In a moment, I am going to type a word. I want you to think of a person known to you. Okay, are you ready? The word is “captive.” Do you have a person in your mind? A person all bound up and in captivity or in prison?
This summer the world’s finest athletes will assemble to participate in the ultimate competition: the Olympics. All of the abilities of the athlete are put to the test. Only the best and the bravest athlete will go home with the prize. On a worldwide scale, the Olympics is the ultimate strong man competition.
There is a strong man contest found in the gospel of Mark 3:22-27. Take a moment and read it.
In the middle ages, the flickering lights of marsh gas were, to many people, fairies or goblins; fireflies were the souls of unbaptized dead infants. Many thought sorcerers and ghosts manipulated human lives. Astrology was used to explain things. For example, the University of Paris concluded that the bubonic plague of 1340s-50s was due to the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.
Long before the middle ages, in the small corner of the world called Palestine, Emissaries from the Great Sanhedrin had come to determine if Capernaum, (Jesus’ hometown on His ministry), was indeed a “seduced city” under the influence of a magician. This group of investigators sought to uncover whether or not speculation about this Jesus of Nazareth was true. Reports went out that Jesus could perform incredible miracles. But it was also reported that He taught things contrary to the law and scribal tradition. The emissaries arrive in Capernaum and come face to face with their sorcerer. “You are possessed by Beelzebub and you cast out demons by the ruler of demons” is the accusation against Jesus. Their accusation lingers in the air: Jesus is possessed by Beelzebub.
Who could imagine? Who could ever think that even Jesus himself was being accused of such a thing? We should not be too surprised since he prophesied of such things. He even prophesied that we too would experience such things. But if we too are to experience such things, I wonder when is the last time you were accused of being of Beelzebub? What enemy has seen your work for Christ and brought accusation.
RESPONDING TO THE ACCUSATION (23-26). Since we too will experience such things. The question is, How would we personally respond if someone were to accuse you of something awful? What would you do? Facing arrest as an Anabaptist, Dirck Willems fled for his life across a frozen lake. When his pursuer broke through the ice, Willems gave up his chance to escape by turning to save his persecutor. He was then captured, imprisoned and burned at the stake in 1569. Sometimes the temptation for us is to seek revenge or to refuse the responsibility of forgiveness. Some may say, “I can forgive, but I cannot forget.” Another way of saying, “I will not forgive.” So what happened. How did Jesus respond? What did Jesus do? Did he strike back at the accusers? Did he spray them with fire from heaven? Well not exactly. Jesus responded to their attacks with three statements.
First, Jesus asked them, “How can Satan drive out Satan?”
Secondly, “How can a Kingdom divided against itself stand?”
Thirdly, “How can a house divided against itself stand?”
What do those statement mean? How do they apply to the scribes accusation against Jesus? One of the big stories in the mid-nineties that you may recall being on all the TV news broadcasts was the concern for a dying species of owl in the Northwest called the Spotted Owl. The concern was that the logging being done in the area was actually destroying the species. But according to a Newsweek article published in November of 1996, research showed that the owl’s greatest enemy was not coming from the loggers but somewhere else. For the past fifteen years, the barred owl has migrated westward rapidly. Barred owls, which used to live exclusively east of the Mississippi, compete for the same food as spotted owls but are more aggressive and adaptable. The great enemy of the spotted owl did not in fact come from without–i.e. the logging industry–but was actually from within–a similar species competing for the same area.
What is Jesus saying here? What is he talking about kingdoms and houses? Why can’t Satan drive himself out, or a kingdom be divided, or a house be divided? The answer–if a kingdom or a house is divided, or if owls are competing for the same area, then there is not without but their enemy is within. The unity of the organization has been compromised and eventually the entire thing will fall. It will be, in the words of Jesus, “terminated” or “finished.” The unity of the structure must be maintained. If Satan has turned upon himself, then he must be finished. But he is not finished and therefore the scribes are simply wrong. Their accusation is absurd.
REVERSING THE ACCUSATION WITH PARABLE (27). But the question remains: if Jesus is not of Beelzebub, then who is he? Where does his power come from if not from magical arts? How does he drive out demons if not by the ruler of demons? Jesus in one verse attempts to answer that entire question. This is the story of Mr. Strong. Mr. Strong lived in a palatial manor. He lived in a palace. In this palace were great treasures he had plundered from his enemies. He held them in this impenetrable fortress. People from miles around would love to have stolen his treasures, but they could not, for he was Mr. Strong. No one was as strong as him, and therefore his treasure remained. One day a knock came at the door of his mansion. He opened the door and a strange mysterious figure emerged. Walking through the manor this individual saw all his treasures. But realizing that Mr. Strong was mighty, he knew the only way to take his plunder was to first bind him. So he did. He bound up Mr. Strong, and walked away with all the booty, the treasure, of his fortress.
What does this strange parable that Jesus told mean? Who is Mr. Strong and what about this strange visitor? And what does this have to do with the accusation made against Jesus about being possessed by Beelzebub?
With the text the details of the parable become obvious. So what is it? Who is Mr. Strong? Who is the mysterious man? What are these treasures he steals? Why does he bind him up? Well lets start with the mysterious visitor. Who was he? The mysterious visitor is none other than Jesus. Who is the strong man? He is none other than Satan. Jesus then binds the strong man, and he is able to plunder his palace. But what are these treasures? They are in fact people. They are captives. People held captive under the power of Satan, and Jesus is their deliverer. Only a stronger man could defeat Mr. Strong. Jesus is in fact Mr. Strongest. He is the man who enters the strong man’s house and sets free the captives of Satan. Jesus is the winner of the ultimate strong man contest. But what does that have to do with the accusation about Beelzebub? Well obviously if Jesus is the man who goes into Satan’s palace and binds him up and defeats him, then it is impossible for Jesus to also be possessed by him. Therefore Jesus proves that he is not possessed by Beelzebub and he does not do miracles by the ruler of demons.
Alright now I want you to remember the face of the person you associated with captivity or prison. Now, I want you to imagine, that you are that face. Do you have it? Here is the bad news: there is no way for you to get out of that bondage or captivity. Here is the good news: Jesus is the strongest man who comes in and sets the captive free.