Impressive, But Empty
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
A famous national politician who was baptized in a bathtub as a college student has now renounced his belief in Jesus, saying there are many ways to God.
A renowned musician, feeling he was not welcomed warmly by Christians after his announcing he had become a Christ-follower, has forsaken Christianity.
A far-famed movie star, raised in a conservative Bible-believing home and church, when asked how he, in light of his Christian upbringing, justified immoral roles he played in movies, replied, “When I left home, I left my religion behind.”
These all illustrate what Jesus was trying to depict in the story He told in Matthew 12:43-45. He explained what is happening when people brush up their outward religious act, but finally end up worse than when they started.
Matt. 12:44c (Holman) “. . .swept, and put in order.”
Jesus said the vacated heart was ready for occupancy, but had no tenant. This emptiness is not normal. The human heart was created to be indwelt by God. The God-shaped hole in our heart, when vacant, is subject to negative inhabitants.
An empty house is a sad sight, sullen in a world full of aliveness. Its walls loudly echo footsteps. Stairs creak. It’s an eerie place, always assailable, inviting stray guests. A house or heart with no tenants on purpose soon has tenants-at-will.
A vacant heart cannot meet the deepest needs of human personality. Inner emptiness makes a vacuum which inevitably draws in forces beyond us to rule us.
“Swept, and put in order” looks impressive, but cannot compensate for “vacant.” A polished exterior can at best hide the emptiness we have down deep.
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had whitewashed their outward appearance, but had no inner substance. They had mastered public image, but not inward reality.
They were impressive, but a high road to destruction is as deadly as a low road. It is possible to have beautiful flowers around a corpse. Without inward integrity, the facade will someday crumble. What’s inside will show outside.
Matthew 12:45a “Then off it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and settle down there.”
This story sends a chill up the spine. Garnish and accouterments did not avail spiritually. The demon brought back seven worse demons, to help overcome if resisted, to bring more torment to the victim, to be harder to cast out next time.
The resources of evil powers opposing us are vast. Satan would be thrilled to send into our hearts a whole army of his sadistic minions who obey his orders.
Jesus demands the throne of our hearts. Guard against counterfeit usurpers. Outward morality does not make one a saint. Upstanding and revered are not holy.
Admiration from people is not the same as admiration from God. Good citizenship is not the same as Godliness.
Improving a person’s self-esteem can lead them into self-righteousness. Arrogant egotism is a poor substitute for an inferiority complex.
Civilization is not righteousness. Ability to quote Shakespeare, understand the human genome, and master computers does not make us right spiritually.
We tend to deify objects of our making, yea, we tend to deify ourselves. We no longer worship stars, but many instead worship the telescope. We no longer worship the moon. Many instead worship the technology that got us there.
The chief need of each generation is not information, education, civilization, or reformation, but transformation, regeneration, filling the heart with Jesus.
We all want to improve ourselves in many areas of life. This is proven by the proliferation of self-help books we find in any bookstore. People can and do change for the better without being converted, but beware, this is not spiritually enough. We are big on decoration and improvement, but God looks on the heart.
Matthew 12:45b “As a result, that man’s last condition is worse than the first. That’s how it will be with this evil generation.”
The Pharisees were impressive, but bad, and worsening. As if their air of superiority, religious pride, self-righteousness, and unloving, harsh legalism were not enough, they took Barabbas over Jesus, and gave their Messiah to be crucified.
The religious leaders had claimed Jesus was doing miracles by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus said they were like a person possessed by at least eight demons.
Jesus’ story in verses 43-45 perfectly describes apostasy, renouncing faith, falling away, a person who outwardly does well for a season, who overcomes certain vices for a while, but then receives them and/or others in their place.
Proof of salvation is a lifelong work. Spirituality can be tested or proved not by one year, three years, or ten years, but by all our years. The Godly life is vindicated and proven to be real only if it is continuous and lived to the end.
The tragedy in our text is oft repeated in our day by people who claim they knew Christ, but have fallen away. Renegade Christians prove the most desperate devotees to the Devil (Trapp). No condition could be worse than apostasy.
Peter wrote of it, “For if, having escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in these things and defeated, the last state is worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb: A dog returns to its own vomit, and, a sow, after washing itself, wallows in the mud” (2 PT 2:20-22).
Of course, the obvious, oft-asked question is, were these people ever saved? The preacher and athlete I described in the last sermon; the politician, musician, and movie star I mentioned in this lesson–did they ever truly know the Lord?
Good Christians disagree on this. I don’t think they were ever saved. How do we explain their good days? Satan can make a Pharisee as easily as a murderer.
My friend Bob Cirtin transferred from a church that did not believe in eternal security to our church, which does. In coming to terms with this doctrine, he wisely concluded, whatever we believe, we should live such holy, Godly lives all the way till death that the issue of losing salvation is never a concern to us.