“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).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
There are only two religions in the world. While such a statement may seem naïve to some, it should not sound so strange to you. For when the facade of this world is torn away, all that remains are two spiritual kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the evil one—Satan. The kingdom of God is founded on Jesus, the Way and the Truth and the Life. The kingdom of the devil is founded on a lie. His is a fallen and condemned kingdom without any hope of return to its splendor.[i] But that does not mean the devil is no longer dangerous and deadly.
Satan is the father of lies and can become whatever we desire him to be. He represents himself as an angel of light to those who will receive him as an angel; he represents himself as an ancestor to those who seek to speak to the dead; he represents himself as demonic to those attracted to the occult; and he represents himself as science to those who would deny God’s activity in the world.
Yet, whatever his appearance, Satan’s strategy is always the same. It is a strategy of pride and despair that curves an individual’s focus inward into oneself, to one’s works or abilities, deficits or inabilities, independence or helplessness, false hope or irrational fear. Thus, all false religions are about the work of the individual, but the Christian religion is about the work of another: our Savior Jesus Christ—the One who first binds the strong man and then plunders his house.
Jesus returns to His home in Capernaum after a lengthy campaign in which he preached the coming of the kingdom of God, healed people of their illnesses and injuries, and cast out many demons. He had appointed the Twelve as apostles, sending them out with the authority to preach and to cast out demons, too. They are all in desperate need of food and rest. But no sooner is Jesus’ presence known than crowds gather, so that He and His disciples cannot even find time to eat.
That’s when Jesus’ family says, “Enough! It’s time for an intervention!” And they gather either to talk some sense into Him or to restrain Him forcibly. Perhaps, they mean well, but their actions and attitude, at the very least, reveal they do not believe in Him as the promised Savior. Nor do they understand the necessity of His using every possible opportunity of sharing His message.
Lacking any other logical explanation, they say, “He is out of His mind.” Their assessment of Him explains the relationship between the two different stories sandwiched together in this text. In the New Testament, to be out of one’s mind and to be demon possessed, while entirely different, are sometimes seen together. In John 10:20, Jesus’ opponents say of Him: “He has a demon and is insane; why listen to Him?” Jesus’ family seems to fear that Jesus is oppressed by a demon.
If the family members have serious misgivings, the teachers of the law go all out in seeking to undermine Christ’s influence. The opportunity is given them, according to Matthew 12:22, when a demon-possessed man who is blind and mute is brought to Christ and He heals him. Lest the people now believe in Christ, the scribes speak up and say, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons He casts out the demons.” Beelzebul, meaning “lord of flies” and mocking the name of a Philistine idol, was a popular name for Satan.
There is more than a bit of disingenuousness on the part of the scribes. As the religious teachers of Israel, they should recognize by this time what is taking place: Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament. Unbelief is irrational and bullheaded. The evidence is before them. They’ve seen Jesus thwart Satan by casting out many demons, but they still charge Him with serving the devil because they aren’t willing to believe He is their Savior.
Jesus first appeals to their common sense: “How can Satan cast out Satan?”
Since the fall, Satan may be properly understood as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). At the same time, his authority is only what God allows. Jesus’ point is that Satan cannot be divided against himself and yet retain some measure of power on earth. Casting out demons from their established places is a frontal assault on Satan’s toehold on earth. Satan is shrewd. He would never agree to this.
Jesus continues with His logical exposure of their argument. A kingdom divided, caught up in a civil war, won’t stand. The example of a divided family repeats the point made in the previous verse but is even more pointed given the current division of Jesus’ own family. If the kingdom example is too far from His hearers’ experience, certainly everyone can relate to a divided house.
Having dispatched their arguments, Jesus offers an alternative explanation of His actions: “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.”
While referring to Satan as the “strong man,” this comparison doesn’t mean he has true authority over the world. It speaks to our perception rather than the spiritual truth. Satan is a usurper and con-man. He claims ownership of the world, just as he promised to give all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if He would only bow down to him. But, the devil is no match for the stronger man, Jesus Christ.
In the ministry and work of Jesus, Satan has met his end, his reign of terror is over. Each demon cast out is another limb of the strong man being bound. Each man delivered from a demon is Satan’s former prize plundered and taken away.
How did this binding take place? It was not a power encounter. Jesus first did what Adam in the Old Testament Reading had failed to do. He stood the test when tempted all alone in the wilderness. Then, on the cross, He was made to be sin for us and God poured out all His judgment for sin upon Him. He “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
How complete is this justification? In the language of prophetic authority, Jesus makes one of the most sweeping statements of absolution in Scripture, “Truly, I say to you, all sin will be forgiven the children of man.” The phrase translated “children of man” means “all humanity.” All are included. Jesus assures repentant sinners that no sin exists that God will not forgive.
Except one. “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin.” This is the unpardonable sin.
Jesus’ answer is simple logic, and His opponents should recognize its truth, but they have set their hearts against Jesus and, in this case, against the work of the Spirit of God. When people deliberately identify Christ with Satan and speak of His work as satanic, the Holy Spirit can no longer do His work in their hearts, the work of bringing them to faith in Jesus as their Savior.
Those who refuse to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and acknowledge His works as signs of the Holy Spirit remain under the dominion of Satan. But Jesus has overcome Satan and brought freedom to those formerly imprisoned. Those baptized into Christ have received not only Him, but His promised Holy Spirit.
At this point in the story, Jesus’ family members arrive and are standing outside. Their position gives more than a description of their physical location. They are outside the circle of those who have come to Jesus in their need and are seated around Him. They send for Jesus in order to seize Him. Note the irony. People who barely know Jesus are seated next to Him, eagerly listening, while His family is outside trying to get close enough to make Him stop.
“Your mother and Your brothers are outside, seeking You,” He is told. But Jesus responds with another rhetorical question. “Who are My mother and My brothers?” As the question lingers in their minds, and as He looks around at the listening crowd, Jesus answers, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus is not despising family ties and their importance. Families are a wonderful gift from God. But one’s relationship to God and His family of faith is even more important, since they form an eternal communion. In the kingdom of God, the Church, there is something more important than human relationships.
Jesus graciously elevates those who have been rejected by their families as He was and those who have left families to follow Him to the level of His family. Even the once demonized are assured that they now belong to the very family of Jesus. The only criteria is that the person does God’s will.
What is the will of God? Is it the law as such, the Ten Commandments? Then none of us would qualify, nor any of Jesus’ own apostles. The will of God is that will as expressed in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work. “God’s will is that by His grace we repent and believe, turn from our sins, and by faith receive His pardon in Christ Jesus. His will is our regeneration… our restoration to childhood and heirship… We do this will of God when we let Jesus work all this in us and bestow all this upon us.”[ii] .
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 on a rescue mission to seek and save us and 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 power 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. Using the work of sinful man and Satan to accomplish His holy purpose—your salvation.
By bearing the accusations, 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’s accusations and condemnation are null and void. For Christ’s sake you are declared righteous, holy, and blameless. All your sins have been forgiven by the blood of Christ. Jesus is pleading your case for you in heaven. The devil’s taunts and threats go nowhere. 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.
Risen on the third day and ascended into heaven at the Father’s right hand, Jesus comes to us in His means of grace, His Word and Sacrament, just as He has promised to be with us always to the end of the age.
In Holy Baptism, Christ binds the strong man, plunders Satan’s house, and brings more brothers and sisters into His kingdom. Baptized into Christ, you are rescued from death and the devil, given eternal salvation, and adopted as a beloved child of God, a co-heir of Christ.
In Holy Communion, the family meal, the Lord invites you and your brothers and sisters in Christ, to receive His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.
In His Word, Jesus speaks His absolution and peace. He lays His hand on your 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.” Go in peace. You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] Robert H. Bennett, Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare in America [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016] 9-10)
[ii] (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel [Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1946], 161).