June 3, 2020

Sermon: Jesus, the Stronger Man (Mark 3:20-27)

JESUS, THE STRONGER MAN
Sermon by Chaplain Mike
Preached June 10, 2012

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This past week marked the 68th anniversary of D-Day, which took place on June 6, 1944. It was on that day that the Allied forces invaded Europe by crossing the English Channel and landing on the beaches of Normandy. It was the largest amphibious assault in world history, as air, land, and sea forces sought to turn the tide of World War II by getting a foothold in Europe and inaugurating its eventual liberation. By the end of that day, 160,000 American, British, and Canadian troops had landed along a fifty-mile stretch of the French coast. The enemy fought hard to push back the assault from dug-in bunkers that had been under construction for four years. It is still unclear to this day how many Allied soldiers died on D-Day, but estimates range from 2,500 to 5,000. It was a costly victory, but a victory nonetheless.

In fact, one might say that we won the war on D-Day. It was the decisive battle. From that point on, the Allied forces advanced until the war was over nearly a year later. May 8, 1945 is called V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day); it marks the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces and the end of the Third Reich.

So, the war was won on D-Day but not over until V-E Day. In between, a lot of fighting went on, but the outcome was certain.

This is analogous to our Christian faith. When Jesus came, he inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Through his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Jesus won the war against the forces of sin, evil, and death. However, as we are all well aware by experience, the battles are not yet over. We still await the consummation of Jesus’ great victory and in the meantime, the fight goes on.

One might say that Christians live between D-Day and V-E Day. The decisive invasion has occurred. Victory is sure. God’s Kingdom has gained a sure foothold in this world. Nevertheless, we still find ourselves in a fight, we still sustain our losses, we still struggle and wonder sometimes if final victory will ever come.

Gen. 1, Rick Rietveld

God the King Who Sets Up His Temple in the World

Imagery of conflict and battle is present throughout the Bible. It actually starts on the first page, with the story of Creation. The Ancient Near Eastern peoples all had their myths and stories of creation. And they followed a similar pattern:

  • One of their gods would engage in cosmic warfare against rival gods who threatened to turn the universe into chaos.
  • The god would conquer his rivals and bring order out of chaos.
  • The god would then set up his temple and throne and begin to rule.

These are the myths that the Genesis story both reflects and refutes. We see a similar pattern:

  • The world is portrayed as being overwhelmed by the forces of chaos: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…”
  • Then the true and living God, Yahweh, rises up and speaks. Darkness flees, there is light, and God begins ordering the world by separating the waters and assigning them their boundaries, and he eventually brings order to the chaos and turns the world into a place that is “good.”
  • Finally, God turns the entire world into his cosmic temple, hanging the lights in its dome and filling it with good things. He assigns human beings to be his priestly representative and to multiply his blessing throughout the earth.

This Biblical story of Creation reflects the creation myths of the Ancient Near East by portraying God as the King of all, who overcame the forces of chaos, created order, and established his Temple in the world.

But it also refutes those myths. In Genesis we don’t read elaborate accounts of battles between Yahweh and other gods. Instead Genesis portrays him as the one true and living God who has no rivals, who only needs to speak a word and his will is accomplished for his glory and the good of his creatures.

God the Redeemer Who Defeats the Gods of Egypt and Frees His People

Another great portrayal of God as a cosmic warrior and King is given in the story of the Exodus.

Exodus 12:12 says that what God was doing in the Exodus was “executing judgment on the gods of Egypt.” This was not just a battle between Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner! In fact, there is evidence that the plagues were sent specifically to point out that Yahweh was greater than the gods the Egyptians worshipped. For example:

  • The Egyptians worshipped the god of the Nile. Through Moses, God turned the Nile, the source of Egypt’s life and fruitfulness, into blood.
  • They also worshipped a goddess of fertility who had the appearance of a frog. Frogs represented fertility and God said, “You want to see fertility?” and he filled the land with frogs.
  • The Egyptians had a god of the sun. The plague of darkness was God’s judgment on this god.
  • They also had a god of death and the underworld. In the final plague, God showed his power over life and death, despite the best efforts of the Egyptians to appeal to their god for help.

Another act God performed in the Exodus was the parting of the Red Sea, which led to the deliverance of Israel and the destruction of the Egyptian armies. This act, by which God parted the waters in order to bring his people to a good land, reminds us of God’s work in creation, when he put the waters of chaos in their place so that the land might be made good for his creatures.

* * *

These are two great examples of how the Bible portrays God as the King above all so-called “gods,” the One who has no rivals, who rules without peer over the forces of chaos and oppression, who saves his people, brings them into his Kingdom, and rules over them with goodness and mercy. The Psalms that reflect upon these stories put these truths in unforgettable words:

O Lord God of hosts,
who is as mighty as you, O Lord?
Your faithfulness surrounds you.
You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them.
You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.
The north and the south—you created them;
Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
You have a mighty arm;
strong is your hand, high your right hand.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

– Psalm 89:8-14, NRSV

Jesus, “The Stronger Man” Who Binds the Strong Man

What does this have to do with our Gospel text for today? Beginning in Mark 3:21, we read these words:

 …people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

The Gospel of Mark regularly portrays Jesus as what this text calls, “The Stronger Man.” Satan is the “strong man” in this saying, but Jesus is stronger — he binds the strong man and plunders his goods. The other gospels may emphasize Jesus’ teaching or his parables or his healings, but Mark emphasizes the encounters he had with the forces of evil. It stresses the battles Jesus had with the devil and his forces. It shows him rebuking those forces, casting them out of afflicted people, conquering the forces of chaos that bind our lives and bringing order and peace.

  • It shows him at his temptation, surrounded by wild beasts in the wilderness, overcoming Satan’s tests. (1:12-13)
  • It shows him in the synagogue at Capernaum, silencing and casting out an unclean spirit, and the people were astonished, saying, “What is this? An new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (1:21-28)
  • It shows Jesus, going “throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (1:39)
  • It shows him being crowded by throngs of people so great they threatened to crush him, and he healed them and helped them. The text says, “Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.” (3:11-12)
  • On two occasions in Mark 1-6, it shows Jesus exercising power over the chaotic forces of the sea. On one of them, a storm came up while Jesus and the disciples were crossing the sea in the evening. Jesus stood up and rebuked the sea, saying, “Peace, be still.” And all was immediately calm. (4:35-41) On the other occasion, the disciples were caught in a storm on the sea and Jesus came to them, walking on the sea, and again with a word he calmed the winds and the waves. (6:45-52)

These portrayals of Jesus, especially those that show him as what one songwriter called, “Lord of the Troubled Sea,” call to mind the God of Creation and the God of the Exodus. As God ruled over the waters of chaos and separated them so as to bring order and a good land for his creatures, and as God parted the waters of the Red Sea, delivered his people and conquered his enemies, so Jesus came to be the One who would bring order out of the chaos of our lives and establish his Kingdom in us and for us.

Jesus Fights for Us

So, what I’d like for all of us to know and embrace today is this Good News: no matter what you and I have in our lives that seems strong against us, Jesus is the Stronger Man.

No matter what forces of chaos threaten to overwhelm you and tear your life apart, Jesus is the Stronger Man, and he has come to bring order and peace to your life.

No matter how much the seas of circumstance may rage against you so that you feel like you’re going under and about to drown, Jesus is the Stronger Man who rebukes the wind and the waves and creates calm.

No matter how much you feel you are losing the battle against sin and brokenness in your life and relationships, Jesus is the Stronger Man who defeated sin on the Cross and through the Empty Tomb.

No matter how much life threatens to discourage you and get you off course and make you want to quit, Jesus is the Stronger Man, and he can awaken courage, faith, and hope in you to face the most troubled situations.

Satan and the forces of chaos, sin, evil, and death may be strong, but Jesus is the Stronger Man. When the world was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep he breathed his Spirit and spoke his word, and brought order and goodness.

When the strong powers of Egypt enslaved God’s people and held them in bondage, he showed he’s the Stronger Man. He put the gods of Egypt to shame and parted the waters so that his people could be liberated.

Then, at the climax of history, when darkness covered the land, and Jesus hung on a Cross, crying out that God had forsaken him, at the point of his most apparent weakness, Jesus was, in reality, the Stronger Man, for by his humiliation, suffering, and death, he destroyed the power of sin and death forever.

And when he rose from the dead, appeared to his disciples, ascended into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of the Father, when he poured out the Holy Spirit to create a new community and send them into the world as his witnesses, Jesus showed that he is the Stronger Man and that the cruel forces of this world will ultimately fall before the power of faith, hope, and love.

Now I know it doesn’t always look like Jesus is the Stronger Man. Sometimes the battle is fierce and we get wounded, and sometimes we fall and those around us fall, just like our soldiers did in the fields and villages of Europe between D-Day and V-E Day. The victory had been won. The Stronger Man had prevailed. A foothold had been established, guaranteeing ultimate triumph. But they had to keep going.

Our forces had to believe it, to keep fighting, keep advancing, keep supporting and encouraging each other, keep tending to the wounded, keep setting free the people bound by chaos and oppression.

That’s what this life in Christ is all about — Walking in the victory of Christ. Going forward, and helping one another, and setting the captives free.

 …in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:37-39

And it’s all because Jesus is the Stronger Man.

Comments

  1. “If we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing. We’re not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.”

    – Luther (A Mighty Fortress is our God)

  2. All praise and glory to Jesus Christ, the Stronger Man!

    Magnificent, Chaplain Mike.

  3. Pastor Don says

    Thank you CM for a heaven sent word for us all. I wish I would have seen these things years ago, but I am also happy I am able to see them at all. He is the stronger man, resplendent in grace and truth!

  4. A very U.S-centric perspective. Many would say the decisive battle was fought at Stalingrad.

  5. Also, I’m not sure I approve of this whole “strongman” theology. Does might make right? Is THAT really the lesson we’re meant to take out of WW2?

    • Actually, it’s quite the opposite of “might makes right”. Jesus defeated His enemies by letting them kill Him. Victory comes through surrender, and weakness us the way of the Kingdom.

      • Amen! It is precisely our inability to change our behavior and, more importantly, our deeply ingrained nature, our weakness and proclivity to sin that highlights the victory that occurs simply by dying. Dropped into the water of baptism. We give up. We admit there’s no program for change except the Spirit of God ressurectong our dead bodies with the resurrected Christ. How that slowly translates into a new creation is the “working out” of our salvation – not learning how to ‘act’ better but learning how to give up and die daily. That is the ongoing warfare. The crucifixion of ego me and the permission for Christ to live in this sin scarred vessel.

    • It’s a metaphor. Jesus used it in the Gospel text for today. That’s why I used it.

  6. thanks chaplain mike- this was extremely helpful for me.

  7. My 10 year old son son doesn’t like passages like these because he says that God sounds evil in destroying some people’s lives in favor of other people’s lives. He says that Jesus told us to love our enemies and that God is love so how could he be so mean as to send the plagues and kill all those innocent babies. For him, there is no reconciling the God of the OT and the Jesus that we experience in the NT. He’s read some of the Dali Lama’s books and thinks that it’s more consistent – the current Dali Lama actually walks the walk and so have his predecessors. I always thought the OT stories were designed to teach us about an immature experience of God (an experience without the “completion” of Jesus). But out of the mouths of babes…if God is so good and loving, then what is he doing killing thousands of people, including piles of infants and small children who have not had the opportunity to know him? It’s not about fair/not fair…the world is not fair…it’s about being inconsistent. Either God is love or he’s not. The strong man, I feel, is used so often by people to oppress other people. Love one another…no exceptions…no take-backs.

    • i wanted to offer a book that really helped me with an understanding of the OT- it’s called “God Behaving Badly” and it’s by David Lamb. He’s an Old Testament scholar and professor. It’s fairly reader friendly- although it your 10 year old is reading the Dali Lama- he would be fine with a scholarly book i’m sure! He gives some context and perspective to the culture and time back then and tackles some of the tougher questions about the commands to slaughter everyone in certain nations. Just wanted to offer it, if it would be helpful in any way!

      • Lamb tries to explain away most problematic incidents by interpreting them half to death. A far more fruitful (and honest) approach would be to embrace the dichotomy as a kind of riddle, as in Jewish meditations on the Akeda (the “Binding” of Isaac) or the Slaughter of the Firstborn. If he’s old enough to ask the questions, he’s old enough to handle more mature approaches to religion that avoid sugar-coating the darkness of God.

    • Christ is depicted in Psalm 45 as a warrior king and yet his trademarks and the reason for his success in battle are detailed as truth, humility and righteousness. Dalai Lama like? His power is necessary but it is exercised in benevolence and goodness, to defeat evil. Evil has potency. It is not just shadows. It can only be defeated by an even more potent force that the Dalai Lama knows all about – Love. Christ is the potency and power of love.

    • “…and so have his predecessors.”

      Well, no. See Elliot Sperling’s article ” ‘Orientalism’ and Aspects of Violence in the Tibetan Tradition,” which opens with a mention of killings ordered by the Fifth Dalai Lama.

      http://info-buddhism.com/Orientalism_Violence_Tibetan_Buddhism_Elliot_Sperling.html

    • But I agree with you and your son about the violent, coercive imagery of Christianity. Any God or Christ who would slaughter innocents or send them to hell, is a monster undeserving of worship. Basic human decency trumps any commandment of the Bible. Too often, Christians gravitate to the authoritarian side of their religion when they should be focusing on its positive, idealistic aspect.

      • Gerald, your comments have nothing to do with the content of the sermon. You are taking a simple metaphor about God conquering chaos and evil, and then shifting the conversation to questions of theodicy. You’re seriously off topic.

        • CM, Sorry – it was my fault for pulling it a bit off-topic – my apologies. I was merely commenting on the violent nature of the OT and psalm excerpts in the sermon along with the reference to D-Day and VE-Day and noting a direct conflict with NT teachings of love. It is something I have always accepted without question, but my son read this post and mentioned again the issues he has with reconciling the OT God with the God that Jesus teaches us about. I believe the true strength of Jesus is his power of love, redemption and forgiveness, not the power of might discussed in the OT example of the Exodus.

          • I am disappointed to read that you see two different Gods. The God of the OT is the same God whom Jesus spoke about. We tend to read Law and Grace, Violence and Peace, when the OT was just as much about grace as the NT was. Look at the context. People living in a violent world opposed to God. That God acted with violence was not arbitrary nor graceless. Think of Rahab who told Caleb and Joshua her people had heard of their God; how he had wiped out the Egyptian army. That was over 400 years prior to her encounter with them. If they knew, why didn’t they get their house in order? Why didn’t they seek him instead of continue to defy him. Do you know what went on in that land? Archaeologists have discovered mounds of infant remains in the red-light district, babies tossed out like garbage into the gutter; dogs buried with more care than children, children buried in the cornerstone of homes as a thank offering to the gods. How long is God supposed to wait before he deals with these kinds of things and more? Do we not cry out today as we consider the horror of violence that is happening all around the world and demand that God do something about it? The fact is, he did do something about it through the Incarnation, the cross and the resurrection. And yet we still live in a violent world. Is God powerless? No, man is relentless in his heart for evil. Yet God is patient. God waits. As he did in the OT and in the NT and still does today. But he does not wait forever. There are times when he says, enough! You don’t see violence in the NT? Consider again the life of Christ and all that he dealt with. Consider what he endured. Consider what his followers went through as recorded in Acts and beyond. Consider Revelation. Tozer asked if the world was a battleground or a playground. How you answer reveals what you understand about God, this world, our need for salvation and grace, and our overall orientation to God himself. Tell your son yes, God was violent – matching the violence in the hearts of people and showing them where it leads if they persist. Your son should be horrified by it – and by it, I mean the persistence of people to hang onto evil ways in light of what God has shown it will ultimately do to them. He should be horrified that God’s extended grace keeps getting ignored, even defied and then ask him, what is God supposed to do? Let people destroy themselves completely or step in? Let them shake their fist at him generation after generation or step in? What exactly is the loving thing to do? Yes, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In the end, what is God supposed to do with those who refuse his grace. Is it not a rather violent outcome for them? The OT is all about redemption. Read it again through the lens of a God redeeming people and telling his message of love. You will see a God madly in love, doing everything he can to open people’s eyes to his grace, and relentlessly rejected by those same people. If that isn’t the most violent thing one can do, I don’t know what is.

    • LA….I totally agree that this is a tough paradox to process, BUT….

      Remember that at age 10, your son is still in the “concrete” stage of thinking, and is just beginning to have the mental muscles developed that will allow him to think and reason in the abstract. Things are very black and white to him, but it is awesome to watch their minds and spirits grow “in wisdom and understanding”.

      (no at all impuning how bright he is, just comments on development from a grandma and ole’ pediatric nurse)

      🙂

      • Thanks, Patti, though I think he has never been a concrete thinker. When he was 5 and we watched Star Wars Return of the Jedi, he said Luke was not upset that Darth was his dad, he was scared because he suddenly saw in himself all the feelings and situations that led Darth to turn to evil and realized he had to work doubly hard to stay on the right path. So when my son says he can’t be Christian because he cannot commit himself fully to the warring God of the OT, he’s likely given it a lot of deep thought. I would love to hear CMs thoughts on this because in tying WW II in with the sermon, I feel as if he’s giving credence to the fact that sometimes war in the name of righteousness is sanctioned by the NT God. I pray deeply that we as a human race will outgrow the need for armed conflict. And while I feel that I have benefitted from their sacrifice; there is a superfine line between memorializing and idolizing.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      It’s kind of hard to argue with an ACTUAL 10-year-old boy, even though sometimes I get a lot of practice by debating with a few closed-minded professed Christians. True, the concept of God as a spiritual general is a theme carried throughout the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation; we cannot just pretend that it does not exist. However, we can reconsider exactly WHO the enemy is against which God fights. Too often, folks get it in their heads that the enemy is liberals, or Democrats, or gays, or feminists, or atheists. The battle that rages between sin and righteousness goes way above and beyond human beings. I would tell your son that the God of the NT is still a war god, but a) He is on our side, and b) He already made it through D-Day, so the deciding battle is already won.

  8. God is wild. He will do what He will do.

    The last thing I want is a wimpy god that reflects human nature and is subject to the will of His creation.

    If you want to see real love, the greatest expression of love the world has ever, or will ever know…then look at the cross of Jesus.

    • Then God cannot be called “good” in any meaningful sense.

      And what led you to conclude that Christ’s crucifixion was “the greatest expression of live the world…has ever known”? Many people have given their lives and/or their deaths for the sake of others, without the promise of a glorious resurrection three days later. Are you not just unthinkingly repeating the ideology that you have been taught to believe?

      • “the greatest expression of love” was carried out by someone who had Everything to lose and freely handed over everything. Remember Satan offered the kingdoms of the world. He died for those who hated him as well as His friends. Finally, “the promise of a glorious ressurection three days later” comment reveals a woeful shallowness in regards to what occurred in the being of Jesus on the cross. For further enlightenment on how He himself viewed it, see His passion in the Garden of Gethsemene. It does not appear like cruise control because this will all be history in a few days. High fives all around. We got this covered. He, being God, emptied His very being for us. It was a unique event amongst the many who have given their lives for others. Not to disparage them. They are better than me. But don’t disparage Christ who became the propitiation for the sins of the world.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        I’m thinking, Gerald, that you are asking some pretty deep questions, which may or may not be best answered within this individual post. It seems as though you have some assumptions about what is implied by calling something or someone “good” (e.g., a “good” and all-powerful God, by His very nature, would send everyone to heaven). It also seems as though there is some confusion over the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and the actual nature of that sacrifice. There are libraries’ worth of books devoted to explaining that concept. As optimistic and simple as Steve Martin’s post was, I can guarantee you that you will not get your answer or a satisfactory response here.

  9. Everyone is welcome to visit my web site… thestarofkaduri.com

    • What is the Star of Kaduri? I looked at your site and it doesn’t explain. It seems to be messianic Jewish, but with some Art Bell type stuff coming in the future. (“ARE THESE THE DAYS OF 666? …ARE UFOs REAL? …Peter Romanus: The Final Pope”)

  10. That’s a nice post.