“Now, when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places, seeking rest, and does not find it.
“Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came;’ and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.
“Then it goes, and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)
Jesus knew demons. He saw them, grieved at their ugly activities, and threw them out at every chance. Earlier in this chapter–verse 22–Jesus healed a man tormented with one, causing blindness and muteness. That set off a long discussion on the subject of the work of the devil.
After making numerous points on Satanology–is that a word?–He gave them an unforgettable word-picture (a parable) to put the whole thing into perspective.
At the end, He said, “And that’s how it will be for this wicked generation.”
How is that? What will things be like?
And how are things today?
Those questions bring us to this story. It may take up only 3 verses of Matthew 12, but those brief sentences contain a world of information and insight.
Have you ever heard this little parable preached on or taught? Other than the times I’ve done it myself, I cannot recall ever hearing any preacher even refer to it. And yet it is loaded with insights and implications for us today.
This parable explains some things you’ve been wondering.
1) The restlessness of this generation.
In Mark 5 we are struck by the haunting, relentless pacing and hurting and crying of the demon-possessed man. No chains could hold him. Night and day, he was awake, roaming, plundering, weeping.
Then, see him after the Lord Jesus has cleansed him of the evil spirit afflicting his life. He was “sitting there, dressed and in his right mind.” (5:15) Jesus had given the man peace for the first time in a long time.
Evil spirits are roamers. “Your enemy the devil roams to and fro as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Peter 5:8) Roaming and roaring.
Sounds like the drug-crazed culture of this age, doesn’t it. Never resting, never able to sleep, never sitting quietly in a room and reflecting, or never going for a stroll in the woods to enjoy nature and the solitude.
The three great enemies of peace in our day, we’re told, are hurry, crowds, and noise. Their remedy–their opposites–are stillness, solitude, and silence.
But the greatest enemy of peace in the human heart is none of those three. In fact, those three are the peace-stealers from believers, primarily.
But the devil himself is the thief of peace.
2) The emptiness of this generation.
Jesus has this concept of the human soul being like a house. What pastor or teacher has not used Revelation 3:20 as a picture of a house which Jesus wants to bless. He comes right onto the front porch with His blessings, but rather than open the door Himself–which He has every right to do, since He is Creator and Redeemer and thus the Lord–He knocks and waits for the person inside this “house” to open the door and invite Him in.
It’s a haunting image, one so right, so true to the human situation, that instead of discarding it as my mind grew theologically and biblically, I find myself returning to it more and more. Even a child can see what Jesus is saying.
Our parable reinforces the image of the human being as a house in which he lives, often with company.That company–the tenants–may be the Lord of Heaven and earth or the devil and his cohorts.
According to the parable, the resident of this particular house has gotten rid of his unwelcome tenant.
What does this mean?
It appears that the human has undergone some kind of moral reform.
The human who lives in that house has–
–turned over a new leaf.
–quit some old habits.
–gone through rehab and finally gotten the drugs or liquor or whatever out of his system.
–joined a self-help program.
–ended some bad relationships.
Ah, he’s free! But alas, only for a short time.
Recidivism refers to the relapse of prisoners who serve their time, are released from jail into the world, but who are soon back behind bars.
Recidivism refers to patients who are weaned off a bad drug or habit and who return to the old life.
Ask any drug counselor or parole officer. It’s a huge problem.
Emptiness is the culprit.
It’s not enough to kick old habits, to oust old compadres in crime, and to reform oneself.
You are now a sitting duck. It’s as though life as drawn a target on your back.
3) The ugliness of this generation.
Jesus knows about demons and devils and evil, unclean spirits–whatever you want to call them. They live in the spirit world, invisible to humans but clearly seen by the Lord.
My own opinion–stated elsewhere in articles on these pages–is that the reason for so much demonic activity in the New Testament, particularly during Jesus’ life and earthly ministry, is that Satan had pulled in his legions from across the planet in expectation of the coming of the Messiah to do battle with Him. Many a time, Satan tried to kill Jesus, beginning with His birth in Bethlehem, using the murderous Herod. That’s why the demons were there, why they were so active and numerous.
Those poor people. A body-less spirit needs a body in which to live and work. (I admit it–this brings up images of old science fiction movies, doesn’t it? Aliens who secretly infiltrate earthlings and inhabit their bodies for one reason or other, all of them wicked. “The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers.”)
This evil spirit, Jesus said, can find no place to settle. He “wanders in waterless places, seeking rest, and does not find it.”
So, he–it, the thing–returns to the human whose body he recently vacated because life there was getting unbearable.
He finds it empty and a “Vacancy” sign out front. And look–it’s clean, freshly painted, or orderly.
Orderly? You noticed that?
Demons are messy, dirty, ugly. Give them unlimited access to any human and in no time at all that person’s life is a shambles. I have seen it and so have you. Whether you recognized it as demonic or not, you have seen it.
Jesus called the devil a thief who comes “to steal, kill, and destroy.” (John 10:10) In contrast, Jesus has come “that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Listen to the typical representative of this generation and one would think it’s the other way around. “Christians are a blight on our world!” they cry.
What they do is take some counterfeit whom Satan has planted out there to sound like a Christian and to discredit Jesus and the Holy Faith.
Or they take some sincere but stupid–ah, could you please be a little more gentle in your choice of words there, Joe? words like ‘thoughtless,’ ‘ill-chosen,’ or ‘shallow’ come to mind–action of immature or backslidden believers and make that represent the Christian faith.
Nope. Stupid is as stupid does. That’s the only word for it.
When a true, faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ calls homosexuals ‘fags’ and says unkind things about them, Satan makes sure that that person is given media coverage in order to spread the word that “all Christians hate us.”
When a sincere follower of Jesus advocates marijuana and sex-outside-of-marriage, the devil sees to it that they become well-known and their views publicized in order to make the point that “these things are okay; even Christians agree.”
When an evangelist or pastor or well-known Christian falls into sin–crime, alcoholism, drugs, sexual perversion–Satan’s legions go into action to see that everyone knows about it. Those in bondage to this kind of slavery are made to think there is no freedom in Christ or anywhere else, and they sink deeper into that suffocating morass.
When a serial murderer–particularly if there was a sexual angle to his misdeeds–is caught, if there is some religious element in the story, the devil makes sure to taint all Christians with that brush.
A detective with the Birmingham Police Department invited me into his small bungalow at the edge of the city. We were taking a religious census and I had knocked at his door. He was a burly bear of a man and the gruff voice inviting a very young minister–me!–into his home filled me with trepidation.
Beer cans and newspapers littered the rooms. Clippings taped to the walls heralded cases this man had solved or been involved in.
His wife had long since given up on him, his children had no use for him, and he was sinking fast. A chain-smoker, the liquor bottles cluttering his breakfast table, the man let me know from the first his lack of regard for ministers.
“Take any ten people out of the Jefferson County jail,” he said, “and line them up. Line up ten preachers along side them.”
“One group has as many crooks as the other.”
That was his story and he was sticking to it. He had bought into the slander of hell. He had chosen the ugliness of sin for the simple reason he did not think there was any alternative.
Whether he was convinced or only using that as an excuse I have no way of knowing.
That was many years ago and I’ve thought so often of that poor man. I went back to his house later to see him, but no one was at home. A few weeks later, we moved to New Orleans to attend seminary and I never saw him again.
The end of that man, I fear, was not good. He was trying to self-destruct as quickly as alcohol and nicotine–and the rest of that lifestyle, no doubt–would accomplish.
What does it mean, “The last state of that man becomes worse than the first”?
Having tried the straight and the narrow (he thinks), he decides there’s nothing to it. He was miserable in his “clean, straight” life.
Now, he goes back to Egypt.
Oops. Just worked in the Old Testament’s favorite word for the old, sinful life of bondage.
Israel in the wilderness had not arrived in Canaan with its promises of delights. Nor were they in Egypt with its cruel tales of harsh taskmasters and bondage.
The wilderness is no place to live, no spot one would want to stay. So, with no knowledge of Canaan, the roaming seeking hunting haunted nomads often end up trying to return to Egypt.
Their last condition is terrible. They delve deeper into the former sins. And this time, they do so with a vengeance, convinced the clean life is not for them. As far as they are concerned, they have “tried religion and it doesn’t work.”
Maybe they’ve tried religion and maybe they haven’t. But Jesus is not religion.
Jesus is Redeemer. He sets the captives free.
4) The only Hope of this generation.
“I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” Jesus said in John 10:10.
When He began preaching, Jesus announced to the people of His hometown, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19. Jesus is quoting Isaiah 61:1.)
That’s why He came: to unlock the chains holding those enslaved to the enemy in all his various manifestations.
Jesus looked out at the crowds and called, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
Ah. Rest. Something eluding this world. “No rest to the wicked,” they say.
Jesus went on, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)
Let’s pause here and state the obvious: there is nothing light and easy about the yoke religion lays across the shoulders of those coming in search of rest. Religions oppress.
Jesus said to the Pharisees of His day, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift one finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4)
He said, “(The Pharisees) shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.” (Matthew 23:14) They would not enter, nor would they allow anyone else to come in.
The Bible does not have a whole lot of good to say about religion in general.
But isn’t Christianity a religion?
Yes and no.
It is essentially a relationship with Jesus Christ. At its purest essence, that’s the kernel, the heart, the core.
As one lives out that relationship, he/she reads the Bible in order to learn what He taught and how we are to live. We get with other believers in order to encourage each other and to spread the word. We get organized and choose leaders and adopt customs that for all practical purposes makes us a religion.
We who are leaders and teachers of Christ’s message must always be careful not to turn this faith–this Good News–into a legalistic system of rules and regulations which burden but do not set free.
So, yes and no.
To those who unequivocally declare that “Christianity is not a religion,” we respond that, if this is true, then surely it’s all right to be a Christian and have “some other” religion. Syncretism is the pulling together of various parts of separate religions into some kind of blended faith. The Bible has no good thing to say about this.
Yes it is. No it isn’t.
The Christian faith is all about Jesus. And it’s all about staying true to His teachings as given us in the complete and inspired Word of God, the Bible. But by that, we mean and we insist, “properly understood and faithfully taught.”
Which is what we’re trying to do here.
A final note. Hebrews 4 deals at length with the rest promised to God’s people, a rest the wilderness wanderers of the Old Testament were never given, and which is found only in Christ. “Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest…” (Heb. 4:11)
Excellent article! I’ve enjoyed it very much. And you’re right: this parable is not taught or preached on very often. Anyway, I hope you don’t mind my taking the liberty to post a short quotation from your article on my blog, and inviting some of my Romanian and English readers to take a look at the your full article… Blessings! Rev. Ciprian Luca, Campulung, Romania.
Thanks Bro. Joe for the message. Your mind and communication skills never cease to amaze me. I am reminded again of the privilege God granted me in the opportunity of working with you. I will be forever greatful God and you.
Elaine and I were able to enjoy with our family the scene that you described around the table on Thanksgiving Day. It trully was a great time of