The Strong Man 

Readings: 2 Colossians 4:13-5:1
                 Mark 3.20 - end
I think the Strong Man episode is better covered by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, so I’m going to refer to those. We have here yet another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. "Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed" (Luke 11:14 NIV). As usual, there were Pharisees among the crowd, who said, that He was driving out the demons by a power given to Him by Satan. Jesus answered, saying the well-known passage of, "How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house (Matthew 12:29 NIV). He said in Luke’s gospel, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe; but when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder. (Luke 11:21 NIV).
The “strong man” is of course Satan, who works in human beings, often possessing and controlling them, by means of his wicked spirits, or demons. Satan is a person, just as Jesus is a person. There’s only one of each. So Satan himself isn’t in all those demon-possessed people we read about in our Bibles. As the Lord has legions of angels, so Satan has many minions, who can enter people and put them indirectly under his power. The Spirit of Jesus lives in those He has redeemed by His blood, which acts as a veil or shield protecting us from the judgement normally reserved for sinners like us.
Jesus is completely open with His believers. Satan is deceitful and devious.  Jesus said of him, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).Believing Christians have been known to fall from the grace of God and lose their precious salvation. Paul wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
One of the reasons for that is that they don’t even realise they’re in a war, let alone seek the protection available to them. They don’t see, hear, or recognise the shells and bullets flying around them. We should never think Satan wouldn’t have a go at us.  For goodness sake, he even tried to tempt Jesus Christ didn’t he? (Matthew 4:4) Paul warned his Ephesian converts to “Put on the full armour of God,” so they could   “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11 NIV).  If we read our Bibles, we know how he told them to put on this armour  - the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 14-17 NIV).
The Belt of Truth enables us to see through the lies of the Enemy’s schemes. The breastplate of righteousness guards the heart against his attacks, perhaps using those close to our hearts to find a way in. Our feet fitted with the Gospel of Peace, which guides our steps and ensures we follow no craftily hidden paths set by Satan, which would gradually move us away from the true path. The Shield of faith speaks for itself. It wards off all his attacks designed to cause division between believers. The Helmet of Salvation protects our minds from intellectual attacks designed by Satan. Finally we have the Sword of the Spirit, which is the only protection mentioned that can be used in attack as well as defence. It is the word of God. For us of course it is our Bible. If we don’t read it, then we don’t get the sword, which is used to parry the thrusts of Satan trying to find a weak spot.
Satan loves those, even Christians, who fall for his greatest deception and don’t believe he exists.  In those, he has a far better chance of victory, because they don’t bother with the armour of God or even know of its existence. How could they? Not only that, they might try to influence those close to them , or others they come into contact with, by their debilitating unbelief. They become unwitting agents of Satan and are actually doing his work for him.
By the way, if anyone really doesn’t believe in Satan, read a newspaper. Daily murders; parents killing their children; children killing their parents; suicide bombings; vehicles used in mass murder; knives and other weapons carried routinely; increasing use of drugs; many of them proving to be lethal, especially among the young; old people afraid to go out in their own neighbourhoods. Significant inroads being made into people’s minds by those (unwittingly) worshipping a false god. Where is all this – Kabul? No, it’s in our own towns and cities every day. Big wins for Satan!
How does Satan keep his hold on the people under his control? Jesus describes him thus The strong man, “fully armed” guards his own house, his possessions are safe (Luke 11:21 NIV). How does he manage this? Paul gave us one answer, when he said, “ The god of this age [Satan]has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV).
In unbelievers the strong man within is the blinding of their hearts and minds. What are these “possessions” he holds onto within a person? What binds them to him? What about man’s love of sin, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19 NIV). Then there’s man’s enmity towards God, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7 NIV). And of course the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3 NIV) to mention but a few.
Jesus gave His life to overcome Satan and take away these holds that he had on us, removing that strong man’s armour with them.
That picture of Satan blinding the minds of unbelievers should guide us when we talk to people about our faith. That condition must be overcome before any progress can be made. The light of Jesus should shine from our eyes, penetrating the darkness, as we tell people about him.
It might be difficult for the uninitiated to recognise the difference between a person blinded to the truth by Satan and actual possession by one of his servants. If we have the slightest doubt, we should contact someone better qualified to deal with the circumstances. Here, it would be either Tim or Roger. But if we find ourselves in a threatening situation of this kind, we must pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit and ask for His protection against who knows what, before we even utter a word.
Of course I’m not saying that every non-believer is possessed by a demon. But until they have the Holy Spirit’s protection, they are blinded to the truth of the Salvation offered by Jesus and therefor vulnerable to attack. They are sinners, as we are, but without the forgiveness we have received.
When we pray for anyone, we should always invoke the help of the Holy Spirit. We should all be doing this in our own way, as we all should be able to as Christians. James told his people they should “…  pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16 NIV).
You will have noticed during the 4th Sunday 10.30 service, when the laying on of hands is offered for healing, strengthening or whatever else is needed, this is always done in pairs, both on the Sanctuary and in the Vestry, where extended, specific prayer is offered. Why do we do this? Because Jesus tells us that, “…  if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven (Matthew 18:19 NIV).
Now this may cause a few gulps but every one of us is supposed to be telling others about our faith. Otherwise we’re saying I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder. We’re saved and safe. Can we honestly look around us, or imagine the billions of people in this world who will become the goats on the left of Jesus; those destined for eternal punishment whilst we, as sheep on His right go to eternal life and not feel moved to do something about it. The sheep on his right were described as righteous and those on his left – cursed. Paul told the Romans that “…  righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:22 NIV). In other words, nothing we have done has made us righteous, it is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8).
 What about our own loved ones? What about work colleagues, or people we see during our leisure hours? Someone else may reach them with the words about Salvation but what if they don’t? Yes I know it’s fashionable to no longer believe in hell, or people being sent there by a loving God. But God isn’t sending people there. He gives us a choice: believe that my precious Son died so that you can have eternal life, or reject it.
 I’ve only been a believer for 33 of my almost 79 years but, even in that comparatively short time, I’ve noticed a gradual shift in people’s views from believing in at least most of what they read in the Bible, to a tendency to disregard anything their own intellect doesn’t agree with. Who on earth do these people think they are? Have they any idea how inferior even the brightest human being’s mind is to that of to God? They can’t believe the nasty stuff. They only want to hear the nice uplifting bits. If the Bible had been written like that, it would have been like a fairy tale book ? fantasy. But it wasn’t and it isn’t! Hardly anyone comes out of it with a spotless character except, of course, Jesus. Also I can’t help but notice there’s been a movement away from reading the Old Testament, if indeed the Bible is read at all. If it isn’t  ? Big mistake!
 Our Bible is unique, because of the way it’s been put together. Don’t you think it’s because of the divinely inspired penmanship that makes it the most wonderful book ever written? Look anywhere in the world and there’s nothing like it. No other religious book contains history, poetry, laws, proverbs, or tells so much about an actual deity, or His love for His people. In some parts of the world, being caught with a Bible in your hand can lead to execution. You could say that thousands are dying to read the Bible. We’re so privileged in this country to be able to access Bibles, read them, quote them, learn from them and benefit from them. We really shouldn’t pass up the chance.
Many people’s only knowledge of the Bible comes from listening to sermons. If we’re only ever made aware of the parts of the Bible we hear in sermons, and the short readings in church, we’re only scratching the surface of the wonders God wants us to know about. If we know more of them, we can call on the scriptures to help us in our daily lives. Whether it’s to help us in a particular situation, to support others, to praise God, to guide us in prayer, to just look for direction or pray for our protection as I mentioned earlier. There are so many testimonies about how knowing about God and being close to Him has helped people.
Speaking of sermons, when people preach, one would trust that they believe they’ve been inspired by the Holy Spirit to give a particular message. It’s always hoped that, although the missive may be general, the Spirit can use what is said to speak to each person, hearing it in an individual way. That works well of course unless there are distractions during the sermon, or if the words are actually heard, or the person hearing them doesn’t have some pressing worry at the time that takes their mind away from what’s being said. The Parable of the Sower shows how the message of the Gospel can be easily lost (Luke 8:5–8).
If a sermon doesn’t contain a message from God, either via the Bible or through inspiration by the Holy Spirit, I begin to wonder why I’m listening. If I didn’t believe that the writers of our Bible were indeed divinely inspired, I’d be faced with a real dilemma. Which books of the Bible do I ignore, and which do I accept as the true Word of God. I thank Him that I have no such problem. I believe that He caused every word of it to be there and still wants them there.  That way, I don’t have to worry which parts are word-for-word true, or which book has the author’s own hang-ups showing through, when it was actually written. I believe God has a reason for it to be the way it is — sometimes baffling; often very challenging, sometimes scary and sometimes so full of love for us that we could weep. If something is in there that I find difficult to understand or believe, I ask God why it’s there. If I still can’t fathom it, maybe that bit has a message to guide someone else.

So, here’s today’s message:
Apart from any other gifting, or lack of it, telling others about Jesus is the prime objective of every believer; a fact which I feel seems to be being pushed further and further down our “to do” list in our Christian lives. If we read our Bibles more often, we would soon feel more confident in telling others of our own experience of life as a believer. We’d also feel more assured that we are being protected by the full armour of God, giving us a far better chance of opening the eyes of others with the light of Jesus penetrating the blindness put there by Satan and taking away his possessions residing in their hearts and minds. What a great feeling that would be. Amen.
 

Jim Glynn, 10/06/2018