Bullying the Bully
These scribes had come from Jerusalem, and they were trouble. Perhaps it was to see what was all the fuss about this country preacher. Investigating what was surely the latest fad of a self-made prophet type, getting the people all lathered up again. In any case, they were there, and they didn’t like what they saw, and especially didn’t like what they heard. They weren’t there to learn from Jesus, to receive his preaching. They were there to judge him and his teaching – and not too kindly. But they couldn’t deny the miracles he was doing. They couldn’t just brush off the fact that he was casting out demons left and right. So they lobbed an accusation that he was really casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons himself. He is possessed, they claim! This could explain his obvious power, they must have reasoned, without them having to believe what he was saying. Without them having to believe in him.
And they weren’t the only ways to oppose Jesus. His own family members were calling him crazy. They said, “he’s out of his mind” and they tried to seize him. This preaching and miracle stuff is getting out of hand Jesus.
So what answer does Jesus give to all this? He starts out with some simple logic. How can Satan cast out Satan? How can a kingdom divided against itself stand? How can a house divided stand? Rhetorical questions which all should be answer: it doesn’t happen that way. Jesus is not of Satan. He’s Satan’s worst nightmare.
Nobody likes a bully. Most of us have probably been bullied sometime or another in life. It might have been a schoolyard lunch money extortionist. Or it may have been a mean old manager at work. Or maybe even a family member who pummels you emotionally, and leaves wounds far worse than bumps and bruises. But the classic bully is the strong guy picking on the weak one. Throwing his weight around to get what he wants, make a point, or just for the fun and sheer cruelty of it. Nobody likes a bully, especially when you’re on the receiving end of the bullying.
And there is no greater bully in this world than the Devil. We can’t stand up to his power alone. Surely, if he was able to deceive Eve and somehow operate without Adam’s intervention – when our first parents were without sin in paradise – then you and I who are conceived and born in sin, we are easy prey. We fall for his lies so easily. We are duped and enticed and led astray.
And in a way we are held captive by not only our own sin, and death, and this fallen world, but also by the ruler of this world – the father of lies. We may not be possessed in the sense of an unclean spirit controlling our speech and actions – but in our sin we are just as much under the Devil’s sway. Locked down into a solitary confinement of sin and death. This is our starting point, fellow sinners. This is where we are stuck without Jesus – bullied by the ultimate bully.
But we are not without Jesus. So in Jesus’ parable, there is the strong man – the Devil. But someone else comes and subdues him. Binds him hand and foot. Someone is here to bully the bully! And that stronger man is Jesus Christ. First he defeats our enemy, and then he plunders the house. And you, dear forgiven sinner, are the plunder! Jesus comes to steal you away from the jaws of death, the fangs of sin, and the clutches of the Devil. He comes and divides, destroys, brings ruin to the house of Satan, and all our enemy’s power comes crashing down with a breath. Jesus one, the devil nothing – the eternal score.
But how does he do this? When does it happen?
Certainly, we must go to the cross. There we see what appears to be a “not-very-strong-man”, but instead a man of sorrows dying under a curse. There we see the one stricken, smitten, afflicted. The one forsaken by God who can count all his bones, surrounded by dogs – pierced hands and feet – tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, strength dried up like a potsherd. There? There’s your strongman? There’s your defeat of the biggest, baddest meany of all? Yes. At the cross. Where God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Where God’s wrath over our sin is satisfied. Where Jesus wraps it all up with the bow of a perfect declaration. “It is finished”.
It began in Genesis, when the old serpent began his campaign of lies. But the Lord calmly walked over there in the cool of the day, and made a promise. The seed of the woman will crush your head. And you will only bruise his heel. Here (the cross) is the bruised heel. But here, also is the crushed head of Satan. Here is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Here is the victory. Here is your victory. His resurrection proves it and seals it. Death has no more sting. And Satan himself is a serpent de-fanged, and roaring lion de-clawed.
Christian author J.R.R. Tolkein depicts this ultimate struggle in his Lord of the Rings novels, which are also popular movies. In the final battle scene, the good guys are set to storm the gates of Mordor, the stronghold of the enemy. There, the wicked Sauron – the seeming personification of evil – watches the battle from his dark tower with a creepy all-seeing eye atop it. The army of men is surrounded by the armies of darkness. The tension builds to a fever pitch as friends in arms begin to say their farewells. There looks to be no way out. Hope fades.
But in one dramatic moment, the ring that contains all the enemy’s dark power is destroyed. Sauron’s tower crumbles, his eye is snuffed out, and all his hellish armies scatter and flee. The seemingly incontestable strength of this evil foe comes crashing down in a moment.
This is what Jesus did at the cross. And this is what Jesus does every time your sins are forgiven. This is what happens when a child is baptized. This is what happens when you “take and eat” and “take and drink” at his table. The might of Satan is unraveled. And his house comes crashing down. When sinners repent and believe in Christ, and sins are forgiven, the angels rejoice, the Devil loses, and Jesus wins YOU.
He says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”.
Don’t let this part of the passage scare you, friends. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is essentially opposing the work of the Spirit. And since the work of the Spirit is to call sinners to repentance and faith in Christ – this unforgivable sin amounts to, very simply, the rejection of forgiveness in Christ. Don’t pass by the fact that Jesus promises “all sins will be forgiven”. Even blasphemies! There is nothing you’ve done so bad, so wrong, so deep and dark that Jesus can’t handle it. The only eternal sin is turning away from him and his forgiveness.
And this victory that he wins, this forgiveness that he freely gives – it makes you more than just his disciples, or even his friends, it makes you his family. For when his mother and brothers come looking for him again, presumably to rescue him from himself, Jesus teaches another profound truth. Those who do the will of God are his family members. And what is that will of God? That sinners repent and believe, and have life in his name. That your sins are forgiven.
Sometimes being a Christian doesn’t seem very victorious. We don’t always “win” at the “game of life”. We have our hurts and our sorrows. We fall flat on our faces. And even the devil, whom we know is defeated, still prowls around looking for someone to devour. He still tempts us, and would see us fall. And he loves to see you suffer. He wants you to doubt your forgiveness. He still asks, “did God really say…?”
More than that, Jesus promises we’ll bear crosses, and be persecuted and that the world will even hate us because of him. It doesn’t sound very much like a victory celebration.
But we walk by faith, not by sight. Paul reminds us today, “things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Even if our earthly tents, these bodies, are destroyed (and unless Christ comes first, they will be…) nevertheless we have a temple – a permanent residence with God in eternity. And our defeated flesh will rise again in glory to live forever. This momentary affliction is nothing compared to the eternal weight of glory in store for us.
And so it happens again today, as it always does at his family gatherings. We confess and are absolved. The Gospel is proclaimed. Sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ. So all Satan’s might has come unraveled. The strong man is defeated by the God-man. Jesus lives, the victory’s won. And that victory is yours. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.