Nobody Home

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 11:24-26

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”

Luke 11:24-26 RSV

To leave a dwelling uninhabited for a long period of time usually invites disaster. Many things can go wrong simply from natural causes – roofs leaking, pipes freezing, damage from wind, flood or fire. But those aren’t usually the worst perils. If left long enough, a house will be invaded, possibly by animals and probably by human beings. Those may be thieves out to steal something valuable, arsonists yearning for a big blaze, or simply thoughtless vandals. The empty house seems to draw them like a magnet.

According to Jesus, a similar dynamic is at work in human life. Listen to His words. I’m reading from Luke, chapter 11, verse 24:

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest; and finding none he says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”

It’s true of nations and peoples. It’s true of individual hearts. All kinds of trouble lie ahead when there is, as we say, “nobody home.”

WHEN GOOD THINGS HAPPEN

Jesus was giving a vivid illustration here from the thought-world of His contemporaries. They knew about the exorcising of evil spirits. Then, as now, there were many on the religious scene who claimed to be able to drive out demons. Jesus pictures one who has been thus sent forth as passing through dry regions that are the traditional haunts of demons, and then deciding he would like to return. When he comes back he finds the house tidied up but there’s no new tenant. So the evil spirit gathers together seven other spirits more wicked than he and they all move in. Things turn out to be worse for that man than they ever were before.

I find here a profound warning for all of us whenever good things happen in our lives. The man from whom the evil spirit was driven out had obviously received a great gift. He had been freed from demonic power, released from an evil that had gripped him for a long time. Do you know anyone like that?

Jesus seems to be saying that the whole nation of Israel was in a situation like this. In Jesus’ ministry, God had come into their midst with wonderful saving power. The Israelites had seen their sick ones healed, their crippled restored, their blind given sight, their lepers cleansed, and their demoniacs set free. Every evil that held the people in bondage was being challenged and dislodged. Now the Lord is warning them about what could happen next.

All of us wonder today about what will happen in places like eastern Europe. We’ve seen wonderful things there in recent years: the destruction of that symbol of dividedness and hostility, the Berlin Wall; the fall of one tyranny after another; the collapse of an ideology that had enslaved hundreds of millions of people. We’ve seen liberated ones dancing in the streets, subject peoples proclaiming their independence, political prisoners going free, human rights restored. It seems almost like a dream, so wonderful it is to contemplate. But now that these evils have been banished, these wicked spirits driven out, what comes next? In many of these countries and republics, there’s a kind of power vacuum. And we all know that nature abhors a vacuum. The question is, who moves into the halls of power when there’s “nobody home”?

We can ask the question on a personal level too. One of the people who heard these words first on the lips of Jesus was surely Judas Iscariot. We don’t know much about his background, but we know that some wonderful things had happened in Judas’s life. Jesus called him, made him one of the inner circle of His followers, even trusted him with the resources of the group. Who knows what evils Judas was delivered from, what gifts of grace the Lord may have bestowed upon him? At some point in his life, at least, Judas was a man from whom the unclean spirits had been driven out. But what happened next?

We ask ourselves that about criminals who receive a pardon, about alcoholics delivered from drink, or addicts who have gone through drug rehabilitation programs. We wonder about people marvelously freed from disease or delivered from their financial woes by winning the lottery. After the initial euphoria, what happens next? Something unpleasant at the center of life has been cast out. But no house, no heart, can remain empty for very long. Something or someone will be moving in.

A TURN FOR THE WORSE

And here’s the sobering part. Jesus warns us that the new occupants can be much worse than we’ve ever known before. Can that really happen today? we wonder. Well, what about eastern Europe? Many of us have been grieved at what has happened recently in the republic of Georgia. After they declared their independence from Russia, there was great excitement and jubilation in the streets of Tbilisi, the capital. They elected a new leader. But soon he was accused of taking political prisoners, persecuting minorities, generally acting like a tyrant. Civil war erupted in Georgia and many lost their lives. The center of that beautiful city Tbilisi was reduced to ruins. We have watched the carnage in Yugoslavia too, and the terrible violence in South Africa, even as a movement progresses there toward a more just society. It seems that when one tyranny goes down it can be replaced with another worse one or by an anarchy that’s worst of all.

It happens in the hearts of people too. We’ve talked about Judas. There came a point in his life when he decided to betray his master for money. And the New Testament actually says that Satan entered into Judas. Whatever evils had been there in his past, this was something far more serious. He was becoming now the devil’s possession, an agent of the kingdom of darkness. How could anything worse befall anyone?

Has everyone who has struck it rich in the lottery lived happily ever after? The research doesn’t suggest that. In fact, it tells us something quite different. Over time, winners of the lottery do not report an increase in happiness higher than that of the average citizen. In some ways, their wealth has brought them problems they didn’t have before.

It’s well known also that not all recovered alcoholics stay away from liquor permanently. Some of them become involved in activities even more destructive. And some pardoned criminals later commit crimes worse than those for which they were first imprisoned. When the evil spirits go out, they sometimes come back. Sometimes even more deadly ones move in.

CHRIST IN YOUR HEART

Why do you suppose Jesus told that little story, gave us that arresting vignette from life? Did He want to frighten us, drain the joy from our happy moments in life? Hardly. That was never His way. But He did want to tell us something profound about our lives; namely, that it’s perilous to leave them vacant. We’re headed for trouble when there’s nobody home. But that was simply to prepare us, that word, for the best news of all. Here it is: He is willing to move in.

Remember when Jesus began His ministry and cried out to the people, “Repent and believe the gospel”? The repenting part was a recognition of our sin and rebellion, our bondage and lostness. To repent means to change your mind, change your attitude about your situation, confess your wrongs to God. Renounce them. Be willing to turn from them. The coming of God’s kingdom in the person of Jesus means that there’s liberating power available. So the message of repentance is good news. It’s not the gloomy call of a spoilsport: “You have to leave your fun”; it’s a message of gladness: “You can throw away your chains!” You can be free from the things that bind you. Turn and live.

But you can only repent because in Jesus God has come to you with pardon in His hands. In Christ He has come to share your life, to take upon Himself your burden, to die for your sins. And that’s not all. The crucified Savior, Jesus, is now risen from the dead and offers to all who believe in Him not only pardon, release from the past, but also new life. And He doesn’t bestow these blessings on you from a distance. No. By His Spirit, He will come to dwell within your life.

Friends, that is the wonderful mystery of the gospel: Christ in you, as Paul says, the hope of glory. Remember how Jesus spoke of people eating His flesh and drinking His blood? Those were action pictures of what it is to believe in Him. In believing, we receive Him personally, in His risen power, into our hearts. By His Spirit, He comes to live with us, to save and to reign, to be our very life.

And He doesn’t simply come one time and that’s it. He comes to us ever and anew in the gracious moving and filling of His Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus can say to a complacent, self-satisfied church in Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). You can always open the door afresh.

One of the old Scotch preachers, Thomas Chalmers, used to preach about the expulsive power of a new affection. He talked about how people aren’t willing to let go of their favorite sins, even when others tell them how destructive these evils are. They cling to them still. They’re attached to them. They may be idols, but they are darling idols. The sinners aren’t about to let them go. But when a person comes to know of God’s great love in Christ, when she receives the Lord into her heart, a new love is born there. And that new love, that rightful Lord, drives out the old pretenders. Unclean spirits flee. Evils wither away like dead leaves because a new power, a new love, has come in.

What’s the answer for eastern Europe? Into the vacuum must flow democratic institutions, enlightened self-government, dedicated leadership. But there’s an even more profound need, the need in the hearts of human beings. The gospel of Jesus Christ needs to replace the old ideology, the old fallen creed. And, in place of the former evils, Christ Himself needs to reign by His Spirit in the hearts of people.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that a revival of Christian faith will automatically solve all the problems in eastern Europe. Obviously it will not. But that is the great hope for dealing with all the other difficulties, and that will be the safeguard against the inrush of spirits more malignant than the old ones.

For all of us, friends, in life there’s no standing still. There’s no real deliverance in which we put out the bad unless we also welcome the good. The wicked spirits won’t stay away permanently unless the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, takes up His abode in our hearts. God is not out to pluck the sins off our lives one by one, as though they were so many bad apples on a tree. He wants to change us from the inside out. He wants to give us new hearts, make us new persons, and He does that by entering the house of our lives and living there.

What about it, friends? Will you this day repent and believe the gospel? Why not confess to the Lord the things wrong in your life, the things that have held you in bondage, the idols before which you’ve bowed down. Christ will free you from them. Turn to Him with all your heart. Invite Him to come into your life and be your Savior. And then every day you live, cultivate your fellowship with Him in worship, in prayer, in listening to His Word, in seeking to serve Him, in fellowship with God’s people. Without Him, no matter how many good things happen to you and how many evils depart, you’ll always be vulnerable to the worst. But with Christ in your heart and life, you’ll be secure from all the invaders. It will never be said of your life again that there’s “nobody home.”

Prayer: Father, let everyone sharing this message today be so gripped by the gospel that each will say from the heart, “Come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for You.” Amen.