What about Satan?

Posted 6/10/2018

Scripture: Mark 3:20-35

“He’s out of his mind!”; so thought Jesus’ family. “He’s possessed by Satan!”; so posited the scribes. Quite frankly most of us here today are probably a lot more comfortable with the first suggestion, that Jesus might be out of his mind, than the second, that he is possessed by Satan, because most of us grew up in a world where thoughts of devils and Satan seemed ridiculous — remnants of superstitions long ago left behind us. (This despite Flip Wilson’s “the devil made me do it” of my youth.)

Yet perhaps it is time we re-examined our attitude toward the reality of Satan. In a world where there is mass shooting after mass shooting, terroristic attacks seem ever present and the reality of evil seems to be woven into the fabric of our lives in ways we never believed possible, it just may be time to take Scriptural comments about Satan more seriously.

First off, let’s be honest about what we face today. Yes, the world truly does seem to be a more scary place now than it did in the past. But some of that has to do with the fact of our constantly available news. As I was recently reminded, in my childhood there was, at best, a 1/2 hour local news program and a 1/2 hour national news program in the evening. In contrast to that, today we have multiple cable channels devoted to news 24/7 — and the fact is they have to come up with SOMETHING to fill all those hours. Furthermore, not only do they broadcast news 24/7 they frequently are also running a scroll of news across the bottom of the screen. Now I know a lot of the news on news channels is repeated over and over again; yet to get audiences to continue to listen, they really have to come up with something new as often as they can. That means they are constantly looking for anything that might be called news. So, to put it simply, we are exposed to a lot more of what happens in our world than we were in the past.

To feel the impact of this reality has on how we view the world, consider these statistics: The homicide rate in 2014 was 4.5/100,000. This was the lowest it has been since 1963. To get a lower homicide rate you have to go back to 1957, when it was 4.0/100,000. The rates of murder and violent crime in 2017 were almost 50% below their early-1990’s peak. The fact is, in some ways our world really isn’t a more dangerous place; we simply hear about more crimes because our ever-present news broadcasts cover more than they used to. 

In addition to our hearing more news, this sense of things being so much worse is also is driven by a news bias toward covering the negative news because that’s what is “sensational” and draws audiences. Let’s be honest, most of us aren’t going to tune in to hear what happens next if a reporter talks about a teen helping an elderly person across the street. Yes, the story will probably tug at our heartstrings for a moment or two; but then we move on. However, let there be a report of a mass shooting or a potential terrorist attack and we will tune in to hear every last detail the reporter can uncover. These stories will grab our attention for days as we anxiously wait to hear the latest on the investigation.

In saying all this, I’m not trying to minimize the actual presence or the seriousness of evil in our world. Clearly, there is a lot of evil. I’m saying this not to minimize the reality evil; but because it seems to me the fact we now find ourselves so struck by the amount of evil in our world indicates we may have been taking the reality of evil too lightly for too long.

So what are we to make of all this evil? How are we, as Christians, to respond?

As I’ve already indicated, the first thing we need to do is admit evil is real. One of the practical ways we need to do this is to stop believing everyone is “good.” For too long even we Christians have bought into the popular idea of our culture that “everyone is good at heart.” We have treated evil as if it were an aberration, somehow alien to the true nature of people. Yet evil is real and real people do evil. 

Please pay attention to what I am saying. I’m NOT saying that real people are completely evil. I am saying real people — including you and I — do evil. We are none of us angels, despite our desire to consider everyone “good.” As John Bradford is reputed to have said in reference to a group of prisoners being led to execution, “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” His remarks, and the reality of evil in our world, points to the truth that ALL of us are capable of sin — and under the right circumstances could be guilty of grave sin — that is real evil.

Jesus clearly pointed out in our passage for today both the reality and the power of evil. He describes Satan — evil — as being like a “strong man” who must be “bound” before his possessions can be taken. Clearly Jesus doesn’t consider evil to be a minor problem — it is both real and really serious.

So where does that leave us? Is there any hope — or is evil simply something we must accept — must learn to live with? 

The good news is that Jesus declares he is the one who is stronger. He is the one who is able to bind that strong man, Satan. But that means in the face of evil our hope isn’t in falling crime rates or eliminating terrorists, it is in Jesus — the one who is both able to and actually has overcome evil. Our hope isn’t in somehow better educating people, so they don’t make “bad choices;” it is in Jesus — the one who is both able to and actually has overcome evil. Our hope against the sin in our lives — the evil we do — isn’t in somehow making a greater effort to be good, it is in Jesus — the one who is both able to and actually has overcome evil.

Jesus is the one who is able to address the evil in our own lives. As Christians — individually and as a body — we are empowered to fight against the evil that is found in us by the power of the Holy Spirit poured into our lives. In Christ, in the power of the Spirit, we are empowered to be the people God would have us be — people who are loving, just and merciful — people who are growing to be more like Jesus. Our lives can be changed — not to the point we no longer have to struggle with sin in our lives; but in a way that gives us true victories over sin despite our sinful tendencies. 

Jesus is also the one who is able to address the evil in our world. But we need to remember just how Jesus has addressed this evil. Jesus didn’t address the evil and injustice in his world by calling down angels to save him from the cross. Jesus bore the injustice of his condemnation. Jesus bore the cost of human evil — and responded with God’s love. On the cross, Jesus didn’t call down a curse on those who crucify him, but asked for their forgiveness. 

We dare hope, not because Jesus died, but because the same Jesus who was crucified also rose and ascended to heaven to reign. And this same Jesus promises us God’s kingdom WILL come. There will be a day when the power of the cross — the power of God’s love, forgiveness and grace — will overcome all evil. 

All this means that as Christians we take seriously the reality of evil. Sin is real — evil is real — Satan is real — in our own lives and in our world. Yet we also take seriously the promise that in Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension Christ has overcome Satan and is now “plundering” Satan’s “possessions.” We can hold onto the gospel declaration that God — not Satan — will have the final word. That in Jesus the power of evil has been broken and we — and our world — are in the process of being redeemed and made a new creation by God’s love and grace. That in the face of even what may seem like overwhelming evil we can hold onto the hope that God’s kingdom WILL come and God’s will WILL be done. 

In the face of evil, may we hold onto Jesus.