Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 10, 2012
“Plundering the Strong Man’s House” (Mark 3:20-35)
Do you know you have an enemy that’s out to get you? No, I’m not talking about the IRS, or the mortgage company, or your ex-wife, or your next-door neighbor who plays the stereo too loud and whose dog gets in your garden. They may be enemies of a lesser sort, but that’s not who I’m talking about. The enemy to whom I refer is none other than Satan. That’s right. Satan. The devil. The “old evil foe” who “now means deadly woe.” He is your arch-enemy, and he’s out to get you. He wants to destroy your faith, destroy you, and take you down to hell with him.
Satan. The devil. We minimize his threat at our peril. But the Bible certainly does not, and Jesus does not, dismiss the reality of Satan and the damage that he does to people. Jesus even compares Satan to a “strong man” who has a bunch of goods stored in his house that he doesn’t want to let loose of. Hard to overcome, in other words. But the good news today is that there is someone stronger, who is able to overcome the strong man. Today we will see Jesus “Plundering the Strong Man’s House.”
As I say, we minimize the devil’s threat at our own peril. But that can happen, especially in our culture. In our modern scientific age, we tend to think of “the devil” as an antiquated old wives’ tale with no basis in reality. Satan as a silly, outmoded superstition, believed in only by those of a gullible mind. The idea of the devil is thus used for comic effect. “Satan?” became a punch line in the “Church Lady” skits. We laugh at anyone who believes that Satan and the demonic realm are real. But all that does is to play into one of Satan’s best strategies: To dismiss his existence, minimize the danger he poses, and let down our guard.
In his book, “The Screwtape Letters,” author C. S. Lewis imaginatively relates a series of letters from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, a junior devil named Wormwood. Screwtape is giving Wormwood advice on how best to deceive and lead astray the human that has been assigned to him as his “patient.” He writes: “I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that . . . he therefore cannot believe in you.”
But such a denial of the devil’s existence does not square with the biblical evidence. The Bible throughout, from Genesis to Revelation, takes it as a given that Satan is a real being–a fallen angel, bent on evil–and that his power, while limited, poses real danger to human creatures. The devil is out to tempt, accuse, and deceive people. He is the enemy of our souls. He will assail, attack, and assault our minds and our bodies. Satan hates God, and therefore he hates God’s people.
Dear Christian, when you were baptized, you took on an enemy for life. You have a target painted right over your heart, and the devil is aiming for it. He wants to dispirit you, demoralize you, cause you to doubt, and pull you away from Christ your Savior. We need to be deadly serious about our enemy, the devil, because he is seriously deadly toward us.
The existence and the power of Satan, the enemy of our souls–this is real. Demons assailing and assaulting people in their souls and bodies–we find that in the Bible. Repeatedly in the four gospels we see Jesus confronting and casting out demons that were doing real harm to people. Attacking people in their minds, causing them to engage in self-destructive behavior to their bodies–Satan and his demons were out in full force during the time of Jesus’ ministry. And when Jesus saw this happening to the poor souls who were being demonized, he had compassion on the people, he got angry with the devil, and he cast out the demons. Jesus healed the people in both body and soul, bringing them peace of mind.
Now you may ask: How come all we see of demons in our day is either in an “Exorcist” movie or when some TV preacher claims to be casting out demons? Well, a couple of things. For one, even within the Bible, there seems to be a heightened occurrence of demonic activity–a spike of it, in very dramatic form–at the time of Jesus’ public ministry. This makes sense, since the one who came to destroy the devil and his works was coming on the scene. And Jesus obviously was able to discern when the various afflictions he encountered were due to demonic activity. We are not able to see that and know that for certain. Now it could be that, also in our day, various phenomena such as self-destructive behavior, self-mutilation, criminal insanity, drug-fueled bizarre behavior–all these spectacularly bad things could have a link to demonic activity. We can’t be sure.
But in any case, it’s not just in the spectacular stuff that Satan is doing his work. There are a lot of normal-looking, normal-acting, so-called good people who are equally in the thrall of Satan and under his sway. Remember, the main thing that Satan cares about is keeping you away from Jesus and destroying your faith in him. He can do that quite well in quieter ways.
How might the devil be working on you? The devil can allure you with temptations, or he can crush you with disappointments. Either way, he wins. If you are drawn off into hedonism, living for pleasure, living for self, becoming satisfied with your life in this world so that you no longer need God, you will lose your faith in Christ, and Satan will have gained another soul. Or, on the other hand, if you are crushed down with disappointment, driven to despair, so despairing of God’s goodness and mercy that you lose all hope, you may likewise lose your faith in Christ, and Satan will have won again. When doubt assails you, when bitterness takes root in your heart, realize the devil is playing with your mind. He is trying to undermine your faith. His goal is to separate you from your faith. Take this very seriously.
And realize that you are not strong enough, in yourself, to overcome his schemes and his strength. There is a reason Jesus calls Satan a “strong man.” He is a formidable foe. Luther was right when he wrote in the hymn: “Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal”; and “With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected.”
“But for us fights the valiant one,” the hymn goes on. “Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is.” Yes, Jesus Christ is our divine champion, the one stronger than you and I, thank God, and the one stronger than the strong man Satan. “He holds the field forever.”
And so here now we come to the verse that provides our theme for today, Mark 3:27, where Jesus says, “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.”
“Plundering the Strong Man’s House.” Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the one who is able to bind the strong man, enter his house, and plunder his goods. This, Jesus has done. You and I were captives of the devil, prisoners in his house of sin and death, unable to free ourselves. But Jesus came along, God’s own Son come in the flesh, and he came on a rescue mission, to seek and to save us and to pull us out of Satan’s grasp. Jesus’ spectacular casting out of demons shows his compassion for people and his authority over Satan. It indicates what Jesus is in the process of doing, in entering Satan’s house and plundering his goods.
But the strange thing is, Jesus demonstrates his greater strength by way of weakness. He allows himself to be taken captive, arrested and beaten as a prisoner, and nailed to a cross as a common criminal. Strength, through weakness. Amazing! But this was Christ’s own strategy to beat the devil at his own game. The devil would strike Jesus in the heel, so to speak, but in so doing, Christ would deal a lethal death blow to Satan’s head.
How? Why? Because by taking the curse laid on sinners upon himself, namely, death under God’s judgment, Jesus would take away that card from the accuser’s hand. The devil can’t play the sin card against us anymore. No more accusation, no more condemnation. All our sins have been forgiven by the blood of Christ. Jesus is pleading our case for us in heaven. The devil’s taunts and threats go nowhere. The serpent has been defanged. Satan is stripped of his power. When Christ cried out, “It is finished,” the devil’s reign was over. Then Christ descended into hell to proclaim his victory even there, his triumph over Satan’s realm. And when Christ arose and ascended into heaven, and now is exalted at God’s right hand–now our Lord Christ comes to us in our fears, and he lays his hand on our shoulder and says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
Do you see? Jesus has bound the strong man, and entered his house, and plundered his goods. Jesus holds the keys of Death and Hell. He has stripped Satan bare. And this is good news, glorious good news for us. It means that, no matter how much our enemy the devil tries to throw at us, he cannot overpower us. Jesus wins. Jesus holds the field forever.
Dear friend, if the devil is coming at you with all kinds of temptations and doubts and is trying to fill you with despair, and maybe you don’t feel strong enough to resist him on your own, then tell that old devil, “You take it up with Jesus.” Yes, tell Satan, “I’ve got the stronger man fighting for me. He is more than your match, he has plundered your house, and by faith now I will be strong in him.”