Some people brought Jesus a man who was afflicted (Matthew 12:22-29). He was blind and deaf--could not see and could not hear. That would be a horrible life to experience. But the man was afflicted because he was demon possessed. It was widely known that Jesus could cast out demons. Jesus had healed many people who were sick or afflicted because they were possessed by demons.

The people brought the man to Jesus in hope, and Jesus did not disappoint them. He healed the man; the man spoke and saw.

The huge mass of people who were observing and listening to Jesus were astounded. The man was led to Jesus unable to see or speak. Jesus healed him, and he immediately spoke and saw. They began to ask the question that the Pharisees absolutely did not want asked. "Can Jesus be the descendant of David that God promised us?" That question meant, "Can this be the Messiah that God has promised us? Can Jesus be the Christ that we were told was coming?"

The Pharisees were determined to stop that kind of thinking immediately. The last thing they wanted were the multitudes deciding that Jesus was the Christ. So, as soon as they heard people asking that question, they were ready--they had a quick, mean answer. "Sure, he cast out demons. And we know how he does it. He gets his power from the ruler of the demons. The fact that he can cast out demons is not a sign from God. It is the proof that he gets his power from Satan."

  1. Jesus responded to their suggestion with a series of observations.
    1. Observation one: any nation engaged in civil war will destroy itself; any city engaged in civil war will collapse.
      1. The statement more familiar to Bible students is this: a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.
      2. If the true explanation for Jesus' ability to cast out demons was that he used Satan's power to stop Satan's work, then Satan would defeat and destroy himself.
      3. If Satan was fighting against himself, then Satan was rapidly approaching his self-defeat.
    2. Observation two: "If I cast out demons by using Satan's power, what power do your sons use to cast out demons?"
      1. Jesus was not the only one who confronted demons.
      2. Many attempted to cast out demons.
      3. Some of their own sons also were involved in attempts to cast out demons.
      4. It is possible that they were successful on some occasions --at least they claimed success on some occasions.
      5. Jesus asked, "When they are successful, what power do they use?"
      6. Of course, they declared that God's power enabled them to cast out demons.
      7. Jesus' question is evident: "If you are convinced that your sons can use God's power to cast out demons, why do you assume that I use Satan's to cast out demons?"
    3. Observation three: "If I am using God's power to cast out demons, what does that mean?"
      1. No one cast out demons as did Jesus.
      2. No one was as successful at casting out demons as was Jesus.
      3. So Jesus asked, "If I use God's Spirit to cast out the demons, then that is undeniable evidence that God's promised kingdom is here right now. God is at work right now bringing into existence what He promised would come."
    4. Observation four: you cannot rob a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless you first tie the strong man up.
      1. That was literally true.
      2. If you were going to steal the possessions of a man who was able to defend his house, you first had to tie the man up.
      3. If Jesus was, as it were, throwing Satan's demons out of Satan's house, he had to be stronger than Satan--he had to have the power to tie Satan up.
      4. If he used God's power, not Satan's power, when he ordered demons to leave the body of a person, the power he used was more powerful than Satan's power.
    5. Jesus' made a specific point that I want you to note carefully: as powerful as Satan is, as powerful as evil is, and as easy as it is for Satan to function in this world, not even Satan can fight himself without destroying himself.
      1. If Satan fights against Satan, he loses.
      2. If Satan fights against Satan, he destroys himself.
      3. If that is true for Satan, is it not true for Christ?
      4. If Christ fights against Christ will not Christ destroy himself?
        1. You say, "That is ridiculous--Christ would never fight against himself!"
        2. True--Christ will not fight against himself; but if Christ followers fight against each other, will that not produce the same destruction?
        3. Can Christians fight against Christians without destroying themselves?

  2. This congregation has two incredible opportunities immediately before it, and these two opportunities have nothing to do with land or church buildings.
    1. First, as a congregation, we have an enormous opportunity to heal.
      1. I have not inquired into the details of the history of this congregation.
      2. I have not asked what happened in the past, and I do not want to know about the past.
      3. But it has been obvious that some distressful things occurred in the process of this congregation relocating in this building.
        1. In the process of relocation, some members were wounded.
        2. Some suffered deep, painful hurts.
        3. Some felt betrayed.
      4. Some of those wounds have never fully healed; some of those wounds can be easily reopened.
      5. The wounds, the pain, and the memories sometimes affect the cohesiveness of this congregation.
      6. There is a lot of love in this congregation; there are many generous, caring hearts in this congregation; and there is incredible talent and opportunity in this congregation.
      7. But there are also some painful memories in this congregation.
      8. Right now we have a golden opportunity to heal.
      9. Whatever decision we make as a congregation about land and buildings, if we make it together, if we make it with good hearts and godly attitudes, if we make it with respect for each other even when we disagree, we will produce healing and cohesiveness.
      10. With good attitudes and right hearts, we can heal the wounds, we can let bad memories fade out of existence, and we can live and work in the present as never before.
    2. Second, we have an incredible opportunity to send a powerful, positive message to this community and area.
      1. Church fights in all religious groups are common.
        1. Congregations of all religious groups disagree much of the time over many, many things.
        2. Members get mad at members all the time.
        3. Fights break out in churches all the time.
      2. Typically, in most communities in most states, the Church of Christ has serious image problems.
        1. Churches of Christ have a reputation for fighting.
        2. As a religious body, Churches of Christ have the reputation of being hostile and disagreeable.
        3. And Churches of Christ have the reputation for fighting among ourselves.
        4. As individuals, we have the reputation of being really nice folks--we make good friends, and we make good neighbors.
        5. But collectively, as congregations, we can be hard to get along with.
      3. If we, as a congregation, can make a sensitive, difficult decision about land and buildings without fighting, with love for the Lord, with love for each other, with respect and kindness as thoughtful people, we will send a powerful, positive message to this entire community.

  3. As we approach this decision, there are some considerations that I want you to think and pray about.
    1. The first thing I want you to think about is this: any decision about land and buildings is not a doctrinal decision.
      1. There is no theology involved in the specific decision about land and buildings.
      2. There is no specific evil or righteousness involved in a decision about land and buildings.
      3. If we must make a decision, it is not a decision about a right and wrong.
      4. The decision is about good and better.
      5. The decision involves wisdom and stewardship.
      6. That decision truly should be concerned basically with one question: what will allow us to accomplish God's work and purposes in the best way possible?
        1. Are God's purposes best accomplished at this location?
        2. Are God's purposes better accomplished at another location?
      7. The decision really should not be about personally preferences; it should be about what is best for the entire congregation.
    2. Second, this decision is a matter of judgment for every one of us.
      1. We will have different priorities.
      2. We will see and be sensitive to different needs.
      3. We will see and be sensitive to different opportunities.
      4. We all will have reasons for our perspectives, and our reasons will not be the same reasons.
      5. It is not a matter of establishing absolute truth--there is no absolute truth when it comes to land and buildings.
      6. This is not a salvation matter--it is not a heaven and hell issue.
      7. It is a matter that involves brotherly love and respect.
    3. Third, I want you to remember that church buildings are tools.
      1. They are tools to be used to accomplish God's work and God's purposes.
      2. Church buildings are not holy places, and church buildings should not be monuments.
      3. They do not represent our greatest gift to God or our most important gift to God.
      4. The most important gift any one of us gives to God is our hearts, our minds, and our lives.

  4. I want to make an important, special request of each member: please, please do not abuse our elders.
    1. Almost every week someone in this congregation asks me, "Do you really like Fort Smith?"
      1. When I am asked that question, I am really being asked two questions.
      2. Question one: "Are you happy to be here?"
      3. Question two: "Are you glad that you decided to move here?"
      4. May I answer both genuinely.
        1. I am very happy to be here--I am thrilled to be a part of this congregation, and I truly enjoy working with you.
        2. I am very glad that I moved here--I believe that God guided me to the group of people I needed.
        3. In every way, you as a congregation and as individuals have been and are a wonderful blessing to Joyce and me.
    2. But I want you to understand that the number one tangible reason that I decided to accept the invitation to work with this congregation was our elders.
      1. I met them, visited with them, and talked with them a lot before I met you as a congregation.
      2. Mat and Jo Griffin and Paul and Jonette Shirley drove all the way to Oxford, Mississippi, unannounced, to hear me preach, and to ask me to consider coming to Fort Smith.
      3. On our first visit, Joyce and I spent about eight hours talking with the elders and their wives before we considered the invitation to move here.
    3. The first impressive thing that I saw at West-Ark were your elders.
      1. They are open.
      2. They are genuine.
      3. They are determined not to be dictators.
      4. They are determined not to function as a board of directors.
      5. If our elders had not created such a positive impression of the leadership , I doubt that we would have moved here.
        1. I can trust these men.
        2. I can work with these men.
        3. And I know that these men are genuinely concerned about you, your best interests, and about doing God's work.
      6. I know that you will not always agree with them, but, please, when you don't agree with them, respect them.
      7. Even when you disagree with them encourage them.

  5. I have a pledge to make to you.
    1. If there is a decision to be made, it will be your decision.
      1. It is yours, not mine.
      2. I work with you and for you.
      3. I have no idea how long you will want me to work with you and for you--I hope a long time.
      4. This must be the your decision as a congregation, not the preachers' decision or the elders' decision.
    2. This is my pledge: whatever you decide as a congregation, I will work to the best of my ability for the Lord as we together seek to accomplish Christ's purposes.
    3. The question I ask you is this: what is your pledge to the congregation?

Think about this very carefully: If we cannot make a decision about land and buildings with respect for each other, love for Christ, and love for each other, why should anyone look to us to give them guidance in matters of their eternal salvation?

We have an enormous opportunity to heal. We have an enormous opportunity to send a positive message to this community that will improve our image. May God give us the wisdom and love to do that.

In II Peter 3:10-12, Peter says, "It's all going to burn." Then things will come into being that will be eternal. Only the investments we make in our souls is permanent.
Jesus' blood can eternally cleanse us from sin. We can be a part of the eternal Kingdom, not built with bricks and mortar.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 22 June 1997

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