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Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5 B)

Mark 3:20–35

James T. Batchelor

Pentecost 3, Proper 5, series B
Saint Paul Lutheran Church  
Manito, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Jun 10, 2018 

If someone asked me to list the top 100 books that should be on every Christian’s reading list, many of the works of Clive Staples Lewis would make the top half of that list.  Clive Staples Lewis who is commonly known as C.S. Lewis had the great skill of being able to write for many different audiences.  His Chronicles of Narnia series is just right for pre-teens who enjoy fantasy.  His space trilogy is interesting for the fan of science fiction.  Mere Christianity and the Problem of Pain help answer some of the hard questions of Christianity.  The Screwtape Letters are an examination of the different strategies that the devil uses to attack our faith.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote a passage that describes the situation in today’s Gospel.  He wrote:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely 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 level with the 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 shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

The Gospel we just heard began: Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20–21) Here, the members of His own household believe that He is a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg.  Jesus’ family was concerned that Jesus was getting overworked.  Since many in His own family did not yet understand what it meant that He was the Messiah, they thought He was having some kind of nervous breakdown or something.  They desperately wanted to get Him out of the public eye and some place quieter, so He could recover.

After Mark records the response of His family. He records the response of the scribes: 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.” (Mark 3:22) The scribes labeled Jesus as the Devil of Hell. 

Now, the scribes were not wrong to check on Jesus.  During a trial in the book of Acts a man named Gamaliel said, “Before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered.” (Acts 5:36–37) Apparently, there were other men who gathered a following and claimed to be the Messiah.  The religious leaders in Jerusalem were only being faithful to their calling when they sent representatives to gather facts about Jesus or any other popular teacher.  The problem is not that Jerusalem sent a fact-finding mission out to learn about Jesus.  The problem was with their findings.

Their findings made no sense.  The Gospel according to Mark does not give the exact number of demons that Jesus drove out of people, but the impression is that the number is big.  If Jesus were really possessed, that would make no sense.  It would be like a football player running the wrong way on the field and scoring for the wrong team.  Jesus Himself told them how silly their conclusions were.  He called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. (Mark 3:23–26) During Jesus’ ministry, He called the devil and his demons liars, murderers, evil, and so forth, but He never says they are stupid.  The devil and his demons present a united front against God and everyone He loves.  There is no way that a man who drives demons out of people is an ally of those demons.  In fact, He is the demons’ enemy.

Jesus then went on to illustrate what was really happening.  He continued His parable and said, “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.” (Mark 3:27) The “strong man” in the parable is Satan.  Satan owns the people who have demons.  They are his goods.  Jesus, then, is the stronger man who binds Satan and plunders his goods.  Jesus liberates those whom Satan has bound.

The plan to bind the devil and free his slaves is very old.  Long ago, in Eden, before He took up our human flesh, this same Son of God made a promise to the devil.  The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14–15) In today’s Gospel, we heard how this same Lord God is the seed of the woman who took on human flesh in order to bruise the head of the serpent.

The bruising that He spoke of in Eden and the binding that He spoke of in the parable are one and the same thing.  It is victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil.  This bruising and binding did not take place with laser lights and fireworks.  Jesus first did what Adam could not do.  He endured the temptation of the devil, but did not sin.  He lived a perfect life.  Then, even though He was innocent, He took up the sin of the world.  For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) He endured false trials, cruel physical and emotional abuse, and ultimately death on a cross.  While He hung on that cross, He endured the righteous wrath of God against the sin that He carried … the sin of the entire world.  This He would do for you to bind the strong man, Satan, and free you from your sin.

We know that Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil is complete because the grave was not able to hold Him.  He rose from the dead and proclaimed His victory.  He appeared alive to hundreds of people who testify to His resurrection.

How complete is this victory?  Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” (Mark 3:28) These words teach us that the victory is unconditional.  This victory covers every sin of every person in every time and place.  The range of forgiveness is unlimited.

There is one and only one exception to this gracious gift.  Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29) To understand the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it is important to understand the role of the Holy Spirit in our salvation.  The Holy Spirit is there to create faith in a person and deliver the forgiveness of sins to that faith.  When a person rejects the work of the Holy Spirit, they are rejecting the very forgiveness that He wants to give to them.  Christ earned the forgiveness of sins for them on the cross.  It belongs to them, but they do not have it because they reject it.  They reject the work of the Holy Spirit and so reject the forgiveness that He offers.  This is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

The devil, the world, and our own sinful nature want us to reject the work of the Holy Spirit.  They want you to believe that you are spiritual orphans.  But Christ has bound Satan.  He has freed you from the shackles of sin.  You are a member of His family.  Amen



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