The proverb says, “Where there are no oxen, the trough is clean; But much increase comes by the strength of an ox." I’ve applied this to my house lately, “Where there are no children, the house is clean, but much increase comes from the presence of children.” It’s true, the more activity going on, the more messes you’re going to have. It’s just the way it is, things don’t get done without making messes. Ask the cook, ask the builder, take a look at my desk, it’s a mess.
So when Jesus talks about the human soul susceptible to the attack of the devil, when He points to the kind of life that is about to get taken over by a whole host of demons, he compares it to a house that is pristine, swept clean, everything ordered and decorated, no messes anywhere. It’s a clean house, because there’s nothing going on there. Where there are no oxen the trough is clean. Where there is no Christian activity, no messes caused by living the Christian life, there is an invitation to the devil to enter and live there. But where God’s Word is, there is constant activity and the messes that show it.
I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me here. The Christian life is the pure life, the clean life, because it is the life lived knowing that God has swept every sin away, washed you clean with the blood of your Lord Jesus, so that God cannot find a single fault in you, sees you as His own child, pure as the Son Himself is pure, because it is His righteousness that belongs to you, that covers you. And so you are swept clean, washed thoroughly from every defect in God’s eyes, and then decorated with the most beautiful good works pleasing to your Father in heaven.
That is real purity. But there is the fake kind of purity, the clean house that is clean only because its owner refuses ever to do anything to make it dirty, or simply sweeps all the dirt under the rug and imagines it’s not there. And this is what Jesus warns against when He talks about the clean house that the devil brings seven other devils with him to live in.
There is no Christian activity in this house so there are no Christian messes. Now what are Christian messes? What am I talking about?
First, the mess of acknowledging your own sin and not brushing it under the rug. Coming to grips with the fact that the Son of God, God Himself, took on human flesh and suffered the eternal pangs of hell, and died, because your sin is that bad, does dirty you, and you deserved what He took for you. That’s messy and it’s dirty, it’s why we have a crucifix on that wall and we are not ashamed, because what God did on the cross, I need that, you need that, and we don’t get to relegate it to the past. We need Him now, which is why He will come to us at that altar and feed us with the body and blood that takes our sin away, because of the mess I have made this week, the mess I’m not going to push under the rug but confess so that I can receive from my Lord unconditional forgiveness and a purity that I could never accomplish by any of my own cleaning up of my own life.
Second, is the mess of dealing with our sins. Not only confessing them to God, and not only receiving forgiveness from Him, but fighting against the sins in our lives. You can stop gossiping. You can stop clicking on the link and seeing what you have no business seeing, what will torture your Christian soul. You can stop your hand from doing what is evil. You can submit in words and actions to your husband, you can love and be gentle with and instruct your wife. If you’re lazy, you can work harder. If you have a temper, you can control it. You can put time aside to pray, time aside to read the Bible. There are all sorts of messes that you can actually acknowledge and then begin to clean up. There will always be more messes and Jesus’ blood will always wash them from your conscience, but you have received not the spirit of this world but the Spirit of Christ, and this is the Spirit that spoke by St. Paul and said, “Be imitators of God,” as His children, and this is our desire, joined to Christ, to pursue the good works He gives us to do and to put to death the desires of the flesh. And that’s a lot of activity with a lot of messes.
Third, is the mess of dealing with the world, with others. It’s very easy simply to ignore the fact that your family member or loved one is living in sin, refusing to go to church, say, or living with her boyfriend, or promoting the LGBTQ lifestyle, or refusing to reconcile with you, very easy to ignore it and act as if it isn’t happening, that the house is clean, that’s everything’s just fine. But the Christian mess happens when you actually address it, because you have Christian love and not the sappy love of this world. “But if I address it, I may lose them, they won’t talk to me, they’ll get angry with me.” What do you want? Do we honestly think we will ever bring anyone else to church, to Christ, to the joy of knowing their Creator, their Savior, to the beautiful release from the devil and slavery to sin, when we won’t even address this slavery with those we know and love? Love wants people in heaven, love wants people on earth to know the God who loves them so much He died for them, and so love does the messy thing and addresses sin, so that people can know the same Savior we know and find in Him real peace, real joy, real freedom, and real rest in their God and ours.
Fourth, is the mess of talking about God, confessing him. The clean house with its clean rules doesn’t allow politics or religion at the dinner table. It tries to avoid the dinner table altogether, because there something that matters might get discussed and then there might be controversy. But the messy house of the Christian ignores those neat rules. It talks about God, at dinner, at the party, out to eat, it doesn’t matter. Brings Him up all the time, applies His Word to everyday life, and it stops noticing that anything is even awkward about it. If people can incessantly brag about their unimpressive children, certainly we can talk about our amazing God and all He has done for us.
That’s the very busy house of the Christian life with all its messes.
The clean house with everything nicely ordered is “clean” because it just doesn’t care, doesn’t care about its own sins, doesn’t care about confessing them or addressing them, is perfectly content with sweeping it all under the rug so it can pretend everything is fine and life is really only about politics or sports or Netflix or career or nothing at all except making enough money to enjoy it, but just don’t bother me with all this mess of sin and sacrifice and the blood of God.
When the Stronger Man casts out the strong man, when Christ takes hold of a man and frees him from the tyranny of the devil, He divides the spoil with him. This is what generals did after winning a great battle, they divided all the stuff the enemy had, their weapons, their armor, their baggage, their money, all of it. What the devil had was us, our talents, our thoughts, our affections, our desires, our strivings. What the Stronger Man gives us when He conquers the devil and binds him, is this spoil, us, all of us back, our talents, our thoughts, our affection, our desires, our strivings, back to us, so that we can use them the way God created us to use them, for God, for our neighbor, for delighting in God’s creation, for hearing and keeping God’s Word.
The devil wants us back. Wants these spoils. Wants our affection on useless things, our strivings for anything but divine things, anything but Christ and His Kingdom. When the Stronger Man comes and casts him out, the demon finds no place he wants to be in the waterless places. Why? Because the waterless places are places where there are no people. Just as Adam found no helpmate fit for him among all the animals, so the devil goes and looks at every other alternative and finds nowhere he wants to be except you.
And if he finds the house clean, he takes it back and he brings with him seven other devils more evil than himself and the state of that man is worse than the first. This is how it goes with those who don’t hear the Word of God and keep it, who have once tasted the purity of Christ’s righteousness and have thrown it away for useless things that will perish in the using, because everything is useless without God and His Word. God can bring even them back. He has done it. But God forbid that any of us so clean our soul from care for our Lord Jesus that the devil can enter in.
But what happens when the demon comes back and finds the house a mess, because God’s Word is working in it, because there’s Christian activity everywhere, confession of sin, Christ constantly washing it away, us fighting against evil and seeing constantly good works to do and never having enough time to do them. The devil sees that and what? He goes to the waterless places, or plunges himself into the abyss? No. He takes not seven demons but a thousand, and attacks. And that makes things even messier.
But the messy house stands, it’s the house that stands on the rock, and not a thousand demons, not a million, can come into the house in which God’s Word is working, against the Christian who clings to it. This is why Jesus says, Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. The Greek is far more expressive. It is literally, blessed are those who are hearing, who keep hearing the Word of God, who keep on guarding it, treasuring it. It’s constant. It’s what we sang in our Introit, “My eyes are ever, always, toward the Lord,” always expecting His help, always active.
The spoil is ours. Jesus has given it to us. He has given us back the use of our mind, of our emotions, of our will, to serve the living God. He has given us more, Himself, His body and blood, union with our Father, His Spirit. And in the fight we fight against the devil and all his hosts – though devils all the world should fill all eager to devour us, we tremble not we fear no ill, they shall not overpower us. We fight it with utter confidence that the victory is ours, because Christ is ours. Alexander the Great, in the battle of Guagamela against a million-man Persian army, was advancing against the left flank of Darius, making amazing progress, when a messenger came from his general Parmenio, that Alexander needed to come to his aid, because they were in danger of losing their baggage, all their camp, their stuff, to the Persians. Alexander replied that Parmenio must have lost his mind – doesn’t he know that the spoil all goes to the victor, that it doesn’t matter if they take our baggage, our stuff, because we’re going to win, and then whose will the baggage be? That’s the mindset of the Christian against the devil. Total confidence that we’re going to win and the spoils will all be ours. So what if the enemy takes our stuff, take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, if we lose much in the meantime, who gets it all in the end? The meek shall inherit the earth. The spoil goes to the victor. And we stand with Christ, hear His Word, treasure Him, look to Him, receive from Him the only purity we care for, the righteousness His life and death and resurrection. So we live the Christian life not in constant fear of losing what we have, but in the beautiful expectation of receiving everything from God, who did not spare His own Son and who will in Him give us all things. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.