Back in the early 1960’s, it seems that everybody smoked cigarettes. Smoking was thought to be a harmless activity that was somehow sexy and cool. But as the research trickled in, we discovered that cigarette smoke was anything but harmless. It was a known cause of lung cancer. I remember the fuss over the government-imposed warning labels that were added to each pack.
My dad smoked up until probably 1965. I always figured he picked up the habit when he was in the army, but maybe he smoked prior to that. And then one day, he just stopped–cold turkey. And, as far as I know, he never lit up again. But he did pick up a new habit–chewing toothpicks. One of his buddies told him, “Instead of lung cancer, you’ll probably die of Dutch elm disease.” Dad replaced harmful cigarettes with not-so-harmful toothpicks. And it worked.
In Matthew 12, Jesus teaches a parable that a lot of people don’t know. On many published catalogs of Jesus’ parables, this one doesn’t make the list! That’s how obscure it is. In this parable, Jesus uses demon-possession to illustrate the human heart. It’s not a parable about demons. It’s a parable about people.
By the time we get to Matthew 12, Jesus has already cast out demons at least three times. In the early part of Matthew 8, demon-possessed people come to Peter’s home in Capernaum. Jesus casts out those spirits “with a word.” At the end of that same chapter, Jesus ventures to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. Near Gadara, he encounters two men possessed by a “legion” of demons. Jesus commands the demons to “Go!” and they go. In Matthew 9, he casts a demon out of a mute man. There is no record of a vocal command from Jesus. But in an instant, the demon is gone.
In Matthew 12, the demon-possessed person is not just mute, but blind—the triple whammy! No problem for Jesus. He takes care of all three maladies at once. The demon is gone and the man speaks and sees. What a great day for that guy!
But what happens next for these previously demonized people? We like to think that they do what Mary Magdalene did. Jesus cast seven demons out of her and she followed Him for the rest of His life, even supporting His ministry financially. But most of the time, scripture doesn’t say what happens to these people.
That’s where Jesus parable comes in. In verses 43-45, Jesus speaks of a formerly demon-possessed person as if he were a house. Now that the demon is gone, the “house” is clean. The demon swoops through the countryside looking for a new home to wreck, but finds none.
“Ahhh, I know what I’ll do. I’ll go back to the house I just left!” Upon arrival, he finds the house not just clean, but empty. The NIV uses the word unoccupied. Nobody is living in the house! Why is it empty? Because the owner of the house has not invited new tenants to move in.
Kingdom disciples replace old, sinful behaviors and habits with new, godly behaviors and habits.
But the house is too clean for the demon. So, he invites seven buddies—all nastier and more wicked than he is—to move in with him. They’re going to turn it into a frat house! They will totally trash it. Jesus says, “the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
After Jesus casts the demon out of the mute and blind guy, scripture shows us two different reactions. The crowd is amazed and asks the question, “Could this be the son of David?”
But the seemingly ever-present Pharisees are there to throw cold water on that talk. “No! No, Jesus is not the son of David. In fact, his power to cast out demons comes from Beelzebul, the prince of demons.” Sure, this is fake news and the Pharisees know it. But they’re tired of Jesus getting all the headlines. They refuse to cede any of their power to some Galilean carpenter.
When our lives are in chaos, we want Jesus to fix it. “Fix my life, Jesus. Clean me up and put me on a better road.” And it’s good that we do that. We’ve already seen that the first step into the Kingdom of the Heavens is taking ownership of our sin. We surrender to Jesus and ask him to cleanse us. And He does. After all, He’s the Savior. We confess our trust in Him as Savior and submit to baptism where His blood cleanses us from all sin.
Well, understand that our heart refuses to stay empty. It wants to be full of something. So, we have two options. We can either invite Jesus to occupy our heart … OR … we can invite our old habits and old behaviors back into our heart.
We want Jesus to fix our past. “Clean it up! Get my life back in order, Jesus!” But what about our present? What about our future? Are we going to let King Jesus reign over our lives today and every day … forever?
Jesus will rid us of past sins. But then we must do what my dad did. We must replace those old, sinful behaviors and habits with new, godly behaviors and habits. May we put King Jesus on the throne of our hearts so we can sit at His feet and learn from Him.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:18).