowed to preach in Asia, he went on through the surrounding provinces until he arrived in Macedonia.[14] In many towns, the preaching of the Gospel incited the Jews so that Paul and his companions had to leave the town quickly.[15] Demetrius the silversmith incited a riot in Ephesus because Paul was preaching against Artemis[16]. He followed the words Jesus would give to the church in Philadelphia, "The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one will open."[17]

The Gospel divides people. It truly does. Jesus Himself tells the disciples, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."[18] The Gospel separates people between believers and unbelievers. Those who are in God's kingdom and those who are in Satan's kingdom. Wherever the Gospel is preached is God's kingdom. And Satan tries his best to keep God's kingdom from spreading.

For Jesus, it was inciting the Jews to consider that Jesus' power really came from him. For those who were influenced by that idea, he got them to demand heavenly signs. Miracles on demand.[19] More on that next week.

But for the major portion of Church history, Satan has tried to keep God's kingdom within certain boundaries. Boundaries he has determined. To do this, he has brought force against the Church through the secular government. Roman persecutions. The Muslim conquest of what had been the geographic core of the Christian faith. Marxist Communism that sought to remove God completely from everyday life. Political correctness that doesn't allow for offensive speech. Religious tolerance, as long as you keep it within the four walls of this sanctuary.

Satan wants to keep things just as they are. They are controllable for him. They are acceptable to him. They are in keeping with his goals of making Heaven as sparsely populated as possible. He wants as many people in Hell with him as he can get. That has been his purpose since he was cast out of Heaven.[20] His purpose has never changed. He wants to keep everything just as it is because it has worked for him in the past. He wants no change because he knows that people get comfortable when there is no change. But Satan is not in charge of the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ thrives on change.

What happens without change?

What happens without change? Does anything get better by staying the exact same? What organization or organism always stays the same? Not undergoing any sort of change?

Jesus points this out in the context of his exorcisms. "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.' And when it comes, 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 dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first."[21]

Simply cleaning house and letting it sit empty is not an answer. Things will be worse than they were before. There must be genuine change. Without genuine change, the house just sits empty until something even worse comes along. With genuine change, the house can take on a completely new look.

However, change is tough. The question to be asked is: Will the outcome of the change and growth be better than continuing down the current path? To bring us back in Philadelphia: Has Jesus opened a door in front of us or has He closed the door on us? There are people here who see the picture both ways. This is how our house is divided.

Is the door before us open?

Let's look at both questions. Is the door before us open? Are there people in Robbinsdale who need to hear the Gospel? Yes. Likely thousands of unchurched and dechurched people live in the city limits. Is Redeemer equipped with what they need? Yes. We have the great Good News to share. The message you hear every Sunday. The message everyone needs to hear.

But who is available to share? We're an older congregation. We've seen Robbinsdale change a couple times over in the last forty years. But the congregation has had divisions over that same amount of time. Others can feel this tension just walking into the building. I know. They've told me. Even on their first, and typically only, visit. "A divided house falls."[22]

Is the door before us closed?

Which leads us to the other side of the question: Is the door before us closed? Are we trying to pry it back open? Trying to open a door that cannot be reopened?[23]

Is our congregation one that can easily reach out to our neighbors? No. It's a combination of age, history and culture. Things that were assets but have become liabilities.

The congregation has aged. No one here can deny it. If you're unsure of that fact, just look around you. We have not kept ourselves young. We have allowed the congregation to grow old comfortably.

Thirty or forty years ago, Redeemer was a congregation that was out in the community. She was involved with evangelism that caused the congregation to swell to the large numbers that many remember fondly. But those who remember those glory days also remember the issues that have caused the congregation to become a tenth of what it had once been. We would love to be able to go back to the glory days, but those days are long gone.

The outside culture has changed. Redeemer was set up as one of several congregations planted by Immanuel because of the growing population and sprawl of the Cities into the suburbs. At that time, the culture was more church-oriented. Christendom was still alive and well, but Christendom is no more. The Satan has taken care of it.

The culture of the congregation has changed as well. The focus has shifted from looking outward to looking inward. What can we do to survive? Where do we go from here? How do we get out of this mess?

The questions are difficult to answer. We can't do anything if Jesus has closed the door on us. We would only be trying to open a door that cannot be opened. Trying to do the impossible.

Either answer requires change

Either answer requires a change. If the door is open, we have one path to follow. If the door is closed, the path goes a different direction. There's no shame either way. It is God's decision, but that decision has its ramifications on us.

If the door is open, we must refocus our efforts on bringing those who are outside inside by sending those who are inside outside. Find a way to reach out to those who are around us and bring them into God's house. It is a long road to hoe. We would have a lot of limping along to do financially, but it will be worth it if the door is still open before Redeemer.

If the door is closed, we must accept it as St. Paul accepted when doors were closed before him. A process must be followed to close the doors of the congregation. With that closure, the congregation would disband and join sister congregations in the area. It won't be hard to find another congregation to join. The congregations of the past who reached out and planted daughter congregations did their job well. There are plenty of alternatives for God's mission to continue for the saints currently at Redeemer. God's mission doesn't only happen in this building. At this address. God's mission is much bigger than Redeemer.

The old adage, "When one door closes, another one opens," applies to congregations as well. A congregation closing its doors allows for other congregation to have an influx of new blood to bring new life into them. It happened at Redeemer when Immanuel closed. What congregations could be blessed by Redeemer through the dispersion of her members? That is in your hands.

Redeemer's path may take either route. That is a decision only the congregation can make after careful, prayerful consideration. What can you do for Redeemer? How can you help change the congregation's future? First of all, pray for God's mission to continue, as we do every time we pray the Lord's Prayer. Then, pray for Redeemer herself. The Board of Directors and the Voters. Either path is treacherous. Both paths require a pavement of prayer in order for God's will to be done.

Blessed are those who hear/keep God's Word

Change happens every time you hear God's Word. That change causes you to keep it. When Jesus' mother was blessed by a woman in the crowd, Jesus said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!"[24] Familiar words to us because they are in the order of service we are using this morning. In the Common Responsory, after the readings, I say those exact words. You respond with the refrain, "Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells."[25]

The Church is God's house. The Church is where His glory dwells. The Church is where His Word is proclaimed in its truth and purity.

God's Word brings God's kingdom

Again, we go back to the Catechism: "God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us the Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity."[26]

God's kingdom only comes through God's grace. It is His gift that we are counted as citizens of Heaven.[27] You are allowed to enter God's holy habitation through His Word. You have heard what He has said concerning your sin and your salvation. You believe what He has said concerning your sin and your salvation. Everyone who has this faith seeks to live a godly life. Every Christian seeks to be more God-like and more Christ-like as they continue to grow in their faith.

God's kingdom comes here in time. The eternal God, who invented time and space, put Himself into that very time and space.[28] We celebrate this with great joy at Christmas. We take six weeks plus to prepare ourselves for the even greater celebration of His victory over sin, death and Hell at Easter. God's kingdom is very much about being here and now! "Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."[29]

God seeks to be among His people every day. If that weren't so, we lied earlier in our worship service. If God didn't want to be among us, we lied along with David in our Introit this morning. We'd have no reason to pray to God, "Consider my afflictions and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. ... Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!"[30]

We can pray that prayer because we know that God desires to be among us. He created us for that very purpose. His desire for communion with us stems from the fact that we were created in His image.[31] If He didn't desire to be among us, why would He have made the covenants with Noah[32], Abraham,[33] Moses[34] and David?[35] Why would He make a covenant with you in your Baptism?[36] He made all these covenants because He is a God whose kingdom is for here and now.

But God's kingdom isn't just for right here, right now. God's kingdom is eternal. It is without beginning or end. God's kingdom began before He created the heavens and the earth. God's kingdom will be around long after this present age comes to an end. Neither of these facts have anything to do with you. You simply receive the benefit of them. You are a citizen of God's kingdom through your Baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection. He has brought you into the kingdom. His grace has granted this to you through the Word.

God's Word overcomes the strong man

When God's Word brings about His kingdom, it also makes sure that His will is done as well. God's will is to overcome the strong man. He does this through His kingdom.[37] Through the Holy Spirit, the strong man Satan is bound and forcibly removed from his seat in your heart. He makes it a place where God's glory dwells.[38]

Satan in unable to stand when God's Word is used against him. Jesus shows this as He exhibits His power over the demons. The demon that Jesus cast out, what was his power? He made people mute. Unable to speak. When the mute man began speaking, everyone around marveled.[39] Demons don't want people to speak. They might just speak about Jesus! Wouldn't that be horrible! Jesus silences the demons and forces them to leave those whom they have been oppressing. They are unable to stand before Him and His Word.

"When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his good are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides the spoil."[40] Satan thinks he is so strong because he can defeat us so easily. But Jesus is so much stronger! His Word is so much stronger! As the hymn tells us, "One little word can fell him."[41] One word!

That Word is what keeps God's kingdom together because it is the fabric from which it is made. "Upon this rock I will build My Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."[42] What is that "rock"? The confession that Jesus Christ is "the Son of the living God."[43] That He is the Word of God incarnate.[44] That He came into this world to forgive your sins and grant you release from your fears.[45]

His Word overcomes every fear. There is no enemy who can stand up against it. No one can divide the kingdom based on that Word. No man is strong enough to overpower Jesus. Not you. Not me. No one can stand against him. Not even Satan. He's tried for millennia, but he has always failed. He has a majority of the population under his control because "the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many."[46] Most people find the easy way because it's easy. But Jesus says, "Enter by the narrow gate."[47] The narrow gate of His Word. The Word that doesn't divide His kingdom but unites it in His peace.[48] Peace we will pray for in a moment in our sermon hymn. The last verse locates this peace where we need it the most: "Peace in our hearts, when sinful thoughts are raging, peace in Your Church, our troubled souls assuaging, peace when the world its endless war is waging, peace in Your heaven."[49]

"Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls."[50] But Jesus' kingdom cannot be divided. He is what holds it together. Regardless of what happens in this life, He will keep His kingdom together. Even if that means that His presence is taken away from this place for a while or even forever. His kingdom cannot and will not be destroyed. The gates of Hell can't prevail against it.[51] Nothing will remove God's kingdom because it is in His Word. Amen.

References

  1. Luke 11:15
  2. Luke 11:18
  3. Mark 3:23
  4. Jeremiah 26:6
  5. Jeremiah 26:8
  6. Psalm 51:11
  7. 1 John 1:8
  8. Matthew 7:3
  9. Ephesians 5:1-2
  10. Matthew 6:10
  11. Small Catechism, Third Petition
  12. Ephesians 5:8
  13. Acts 9
  14. Acts 16:6-10
  15. Acts 17:1-14
  16. Acts 19:21-41
  17. Revelation 3:7
  18. Mark 16:16
  19. Luke 11:15-16
  20. Genesis 3; Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:7-17
  21. Luke 11:24-26
  22. Luke 11:17
  23. Revelation 3:7
  24. Luke 11:27-28
  25. LSB p. 263; Luke 11:28; Psalm 26:8
  26. Small Catechism, Third Petition
  27. Philippians 3:20
  28. Galatians 4:4
  29. Hebrews 3:13
  30. Psalm 25:18-20
  31. Genesis 1:26-27
  32. Genesis 6:18; 8:20-9:17
  33. Genesis 15
  34. Exodus 34:10-28
  35. 2 Samuel 7:1-17
  36. Acts 2:38-39; Isaiah 43:1
  37. Small Catechism, Second Petition
  38. Psalm 26:8
  39. Luke 11:14
  40. Luke 18:21-22
  41. LSB #656.3
  42. Matthew 16:18
  43. Matthew 16:16
  44. John 1:14
  45. LSB #697.2
  46. Matthew 7:13
  47. Matthew 7:13
  48. LSB #697.2
  49. LSB #659.4
  50. Luke 11:17
  51. Matthew 16:18