The Parables of Jesus
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

The Parable of the Perils of an Empty Heart

Turn in your Bible to Luke 11:24-26.  This is one of the short parables of Christ.  Jesus said,

When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.”  When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.  And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.

I would like to start by giving you a little bit of introduction regarding the parables of Christ.  Over one third of the recorded teachings of Christ consist of parables.  Why did Christ teach in parables?  Well, parables in the days of Christ were equivalent to what we would call today visual aids.  It has been discovered that visual aids — what the eye sees — leaves a much deeper impression than what one simply hears.  Parables are simply word pictures.  Jesus took incidences in life, He took things from nature, He took things that people were familiar with and He gave them some wonderful spiritual truths.

In other words, Jesus taught in parables to communicate to His hearers the message of salvation in a clear and simple manner.  Through these parables the people could understand Christ, His mission, and His kingdom which He had come to establish.

Now it is very interesting that to those who accepted Christ as the Messiah, the parable became a means of clarifying His message and His truth.  To those who rejected Christ, the very same parables obscured the truth from them.  It is the same today.  The parables were given by Christ to help us understand His redemptive activity, His mission, His kingdom, and what our response should be.

I have chosen for our very first study this short parable because when we realize what Christ is trying to say, we realize that it is a parable that is very fitting for us as we begin this study.  It is also fitting for us in terms of our Christian experience.

Six months before Christ began His ministry, God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ.  We know from the Biblical record that John the Baptist had tremendous success.  People from the cities and from the country flocked to hear him.  There was a revival among the Jews and they were baptized, the baptism of repentance.  But, sad to say, six months later when Christ, to whom John pointed, came on the scene, many of the hearts of these people had gone cold.  They had lost that experience so that not only did they reject Christ but some of them became His bitterest enemies.  Jesus told this parable in which He touched the core of the problem.

One of the things that faces the Christian church is this very thing.  How can we maintain the blessings we receive?  Look at Pentecost.  It was a wonderful blessing that the early church received but it was short-lived.  Or look at the Reformation when there was a tremendous revival in Europe but within a few years the theologians went liberal and the power of the gospel was almost made null and void.  Look at the great revival in England in the 19th century under John Wesley.  When he died it all fizzled away.

I was at Andrews University in 1970 and the campuses of the colleges in the United States at that time were facing a tremendous revival.  There was a revival among our young people.  Some of you may remember that.  I came back from mission service in 1975 on furlough and it was all gone.  I am sure that you all have had the same experience.  You have received blessings, maybe at camp meetings or at other times, but the problem is, how do we maintain that blessing?  I hope that our study of this parable will help us.

First of all, let’s look at the context.  It is important to realize what Jesus had to say to the people to whom He spoke.  If you look at Luke 11:14, you will discover that Jesus was casting out demons, manifesting His power over the devil.

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute.  When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed.

But some of those who saw that miracle accused Him of casting out the demons through Beelzebub, who was the leader of the devils. Luke 11:15:

But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.”

Then there were others in verse 16 who insisted that He give a sign from heaven so that they could believe:

Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

Then in verse 17 to about 20, Jesus responds to this:

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.  If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?  I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub.  Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out?  So then, they will be your judges.  But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”

“If I am casting out devils by the power of the devil, then the devil is divided and a house that is divided will not be able to stand.”

Now I know He said the devil is crazy but he’s not that stupid.  He said, “It is foolishness what you are saying.  It makes no sense.  If I am casting out devils by the power of the devil, what about your leaders?  Whose power are they using?”

Then in verse 21 and 22, He tells us something very significant.  He says in verse 21:

When a strong man, fully armed [that is referring to Satan, Satan is the strong man, fully armed], guards his own house, his possessions are safe.

When Satan succeeded in knocking down Adam and Eve, he took the whole world in his control.  Since the fall, Satan has had man under his domination and no human being has been able to overcome the devil.

But (there is a “but” in verse 22) when one stronger than he comes, and that is Christ, when Christ came He came to defeat the enemy of souls.  When Christ came, it says,

But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.

In other words, when Christ came, He came to set us captives free.  And that’s what He did.

But Luke 11:23 says that, unfortunately, there were some who did not accept that liberation and so Jesus makes this statement to those who had turned their backs to the Messiah, to those who had become cold:

He who is not with me is against me....

You are either for Christ or you are against Christ.

He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.

When Jesus died on the cross there were two thieves who were nailed with Him.  Those two thieves both were sinners.  Those two thieves represented the world but the difference is that one thief accepted Christ; the other rejected Him.  Jesus is saying that, “If you reject Me, you are against Me.”  You are either for Him or you are against Him.  You are either crucified with Christ or you shout, “Crucify Him.”  It is in this context Jesus gave this parable.

Now what is the parable saying?  First of all, Jesus says,

When an evil spirit comes out of a man....

The term “evil spirit” (or “unclean spirit” in some translations) is a Jewish expression which is synonymous with what we would call the devil.  That is the term they often used for the devil.  When does the devil leave you?  When one stronger than he comes and dwells in you.  When you accept Christ and Christ comes through His Holy Spirit and dwells in you, the devil has to leave because Jesus is stronger and His Spirit is stronger than the devil.

What happened to the devil?  He goes and looks for rest somewhere else.  The words “arid places” is another expression which the Jews used to refer to the desert and the desert has very little to offer.  In 1980, after conducting some worker’s meetings in Egypt, out of kindness they took me on a trip to Mount Sinai.  Those were the days when Israel and Egypt were not friends but they had made some sort of peace.  We drove miles and miles of desert and there was nothing attractive in that desert.  It was dry and my thoughts went back to the Exodus and I said, “The Jews would never have made it if it weren’t for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He gave them heat at night because it was quite cold at night, but it was very hot — unbearably hot — in the daytime, so hot that even when we had the windows rolled down the air was hotter than what it was in the car.  So we had to roll the windows up even though none of those cars had air conditioning.  That’s how hot it was.  Somebody told me it was 122 degrees.  That seems high but it was very hot.

The devil wants to find rest.  When we read that expression “seeking rest,” we must not project our ideas of rest.  When I want to seek rest I lie down on those “lazy boy” chairs that lift up your legs, only America has them, wonderful chairs, you just relax.  That’s my idea of seeking rest.  Some, of course, find rest sitting by a stream with a fishing rod; that’s rest to them until they catch the fish.  But when the devil seeks rest it means something very different.  I want to give you a text to show what it means when the devil is seeking rest.

Turn to 1 Peter 5:8.  There the apostle Peter tells us what it means when the devil goes about seeking rest.  This is a very relevant statement in terms of our parable.

Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

That’s Satan’s idea of seeking rest.  He wants you.  He’s mad because Christ has driven him out of his abode and he cannot find rest, according to this parable.

So what does he say?  He says in Luke 11:24:

...“I will return to the house I left.”

The word “house” is often used to refer to human beings.  We are a house.  God created us as a house but He created us to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, not by the devil.  It is because of the fall we are in this predicament.

...“I will return to the house I left.”

He came out of a man; he wants to return back.  Well, he does come back and guess what he finds?  Verse 25:

When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order.

Now what does the parable mean by that?  You see, when you come to Christ, what do you do?  Well, I read in 1 John 1:9, if you come to Christ you confess your sins, He is faithful to cleanse you, to sweep away all your filth:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

So here is a Christian who has accepted Christ, who has swept away all the filth; you have given up all your bad habits; you have decided to walk a new life and you have garnished your house with new resolutions.

Very often when I visit houses, there are placards, “Christ is the Head of this house,” and so on.  Some of you have placards and this is what you have done with yourself.  You have garnished yourself with promises, with resolutions, and very often we do that at the beginning of the year.  We make resolutions.  We say, “Last year I was a failure but this year I’m determined to spend more time studying the Bible, more time in prayer, more time in witnessing.”  And the devil comes and sees your clean house and he sees your wonderful placards and your promises and what does he do?  He says, “I need help.  This fellow is a little bit stronger than he was when I left him.”

The text says, verse 26,

Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.

Apparently they have degrees of wickedness among the fallen angels.  But the word “seven” signifies that he comes back with full, complete force because the word “seven” means completeness.  The question is, “Does he enter in?” and the parable says, “Yes.”  They not only enter but they dwell there.

And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.

Where is the problem?  Why is it that the devil was able to enter in?  I thought, in verse 21, that the Spirit and Christ are stronger than the devil.  How is it that the devil could enter in?  Where was the problem?  Well, the answer is not found in Luke; it is found in Matthew.  So I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  I’m going to read the parable in Luke once again.  The same parable is repeated in Matthew, except in Matthew there is one more word that Matthew uses that Luke has somehow omitted.  In that one word we have the answer to the problem.

Turn to Matthew 12:43 and I want you to keep your finger there.  It’s a short parable so I can read Luke 11:24-26 again.  I want you to listen very carefully.  The only difference is one word.

When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.”  When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.  And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.

Now listen to Matthew 12:43-45:

When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.”  When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.  And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.

One word that Matthew adds that is not found in Luke, the word “unoccupied” or “empty.”  The word “empty” makes the world of difference.  It is swept; it is clean; it is full of promises and resolutions but it is empty.  And when the devil finds that it is empty, it makes it possible for him to go in and dwell there.  And when he dwells there he makes sure that he secures himself much stronger than he did in the past so that your last state is worse than the first.

Why was it empty?  Well, it’s a human problem.  According to the gospel of Jesus Christ, salvation is by faith in Christ from beginning to end.  Jesus said in John 15:5,

I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

“Without me, you can do nothing.”

But, you see, we human beings are born egocentric.  We are born naturally to depend on ourselves and the moment we relax, we forget that we have a Holy Spirit who has been sent to be our Comforter, our strength, our Guide, and we become self-dependent.  The moment you become self-dependent, the moment you try to fulfill what is the work of God, you are in trouble.

Let me give you a couple of examples.  Turn to Galatians 3.  Now the churches of Galatia had received the gospel; they had accepted Christ through the preaching of Christ our righteousness by Paul himself.  But somehow these Galatian Christians were convinced that the gospel is not “not I, but Christ,” but “Christ plus me.”  Somehow they turned from the pure gospel to self.

So in Galatians 3 Paul uses some very strong words.  The King James version kindly uses the word “foolish.”  The Greek word is much stronger than that.  It is closer to the word “stupid.”  Paul was angry because these Galatian Christians were deceived and he said in Galatians 3:1-2:

You foolish [or stupid] Galatians!  Who has bewitched [or cast a spell on] you?  Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.  I would like to learn just one thing from you:  Did you receive the Spirit [experience the new birth] by observing the law [by being good], or by believing what you heard?

How did you receive the Spirit?  By faith.  How do you maintain the Spirit?  By faith.

You and I are no match for the devil.  You and I are no match for the flesh, but the Spirit is.  And Paul is asking the Galatian Christians, “How did you receive the Spirit?”  And the answer is obvious.  Galatians 3:3:

Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

“Are you trying now to improve your standing before God by your own performance?  How can you be so stupid?” he says.  “Who has cast a spell on you?”  But I tell you, it was the devil who cast a spell on them.  Why am I saying that?  Because when he says, “Who has bewitched you,” Paul is using the singular term.  The people who deceived them were the Judaizers.  They were more than one.  But behind the Judaizers was one person, the devil.  He first deceived them that you can live without Christ; you can be good through the willpower, by making resolutions and promises and they fell for it.  Then the devil came in and the last state of them was worse than the first.

Let us be very clear.  In Romans 7, Paul points to a very important problem that we face and the problem is what he calls the “law of sin at work in my members” (Romans 7:23).  Notice he calls it a law and by that he means it is a principle or a force as we use the term “law of gravity.”

The law of gravity is a constant unending force and in every sinful, fallen human being there is this law of sin and death which is pulling us down.  Paul says, “Even if I choose not to obey the law of sin I find that I cannot keep my choice; fulfill my choice.  I try and I fail.”  At the end of this battle he cries out in desperation [Romans 8:24],

What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?

“Who will deliver me from this body controlled by the law of sin which is taking me to death?” And he says [Romans 8:25],

Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!

“I am no match for him; he is the strong man and I am the captive but I thank God through Jesus Christ.”

Incidentally, the word “wretched” appears only twice in the whole of the New Testament, at least in the original.  This is the first time.  The second time it is found in Revelation 3 to the Laodicean church where Jesus, the True Witness, says [Revelation 3:7],

But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

That is why God wants to give us eye-salve that we may realize what Paul discovered and what he declared in Romans 7:18,

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

But Paul doesn’t end by simply saying,

Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!

In Romans 8:1-2, he tells us where the power comes from, where the source of our victory is.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

Here are two forces:  the law of the Spirit and the law of sin.  Both are constant.  My willpower is not a law; it is a force but it is never constant.  It is strong sometimes, weak other times, but the law of the Spirit is a constant force and the law of sin is a constant force and these two met in Jesus Christ.  These two forces met in Jesus Christ and guess who won?  The law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus and that Spirit is now made available to us.

Paul says in Romans 8:9-10 that if the Spirit is not dwelling in you, you do not belong to Him:

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

But he also goes on in Romans 8 that this Spirit is able to suppress — to keep down — your mortal body and produce righteousness in you.

There are some here who believe that I do not teach sanctification.  I have the same desire as any of you who wants to see Christ’s character reproduced in the church.  Where we may disagree is the method.  I believe that both justification and sanctification are by faith alone.  I cannot contribute one iota before justification nor after justification towards righteousness.  All I can produce is self-righteousness, which outwardly may look beautiful but inwardly it is polluted with self.

But when the Spirit dwells in me, the devil cannot touch me.  I read in 1 John 4:4 that greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world:

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

But the question is that the Holy Spirit does not work in us automatically.  I read in Galatians 5:16:

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

But, as I mentioned, the Holy Spirit does not work in us automatically.  I wish He did.  All I have to do is press a button like I do the dishwasher.  No problem washing dishes in America except in our church kitchen because we are not supposed to wash them by hand because of some crazy rule that we have to buy some expensive equipment because it is a public place.  I see no difference why I can wash my dishes in my house and invite guests and I can’t use a normal dishwasher in the church.  Anyway, I will never understand all the rules of this country but here it is.  But this one thing I do know, that the Holy Spirit does not live in me automatically.  I have to keep constantly having a walk with Him.  As Paul says, I need to pray without ceasing; I need to keep Him constantly in contact because the Holy Spirit will do nothing against your will.  He is not a dictator.

So I read in Ephesians 4:30,

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Don’t drive the Holy Spirit out.  I read in 1 Thessalonians 5:19:

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire....

I can drink a glass of water and I say, “That’s enough.  I’ve had enough.”  There will never come a time when you will say to the Holy Spirit, “I don’t need You any more.”

There was a time when there were some dear brethren in this church who produced an off-shoot movement called “The Awakening” who taught that when probation is closed we will have to live without a Mediator, perverting the statement of Ellen G. White.  Yes, we will have to live without a Mediator because we don’t need an advocate after the verdict of a Judgment.  You needed it before the verdict but the statement does not say that we will live without a Saviour.  The statement does not teach that we will live without the Holy Spirit.  In fact, we will be sealed by the Holy Spirit.  He will be there to take us through the time of trouble.

The devil wants you.  The moment you allow Christ to come and dwell in you and the devil is driven out of you, that is not the end of the problem.  May I take you back to Luke 4 where we have recorded for us the three temptations that Jesus experienced after His baptism.  You are familiar with the temptations [Luke 4:1-12] but I want you to notice two things that followed the temptations.  Luke 4:13:

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

By the way, did the devil succeed?  No.  He tried to enter into Christ but he failed.  Did he say, “It is no use trying.”  No. He departed from him “until an opportune time.”

So when you have a tremendous experience and, through the grace of God, you are able to drive the devil out of you, I can guarantee he says, “I’ll wait till he goes home and goes back to his normal schedule.  I’ll wait till he is exhausted and tired and in a weak moment, then I’ll come in.”  And, unfortunately, too often he succeeds.  He left Jesus for a season.  Did he come back?  Yes.  How often?  Well, Hebrews 4:15 says he was tempted in all points like us:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.

Is there any time when the devil doesn’t tempt you?  No.  He’s always trying to come back.

So I want to go to the next verse.  Luke 4:14:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.

And I pray that you, when you end this study, will leave in the power of the Spirit.  Don’t leave Him behind.  We need Him 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Well, the parable is over but I want to close with looking at what happened after Jesus gave the parable.  Back to Luke 11:27:

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

The New King James Version says, “What a lucky woman”  I don’t think she felt lucky at the cross.  Jesus responds in Luke 11:28:

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

May God bless you.

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