22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw.
23 And all the multitudes were amazed and said, "Could this be the Son of David?"
24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, "This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons."
25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.
26 "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
27 "And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges.
28 "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
29 "Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.
30 "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad."
Here in Iowa there is a great, good-hearted rivalry between Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. Because both are fine institutions of higher learning, parents in this state have a tough decision when choosing whether to send their child to "State" or "the U." It is not unusual for parents with multiple children to sport bumper stickers that reference the fact that they have kids at BOTH schools. And when the Iowa State Cyclones and the Iowa Hawkeyes play football against each other, you'll see a lot of folks wearing t-shirts or hats that show the mascots for both teams, with the phrase "A House Divided." Here in Iowa, as much as we joke about being divided, people tend to love both schools and cheer for both teams, because there is still an understanding that we are one "house" here in the great state of Iowa.
Intrastate football rivalries aside, Abraham Lincoln is probably better known for having used the phrase "a house divided." In his 1858 acceptance speech for his nomination to the Illinois Republican ticket for Senate, Mr. Lincoln referenced those words of Jesus in talking about the coming strife that threatened to divide our nation. In the midst of his speech, Mr. Lincoln said:
"'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction, or its advocates will push it forward till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, North as well as South."
In today's verses from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus uses the metaphor of "a house divided" in trying to teach the Pharisees about the source of His authority to drive out demons. After He drove out a demon and restored a man's health, the Pharisees accused Jesus of using the power of Satan to cast out Satan's own minions. As Jesus notes, it seems illogical for Satan to be working against himself. So, on a very superficial level, Jesus was using "a house divided" to denote Satan working against his own purposes. But take a closer look at verse 25 again, where Jesus says that famous phrase:
"Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand."
"Every kingdom divided against itself." Does that sound familiar? Think about the civil war that tore Israel in two after the death of King Solomon. Think about the division between the prophets who called for a return to God and the kings and priests of Judah and Israel who sought after other gods. Think about the people of Galilee who brought their sick to be healed and yet who also reviled Jesus and did not repent of their sins. Think about a certain apostle whose loyalties were divided, and who eventually fell to Satan. Think about the Sadducees and Pharisees who believed different things about the Messiah and about the resurrection of the dead, and yet how both opposed Jesus. Think about the temple itself.
1 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.
2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down."
The temple would not be destroyed from without but from within. The temple would be thrown down from the divided loyalties of the priests. It would be cast down, stone by stone, from the divided hearts of people who wanted to believe in a messiah but did not see the Messiah when He stood right in front of them. The temple and Jerusalem itself would fall because they had not bound up the strong man in their house--Satan himself! Only God Himself could bind Satan and cast that accuser out of the house of a man's heart or out of the house of God itself. So long as the Pharisees continued to see Jesus as their rival, then they would oppose Him and remain weak against sin and evil. Their house would be divided, and they would not long stand.
As I was reading Mr. Lincoln's speech this morning, I also thought about his second inaugural address, in which he compared the Civil War to a bitter and yet righteous judgment from God. As Mr. Lincoln had earlier stated, the Union would either become "all one thing, or all the other," but his fervent hope was that we would emerge from the fiery conflict with an appreciation for the sacrifices and the price paid for the freedom we would all now enjoy:
"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"
We stand today on the cusp of another division in this nation, but it shall not lead to such bloody war. Although racial prejudices remain after even more than a century since Mr. Lincoln's call for unity and rebuilding, and although the commercial enterprise of slavery continues today in the shadows of the sex trade and pornography, those days of civil warfare are long gone. Today, the war that is brewing is between the people of God and those who have strayed far from God's teachings, between those who truly follow Jesus and those who follow the gods of the flesh, of "logic" and "enlightened" human philosophy. Today, we face hearts and minds divided between loyalty to the living God and loyalty to a desire for more wealth and an easier life promised by governments and corporations who have raised mammon as the god of the day. Today, even our churches stand on shaky ground as a house divided against itself because we have preachers in the house of God who do not follow His Word, who kowtow to social mores and wayward hearts, who compromise holiness for convenience and for political correctness. Jesus warned us that such a house could not stand, that a country so divided would fall either one way or the other but could not stand as it does today. He warned us that the temple of God would not long withstand the storms of separation from God.
Dear friends, we have the chance to unite this people, this nation, this church of Christ under One who is greater than all others. We need not stand for division and rancor fostered by bitter and greedy men who seek power more than justice, who seek riches and fame more than mercy and grace, who seek the fruit of the flesh rather than the fruit of the Spirit of God. We need not allow modern-day Pharisees to call into question the true work of God. We need not divide ourselves between loyalty to our Lord Jesus and loyalty to church institutions that are long dead because of the sin within them. We need not allow this nation to be ripped apart, nor allow our legislators and our courts to wage a very UN-civil war of ideas to sweep morality from this land.
24 "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:
25 "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock."
As the old hymn goes, "On Christ the Solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand." We must stand firm upon the rock of Jesus Christ, holding fast to the Word of God and not the mere traditions of men. We must be of one mind, one heart, one soul, united in love and faith. We must join Jesus and gather with Him in the harvest that is so ripe among the people of this broken and hurting world. We must not divide but unite, not scatter but call, not live in bitter rivalry but in love, not accuse of sin but guide others to the truth of the gospel so that the Holy Spirit of God may convict their souls to repentance.
Truth be told, even though I live in Iowa City and root for the home team whenever they play against "that other team," at heart I am actually a fan of Ohio State University. When the OSU Buckeyes come to town, all loyalty to the Iowa Hawkeyes goes out the window, and out comes my scarlet and grey. But that loyalty to my home state is a temporary thing, a fleeting entertainment rather than a lasting covenant. My deepest loyalty is to Jesus Christ. Wherever I go, whatever football team I may root for, my whole heart truly belongs to Jesus.
14 "Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!
15 "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
Mr. Lincoln was absolutely right when he said this nation cannot stand as it is but must fall either one way or the other. As Joshua told the Israelites, we must choose what gods we will serve. Therefore, let not our house be divided but let us choose to wholly serve the Lord our God.
Blessed heavenly Father, such strife abounds in Your church today and in this nation that once proudly served You and was founded on Your principles. Holy Lord, may Your Spirit heal those divisions, binding the wounds of those caught in this not-so-civil war, so that all men may live under God as a house united in just cause for You and Your kingdom. Let not the storms of division rend this nation and Your church, but if such battle must be waged, let us endure such tribulation with faith and hope, and emerge in Your victory saying, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." Amen.