Mark 3:20-27 (Third Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 5—Series B)
“Binding the Strong Man”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
June 10, 2018
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text today is from the Gospel lesson recorded in Mark 3:
20 Then [Jesus] went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
On June 16, 1858, 1000 delegates to the Republican State Convention met in the statehouse in Springfield, IL. At 5 p.m., they nominated Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate to run against Democrat Stephen Douglas. At 8 p.m., Lincoln delivered this speech, known today as the House Divided Speech:
“Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention.
If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved –I do not expect the house to fall –but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new –North as well as South.”
Lincoln was quoting the Lord Jesus who said to the Scribes, “If a house should be divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” The Scribes accused Jesus of being in league with Satan, called here “Beelzebul.” They charged Jesus with being an agent of the devil, fully under the devil’s power and authority. The spiritual force that Jesus is allied with is evil and against God. Even Jesus’ own relatives were buying into the idea that Jesus’ head wasn’t screwed on just right, saying He is “out of his senses.”
But Jesus is quick to counter this charge, demonstrating how “out of their senses” the Scribes were for making such an absurd accusation. If Jesus is indeed demon possessed, would there be any sense whatsoever in casting out demons through collusion with the prince of demons? Of course not! Jesus’ argument is, “If what you say is true there exists the impossible circumstance that Satan is destroying his own realm. If your accusation is factual, then Satan has become divided in his allegiance. He’s turned against himself and started a civil war against himself. This should mean that he has become powerless. Yet this is clearly not so. Satan remains strong, and this fact exposes the delusion of your charge.”
In Mark’s Gospel, demonstrations of Jesus’ power are found in exorcisms far more often than any other type of mighty deed. In the first 3 chapters of Mark alone with have four instances where Jesus casts out the unclean spirits and heals the demon-possessed (Mark 1:23, 34, 39; 3:11). If Jesus were throwing out demons under the authority of Satan, that would be defeating the devil’s purpose in destroying God’s people and kingdom. The very fact that there are demons and unclean spirits which Jesus casts out clearly shows that Satan’s kingdom is not divided nor has his “house,” his realm of influence and power, fallen. Indeed, humanity remained in captivity to sin, Satan, and death.
As Americans, we say that we live in the “land of the free.” And to some extent that is true. We have certain freedoms that we are able to exercise in the world, for example, the freedom to gather and to hear God’s Word without fear of arrest. Before people, we are free to be and to do under the rule of law. Before God, however, it’s a very different story. How does being in bondage sound to you? Slavery? Oppression? Spiritually, as we stand before God by nature, we are in bondage, slaves to sin and death and oppressed by the devil.
By nature, all people are spiritual slaves. We are held in the strong chains of an evil taskmaster. We often talk about a threefold taskmaster who holds us captive: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Satan is an oppressive slave driver, driving us further from our God. The world would draw us deeper into bondage, enticing us with its fleeting and perishable goods. Our sinful flesh constantly tempts us to lust after those things that cannot satisfy and that soon perish. This is the realm of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, Satan himself. We are held tightly in his chains, under his authority and that of his lackeys, sin and death. You and I and all people, by nature, have no freedom before God to better ourselves in His eyes. We don’t have the ability to move God to favor us with His grace. We are held fast in the chains of our sin, bound in our slavery to our evil inclination, held captive by the devil, and therefore, under the curse of God’s Law which is eternal death.
It’s not a pretty picture, is it? But it is what God’s Word tells us. We read in Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3 ESV). Dead in trespasses. Followers of the prince of the power of the air—Satan—the spirit at work in the world. Children deserving God’s wrath and punishment. There’s no freedom here. There’s only bondage and slavery to the devil and his cohorts, the world and our flesh. And we would be left to die in this captivity, for Satan is a strong man who held us tightly in his grip.
Now imagine for a moment that you wanted to rob a house. No, I’m not saying that you should go out and plan on robbing your neighbor—no, no, no! Just imagine IF! Okay? So, if you wanted to rob a house and take everything, first you’d need to tie up the homeowner so that he would not be able to stop you. That’s Jesus’ point this morning in His parable. “No one is able, coming into the strong man’s house, to plunder his goods, except first he should bind the strong man. Then he will plunder his house.” Luke adds in his Gospel, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil” (Luke 11:21-22 ESV).
Who stands in for the strong man? Satan! He is the strong man and you and I are his “goods.” He guards us, his slaves, seeking to keep us from God and from everlasting life through our bondage to sin and death. In order to rob this strong man, Satan, of his goods, there must be a Stronger Man who can bind him and plunder his house. Who do you think that Stronger Man is? Yes, God Himself in the person of His incarnate one-of-a-kind Son, Jesus Christ.
God comes into Satan’s “house,” his realm and territory, in human flesh, in order to rob Satan blind of his goods—you and me, and all humanity. Jesus is the Stronger Man who entered Satan’s house, bound the “strong man,” and plundered his goods. The evidence of this is precisely Jesus’ casting out demons and unclean spirits. Satan’s hold on humanity is broken as Jesus’ breaks into Satan’s house with the rule and reign of God that comes with Jesus’ person and ministry. Satan and his forces are being neutralized. Jesus confronts Satan on his own turf and crushes him on all fields. Even when it looked as if the devil was conquering Jesus as He died on the cross, the devil himself was actually being conquered. When Jesus was crucified, the blood of Him who had no sin at all was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. The One who was guilty of no sin freed us from the bondage to sin, Satan, and death with His own death and the shedding of His most valuable blood.
Ironically, what was not true of Satan’s kingdom, it’s being divided, was true of God’s kingdom—at least at the cross. There, on the cross, God’s house was divided against itself. It was Father against Son. The Father forsook Jesus, and Jesus cried out a heart-rending, “Why? Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). God rose up against Himself, so to speak. The cause of the division was the innocent Jesus’ literal assumption of our sins as His own while suffering on the cross. Holiness recoiled from the sight and Jesus was left alone in the abandonment of damnation, paying the penalty for our sins.
Oddly enough, this division did NOT bring about the fall of God’s house. Rather, it made it secure. It established God’s Kingdom. It made His house stand firm. For the division of Father and Son at the cross removed the division between God and humanity, the division caused by people’s slavery to sin and the devil. We are now at peace with God. Because God forsook His Son on the cross as He paid for our sins, you and I are set free from our sins. We are released from our bondage to the devil. We are no longer held captive by death. Jesus Christ has died for us and is risen again. You and I have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We look forward to the resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come!
The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” That freedom which Jesus Christ, the Stronger Man, has won for you and me by His cross and resurrection is liberty from the strong man, Satan, emancipation from sin and the power of death! In Christ, the free gift of redemption and atonement makes us members and heirs of His Kingdom, a Kingdom that cannot fall, a Kingdom in which we enjoy the freedom of the glory of the children of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Rom. 8:21). Amen.
 Francis C Rossow. Gospel Handles. St Louis, Concordia. © 2001