If you ever watch thrillers, you will be familiar the usual elements of the plot. There is often a shadowy figure in the background up to no good and opposed to our hero. Eventually, the figure from the shadows is caught and this inevitably leads to the question; ‘who are you working for?’ It’s the same question in today’s passage. If Jesus is genuine, he has to be the Messiah. If on the other hand he is not genuine, he has to be the embodiment of evil. There really isn’t a halfway house. Read the passage online here.
As we have seen before there seems to have been a rise in the activity of evil spirits during Jesus’ ministry. This incident is not so much about the miracle itself but about how those who witness it react. Some tested him by asking for another miraculous sign and we will be looking at that tomorrow but for now we will look at Jesus’ response to those who claimed he was doing things by means of evil powers.
The word ‘Beelzebub’ (Beelzebul in some versions) has roots that are disputed amongst Bible teachers but all agree that the Pharisees were insulting Jesus by saying he was using the power of Satan to drive out evil spirits. It was a vile insult, Jesus was the Son of God anointed by the Spirit to do the father’s will. It’s made even worse since the miracle was a sign that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 12:22, Luke 7:22). There are none so blind as those who will not see (Jeremiah 5:21). Jesus exposed the stupidity of their thinking, he revealed his own source of power, he then spoke of the futility doing things without him and then the need to respond with obedience.
The Pharisee’s claim that Jesus was driving out demons by means of Satan is not really thought through. As Jesus said; “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” Satan is many things; a liar, a murderer, the accuser etc. but he is not in the business of defeating himself! Jesus then makes a claim of his own and it would have made his hearers gasp. He states that he drives out demons by the ‘finger of God’. The Pharisees would certainly have picked up that Jesus is pointing back to the words of Pharaoh’s magicians when confronted with the power of God, demonstrated through Moses (Exodus 8:19). Just like with Moses before him, evil power is no match for God’s power and here, God’s power is at work in Jesus. He can overpower the strong man (Satan), because he comes displaying the awesome power of God.
Jesus was involved in a great cosmic war with evil and in this war, neutrality is not an option; “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” As we shall see tomorrow, we are either full of light or full of darkness (11:33-36) and if we are not full of the Holy Spirit, evil will dwell within (11:24-26). Jesus challenges us to hear his words (the word of God) and respond with obedience.
During great naval battles in history such as Trafalgar, ships were identified by flying their nation’s colours (flag) from their masts. If during the battle, a ship was badly damaged, or to carry on fighting was useless, they would ‘strike their colours’, lower the flag, and this meant the ship and it’s company were surrendering. The ship would then belong to the enemy, in fact, sometimes ships changed hands several times. In what would become a famous incident in 1796, in the heat of a battle, the main mast of Admiral Duncan’s Royal Navy flag ship was damaged causing the colours to fall onto the ship. This could have been viewed as the surrender of the entire British fleet. At that moment, a sailor, Jack Crawford, under heavy gunfire, climbed what was left of the mast and nailed the colours to its top. The picture shows a statue in his home town of Sunderland commemorating the event. Many see this as the origin of the phrase ‘to nail your colours to the mast’. It is an act of defiance, no surrender. As Christians, perhaps we have become good at ‘nailing our colours to the fence’ (sorry about the mixed metaphor). Is it time to take a stand for Jesus?
Lord we pray that we would take our stand for you. Help us to love those who hate us and to be witnesses for you. We thank you Lord that victory is certain.