A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Mark 3:20-35 on Sunday 16 September 2018
Last time we were together, we were in Mark chapter 2 and we looked at the calling of Levi to discipleship. Well, today we’ve skipped the end of chapter 2 and half of chapter 3 to begin at verse 20. And here we find that Jesus’ family were worried about him. They were worried that he was mad.
Some families might not have been worried about Jesus. After all, he was enjoying all the outward signs of success. Everywhere he went, large crowds followed him, hanging on his every word, pressing towards him as close as they could get to see or to experience a miracle. Everywhere people went they were talking about the amazing things he said and did. But Jesus’ family were worried about him. They loved him too much to just jump on the Jesus bandwagon. They were worried about what was causing his sudden unusual behaviour. People don’t normally live a regular life as a carpenter in a small village and then go off on a tour of Galilee, picking up fishermen and tax collectors as students in his travelling school. And his family were worried about the effect that Jesus’ sudden celebrity would have on his life.
In fact, the passage in Mark chapters 2 and 3 that we’ve skipped over, would have given them good reason to be concerned. Firstly, there was his rising conflict with the teachers of the law. Jesus seemed to be going out of his way to provoke them. Not only poking the ants’ nest with a stick, but putting his hand right in. Jesus ate and drank with outcasts and sinners. He let his disciples break the Sabbath by rubbing heads of grain together to eat the seeds. Didn’t he know that they couldn’t harvest or thresh grain on the day of rest? And then Jesus himself broke the Sabbath again. He went to the synagogue and healed a man with a withered hand in public. In front of everyone. On purpose. When it wasn’t a life threatening condition and it could easily have waited a few hours until the Sabbath day was over. And when he was confronted, Jesus answered back, so that the Pharisees and the supporters of Herod – two groups who were normally enemies – came together to plot to kill Jesus. I mean, you have to be doing something seriously wrong if both the extreme right and the extreme left of Jewish politics, both the religious conservatives and the religious progressives,are trying to get rid of you. By antagonizing these men, Jesus wasn’t just playing with fire. It was like he had set his own clothes on fire, just to watch them burn.
The other big concern for Jesus’ family was his picking 12 disciples. A wiser man would have scaled back. A sensible person would have laid low. But Jesus seemed to be ramping it up, taking on these 12 apprentices, training them up, franchising his business, so that between them the twelve could go to places that one man could never visit on his own. Maybe, Jesus’ family had hoped that this “kingdom of God” business would be just a passing phase. But it didn’t look like it was going to go away without their intervention.
The third great concern to Jesus’ family were the crowds that he just wouldn’t send away. They followed him everywhere. He let them come close to him. He let them touch him. Jesus’ family finally found him again when he returned to Capernaum. He went into his house and such a large crowd gathered, wanting to listen to him, wanting to see a miracle, there was such a large crowd that Jesus and his disciples couldn’t even eat. Can you imagine that? I generally have a pretty good appetite. I could eat under the most testing circumstances. But to be surrounded by such a crowd of people, such a press of humanity that I couldn’t help myself to any kind of meal is difficult for me to comprehend.
It’s was one thing for Jesus to be successful. I mean, you can’t try to be Israel’s Messiah and do it half-hearted. You have to believe in something that you are willing to risk everything. But for Jesus’ family, for him to be the victim of his own success, for him to let it run so far that it was starting to hurt him, it was the last straw. He wasn’t even looking after himself. They came to take charge of him. Like a parent would take charge of a screaming two year old. Like a son or daughter would take charge of an aged mother who was forgetting to feed herself. Like a teacher would take charge of a class that got out of control.
Of course, I’ve been telling the story so far from the point of Jesus’ family. They had the best of intentions. There is nothing sinister about what they were trying to do. But their actions and their motives remind me of the definition of a theory. A theory is an explanation that explains all the observable facts, but just happens to be dead wrong. Jesus’ family had a theory. They thought that Jesus was mad.
Jesus’ enemies had a different theory. They said that Jesus was bad. In fact, it was a different group of opponents that we see at the end of Mark chapter 3. Up until this point, Jesus had faced the local Pharisees and teachers of the law. The provincials from Galilee. They were doing their best, but Jesus’ popularity was getting beyond them. The problems being caused by his bid to become Messiah were way above their pay grade. Everything they’d tried had failed to stop him.
So the big wigs came from Jerusalem. Big city type teachers of the law fresh from the seat of ruling power in Judea. They came to Capernaum with a cunning plan. “This man,” they said, “is doing all these miracles by the power of Satan. He can cast the demons out of people because he secretly works for the prince of demons.” Again, it’s an excellent theory. It explains all the observable facts. The demons listen to him because they are all on the same team. It was a conspiracy. Satan would lose the chance to keep causing misery to a few individuals, but in return he’d get the lifelong devotion of thousands of people for his servant Jesus. It would have been very persuasive. It only had one minor problem. One little defect. It just happened to be dead wrong.
Because Jesus had a better explanation. Jesus said,
“A house divided against itself cannot stand. A kingdom fighting civil war will destroy itself. And if Satan is divided against Satan the end has come. And evil will disappear. But that’s not true, is it? Rather, what you are witnessing is the plundering of a strong man’s house.”
According to Jesus story, Satan is the strong man. And he is strong. He holds under his power the lives of millions of people, trapped in prisons of drugs, of lies, of violence, and of despair. He owns them. He controls them. Even if they aren’t aware of it, even if they do not acknowledge him, even if they would laugh at you for believing in the existence of a power of evil at work in the world, he has them under his thumb. They may not serve him, they may not worship him, but they are his prisoners. Who or what can save these people? Education can’t do it. Neither can political action or redistributing wealth. Technology seems to be making things worse. In the Western world we seem to be living the best life ever. We have everything we could ever dream of, or at least some of us do. Wealth, health, and our wonderful screens to distract us from all our problems. And yet we are more miserable than ever before. Who or what can save us from the power of Satan? Who can rob this strong man of his stolen goods, his unlawful possessions? Who can break in and rob him and set us free?
Well, Jesus puts it simply. The only person who can rob a strong man is a stronger man. Only if an even stronger man than Satan comes along and overpowers him and ties him up so he is powerless can he rob him of all his prisoners.
Jesus’ family said he was mad. His enemies said he was bad. But Jesus said, “I am Lord.” It is not just a theory. It not only explains all the observable facts but it is also true. What were all Jesus’ miracles but examples of him plundering Satan’s house? Rescuing people from misery and distress and death, all these consequences of the presence of evil in God’s good creation. Satan is strong, believe me. The forces of evil are powerful. But when Jesus healed the sick, when he gave back sight to the blind, when he restored the withered hand, when he commanded the paralysed man to stand up and walk, when he touched the leper and cleansed him, when he ate with the sinners and tax collectors, when he called them to discipleship and they followed him, Jesus was robbing Satan’s house and setting his victims free.
Satan is strong. But Jesus is stronger. Satan is the prince of demons. But Jesus is the king of kings. He isn’t mad. He isn’t bad. He is Lord of heaven and earth. On the cross, Jesus entered Satan’s basement and took his place among Satan’s victims. He suffered shame and pain and rejection and humiliation and death. But Satan was powerless to keep him prisoner. And by his resurrection, Jesus broke open that basement so that light shone in that darkness to set the prisoners free. And by his ascension to the Father’s right hand, Jesus is proclaimed Lord of all.
Satan is strong. He longs to bind you in chains of hate and unforgiveness and pride and hypocrisy and guilt and despair. But Jesus is stronger. His light shines in the darkness and the darkness is helpless but to flee in its presence.
A message came into the house where Jesus was. “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” Jesus said,
“My family aren’t outside. Here am I teaching. My family are inside with me. Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
The moral of this story is that people will treat you the way they treated Jesus. They will say that you are mad for believing in him, for following him, for investing your life in his legends and myths, for taking up your cross, for losing your life for his sake.
Others will say you are bad. Every Muslim extremist thinks he will win glory for Islam with his bombs. Not knowing that he is a tool for Satan to bring shame not just on Islam but on the followers of Jesus as well. Religions are just full of hate, people say. Religion is the cause of all the wars. They seriously believe it, because they are too young to remember the hundreds of millions of people who died for the sake of atheism in the 20th century. They will say Jesus is the devil, his religion is poison and his church is just a trap to take money from fools.
But it isn’t true. Do you know who your really are? You are Jesus’ family. His brothers and sisters. And in him we are the children of God. This is the truth. It isn’t a theory because it not only explains all the observable facts, but it is real and true. Satan is strong. But Jesus is stronger. He is Lord. His light shines in the darkness. And darkness will never put it out.