6:09 AM

Preaching to the Household (Matt. 10:24-25)

I’m revisiting the Beelzebul passage just because I find it fascinating. In structuring a sermon, I’ve found it useful to throw out something controversial or confusing at the very beginning to grab the congregation’s attention, and then the rest of the sermon can be devoted to explaining that or placing it in a new light. The Beelzebul passage gives a perfect platform for that method, since the mention of this character (preferably in a scary voice) will certainly cause some head-scratching. From here, a pastor could easily lead a congregation off into some rant about the devil (as a friend of mine who preached on this passage did), but I find it more useful to draw parallels back to the previous mention of Beelzebul in Matthew 9:34 (where the charge is leveled at Jesus) so that the passage almost becomes more about Jesus’ skill as a rhetorician. Now, even though the whole “Baal of the Flies” etymology behind Beelzebul is incredibly interesting to seminary students, it’s a fairly useless tangent in a sermon and could probably be summed up in just a sentence or two (a quick reference to the Canaanite deity or something).

The real focus of the passage needs to be on the concept of Christ as the head of the household (the household here being the church). Jesus is giving his disciples a warning that, because he himself has been maligned by political and theological opponents (again, see 9:34 for the charge about casting out demons with the power of demons), the disciples will face the same criticism as they travel out into the world to minister. Ultimately, the figure of Beelzebul is completely irrelevant, and the focus is really on how Christians should interact with the world: though they go out as members of the household of Christ, they will face criticism and will have to persevere in those situations. People will always misunderstand and misrepresent Christianity (even in countries where it is supposedly the dominant religion), and it is the job of Christians to stand up to those criticisms in a Christ-like manner, keeping always in mind the will and instructions of the true head of the household.

--Tom

Comment (1)

Don't give up on the relevance of Beelezbul too quick! You're certainly right that a bunch of "background" on Beelzebul will probably be the death of a sermon. But you need enough to say why Jesus and his disciples would be accused of just this, of being in league with Beelzebul. We can't reduce the persecution Jesus faces or that anticipated for the apostles to just "criticism." It's more specific than that.

So what does it mean to be accused of mediating the power of Beelzebul? Aren't Jesus and the apostles being accused of attacking the heart of Israel? Isn't the way of Jesus toward disintegration and dissolution? The Canaanite connection is interesting because Israel was threatened with dissolution into Canaanite "culture." Could the gospel life today draw persecution because it threatens the dissolution of the communities to whom it comes? How does the gospel undermine existing security and integrity? If we throw out Beelzebul, I fear we tame the persecution the gospel attracts and with it the gospel itself.

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