Is this the kind of experience a supervising pastor would plan to give his vicar on his first day of training: allowing that student pastor to hear respected church leaders insinuate that the pastor is in league with the devil while simultaneously overhearing the pastor’s family suggest he’s out of his mind?
Probably not. But that appears to be precisely what happened shortly after Jesus appointed the Twelve. Mark 3 gives every impression that what happened in next Sunday’s gospel followed closely after Jesus appointed the Twelve.
The Pharisees repeat to everyone listening that Jesus’ display of casting out demons was a devilish ruse of a demon possessed man. At the same time his well-meaning but misguided family spreads the word that he’d lost his mind in devotion to his work.
Welcome to the public ministry, apostles! Jesus cannot be faulted for recruiting for ministry with false advertising! He knew the fanciful fables about God’s kingdom and the Messiah’s work that danced in their heads, and so from day one he allows them to see a powerful reminder that God’s kingdom advances often in the midst of apparent defeats and evident opposition.
Far from work in league with the devil, it is work which that “strong man” – for stronger than they – opposes with everything he can throw in the gospel’s way. He even knows how to deceive the well-meaning within the flock to act as obstacles rather than supporters of gospel ministry. That lesson Jesus would teach the Twelve repeatedly. It was a hard lesson for called workers to learn.
It still is. Don’t we still struggle with our own versions of fanciful fables about God’s kingdom and the Messiah’s ongoing work through his representatives? Doesn’t this leave us too often stunned and surprised by the strength of the opposition – flabbergasted that misguided opposition arises even from within the flock?
Have we forgotten the “strong man” hates everything we do in Jesus’ name? Have we forgotten how powerful he is – Jesus doesn’t call him the “strong man” for nothing – and that he is far more powerful and clever than we mere sinful mortals? We are no match for this opposition, and he delights to hurl our ministries into a funk and our faith to the turf.
But Jesus does more than sober us up by showing himself harassed by those wickedly and foolishly in league with that strongman. Suddenly we see someone entering that bully’s house and proving himself stronger. The Stronger One has entered the strong man’s home and bound him. He then proceeds to plunder the strong man’s possessions.
But he does this in God’s own way! The Stronger One allows himself to be bound to death and hell, yet by that crushes and binds the strong man. He then proceeds to plunder from the strong man’s possessions one soul after another as they are brought to faith in him!
If you ever wonder whether gospel ministry in the midst of all this opposition is worth it, then look in the mirror dear brother. Staring back at you will be one who once belonged to the strong man, but whom Jesus, the stronger God-man, plundered from the strong man’s house. You are spiritually living proof who the Stronger One is!
That reality is the glory of your ministry! God is using you, once plundered from Satan’s house, to plunder Satan’s house more and more. Yes, the opposition is fierce. Often it appears this work takes two steps forward only to stumble three steps back. But you aren’t out of your mind for giving yourself to this gospel ministry any more than Jesus was.
Here’s the truth: you are a precious redeemed soul won by the Stronger Man, and, you have the hidden glory of working by his side to plunder the strong man’s house with each soul that is won and then subsequently protected as the Stronger One’s precious possession.
That is why the strong man hates what you do. But that is also the glory of what the Stronger One has called you to do!