Wednesday, 28 April 2010

First Bind the Strong Man

These words come from Jesus. They establish an important priority if you are going to plunder a house or a city. You have to deal with the one who defends it first.

Let’s look at the passage it comes from:

Then one was brought to Him who was demonized, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard t hey said “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons.” But Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Every Kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. And if satan casts out satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the spirit of God, surely the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Or else how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first bonds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” Matt 12.22-30.

The whole passage sits at a turning point in Jesus ministry. The persecution and rejection of the religious leaders is reaching its zenith. From Chapter thirteen onwards Jesus will only teach in parables, explaining His meaning to those who are hungry to know more; Matt 13.10-18.

In the healing of this demonised man, we see a contrast between the reaction of the people and that of the Pharisees. The demonization in this case had physical symptoms. The man was deaf and mute. I use the word demonized rather than demon-possessed intentionally. The word possessed is not present in the Greek. It implies ownership and control. This may be true in extreme circumstances with unbelievers but not with believers. Paul teaches that, “You are not your own; for you were bought at a price” 1Cor 6.19-20. However, even believers can open the door to demonic influence, 1Cor 10.20-22; 11.27-31.

Demonization means to have a spirit; an unclean spirit. It is a word that covers a whole spectrum of demonic influence from oppression to infestation. The Gadarean demoniac is an example of the extreme end of the spectrum of infestation. Peter telling Jesus not to go to the cross is at the other end; Matt 16.21-23. But this is not the main focus of the account. In this short passage Matthew is less concerned about the man and his healing as he is about the reaction it provoked.

For the multitudes it evoked amazement. They began to ask, “Could this be the Son of David?” This is a clear reference to Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne, the King of Israel, the Messiah. Such a statement incensed the Pharisees and they are quick to attribute Jesus power over demons to, “Beelzebub (satan) the ruler of the demons”. The possibility that Jesus could be the Messiah is not even in their frame of reference. They are in fact attributing the work of the Spirit to satan. This was the blasphemy Jesus goes on to speak of in Matt 12.31-37.

One healing took place but two reactions emerged; the same event but different perceptions. And in this case it is the poor, uneducated multitudes that see the obvious, “Could this be the Messiah?” They are least asking the right questions! But the Pharisees are hostile to Jesus. They are already plotting how to destroy Him, Matt 12.14. Now they try to discredit Him. But Jesus goes on the attack to expose their faulty thinking. He uses simple logic to begin with, employing three examples, a Kingdom, a city and a house.

Life teaches us that if a Kingdom, city or house is divided it cannot stand. The internal conflict causes it to fall apart. Without unity of purpose there can be no building or extending. The outcome of division is ‘desolation’. So their accusation that Jesus is being empowered by the devil is inconsistent with the outcome – the man was set free! This is not the devil’s goal. He comes, “to steal, to kill and to destroy....” John 10.10.

The second point He makes is the question about other exorcists. Those authorised by the Pharisees to perform deliverance. They would judge the Pharisees concerning this verdict.

Now Jesus comes to the real issue. The Kingdom of God has come in the presence of Jesus. He moves in a new authority, Kingdom authority. This authority is encountered in the Holy Spirit. The unclean spirit has to leave because the Holy Spirit is present and His power is released through the command of Jesus. This harks back to creation itself when the Holy Spirit was present, hovering over the face of the waters, waiting for the command of God. And when God spoke the Spirit moved and creation took place.

We have something similar in this text. The Holy Spirit was with Jesus as the ‘Anointed One’, waiting for His command to set the captives free. Every time Jesus healed someone He was releasing the creative power of the Spirit. It was a demonstration of the Kingdom, the rule of God. God’s rule had come and every other rule must give way.

Finally we come to our key text. Thieves often plunder houses at night when the owner is asleep, hoping not to disturb them, Matt 24.43. But there is another way. Tie them up first! This is what the word bind means. When someone is tied up their power to fight back becomes ineffectual. Their home can be plundered. This word in the Greek means to take by force.

In the context of this passage Jesus has come to ‘bind the strong man’. For too long the devil has been stealing from God’s people. They have been plundered of things like; health –physically and mentally, finances, destiny and calling. Jesus is the good shepherd who has come to bring life, John 10.10. He does so by binding the devil.

We read this in 1John 3.8b “For this purpose the son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil”. Now the plunderer can be plundered. Now the devil must surrender what he has taken. Jesus has come to help us take back our rightful inheritance. Under the rule of God we can use Kingdom authority against the enemy and see people healed and set free. God’s kingdom is a liberating encounter.

In Matt 16 and Matt 18 Jesus mentions the church, the only two times in all the gospels. In both occasions he speaks of our need to ‘bind’ and ‘loose’ or ‘tie up’ and ‘untie’, Matt 16.19; 18.18. The church is given the ‘keys of the Kingdom’. We have an authority to exercise on behalf of those who are bound. And Jesus tells us heaven will agree with our decisions when they are made in submission to His desires.

The church exists to tie things up and let things go. Sometimes those decisions will be easy. Sick people need healing, that’s easy. Disciplining people requires more wisdom and a process that ensures justice. That’s what Matt 18.15-20 is all about. Even here a judgement must eventually be made. Binding must take place that may mean excluding an unrepentant brother from fellowship. Ouch. That has to hurt. But the issues at stake are huge.

An unwillingness to accept when we have hurt someone and take ownership of this by saying sorry is a sign of deep-rooted pride. It will spread like cancer if untreated. The call to forgive stands. But so does the call to repent and take ownership for offences we have caused. To do so is to admit we are fallible and is a sign of humility. Such a posture allows fellowship to be restored in a meaning full way. Without it there is no real fellowship, no real unity and no real agreement. Such a house will come to desolation.

In Luke 13.11-17 we have the account of a woman who had a spirit of infirmity. Her back was bent over and she couldn’t straighten herself. She is described by Jesus as a ‘daughter of Abraham’. As one of God’s covenant people, all the benefits of the covenant belonged to her. It was part of her inheritance. But she had been robbed of good health by a spirit of infirmity. She too was demonized. And in this record Jesus uses the words bind and loose to describe both action of the devil and His action in setting her free.

When criticised by the ruler of the synagogue for performing this miracle on the Sabbath Jesus is angry. They had missed the whole point of the Sabbath. It was never a limitation on doing good things or showing mercy. Even donkeys were let loose on the Sabbath to enjoy a drink. “So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” Luke 13.16. Satan has bound her for 18 years. Jesus wanted them to think hard about this. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t just. It wasn’t Kingdom. She had been tied up for too long. So He untied her!

All of this illustrates the need for the church to move in Kingdom authority; an authority that allows us to bind and loose. They key issue is discerning where things are tied up (bound) that need to be untied (loosed) and where they are untied and need to be tied up. This issue is important in ministry for many of us have grown up in cultures where we have become ‘bound’ in our thinking. We place limits on ourselves and others based on scripts that we have learned early in life.

These scripts are often rooted in the traditions of men, taboos and protocols that we follow without seriously questioning them. They limit us from reaching our full potential. Picasso once said that everyone is born an artist. The trick is remaining an artist as you grow into an adult. Our education system tends to reward the development of certain ways of thinking and learning and penalise other ways. In the process creativity can die and people can become disillusioned.

Children don’t live with these kinds of limits. They see endless possibilities. When my son was six we attended a school fete. I was dressed as Henry V111. The problem was those kinds of costumes is they have no pockets. He duly asked me for money to buy a drink and a sweet. I had nothing to hand but a good friend standing by offered to pay and gave me a five pound note. That was a lot of money to give a six year old. So I gave what I believed where explicit instructions. “Go and buy yourself a drink and a sweet and then bring me the change straight away”. Off he trotted.

Time went by and no sign of my son. Eventually I saw him walking towards me toting three, two litre bottles of Pepsi, Sprite and Fanta under one arm and a whole load of chocolate bars balanced on the other. I was almost lost for words. “What have you done?” Not a very intelligent question when you think about it! I could see what he had done. I’ll never forget his reply. “I did what you said dad, but they didn’t give me any change!” I couldn’t help but laugh.

This little boy had no conception of proportion, moderation or any of the other social moderators that were in my head. I should have been explicit; one drink and one chocolate bar. But I wasn’t. So he spent it all. There is something about this story, (which is absolutely true), I love. No wonder that Jesus told us to become like children if we want to enter the Kingdom of God. There are creative possibilities we see as children that we lose as adults. Our thinking becomes bound, limited, bordered. We develop what psychologists call learned helplessness.

Jesus stepped into a world that had been ruled by sin for so long people had forgotten what living under God’s reign could be like. Even the religious leaders of His day proffered a religion that didn’t heal people or set them free. It was powerless. Jesus showed us another way. He lived with a different mindset. Instead of speaking to people as they were He began to speak to them as He saw them, in their potential. And when they believed Him, they became what He saw.

Nathanial, the man who had a pure spirit would see things, an open heaven over Jesus. Simon the fisherman would become Peter, the rock, a great leader. Zaccheaus the tax collector and extortioner would become a philanthropist and righteous man. Each would become loosed from their past in order to be bound to their futures. I find it interesting that Paul uses this language when he spoke to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.22. “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem.....” Paul felt ‘bound in the spirit’. What a fascinating phrase. To follow Jesus is to be bound to Him; bound to His destiny, bound to His promises, bound to His nature.

This is part of our calling as a church. It isn’t just about casting our demons or healing people. It’s that and more. It’s plundering the enemies goods – totally. It’s releasing people from darkness into light as they come to faith in Jesus. It’s taking everything back that belongs to us as God’s people. It’s daring to use the authority Jesus has been given and now shares with us – His church.

Col 2.15 tells us that at the cross Jesus 'disarmed principalities and powers'. Their weapons have been taken. But we can re-arm them if we believe their lies. We can re-arm them if we don’t live in the truth. We can stay bound if we don’t follow Jesus into the fullness of all that He has for the church. My prayer for us is that we learn the art of using our Kingdom authority to bind and loose and so fully step into our destiny as the people of God. What has the devil taken from you that you need to reclaim? I suggest you go do some plundering – in Jesus name.