The Kingdom of God Has Come Upon You
A sermon on Luke 11:14-54 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, Palm Sunday, 4/9/2006
We have celebrated this morning the events of Palm Sunday: Jesus enters Jerusalem in fulfillment of prophecy; crowds acclaim Him, honor Him, and look to Him to save them. He is the king! It looks as if a vast numbers of people – even the stones – are ready to proclaim that kingship. Yet five days later He will be condemned to death. He will die a horrible death on a Roman cross.
Vast numbers of people say He is King; then vast numbers call for His death. The crowd on Palm Sunday seems to recognize His royalty; the crowd on Friday rejects that claim. Indeed, the charge against Him, nailed to the cross, placed above His head, reads: “The King of the Jews.” Sunday: Acclaimed as king. Friday: Crucified on the charge of claiming to be king.
In today’s passage, Luke foreshadows these events of the passion week. He shows Jesus as king, as the one with authority, as the source of light, as truth itself. He emphasizes our need to recognize this authority, to obey, to see Him rightly. Luke also shows the rejection of Jesus – and the impact on our lives of rejecting Him.
Brothers and Sisters, Luke is not just relating history to us. He is giving us a message just as relevant today as it was in the first century. As we read together in Philippians, every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. That acknowledgement will come from each one of us. Will it be with joy? Or will it be with fear?
So we’ll look at today’s text under two headings:
As the passage opens, Jesus casts out a demon that kept a man from speaking. The people marvel, yet many react by rejecting Him in two ways, as detailed in verses 15 and 16. We’ll come back to verse 16 later. Verse 15 sets the theme for much of the rest of the passage through verse 26:
“He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” Luke 11:15
How are they rejecting Jesus? They attribute His power to Satan.
They are forced to acknowledge His power – they see His mighty acts! They thus cannot deny His power. To reject Him, they instead claim His power is not from God but from Satan.
Jesus gives two arguments to show that this can’t be the case. His second argument is briefer, so let’s deal with that one before the first argument. This second argument is found in verse 19. Jesus notes that other Jews cast out demons; the same people who say Jesus casts out demons by Satan say that these other Jews cast out demons by God’s power. Jesus says the enemy is the same, the act is the same, and the result is the same. Therefore, the power must be the same.
He states His first argument in verses 17 and 18: If He is Beelzebul’s agent, since demons really are cast out, Satan is fighting against himself. In that case, Satan is no real threat. His kingdom is falling. A divided kingdom cannot stand - it is weak, going under. Jesus implies that is absurd. Satan is a threat. We don’t have to look very far to see that that is the case.
Verses 21 and 22 elaborate on this point. Satan is like a strong man fully armed, guarding his goods. Those goods are safe – certainly from himself! He’s not going to rob himself! The goods stand in part for those under demonic control. Satan will not steal from himself!
The only threat to the armed man guarding his goods is a stronger armed man attacking and defeating him. Only in this case will he lose his goods.
Implication: Satan is powerful, like that strong man. But Jesus is even stronger. Since the only power stronger than Satan is God Himself, Jesus must be from God.
Verses 24 to 26 add another twist, showing the necessity of force to defeat Satan:
"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.' 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 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." Luke 11:24-26
Jesus is saying, “Imagine an unclean spirit leaves a man without being forced out by a greater power. The man may appear to have relief from his torment for a while. But that won’t last. Indeed, in the end his situation will get worse.”
Jesus is making two sub-points here. First: The only way to defeat Satan and his cohorts is to overwhelm them by force. Second: Jesus is saying, “Look at the evidence. I have been casting out demons for a year and a half. Are those from whom I cast out demons some time ago still better off? Are they thriving? Have demons come back? No, they have not. These were thrown out by an opposing force; they did not leave voluntarily. That opposing force must be from God.”
So Jesus is saying, “I am God’s King. I am the overwhelming force.“
So this is the first way of rejecting the King: Acknowledging His power, but saying that it comes from Satan.
Verse 16 tells of a second way that people reject Jesus: “To test him, [they] kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.”
What’s wrong with testing? What’s wrong with seeking a sign?
Sometimes, nothing is wrong. Indeed, the Bible instructs us to test teachers and prophets:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1
Jesus does not ask for a leap of faith. He instead tells us to look at the evidence about who He is, and to respond to that evidence. Remember what He said to John the Baptist when he, languishing in prison, wondered if indeed Jesus were the Christ?
"Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." Luke 7:22-23
Jesus says, “I am king. The evidence is clear. Look. Believe. Trust.”
Jesus picks up on this thread in verses 29-32:
When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, "This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. Luke 11:29-32
Note: When does Jesus say this? When the crowds are increasing! He doesn’t want people to follow Him for thrills. He doesn’t want to be the source of entertainment. He says, “Are you here to see a sign? Signs have already been given in abundance. The main one is coming – the sign of Jonah, the sign of being raised from the dead. Don’t keep asking for proof. Look at the evidence.”
Jesus then continues by telling his listeners to look at history, saying, “The Queen of Sheba came a long distance because of Solomon’s wisdom. She looked at the evidence, and responded by listening. The men of Ninevah heard Jonah and repented. You have more evidence than any of them did. You are in the presence of a greater person. When will you quit asking for more evidence and simply believe?”
We’ll have more to say about these verses later. But for now, the bottom line is: God has spoken. The evidence is in. We are to believe.
My friends, if you have a genuine intellectual problem with Christianity, ask. Seek – and you will find. But ask yourself seriously: Is this “problem” just a smokescreen? If I were satisfied on this issue, would I then believe? Or would I just come up with another, different intellectual question to avoid repenting? Am I just refusing to listen and obey?
So we’ve seen two ways of rejecting Jesus as king: First, saying His power is from Satan; second, saying, “Prove who You are!” when the evidence is already in.
Verses 37-54 provide a third way of rejecting Jesus. Here Jesus condemns the Pharisees, scribes, and lawyers. This lengthy section contains many points, but for our purposes this morning, ask yourself: How does Jesus response to these enemies provide a clue about how they are rejecting Him as king?
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. 42 "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it." 45 One of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also." 46 And he said, "Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,' 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering." 53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say. Luke 11:37-54
How are the Pharisees, scribes, and lawyers rejecting Jesus as King? They reject the Old Testament pointers to Jesus. When confronted with this man of obvious power, they either say:
Jesus here takes that third argument and turns it on its head: The Pharisees, scribes, and lawyers are the ones who reject Scripture.
Remember that last week, we saw one of the lawyers summarizes the Law as by referring to the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. But looking at their actions rather than their words, how have the Pharisees summarized the Law? They have made the Law a religion of rules governing external behavior. These rules are difficult but possible for them to follow. Their success in this regard leads to their being honored and praised. Yet they do not love God; they do not love their neighbor.
Notice how Jesus brings out these truths:
Thus, they violate the two commandments on which all the Law and the prophets depend.
Jesus fleshes this out more in verses 47-51. He says they pretend to honor the prophets, even those killed by their forefathers, by building them beautiful tombs. But they are thereby showing that they are guilty of their deaths.
At first reading Jesus seems unfair. Surely to build a tomb for someone who was murdered is not to take part in the murder! What’s going on?
The problem is not the building of tombs. The problem is that the Pharisees honor the prophets with their lips and with elaborate tombs, but reject their teaching. Indeed, they reject the One about whom they prophesied!
For an example of the teaching they reject, consider Isaiah 58:3, 6:
[The people ask:] 'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? . . . [God replies:] Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. . . . Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness?”
So the Pharisees build a tomb and say, “Oh, yes, we honor Isaiah!” And yet they are guilty of the very misuse of fasts that Isaiah condemns.
As one commentator says, “Dead saints are always more popular than living ones.” The Pharisees say, “We honor those who came before us.” But Jesus is saying many of the same things as those prophets, and they reject Him.
Like the lawyer last week, the Pharisees, scribes, and lawyers are trying to use the commands of God as a means of justification. That can never be. We must humble ourselves, throwing ourselves on God’s mercy. That is the teaching of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Thus, to reject the king, the Pharisees reject the Old Testament message itself.
So we’ve seen three ways that Jesus’ opponents reject Him as king. Verse 23 summarizes His response to those who question Him:
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Luke 11:23
Jesus is the hinge of history. Jesus is the hinge of every person’s life. One way or another, everyone will acknowledge that He is King. Don’t reject Your king. Don’t pretend to sit on the fence, not knowing if He is king. Open your eyes. You can’t be neutral. You are either for Him or against Him. There is no other choice.
A brief footnote here: Jesus seems to have said the opposite in Luke 9:50. There the disciple John has stopped someone from casting out a demon in Jesus’ name, because he didn’t know him: Jesus replies,
"Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you."
In chapter 9, Jesus is saying, “If another person is doing a good work in My Name, assume they are with you unless they prove otherwise. Your default judgment is: He is one of us.” But in chapter 11, Jesus is speaking to each of our hearts: “Are you with Me or against Me? There is no other choice. You cannot be neutral.”
Are you a seeker? Ask! Seek! Knock! Get off the fence. Follow Him.
The second theme of the text comes out in verses 27-36. Consider the first verse in the section:
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!" Luke 11:27
This woman hears Jesus and is impressed. She knows Jesus is special. So she cries out above the crowd, saying how blessed Mary must be.
Is what she says wrong? Is Mary blessed? We already know that she is:
Unquestionably Mary was greatly blessed. But Jesus doesn’t say to the woman, “Yes, you’re right. My mother was blessed by God.” Instead, what does He say?
But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" Luke 11:28
The New King James Version translates this: "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" That is the idea. Jesus does not contradict the woman. Instead, He says, “Yes, my mother is blessed. But blessings far beyond those come to everyone who hears the word of God and keeps it. You too can be part of my intimate family: Simply hear and obey.”
There’s another, more subtle implication here. If blessing does not depend on being a part of Jesus’ nuclear family, neither does it depend on being of His ethnicity. Anyone who hears and obeys, anyone who hears and responds, anyone who recognizes Jesus as King receives blessings greater than those that are Mary’s by giving birth to Jesus!
Thus, Jesus says to the woman: “I’m glad you’re amazed at My teaching. That’s a good first step. But don’t long to be my mother! Instead, hear Me! Obey Me! And then you will have blessings beyond what you can imagine!”
The lesson for this woman is thus the first lesson for us: Recognizing the King means obedience to the King.
Look now at verses 29-32, which we already considered. How did the Queen of Sheba and the people of Ninevah respond to Solomon and Jonah?
Consider how many more reasons there are for Jesus’ listeners to hear and repent than for the Assyrians to repent at the preaching of Jonah:
Despite all this, the Ninevites repented! Jesus’ listeners surely should have repented. We surely should repent.
Recognizing Jesus as King means hearing and obeying; recognizing Jesus as King means hearing and repenting.
Finally, consider verses 33-36:
"No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light." Luke 11:33-36
It is important to look at these verses as a unit. Notice that the unit begins and ends with the same idea: a lamp giving forth light. Remember also the context: We must hear our King, we must obey, we must repent.
You use your eye to perceive things around you – including Jesus. Is your perception of Him “enlightening” your mind? Or is your misperception of Him darkening your mind? Jesus says if you eye is “healthy,” your whole body will be full of light. The word translated “healthy” can mean “without guile, sincere.” The healthy eye sees things as they really are – in particular, the healthy eye sees Jesus as He really is. When we do this, our whole body is transformed by that truth.
On the other hand, if your eye is not healthy but bad or evil, you won’t see Jesus as He really is. You instead close your mind to His love, His mercy, His grace, His power, His majesty. In that case, you are not perceiving the truth. Like someone who wears glasses that distort all the light coming to his eyes, you cannot see anything correctly. And your whole body remains in its natural state – full of darkness.
The Pharisees and their “generation” are like this. They see a distorted Jesus. They refuse to recognize Jesus as who He is: The King. Their eyes are evil. Their bodies are full of darkness. What should be light – their thoughts of God – are actually darkness. Religion without truth inoculates us against the truth.
On the other hand, if you perceive Jesus as Truth, as Light, that light permeates your entire being; you become light to others, displaying that truth to them. You love God with all your heart; you love your neighbor as you love yourself. That’s our hope: That we might see Him, and in seeing Him, be transformed into His likeness to His glory.
Recognizing Jesus as He really is – as King – is key to shining with His light.
So where are you on this Palm Sunday? We have sung songs that declare Jesus is King:
But some of those who acclaimed Jesus’ entry on Sunday called for His crucifixion on Friday.
Are you with Him? Not just as an intellectual assent to facts: “Jesus is King, He died, He rose, He is coming back to reign forever.” Acknowledging those facts is vital, but insufficient. Jesus says: “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Jesus says, “If your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright.” He is King. And He demands all from His subjects.
So don’t trifle with Him. You are not in any bargaining position with God, so that you might demand signs: “God, if You will do this, I will believe You.” He has given us what we need: His Word. He is king. He has the authority. He is full of mercy and grace. Will you submit or not?
Hear and obey. Hear and repent. Become light. And shine to His glory.
This sermon was preached on 4/9/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. Darrell Bock’s Luke 9:51-24:53 (Baker, 1994) was helpful, particularly on verses 33-36. The quote from a “commentator” is from Daily Bible Commentary: St Matthew - Acts (Holman, 1973), p. 214. E.M. Blaiklock is the author of the Luke section of this commentary.
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