22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.
(Mark 3:22-27 NIV)
Yesterday we began looking at the details of this larger story. Jesus’ family, thinking that Jesus had lost his mind, set out from Nazareth, a day’s walk, to intervene in Jesus’ life and take Him home where He could rest and recover.
While Jesus’ family is en route to Capernaum, Jesus is dealing with another group of travelers, a bunch of religious experts who have made a special trek from Jerusalem to Capernaum (about one hundred miles, 3 – 4 days’ walk) to check out what Jesus is saying and doing.
This group of “experts” are from the Sanhedrin, the equivalent of the Supreme Court for all religious affairs in Israel. The concern about Jesus’ ministry had far surpassed the local and regional levels of religious authorities. Jesus had now drawn the attention (and ire) of the national authorities, who were here to see first-hand what was going on.
And what was the conclusion of these representatives from the Sanhedrin? In their minds, Jesus was obviously demon-possessed, aligned with Beelzebul (the Old Testament name for Baal, the prince of demons). They surmised that Jesus was practicing so-called black magic, and He was the greater, more powerful demon, casting out smaller, less-powerful demons.
Jesus hears the religious experts’ conclusions about Jesus’ ability to cast out demons because they think He is demon-possessed. Jesus calls the experts to gather around and addresses the issue publicly and first-hand.
Jesus refutes their argument with simple logic:
- A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand – civil war will divide the nation (example – God’s Promised Land – in history – divided into Israel and Judah)
- A home divided cannot stand – its inhabitants will break up (divorce)
- Satan against himself will not last – he and his power will self-destruct
Jesus then follows up these three counter-arguments with an analogy. Jesus says that in order to rob a strong man’s house, you must tie up the strong man first. The strong man is not going to sit and watch you carry off his stuff – he is going to fight you.
In this analogy, the strong man is Satan. Jesus abolishes the idea of Satan self-destructing or being weak and powerless. Jesus is saying that Satan is a formidable enemy – strong in his own domain.
Jesus is saying that He is stronger than this powerful enemy (Satan). Jesus is the robber of Satan’s domain – He (Jesus) has overcome Satan and tied him up. Jesus is now looting Satan’s house, redeeming and taking back what is rightfully His (the people Jesus is healing and casting out demons).
In Jesus’ veiled but masterful way, He is telling the legal experts that this is much more than an analogy – this is the reality of His ministry. Jesus has bound the enemy (Satan) and is casting out Satan’s minions (the demons) and healing sickness of every kind.
Let’s imagine being in Jesus’ shoes for just a moment. The delegation from the Sanhedrin is here to check out His ministry. They are accusing Jesus of being demon-possessed, and of practicing black magic. The Sanhedrin, the elite of all Israel who should recognize the Messiah standing in front of them, instead accuse Jesus of being in league with the devil, Satan himself.
Jesus is not intimidated or discouraged – He does not give up. Instead, Jesus goes on the offensive and tells the Sanhedrin in a veiled way that He is more powerful than Satan, and is casting out demons and healing the sick by the power of God.
So what can we learn from today’s text?
First, we must confront the reality that Satan is powerful. As followers of Jesus, we sometimes avoid thinking about the reality of Satan and his forces, or that life is always nice and good. As followers of Christ, Satan is at war with God and seeks to diminish and destroy us and our witness for Christ.
Second, we must always remember that God is more powerful than Satan, and has in fact defeated Satan’s eternal hold on humanity through Jesus’ death, burial, and bodily resurrection from the dead.
Third, we must remember that we are in a spiritual battle. The Apostle Paul reminds us: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)
May we walk in the reality that we live in a spiritual war zone, and that the enemy seeks to destroy us and everything that God stands for. May we equip ourselves for the fight, and bravely follow Jesus our leader into battle as we love our enemies and point them to the source of truth, justice, mercy, and love – Jesus.