I love logic problems. I love looking at things as a puzzle and figuring out how to make them fit together and work as one. This is probably why I love the weird stories in the bible, the ones that you read on your "year in the bible" plan and say, "What exactly did I just read?" Because figuring them out feels like a puzzle to me.
I was reading one of those passages today as we prepare to jump into a sermon series on Jesus' parables that will take us through the summer. It's found in Matthew 12, and it's a story about a demon leaving a house and then bringing a bunch of his friends back with him. No, I'm not kidding. Here, let's read it.
Matt. 12:43-45“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Weird stuff. And not the easiest in the world to figure out what it means. But this is why the context of anything you read in the bible is so important. This passage came right after Jesus had been telling the Pharisees about the judgment that was about to come upon their generation. Now the Pharisees were the elites of Israelite culture. They were the ones who "had it all together" and thought that they were good to go because of it. And I think it's to that attitude that Jesus is speaking here.
Because when we look at the story, what is missing? The demon leaves! Victory! But then it tries to come back, and the house looks good, there's no demon anymore, it's been put back in tip top condition. But there's no one there. No one is living inside. And so all the work that the owner did to put it back in order goes to waste, and it turns out that it ends up even worse than it was beforehand.
I think Jesus is warning the Pharisees. See, they're the owner of the house. They think they've put it all back together, that they're fine because everything looks okay. This is how they see Israel at the time, they've gotten through their trials and fixed it, everything is fine! But no one is living inside. And so they are just in the middle, waiting for evil to come back and make it worse than it was before.
And as we see throughout the rest of the bible, we can often think this way too. We try to fix our problems by making everything LOOK okay. We put on our masks on Sunday and say it's alright. Maybe we even convince ourselves that we have changed who we are or the sins we struggle with by shear will power! But we haven't dealt with the real heart of the issue, is anybody home?
The Puritans talked about this idea when they spoke of, "the expulsive power of a new affection." The idea being that you can't get rid of something bad, you can't truly eliminate it, unless something takes its place. In Jesus' story, the demon WAS gone, it was beaten. But it wasn't truly gone because nothing took its place. There was no new resident in that house. And likewise, when we try to fix our problems by will power alone, there's no new resident in our hearts.
The answer is to invite someone new in. We need a new affection, a new resident in the place of honor in our lives. True change isn't going to come from kicking the demon out by force, it's going to come through getting a new resident. This week, let's be praying for the love of Jesus to take the place of the love of whatever sin is hiding in our hearts. Let's be seeking real change, a new resident in our hearts.