Summary: A true unity in the Lord is something we must never take for granted, and something for which we ought always to pray and work
A few weeks ago another pastor told me, "Dan, things are not going the best at my church. It seems there is always controversy and division over something or someone. But, I guess church fights are normal. From what I understand, it is unusual for a congregation to go more than two years without a significant church-wide conflict." I left that meeting with two thoughts in my mind. #1) I was very grateful. It has been over five years since I became the pastor of this church, and if we have had any significant church-wide conflicts during this time, I must have slept through them. Oh, there have been things about which we have had different opinions and there are times when we rub each other the wrong way, but overall, we've enjoyed a marvelous spirit of unity within this church during the past five years. That has been true, even though there have been significant changes and numerical growth during this time. In act, as it has probably been over twelve years since there has been any major conflict in this church, it is indeed something for which to be grateful.
The second thought I had made me a bit uneasy. Is the unity and freedom from strife we enjoy a gift of God, or does it exist because we are doing something wrong? Am I as a pastor and you as a congregation making compromises we should not make just because we are afraid of causing conflict? Do we sometimes shade the truth and not really say what we believe simply because we don't want to offend someone? Should we be more willing to confront each other sometimes, rather than maybe pretending things are just fine? In other words, are we full of the Holy Spirit, or are we just overflowing with "Minnesota niceness?" Yes, I was grateful that this church has so little conflict, but wondering if that is totally a good thing. When I read our text for this week, my perspective changed a bit. Jesus tells us that "every house divided against itself will not stand," and I realized that is true for this church. Oh, I still think we are probably too motivated by "Minnesota niceness" sometimes, but the Lord reminded me in a fresh way how important unity is to the church of Jesus Christ. If we fail to recognize that we are on the same side, that another believer in Jesus is never the enemy, then we have fallen into one of Satan's most effective traps. A true unity in the Lord is something we must never take for granted, and something for which we ought always to pray and work.
As we continue our journey through the Gospel of Matthew, we come to Matthew 12:22-30. Let's pray that the Lord would today help us understand in a fresh way what it means to be truly united for His glory as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.
Let's start by walking through our text. Matthew records for us another conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. It starts when Jesus casts out a demon. Matthew 12:22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. Now, maybe you are the type of person who doesn't believe there are such things as demons. But remember, the Bible clearly teaches there are, and I think contemporary experience confirms this is the case. This certainly doesn't mean that everyone who has a problem of some type is struggling with a demon, but at times a demon can take possession of a human being. After Jesus had healed this man, 12:23 says All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" Or could this be the Messiah? The people are still skeptical, but they are starting to wonder. Matthew's whole Gospel is written to persuade us the answer to that question is "Yes" Jesus is the Messiah.
The Pharisees then make a very serious charge. 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." Beelzebub is another term for Satan, and the Pharisees claim the only reason Jesus can command demons is because He is empowered by Satan himself. People who feel threatened sometimes say ridiculous things. I think of the woman who was running for the state senate in Florida this year who claimed her opponent on the ballot was really dead, and that the man campaigning against her was an imposter. She did not win on Tuesday. Maybe next time she'll try running for office in Minnesota. (Just kidding.)
Matthew then gives us Jesus' response. He begins by refuting the Pharisees' ridiculous charge with two points. First He says, 12:25b,26 "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?" His analogy is clear. Internal conflict destroys kingdoms, cities and households. It would be suicidal for Satan to give Jesus the power to cast out demons. It is ridiculous to claim Jesus is on Satan's side when he is clearly working against Him. Secondly, Jesus says, 12:27 "And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges." Again the logic is clear. Exorcism of demons was something the Pharisees accepted as a valid ministry when one of their group did it. How can they condemn Jesus for doing something for which they would applaud others? It is a bizarre double standard. Then Jesus adds, 12:28a "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God,..." Not the spirit of Beelzebub. 12:28b "...then the kingdom of God has come upon you." When Jesus drove out demons, He did so without the magical rituals of the other exorcists. Instead, He did it with raw authority, commanding demons to do as He willed. This is further proof that He is indeed God's chosen Messiah.