Binding the Strong Man

Title: Binding the Strong Man

Text: Matthew 12:29

Date: October 25th, 2009

 

When Jesus came two thousand years ago to begin his work of salvation on earth for us, he didn’t come into a friendly or even neutral world. He came into a hostile environment, because Satan or “the god of this world” as the Bible describes him (John 12:31, 14:30,  2 Corinthians 4:4), had already laid claim to the planet earth and all its occupants. So Jesus was really invading enemy territory when he arrived in his incarnate, human form. But if this is so, how could Jesus go about his work of converting and leading people out of “darkness into his marvelous light” — as another biblical passage describes (1 Peter 2:9)? The answer is Jesus had to first deal with the Devil, defeat him, and then and only then could he free the spiritual captives from sin, death and damnation. That’s exactly what Matthew 12:29 is describing, “Or again, 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 rob his house.” I like how the King James Version puts it – “binds the strong man,” because it conveys the sense of seriousness involved in subduing Satan or Lucifer, that is, actually “binding” him fast so that he can’t actively have his way in the life of an individual. The ancient world was a very dark place – not that today’s secular, modern world isn’t a very dark place also – but ancient times were particularly dark because at that time there was no Christian truth and light present in society, or any Christian church heritage to refer to. We take it for granted that for 2000 years biblical Christian values have shaped Western civilization and American culture. We are seeing the rapid erosion of those biblical Christian values in our culture today, particularly in America with abortion and homosexual rights gaining power, but it’s nothing like it was in ancient times. At least today there is the memory of the Bible, of the church, of the Christian faith standards for right and wrong, of true and false. But in ancient times, in most nations, there was gross immorality and deep darkness; there was dark spiritual error as the normal state of affairs. The Devil and his demons had a field day, so to speak, in the world at that time. The Jewish nation was somewhat of an exception to the norm as far as spiritual truth and good, because God had taught it through the prophets of the Old Testament, but it too was operating in a state of spiritual darkness by the time Jesus arrived on the scene. Its religion had degenerated into a state of rule-keeping and very little spiritual insight and power. So when Jesus began his ministry in the land of Israel, he found the Devil and demons everywhere opposing him, both directly in one-on-one encounters and indirectly through evil opposition in the person of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Jewish scribes, and other leaders. So one of the first priorities of Jesus was to deal with or neutralize the threat of organized evil. He had to constantly “bind the strong man” in order to free the captive souls of humanity. That’s what I’d like to talk about today. What use do we have for this kind of teaching? It’s a reminder that there should be a priority to our struggle to do God’s will in our lives – we should deal with any spiritual opposition we find first before we try to carry out the will of God. This only makes sense. Let me explain.

 

First, the earth is presently Satan’s domain and he rules it. Matthew 12:29, “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions?” Notice the metaphor describes an owner of a house with possessions; this is describing Satan’s claim to ownership of the earth, and to people as his possessions. It’s a chilling description because it actually uses the word “possession” which is exactly what happens when Satan takes full control of a persons mind, body and soul. In Genesis we see the Devil in the Garden of Eden before the Fall of Man tempting Adam and Eve to disobey God and sin by eating the forbidden fruit. He eventually gets them to sin through deception and they lose their spiritual innocence; they become fallen creatures as the earth and everything in it is cursed by God as a result. Ever since that time Satan has laid claim to the world through the first original sin; he assumes he is entitled to it through Adam and Eve’s decision to follow him, not God. He has taken on this authority as fallen humanity has followed him into sin and rebellion ever since. Now not all of humanity is in the same degree of spiritual darkness as other parts of humanity; there are better people groups and there are worse people groups as far as spiritual knowledge and practice. For example, there are different ethnic groups that are more bound in certain sins of immorality than others. There are still other ethnic groups that have been influenced by the Bible and Christianity that conduct themselves in a more excellent moral manner – for example, the early Americans such as the Pilgrims and Puritans used to be known for there faith and piety. But today, even these territories inhabited by especially moral people have fallen into gross immorality. For example, the state of Massachusetts, once the home of moral Pilgrims and Puritans, now is one of the leading areas in the nation for abortion and homosexual rights. The State of Massachusetts just passed legislation allowing for so-called gay marriage. So just because a people and a place were once famous for truth and light doesn’t mean that people and place will remain in the truth and light. There are plenty of other examples to show that the light can be retaken by darkness if people allow it. But when Jesus came to earth 2000 years ago there was great darkness. Remember the prophecy that Jesus quotes at the beginning of his ministry, “Land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have see a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned,” Matthew 4:15-16. Jesus couldn’t just start in teaching and leading people, he first had to deal with the Devil. It’s a good reminder to us all that we don’t live in neutral territory either. The Devil is here along with his demons; evil is in the world. We shouldn’t be surprised that our efforts to do the will of God are opposed. We can’t ignore the presence of evil, as much as we’d like to. Unfortunately, most people, most Christians even, ignore the Devil, demons and evil. It isn’t a pleasant thought. They live as if the world were spiritually neutral. They live as if the only problems are those generated by nature and people, but that isn’t true. Not all of our problems originate in material causes; some are generated by spiritual evil in opposition to us. We need to realize that in order to deal with it.

 

Second, Satan’s dominion must be broken. Matthew 12:29, “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man?” The strategy Satan uses today more than he did in times past is to get people to deny his very existence. What better way to work secretly than to make people think you don’t exist? How easy it would have been during the time of the Revolutionary War in American, for example, if the British had successfully convinced the Americans that they weren’t sending troops to fight in the first place, or that even after they had said troops, that they really hadn’t been sent to fight? If the people had believed that they wouldn’t have prepared for battle and would have been defeated rather easily. Well, it’s the same way with us today. Most people don’t believe there really is a Devil or that there really are demons. Consequently, they don’t prepare to deal with them and as a result fall victim to them. Look at the violence in our society, as just one example, and ask the simple question, “Can all of this violence be explained simply as the result of human actions?” It’s pretty hard to explain the kinds of violence we see today on just the human level. The shootings in Columbine, Colorado – by the way, I was living in Colorado at the time during the late 90s, and I can say it was shocking to everyone there as it was for our whole nation – consider that evil. What “possessed” those young men to shoot their own classmates and then kill themselves? Disgruntled students, anger, rage – these are all common conditions among young people at different times, but they usually result in maybe bad behavior, maybe fighting or some kind of petty crime, but mass murder? No, that’s something far beyond the normal. I think the only adequate explanation for their violent actions is demonic evil. We live in an increasingly dark world, but it was also dark in ancient times, which is why Jesus had to deal with demons in his life and ministry, just as we need to deal with the Devil today. And we must deal with the Devil today. There is no escaping it. In the best of all possible worlds we wouldn’t have to even think of such things because they aren’t pleasant things to think about. It’s scary to think there are evil creatures out there, invisible, secretly operating against us, for our destruction. But it’s true. So in doing God’s will, in living out our daily lives, we are going to have to deal with spiritual evil. There’s no escaping that. So how do we do it? We do what Jesus did, in Jesus’ name – we bind the Devil, we neutralize him, we render him powerless. How do we do that? Primarily through prayer. We do what Michael the archangel did – as described in the tiny book of Jude, “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” – Jude 9. So whenever we encounter a situation that seems evil or demonic, we pray seriously for the Lord to bind Satan or neutralize his effects. We call upon the Lord for help in dealing with the Devil.

 

Third, once Satan’s power is removed, God’s kingdom can become established. Matthew 12:29, “Or again, 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 rob his house.” It’s interesting that the Lord Jesus adds that last phrase, “Then he can rob his house.” It’s as if he wants to remind us that if we don’t first deal with the Devil then of course we can’t take his possessions, or in other words, unless we neutralize the power of the demons, we can’t accomplish God’s will or advance his kingdom. The power of Satan, if unchecked, will simply be too much for us in our work. Our efforts will be futile unless we first deal with the problem of Satan and his demons. Why are a lot of Christians defeated in life? Why are Christians still caught in sin and darkness, even after they’ve professed faith in Christ, or even joined a church or been baptized? Because they don’t take the enemy seriously enough and they fall prey to his power to hold them captive still. When the Lord uses the phrase at the end of the verse, “Then he can rob his house,” he’s basically saying, only after we successfully deal with the Devil can we move on and carry out the will of God. Now that doesn’t mean that we all have to go around performing exorcisms – that is, actually casting demons out of people. That’s an extreme form of demonic opposition which most people, the vast majority of people, will never have to deal with, thankfully. But there are all kinds of lesser encounters with evil that we must be ready to handle. Yet, most Christians walk through life as if there were no enemy, no Devil and no demons to oppose them. Why is there so much depression, for example, today, even among Christians? Is it not evident that this is but one way that demons can operate in opposition to Christians today? I’m not saying that all depression is spiritually caused, or that depression generally is caused by demonic possession. I’m saying that it’s an easy way for demons to hinder Christians from doing the will of God in their lives – by causing them depression, by messing with our minds, by planting depressing thoughts in our head and causing us to reflect over and over on these depressing ideas. Our best counter to this attack of the enemy is to stand on the promises of God found in the Bible. “Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world,” is a great biblical promise to stand on (1 John 4:4). We need to put on the armor of God, as Ephesians 6:10-18, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” There’s a lot there and we don’t have the time to unpack it today, but we get the point. We must be prepared; we can’t simply ignore all this even if we wanted to.

 

I’m afraid when we look at the average Christian we see ignorance and powerlessness over the opposition of the enemy. I’m afraid the typical Christian falls prey to the Devil’s attacks almost every time. We live in an age where belief in the Devil is almost a joke. Most people don’t seriously consider that there are really evil personages attacking them from the spiritual realm. People today try to explain everything either physically or psychologically. Even Christians fall into the trap of trying to reduce every problem into a category so that some human technique can solve it. Most people subscribe to the philosophy of the late president John F. Kennedy who once said, “Man’s problems have been caused by man, and can be solved by man.” Now that sounds like a good approach to tackling the problems of the world, but it’s actually foolish. It naively assumes that all of the problems that we experience in life, individually and as a group, we cause ourselves and therefore can be solved by ourselves as well. But that ignores the whole spiritual world. It also ignores so much of the biblical truth of the Devil and demons in the world today. There are problems that we encounter in life that are not caused by anyone or anything on earth. We will face problems that are caused by spiritual evil, and our human, man-made solutions that normally work for us won’t help. We’ll need to be able to turn to prayer and God’s Word seriously in order to face a spiritual attack. Only through the power of God working in prayer and God’s Word will be able to successfully overcome the enemy’s opposition. I myself have a difficult time remembering that, just as the Bible says, “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and rulers in high places,” (Ephesians 6:12). I have a tendency, as we all do today living in the modern world, to think I can solve a problem through thinking my way through situation. I’ll try to come up with a plan, ranging from a simple plan to a complex plan, in order to solve the problem. But some problems can’t be solved through a rational plan. That’s the problem in much of Christianity today, especially in churches today – thinking that the Lord’s work can be carried out simply by making rational plans and carrying them out. For example, if the church needs to raise money to build a larger building what does it do? Well, today with the emphasis on business management techniques, the pastor and church leaders will hire a consultant, formulate a plan and carry out that plan. This works in areas where there isn’t anything particularly spiritual, but how does this rational planning work in spiritual matters? It usually fails. Why? Because our weapons of warfare – as the Bible says – are not carnal, but spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:4). We need to use the appropriate weapons against demonic opposition. If we don’t, we’ll fail. Are you trying to fight spiritual battles using material weapons? Are you trying to ignore the spiritual battle altogether? You can’t; it won’t go away. You must fight off the attacks of the enemy with all the spiritual resources of God. We don’t have to be defeated by the enemy, we can fight back, but we must do so spiritually, through prayer and the Word of God.

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