Jesus Casting Out Demons
When we think about some of the signs that Jesus performed, one of the things we think of is casting out of unclean spirits and demons. There is the instance in Mark 1:21 in Capernaum on the Sabbath, and even more famously, Mark 5 where he casts out the demons called “Legion” from a man and sends them into the pigs at the demons’ request.
Then there is Matthew 12 where Jesus casts out a demon, and the Pharisees, seeing this, make the claim that Jesus is casting out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons. This is where Jesus gives the famous “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” line.
Too often though, we stop at verse 32, and miss out on a great number of details. He essentially goes on to tell the Pharisees that he is the Messiah by explaining that you can tell a tree from its fruit (33-37), and that they have somebody greater than Jonah (*cough* 3 days and 3 nights) and Solomon (*cough* Wisdom) with them (38-42).
But then the narrative gets kind of weird. For some reason it goes back to the demon that was cast out and Jesus gives a little more detail about what happens.
Matthew 12:43-45 reads:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it 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. So also will it be with this evil generation.” (ESV)
This is pretty self explanatory. The unclean spirit is cast out and for a time it will try to find somewhere to rest. Because unclean spirits can’t find rest unless they are within a person, it decides to go back from where it was cast out. It sees that everything is nice and cozy, so he goes and gets a few other buddies (notably 7, which is the sign of completion, which can’t be good if demons are involved) and comes back and that person is left in a state that is worse than he was before.
Don’t Leave Your Home Empty
In a recent Bible study at my church, the leader, Dr. Bill Greenman, said something both comical and deep. Most everybody knows the idea of the “pink elephant.” This is an exercise where you tell people NOT to think about a pink elephant. Dr. Greenman took it a step further by saying that imagine if he were to give you a timer that was set to go off every 5 minutes. When that timer goes off, you are to make sure you don’t think about that pink elephant. Imagine that! A task that reminds you of the thing that you’re supposed to forget!
Well, explained Dr. Greenman, that’s exactly what it’s like when we, in our pursuit of sanctification, work to rid our lives of a sin. If our goal is to rid our selves of sins, all we will be doing is concentrating on that sin.
When that happens, like Jesus explains, we have an empty home that is nice and clean and cozy. That sin isn’t in there anymore, so it’s a really nice resting place for whatever can find its way in there. Unfortunately, if we don’t sell or lease out that space to something godly, chances are that sin that we’re concentrating so hard on will make its way back to that spot, and you will likely find other sins hanging out there that you may have not struggled with historically.
Think about smoking. While I’m not going to go as far as calling smoking “sinful,” can we all agree that it is just an absolutely terrible addiction? Well, what happens when we quit? You throw away your pack of smokes and just sit there wishing you could light one up. I’ll tell you what happened with me. The first time I quit smoking, I was successful for about 3 months, but when I slipped back, I not only smoked, but I also included dip in my repertoire. I’d have dip in my lip and a cigarette in my mouth at the same time, and smoked a lot more than I ever had. Not only did I fail at quitting smoking, but now I had two nasty addictions. Fast forward a few years and I decided to quit again, but this time I decided to tackle it by using nicotine replacement therapy. For the smoking habit, I used electronic cigarettes, and for the dip habit I used nicotine lozenges that I could just store in my lip. I was able to slowly but surely ween myself off of the electronic cigarettes, but I clung tightly to those nicotine lozenges for almost a year later. When I finally was able to ease myself off of those, I had to shove my mouth full of sunflower seeds almost constantly. Now, I just find myself chewing on pens and other items that are readily available, but the really bad stuff is gone.
It is the same with sins. I was a very, very, very angry person, but I was really good at hiding it… for a while. I’d try so hard not to get angry, that I’d just force myself not to get angry, but then something would happen and that sin of anger would rush into my cleaned up room in my soul and bring along with it violence, resentment, and even sometimes self-loathing and depression. Now, I didn’t get violent with people, but when I had an outburst, you could expect some sort of inanimate object to get broken and I’d be angry for a while.
It took a year of being married to the most wonderful, patient, and caring woman alive, seeing how my anger hurt her, and witnessing the grace of God by her constantly forgiving me when I’d have an outburst to realize that I couldn’t just decide not to get angry anymore. I had to fill that space with something else. I had to fill that space with godly things. So I prayed, I had my wife pray, I began regular Bible study, and prayed some more. I wish I could say God completely healed me of my anger, but I can’t. But what I can tell you is that He is continuing to work on me in this and that He is constantly showing me new things to do and new things to read and new things to study that help fill that space so that it’s not a wide open, cleaned up space left vacant for my sin to re-occupy along with some of his friends.
What is the sin you are trying the hardest to rid yourself of? Are you trying to quit “cold turkey” or are you replacing it something good? Jesus gives us excellent wisdom in Matthew 12:43-45 that we should take very seriously. Pray regularly. Pray that God shows you what to do when you feel your sin coming on. Is it pornography? When you feel like navigating to that site, just open up your Bible app and read instead. Is it anger? When you feel anger coming on, take it up to God in prayer. Is it pride? When you start feeling your pride getting hurt, ask God to humble you. Is it greed or covetousness? When you feel like you deserve something that your neighbor has and you get nasty thoughts about them, give money to a Christian charity.
There are so many things that God has provided us that we can use to occupy the places from which we are casting out our sins. Let us not leave that space open for greater sin to enter in. Instead, let us make a conscious effort to fill that space with godly and holy things so that we will be left in a better state than what we were.