The Text: Mark 3:20-35
Let me introduce you to an American man named Bob Bassler. He is an Evangelist.
He describes himself as a born-again Christian who fell into sin.
His story goes like this:
When he was 12 years old, Bob Bassler made a new friend and the two soon developed a strong bond. It would be a friendship that would have a huge impact on Bob’s life, for the father of Bob’s friend was a high ranking leader of the Detroit Mafia, and it wasn’t long before Bob was in the grip of their influence. He soon became fascinated with the Mafia underworld, which Satan used to keep Bob prisoner in the spiritual underworld. Bob became well known as a man of power in all the strip joints and on the streets. He formed a cocaine habit and soon began dealing to fund his habit, selling up to 100 ounces a week, at $2,000 an ounce. He was making a killing…literally—destroying the lives of those he dealt to as well as his own, having overdosed five times himself.
The police put a sting operation on Bob. One day he was pursued after leaving a restaurant. After he fled he was caught in a parking lot, just like on TV. Bob was charged over 7 different crimes and sentenced to a combined 150 years in prison. How Bob longed to be a 12 year old boy, and start all over again. When Bob was locked in his cell, freshly painted words on the wall grabbed his attention: “Jesus loves ya!” Bob knew that message was for him. He began to spend time in prayer and Scripture. He started a church in prison. Because of Bob’s exemplary conduct, he was given a letter of commendation from the State, honouring his character, and consequently he served only 2½ years of his original sentence before being released. Afterwards, Bob founded the ministry of New Life Deliverance Centre.
Can you imagine what life would be like if you were trapped like Bob was? Satan tried to devour Bob Bassler. Where would have Bob ended up, if Jesus had not rescued him? Bob said: “I had been empowered by the devil and was well known as a man of power in all the strip joints, on the streets, and in the underworld…The devil was holding me for ransom, but the Lord paid the price and redeemed me. Jesus rescued Bob from the kingdom of darkness, when Bob was helpless to help himself.
Jesus’ authority to deliver people from the grip of Satan is at the centre of the controversy in our text. It’s also at the heart of Mark’s presentation, from the outset, of who Jesus is: the long-promised Saviour who has come into the world. Mark recounts how Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near” (that is to say, the reign of God has arrived and is present wherever Jesus is). Indeed the gospel is Christ, flesh and bones, standing among people with complete divine rescue and help. We see this in the earliest stages of Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum and on the Sabbath Jesus enters the synagogue to teach, and calls an unclean spirit out of a man in their midst. They were all were all amazed and said: “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” That evening at sundown they brought to Jesus all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases.
Jesus has been on a pretty successful preaching tour in which he’s not only proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is near but has also reigned over sickness and evil. His fame has spread throughout the region and he has caused such a sensation that crowds of people want to see him, jostling to catch a glimpse of who this Jesus is, so that when Jesus and his disciples enter a house they are not even able to eat. Some of those with Jesus start to think he has lost it and flipped out, as they said: “He is beside himself.”
Who is this Jesus? Is he out of his mind? The scribes coming down from Jerusalem make a far more sinister assertion: “He is possessed by Beelzebub. By the chief of demons He casts out the demons.” They recognise Jesus’ supernatural power but believe he is able to cast out demons because he is working for Satan and drawing power from him. They are in effect saying that Jesus is so far from being the Messiah that he is in league with Satan himself. They contend that Jesus is not the holy Son of God who bestows Divine saving help, rather they have rejected him as evil and impure. They have rejected the Holy Spirit’s guiding them into the truth about Christ, which is why Jesus says: Truly, I say to you that all the sins and blasphemies by the sons of men will be forgiven them, as much as they have blasphemed. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit does not have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin” (verses 28-29).
Jesus explains it is not by Satan’s power that he does what he does. Why would the devil allow his power to be used against his own forces? An attack on any part of Satan’s domain is not a sign of collusion with him but a threat to his power. Jesus says: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. So how could he be working for Satan? How can Satan cast out Satan? “If Satan opposes himself and has been divided, he is not able to stand but his end has come. But no one is able to enter the house of the strong man and rob him of his possessions unless he first binds the strong man; then he will plunder his house.”
The exorcisms that Jesus performs shows that Satan’s kingdom is under attack, not internally, but from outside: the reign of God in Christ. Jesus’ power and authority over illness and frailty has shown that he is one with his Father as the author and sustainer of his created world, revealing his power and authority also over sickness and suffering’s end point—to even bring about a new creation by bringing life out of death. Now the exorcisms that Jesus performs shows that his power and authority extends over even the kingdom of darkness itself, to rescue sinners from Satan’s grip.
Perhaps in today’s day and age it might seem that Jesus is anything but in control. It seems that it is usually evil that rages out of control. We live in a society where crowds do not flock to Jesus, and do not want to come to him and hear him. It often seems like evil is the victor and perhaps even has the upper hand on the church, which is so fiercely persecuted in some places, or suppressed in others, or it’s buildings simply crumble and close. But it is Satan’s kingdom that is unable to stand. Not because of any internal unrest, but because Jesus has destroyed its power. Jesus’ exorcisms in Mark’s Gospel point ahead to the Kingdom of God reigning over Satan by Christ’s death on the Cross. That’s why the Apostle Paul says: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, Jesus made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross” (Colossians 2:15).
We were all trapped like Bob Bassler was. But Jesus plundered Satan’s house when he died on the Cross and redeemed the whole world by his holy and precious blood. Paul says in Colossians 1:13: “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Since that time, God brings the redemption he won for the world to people personally in baptism. That’s why in the rite of baptism we say: “until Christ claims us in baptism through his Holy Spirit, we are under the power of the devil. Therefore I say: Depart, you unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit.” It is Satan who is the strong man but Jesus, who is far stronger, entered Satan’s house, bound him, and rescued you, so that now you belong to God, joined to Jesus.
It was in our baptism that your heart was sprinkled and made new, regenerated by the Holy Spirit so that we are able to trust God’s word are therefore justified by faith, so that the benefits of Jesus’ saving work on the Cross and empty tomb become part of our life.
In this sense, every baptism is an exorcism. Every baptism is a rescue. The devil’s hold over us has been broken. But we are more than freed slaves. Jesus has given us a new identity. He has brought us into his Kingdom as his own siblings, and therefore, the Father’s own dear children, so that with Jesus, we can pray to his Father: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” As Luther explains, when we pray those words “We ask in this prayer that God would watch over us and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful self may not deceive us and draw us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins. And we pray that even though we are so tempted we may still win the final victory and that our heavenly Father would save us from every evil to body and soul and at our last hour would mercifully take us from the troubles of this world to himself in heaven.”
The church is God’s. It is his and he builds it by calling people to Christ through the Gospel, and sending his Spirit to enlighten people in truth and create saving faith in their hearts, so that, like Luther, and Bob Bassler, we might make a difference as a child of God to those around us.
As the host of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus nourishes us by serving us his very own holy body and blood, to bring to all those who receive in faith that which they believe—the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection: forgiveness, life and salvation. In this foretaste of the victory feast to come, Jesus assures us that there is no person, circumstance, force of nature, or even the devil himself, which can ever separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Every time we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table we proclaim that his Kingdom cannot fail, and it will have no end—for we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Amen.