Approximately one-third of Our Lord’s teaching, as recorded by the Gospels, was in the form of parables, and the reason is seen in His response to His disciples: “The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them”. <Matt.13:10-11 (NIV)>
In this reply we see that our Lord intended to reveal truth to some of His audience, while at the same time, hiding this truth from others. He wanted to instruct the Jews by the truth concerning Himself without adding responsibility of that truth to the Gentiles. John the Baptist appeared on the scene to introduce the Messiah, calling on the people to repent and prepare themselves for Messiah’s coming. Christ then publicly “offered Himself” as the Messiah <Matt.4:17>, and authenticated His offer by the miracles that He performed, recorded in Matt.8-11, during which time He told only a few parables. A notable change in our Lord’s ministry begins in Matthew 12, where, because of His miraculous healing of the man with the “shrivelled hand”, and the healing of the demon-possessed man, introducing the phase in His ministry where the people were ready to accept Christ as the Messiah; “All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” <Matt.12:23 (NIV)>.
The religious leaders, however, had no intention of accepting Christ as Messiah, the Pharisees “plotted how they might kill Jesus” <Matt.12:14 (NIV)>. Further to this they accused Christ of being Beelzebub (Satan) when He healed the demon-possessed, blind and mute man, leading to the request for a sign of authenticity, for which Christ ignored their request. His purpose was to show that a spiritual relationship of faith was needed, and not a physical or “blood” relationship <Matt.12:49-50>, and all this led to a change in His teaching, with more emphasis on parables, and to the ultimate rejection of Christ resulting in His death upon the cross.
The Parable of the “Empty House” is recorded in Matthew 12: 38 – 45 where “some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” <Matt.12:38 (NIV)> “SIGN”: the word is most frequently used in the Scriptures to denote a token of coming events or a miracle to confirm faith. It is often an object or event that reveals God’s purpose; such as the rainbow <Gen.9>. God requested that His people perform certain practices as “signs” of their covenant with Him; such as circumcision <Gen.17>; the keeping of the Sabbath <Ex.31>; blood on the door posts <Ex.12>.
God asked of Moses: “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” <Num.14:11 (NIV)>. Even though king Ahaz of Judah was told to “ask the Lord for a sign” that God would deliver His people from their fierce enemy, Ahaz refused to ask but God gave the sign, which Ahaz did not live to see; <see Isa.7:14 (NIV)>.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” <Heb.1:1-2 (NIV)>. Our Lord Jesus performed numerous signs that revealed His identity as the Messiah, but most of the people refused to recognize Him as the Messiah. On one occasion He had to comment: “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders……you will never believe.” <Jn.4:48 (NIV)>. Signs were a familiar way of God confirming the authenticity of a message or messenger to Israel <Deut.18:14-22>, and began at the very outset of their history. God sent Moses to deliver them from their Egyptian slavery and confirmed this by signs <Ex.4:1 – 9:30>. God changed his Rod into a snake and then back to a staff. God made his hand leprous, and made it whole again. God turned the water of the river Nile into blood as Moses poured it upon the ground. “This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers– the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob– has appeared to you, and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed.” <Ex.4:5, 30-31 (NIV)>
Now, approaching the time when God is about to “put the nation aside” because of their unbelief, they still ask for signs and still doubt God’s message and messenger. So here we see our Lord says that no further sign will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. Christ had proved His authority over nature; His authority over sickness and disease; His authority over Satan by casting out demons; His authority over death; and His authority to forgive sins. Therefore, no other evidence was necessary.
THE PARABLE <Matt.12:38-45>
Our Lord speaks of a demon-possessed man from whom the evil spirit that possessed him had departed. While possessed of the demon, the man is considered unclean and unfit to live in the community, and when the demon decides to leave the man he can then return to the community and enjoy fellowship with family and friends. The demon suspecting that the man may have already been possessed by other demons, must now find another place of abode, but is unable to find such, or any other company to live with. Upon returning to his old house, the demon finds it cleaned, put in order, and unoccupied; and then goes and finds seven other demons “more wicked than itself”, and returns to take up residence; and the man’s condition is now worse than at first. Our Lord implies that such was the condition of that generation of the Jewish nation.
THE APPLICATION (THEN)
John the Baptist had called the nation to repentance, and confessing their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River <Mark 1:4-5>. This profession of cleansing was represented by the departure of the demon in the parable, but their profession of cleansing however, was only temporary since they came under the influence of the unbelief of their leaders. Because the nation did not turn in faith to Christ as Messiah, their profession of cleansing was not “made permanent” so the people were not delivered from their uncleanness (a profession of the mind and not the heart). Now the condition of the nation that had desired to experience cleansing was in a worse state than before their profession of cleansing, for they were now permanently separated from God.
THE APPLICATION (TODAY)
Do not seek or expect any other sign but that of Christ Himself: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” <Heb.1:1-2 (NIV)>. The preaching of the gospel calls sinners to repentance; and by believing in Christ and confession of sins, believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (spiritual baptism); <see Eph.1:13 (NIV)>. God delivers the sinner from Satan – the spiritual enemy – the “possessing demon”, and every effort must now be made to combine belief with a daily exercise of faith, <Heb.4:2> so as to enter and enjoy the “rest of God” <Heb.4:2, 11>. Combining belief with faith is accomplished by a continual “cleansing of the house” through the Word of God <Heb.4:12-13> since unbelief never goes undetected by God and nothing is hidden from the eyes and knowledge of God.
What is the condition of your house? Is it swept clean and empty? Or do you allow Christ to occupy it day by day by joyfully doing the will of our Lord? <John 14:23-24>. In the same way as the contents of a house is added to, and the many maintenance jobs are performed; there is the need to “add to our faith” <2 Pet.1:5-9>.
What is your relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ?
- Have you repented of your sins and sought the forgiveness of God?
- Is Jesus Christ Lord of your life?
- Is Jesus Christ living in your house?
- Or is your house just clean and empty?
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” <Heb.3:12-13 (NIV)>
Unbelief is being indisposed to believe; being skeptical. This is the attitude of doubting God and His word. We have thoughts such as: can God really do so? Is God really all that the Bible says that He is? Do I really have to be obedient to His commands? Being fully aware of what the Bible teaches, we completely ignore the teaching and do as we please. God is willing to give us all the direction we need, even signs if He wishes, if only we are obedient to His commands. Do not be like Ahaz! He was more interested in doing things his way rather than seeking to obey God’s commands.
When we ask for a sign, we pre-determine what our action will be – if the sign is what we expect there is no intention to act accordingly. By not believing that the sign is from God, leads to unbelief, or doubting; and a heart of “unbelief” can result in a “falling away” from the living God, and this is a constant menace! The unbelieving heart can cause us to use the words that Job quoted: “Yet they say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?” <Job 21:14-15 (NIV)>
In Heb. 6: 4-6 two words are used to illustrate what it is to “fall away” from our belief in God: “Enlighten”– to have an intellectual understanding; a characteristic of belief in the power of reasoning; being able to reason intellectually and spiritually: and, “Taste”– to test the flavour; to eat or drink a small amount; to perceive or experience only to a slight degree. (from Webster’s Dictionary). We should be like Jeremiah the prophet in his appreciation of God’s Word: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” <Jer.15:16 (NIV)>
Our Lord concludes the parable by the words recorded in Matt. 12: 46-50, and considering what they imply: are you “standing outside” wanting to speak and relate to Him? Are you true and sincere “mothers sisters and brothers” seeking to do His will? Our “houses” should be characterized by, praise and adoration for our Lord and Saviour, by a sincere attitude to do His will! A willful “turning away” from God is the final state from which it is “impossible to be brought back to repentance”.