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Third Sunday in Lent: Luke 11:14-28

Christ casts out a demon as He had done many times before, yet the focus in this account is the reply of some of the crowd. Accusing Christ of utilizing demonic agency and demanding a sign from heaven, as if the sign performed in their sight didn’t count, they reveal the state of their heart. Truly in them is the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled: “Seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear” (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matthew 13:14-15).

King Ahaziah, laying sick upon his deathbed, sent messengers to ask Baal-zebub whether he would recover instead of seeking the Lord (2 Kings 1). Baal-zebub is described as the god of Ekron, one of the five principal Philistine cities (1 Samuel 5). The word “baal,” rendered in Luke as “beel,” simply means “lord” or “master.” It was frequently used among the Canaanites to describe their gods, and even some of the Israelites adopted the practice when they sought to worship the Lord and the Baals (Hosea 2:16-17). “Zebub” or “zebul” means “flies,” as in Isaiah 7:18 and Ecclesiastes 10:1. Whether this title was legitimate or an intentional corruption is hard to say. The accusation of the crowd is not that Jesus is using a particluar Philistine god to do His work, but rather that His power is not from heaven. Jesus Himself appears to identify Beelzebul with Satan, which is fitting, since the Scriptures frequently identify false gods with demons (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20-21).

Jesus answers them according to their folly. Satan would not work against himself, since casting out demons meant an end of his authority and influence over a man. It would be tantamount to civil war. More than this, the Jews also practiced exorcism, as the sons of Sceva prove (Acts 19:11-20). If their sons were doing the same thing, why would they not accuse them of collaborating with Satan? Yet wisdom is justified by her children (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:35).

Christ describes His own work as “the finger of God,” or the direct action of God. The lector-priests of Egypt, no longer able to imitate Moses through their sorcery, cry out to Pharaoh that this was no trick, but God’s action among them (Exodus 8:19). God Himself wrote the Ten Commandments on the tablets with His finger (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10). Creation is also described as the work of His fingers (Psalm 8:3). Satan remains secure in his palace until the stronger Man, Christ the Lord, to bind him. Satan does not fight against himself and plunder his own palace. This is the work of God among them.

Yet as Pharaoh saw the finger of God and hardened his heart against God more and more, so the Jews are doing the same. Nor is this a neutral thing, because there is no middle ground. To walk with God is to be like God. To attribute God’s work to something else to to walk against Him. Whoever is not with Christ is against Him, and the final result of that way is death and destruction (Galatians 6:7-8). It is not enough that a demon depart from a man. It will go into “waterless places,” the wilderness which is the abode of demons (Leviticus 17:7), but when it returns it will bring spirits more evil than itself to take up residence again.

The same is true of spiritual hardening. It is a progressive process leading more and more away from God. The heart refuses to listen to God and closes its ears, so to speak, against Him. “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as at Meribah” (Psalm 95:7-8). Pharaoh in his pride hardens himself against God. Yet this hardening is also God’s judgment against sin. God hands us over to sin in order to bring on judgment even in this life (Romans 1:26). This is why God also hardens the heart of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:12). God hardens Israel’s heart so that they would not turn to Him and repent (as He plainly says in Matthew 13:15), though this partial hardening has come upon His people in order to further His plan of salvation (Romans 11). For those who persist in sin, God hardens them so that they cannot repent, because God will not allow it.

How then should we understand this? On the one hand, it is beyond our understanding (Romans 11:33-36). The potter has the right over the clay to shape it according to His will (Romans 9:21). Yet the heart which is not hardened is the heart which listens to God. The woman in the crowd who calls for a blessing upon Mary misses the point. Even her unique status as the mother of God changes nothing. Salvation is not a matter of the flesh. “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”

Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage?”

Psalm 2 is clearly a royal psalm. The prideful plotting of men, who seek their own kingdom and rule, is a pathetic joke to the Lord. He laughs at the machinations of the sinful heart that suppose that they can be free from Him. Over against such vanity, the Lord proclaims his kingdom, which is unshakable, boundless, and eternal.

The foundation for this psalm is the Lord’s covenant with David and his offspring as recorded in 2 Samuel 7:1-17. A quick review of this foundational passage helps to see the organic development of Biblical revelation. What is promised in 2 Samuel is now proclaimed in the psalm. The majority of the psalm gives attention to the promise about rest from enemies (2 Samuel 7:10-11). While 2 Samuel 7 focuses on the Messianic king, Psalm 2 draws out the implications for all people. The call to submit to this king, to serve him with fear and rejoice with trembling is the appropriate response to the great promises about David’s son. His authority is to be recognized by all. This authority and victory all stems from the father-son relation between the Lord and his anointed one. It is this promise from 2 Samuel, adumbrated in the psalm that shows the ultimate identity of the King and why the Lord back his kingdom against all others.

Noting all of this, the question arises as to how such a psalm could have been prayed before the resurrection of Jesus. It’d be one thing if the Old Testament saints could’ve pointed to Zion and said, “Look there, the Lord’s anointed one sits on the throne, who could possibly oppose him? His power is obvious, let us serve him with fear and rejoice with trembling.” The reality was that if one did look to Zion they would not see a powerful king, but a weak, usually unfaithful son of David. The psalm and the reality didn’t match up.

That conflict between the promise of the Lord in 2 Samuel, proclaimed anew in the psalm, and what was seen on the throne of David shows the importance of faith. Does one trust what their eyes see? A weak king in Judah, on the brink of destruction by the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, or the Romans. Or does one trust the covenant of Jehovah? “As for me I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

The psalm speaks proleptically, as though the promises of the Lord have already been fulfilled. This can only really be prayed by those who trust him who sits in the heavens, who has sworn to David and his seed that he will give him the nations as an inheritance. Before the coming of Christ praying such a psalm would’ve set faith in the Davidic covenant over against the experience. The psalm would’ve emboldened and sustained faith through the furnace of Babylonian captivity, the Hellenization program of Antiochus IV, and the tyranny of Rome.

Even now, with the first advent of Christ behind us, with the resurrection and ascension accomplished, with the son of David, who is at the same time the only begotten Son of God identified as Jesus of Nazareth, the psalm’s claims call for faith. Pilate and Herod sought to burst his bonds apart, to overthrow Christ’s claim that in Him the kingdom of God had come by crucifying and burying him.  Their autonomy seemed to be secure. But the Lord laughed from heaven at their attempts to silence his Son. No heavy rock nor seal on the tomb, no armed guard, no bribe of the Jews or their conspiracy with Rome, no threats, imprisonments, or killing of the apostles can destroy Jesus Christ and the coming of His kingdom.  And yet this is not known to the naked eye.  “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12) Christ’s victory and coming kingdom are known only to faith.

With this in view each one who prays and hears the psalm is called to hail the universal King and serve him, finding him to be a refuge. But those who oppose Him will find that He is no weakling, rather His wrath is quickly kindled. At his return these two things: refuge and wrath will be seen by all. And then every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

By praying this psalm with faith in its promises, we are made bold against the ruler of this world, our hope is made certain, and we rejoice to sing, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” Through the use of this psalm the kingdom of Jesus Christ is magnified in our hearts and minds.  Faith is kindled as the power and authority of the Lord and his Christ put down any thoughts of rebellious hearts.  Why should we rage and plot?  Instead we serve and rejoice.