On June 16, 1858 in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln accepted his party’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate. He then delivered a very controversial, but famous, speech. Today it is referred to as “Lincoln’s House Divided Speech.” Lincoln used the image of Jesus’ words from today’s text because he wanted to draw a clear distinction between the evils of slavery and the righteousness of freedom. His speech sparked a controversy, and Lincoln lost the election.
Jesus’ own use of the term was born in controversy. As with many of Jesus’ miracles, it is the issue of where Jesus gets his authority that is called into question. The people are asking, “Could this be the Son of David?” In this case, it is the exorcism of a demon that becomes a point of contention for some Pharisees who are present, they claim that it is by the power of Beelzebul that Jesus works such wonders. Once the demon is cast out, God’s grace is evidenced by the man being able to see and speak. The miracle is not denied by any of those present.
What becomes the subject of debate is “by what power” Jesus is able to do such things. To be sure, there were other exorcists in Jesus’ day who cast out demons, but they used magical incantations. Jesus uses no incantations, and is able to cast out demons by command. This leaves only two options available for such authority. He either casts them out by the power of Beelzebul (Satan), or he does it by the power of God.
For those present with Jesus, which of the two options offered to them is the easiest to accept? To say that Jesus casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul (Beelzebubba if you are from the Deep South) requires nothing of the individual who believes it. If Jesus is casting out demons by the power of Satan, then they are wise not to follow him. They need only avoid Jesus and his teachings. Their lives will go on being just as they always have been. They can make light of the irrationality of Satan’s kingdom being divided against itself.
However, for those who believe that Jesus does these miraculous things by the power of God, things will not go on just as they always have. Jesus said, “…if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” It should go without saying that when the kingdom of God comes upon you, things are not going to be the same. The kingdom of God is anywhere that God rules as sovereign. If it is not by the power of Beelzebul that Jesus casts out this demon, then it is obvious that the kingdom of God is present in the person of Jesus. That is to say, Jesus can perform these miracles because he is God.
For the people who realize this, tomorrow will not be the same as today because they have had an encounter with the living God in Christ Jesus. All of their tomorrows are changed by coming to know and follow Jesus Christ.
You and I have had this same encounter with Jesus, and the kingdom of God has come upon us! (Our encounter may not have involved anything as dramatic as witnessing an exorcism, but in was with the same Jesus.) I mentioned earlier that it goes without saying that when the kingdom of God comes upon you, things are not going to be the same. But there are those times when it feels like nothing has changed. There are times when it feels like the kingdom of God is a fleeting memory or a dream. When we are embroiled in the daily grind of making a living and raising our families, things tend to seem old and not so new and different.
When you find yourself there, or if you are there right now, I encourage you to do a “throne check.” With all honesty to yourself ask, “Who is sovereign in my life right now?”
Photo is of a young Abraham Lincoln, as he appeared when he made his “House Divided” speech. The beard came later.