Strong Man or Robber?
“So Jesus called them over and began to speak to them in parables: … If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.” Mark 3:26-27
I used to teach Mark Manuscript (aka The Jesus Class). I loved doing the first read of chapter 3. First read is when you tell everyone to read it like they’ve never read it before. In many cases, people hadn’t actually read it- some in the class were so new to Christianity and bible reading. Many who’d been Christians for years had forgotten that they’d read it. We’d get to the question about the parable Jesus used to describe his authority over unclean spirits. “If Jesus is using this parable to clarify his agenda, who is casting himself as – the strong man or the robber?”
“The strong man!” Almost always the first person to blurt it out in class opts for Jesus being the strong man. “He can’t be the robber.”
“And why not?” asks the teacher.
Blank stares. I always cherished the smell of students’ brains simmering with cognitive dissonance. Usually Jesus lost half my class with his illuminating parables. And I loved it.
You’ll notice this is the second time I’ve titled a redemption moment “Reclaim”. In RE -03, we looked at the lived-parable of Hosea’s life and calling. God was reclaiming his people from idols just like Hosea reclaimed Gomer from prostitution. Here in the New Testament Jesus reclaims what rightfully belongs to him. Reclaiming that which had been stolen. Let’s look at the passage together. Click on the link to download a fresh copy of the Manuscript. Let’s get started.
Freedom and Faith
People are not a blank slate. When we invite non-Christians to consider Jesus, it’s not as though they are spiritual free agents just waiting to be recruited. People are deeply situated in their communities – virtual and real. They already belong. They already identify. And if they’re not Christ following believers, their belonging and identity are distinctly NOT Christian. Can we start there?
What seems to possess people today – what claim is on their identity and sense of self (from the outside)? Do you think people far from God first need freedom from default claims on them in order to even consider him? Or do they need (in some measure) to believe in God in order to get that freedom as a consequence of their faith? When I look at systems that have a deep grasp on people spiritually, two absolutely jump off the screen at me. Consumerism. And narcissism. Do you see that as well? What other sources of power suppress true spiritual freedom today?
When Jesus broke open his public ministry, the gospels show us what he really saw. He saw people as sheep without a shepherd. Harassed. Helpless. He also saw an entire spiritual power structure paralyzing people. Jesus wasn’t just a great preacher. He did more than restore broken bodies. He came to free people from real spiritual influences that severed them from finding their true self in him.
The set-up. Mark 3:13-19
1- What does Jesus authorize the Twelve to do?
2- What does this say about the role of authority in Jesus identifying and calling them?
The Sandwich. Mark 3:20-35
In this passage notice how the second and fourth paragraphs form a sandwich around Jesus’ teaching about exorcism. At first it might seem that Mark is merely reporting what is happening at the rapid pace with which he’s known for employing. Mark 3 contains the first of many events in his gospel he portrays in “Sandwich” format. Give vv 20-35 a fresh read and see if you can spot the slices of bread versus the meat in the middle.
The top slice of bread. Mark 3: 20-22
3- Jesus’ family and the Jewish authorities both have a problem with him. How are their issues with him similar? How are they different?
4- How would you describe the element of power or control in these verses?
5- Who or what is Beelzebul (v22).
Strong Man or Robber? Mark 3:23-30 (aka The Meat!)
5- Why would this be a good time for Jesus to break out in parables? He’s got two sets of people very mad at him. Two groups incredulous with his actions.
6- According to his first explanation about a divided kingdom, what is Jesus saying is NOT happening with public exorcisms he’s been performing?
7- Now on to Jesus’ second explanation. Who is Jesus identifying as the Strong Man? And who according to his parable is the robber (the one doing the plundering)?
8- In Jesus’ parable, who or what is being plundered?
9- How are verses 28-29 an answer to what Jesus is accused of in v 22? What are the consequences for the teachers of the law?
The bottom slice of bread Mark 3:31-35
Take a look at the study notes for this passage. Revisiting the idea of a sandwich, think about why Mark has crafted his narrative this way. The family once again pops into view.
10- Mark uses outsider/insider language in this section. Who are the outsiders? Who are the insiders?
11- Jesus has just redefined “family” on very different terms than family of origin. Why is that significant?
12- What is Jesus teaching his disciples through interaction with these two antagonizing groups (Jesus family of origin and the Teachers of the Law from Jerusalem)?
13- What can we learn about doing the mission of Jesus today in a world where people are not free to follow Jesus in discipleship?
Here’s a glance at the rest of the RE-series which will be getting wrapped up this spring. Stay tuned for a single volume PDF with the entire series (as well as a chart with links to the posts here on the blog).
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