Text: Mark 3:20-35
Gospel Lesson for Proper 5, Series B
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
How’d they do that? Have you ever seen a feat of architecture and wondered that? Maybe it was one of those majestic Medieval Cathedrals. Or perhaps it’s the pyramids. Think about the pyramids: architects in the twenty-first century would find it a daunting task to build something similar, even with all the technology available. “How’d they do that” is the question that has baffled Egyptologists and archeologists. But the question, “How’d they do that” isn’t limited to ancient architecture. Go to see a talented musician play a complicated piece of music, or perhaps an acrobat or a magician. It’s the natural question to ask when we see something that seems way beyond our normal capabilities.
That’s the question the crowds asked about Jesus. The scene opens with Jesus entering a house. As Jesus enters, a crowd presses around and seeps inside, watching as he casts out demons. Now, casting out demons is not the kind of thing one can do by artistry and technology like a building. Nor is it a matter of practicing long and hard like a musician. The only way someone could cast out demons the way Jesus did was by having power. That power had to come from somewhere. And the source of Jesus’ power was exactly the point of controversy. Some of the crowd, including some of Jesus’ relatives, concluded from his behavior that Jesus was clearly out of his mind. Calling Jesus’ sanity into question was a serious enough charge, but the teachers of the law went a step further. They knew where Jesus got his power from: collusion with the Devil. Jesus wasn’t the type of messiah they wanted, and so they told the crowd that Jesus’ exorcisms were all an elaborate ruse to get them to follow the Devil.
I. The Devil’s Civil War
Jesus responded to the suggestion of the teachers of the law. A king can only rule a kingdom through his ministers who carry out his will. The challenge is then that Jesus is one of those ministers of the Devil. Jesus makes the point that the idea of Satan undoing his own work is ridiculous. If Satan is opposing his own troops, he has already lost the battle: his kingdom is split down the middle. If what’s really going on here is by the power of the Devil, then Satan has a civil war on his hands. If Satan wants to get more and more control over people, he’s unlikely to give Jesus power to set lots of them free. If Jesus is colluding with the Devil, then the Civil War means the end of Satan’s Kingdom!
Jesus’ response shows us that this isn’t a civil war, but a real war. There are two kingdoms, engaged in a bitter warfare! Either Jesus casts out demons by the power of the Devil, or by the power of God. One the one hand, you have the kingdom of the Devil. On the other hand, you have the Kingdom of God. There are no other kingdoms, nor any neutral territories. All who are outside the Kingdom of God are under the dominion of Satan. So, this war isn’t over land or power, but it’s over souls! A stronger ruler than Satan is laying siege to his fortresses and establishing another Kingdom! When Jesus drives out Satan’s minions, that is a victory for God’s Kingdom. God’s Kingdom is at war with Satan’s Kingdom, and it is God’s Kingdom which is invading this world through Jesus!. That is how Jesus was doing it!
II. The Strong Man’s Possessions
Satan is indeed a strong man, but Jesus is the Stronger one. John the Baptist had proclaimed that one who was stronger than he was going to come. Jesus is the stronger one. Suppose you wanted to rob the house of some great big bruiser of a guy, a man with bulging biceps and rippling muscles. Only a fool would try to rob a guy like that without somehow taking him out of the picture, perhaps by tying him up. Only then could you go into his house and carry off his prize possessions. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the dwarves cannot reclaim their treasure from the Lonely Mountain until they’ve taken care of Smaug the Dragon.
First you must win the victory over Satan; then you can plunder his possessions. His possessions, that’s you. You are the loot. If Jesus can help himself to the property of ‘the strong man’, it can only be because He’s already tied him up. Jesus has demonstrated that He has power over Satan when with a word He casts out demons. Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection has bound the devil, tied him up, cast him down, all so that he could set you free from the Devil. It’s a transfer of ownership. You once belonged to the Devil, and now you belong to Christ. You have been set free from the Devil so that you live under Christ in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
The point of Jesus’ exorcisms, after all, was not simply to heal as many individuals as possible. If that were his aim, He wasn’t very successful when seen in the longer term. Rather, He was bringing about God’s kingdom. How does God’s Kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.
III. Conspiring with the Crowds
Some in the crowd came to wrong conclusions; Jesus’ enemies attacked deliberately and maliciously. But the crowds and the teachers of the law are not the only ones who are less than excited about Jesus the exorcist. Many Christians today aren’t all that excited either. Jesus the exorcist embarrasses modern Christians too. We know how to handle a teaching and preaching Jesus, but exorcism embarrasses us. Demons went out with the Middle Ages. We’re inclined to agree with crowds. People who begin to act like the world is overrun with evil supernatural beings belong in institutions. The biggest lie the Devil has told us is that he doesn’t exist. Some people like to think that Jesus is a great moral teacher, but don’t accept his claim to be God. But C. S. Lewis says that doesn’t work. A man who was just a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the same level as a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can dismiss him as a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as in league with the Devil or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. You can’t have the nice teacher, without the exorcist! Jesus claims to be the eternal Son of God, who has come to destroy the works of the Devil. Either he’s telling the truth, he’s lying, or he’s crazy. Those are you only three options.
So many today conspire with the crowds to have Jesus the exorcist put away. But getting rid of Jesus the exorcist doesn’t make evil go away. Our world is full of examples that show that evil or something like it is alive and well. As lovely as the world may look on the surface, Jesus’ activity as an exorcist points to hidden spiritual dangers, a world of principalities and powers that are forever busy. Jesus announces that we live in a world held hostage by formidable evil powers, powers always on the prowl. The Devil is seeking to destroy us. He’s always looking for some way in, something to accuse us with, some way to steal you back. Jesus is the one who has come into the world to steal the devil’s stuff. He never could have done that if he had not first tied the powers of evil in knots.
Jesus’ death on the cross has defeated the devil, and his resurrection from the dead gives you proof! Through the Water and the Word in Holy Baptism, Christ comes to claim us as His own. He not only works to despoil Satan but creates a new family-like community which we all the Church. Baptism is God’s way of adopting individuals into his family. In our Baptism rite, we actually perform an exorcism, and if you pay attention next week, you’ll hear the language of exorcism. Through Baptism the demons are cast out and Christ takes up residence in the heart through faith created by the Word in the water. When the Devil throws yours sins in your facr after you’ve seriously made a mess of things, you can confess our sins to a pastor and he will forgive us in the stead of Christ. Additionally, in Holy Communion we receive the very blood of Jesus. This blood of Jesus cleanses us from all transgression, and if we have the blood of Jesus and the forgiveness that it wins and delivers, then the devil has nothing to accuse us. He has no way in.
Jesus is not a crazy man, nor is he in league with the Devil. He is not a liar. His claims are true. Jesus is the very Son of God who has delivered us from the Devil in Holy Baptism, and he is still casting out demons, by His Word of life and forgiveness. He has defeated the Devil. In his family, the Church, Christ continues to keep us safe from the devil through the Word, and for this we give Him thanks and praise.
And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds through Jesus Christ our Lord.