"Demented, Demonic, or Divine?"
Sept.3/06 Mark 3:20-35
For eight long years, it was her world. Her dungeon-like windowless cell under a garage measured just 6 square metres, or about a 6-by-9 foot room. The door to it, at the bottom of a set of concrete steps, was so small it had to be crawled through; it was kept locked by a metal latch. For those 8 years, from the time she was kidnapped at age 10 while walking to school in the semi-rural Austrian town, it was all she knew.
But on August 23 Natasha Kampusch made a dash to freedom. Her captor, 44-year-old communications tech Wolfgang Priklopil, had made her vacuum his car. She left the vaccuum cleaner running and, when he was distracted for a few moments by a call on his cell phone, she darted to safety in a neighbour's yard. That same day, her kidnapper committed suicide, throwing himself in front of a commuter train. The "master's" bondage was broken, his end had come.
Strangely, Natasha seems to have come to empathize with her captor (what's known as 'Stockholm syndrome'), and is grieving his death. And though her world or cell was small and confined, she is protective about it. A news article says, "She appears to defend her living quarters, which have been described as small and dungeon-like, and criticizes that the room has been shown to the public. [she said] 'My room was well enough furnished. It was my room and not meant to be shown in public,' adding that Priklopil and she furnished the room together."
Though there are reports there was sexual involvement, Natasha even defends her situation, noting it saved her some of the problems associated with youth. She says, "Generally I don't have the feeling I missed anything. I spared myself many things, I did not start smoking or drinking, and I did not hang out in bad company." (Source: http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2006/08/28/kampusch-statement.html)
That room became her world, to some degree by choice in that she had some freedom to decide which books and furnishings to have. Though most of us would see it as negative and confining, she sees it as having some advantages. Who of us would not be defensive about the 'cocoons' we construct and furnish for ourselves - our decor, our electronic toys and appliances, our lifestyle?
Along with our physical environments, we make choices of a spiritual and moral nature. In the eyes of many, Christians choose to live in a dungeon or 'bubble' as confining and curtailed as Natasha's room. To atheists or humanists, the foundations of our belief system are not realistic, they'd say to some extent our worldview is 'crazy', constructed upon fairy tales.
Jesus encountered criticism during His ministry that He too was crazy, delusional, or worse - that He was possessed by the Devil himself. Yet He replied by maintaining there is a greater frame of reference than just what we see - that what God wants ought to be our chosen frame of reference. What the world views as 'real' is actually what's as oblivious to eternal reality as that girl's room was to life in the rest of Austria. Jesus offers us freedom to break out of Satan's kidnapping, so we can experience true living, in community with Him and God's very Spirit.
The first half of Mark's gospel is action-packed, presenting Jesus as the wonder-working Son of God. But there's more than just multiple healings and physical miracles like walking on water and feeding thousands: the first miracle Mark records is that of Jesus driving an evil spirit out of a man (1:25). When He heals a paralytic, He links it to the need for forgiveness in a spiritual sense (2:10). And in chapter 5, Jesus frees a man from possession by a 'legion' of evil spirits (5:13). Far from just being 'meek and mild', Jesus was on the warpath against any oppression or domination by the enemy. Note that when He appoints the 12 disciples, He sends them out "to preach and to have authority to drive out demons" (3:15).
The news of these accomplishments spread like wildfire, and caught the attention of the religious leaders. What to make of Jesus? What do YOU make of Jesus? - that's what this passage is really about. Well, because Jesus didn't follow the religious leaders' traditions and even healed on the Sabbath, they concluded the source of His power must be demonic rather than divine. V22, "And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons." (Beel-Zebub is a sarcastic rendering of the Hebrew for "Exalted Baal"; it can mean "lord of the flies" or the dung-hill, and refers to Satan.) This is a very serious charge - basically they're accusing Jesus of being from the devil, an agent of Satan himself.
In the next 3 verses, Jesus responds to this charge by pointing out that not a kingdom, not a house, not the devil, can be divided or partitioned in such a way that it's against or opposing itself, and still stand. It just won't last. Our own house, a modular design, arrive on flatbed trucks in 3 pieces; but if they'd just plonked them on top of the foundation, it wouldn't have lasted long when 'Ernesto' or other tropical storms came calling! The builders added 8" long bolts every 4' all the way down the middle, clamping the parts permanently together. Each marriage ceremony I conduct begins with Psalm 127:1, "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain." He's got to be the one that welds the relationship together. Bickering, constant arguments, unforgiveness are fatal to unity, whether in a marriage, a friendship, or among business partners.
Then Jesus offers a rather surprising word picture to illustrate what's really going on: v27, "In fact, no one can 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." The verb to "carry off" possessions means to plunder, or thoroughly ransack. Jesus is suggesting that instead of being Satan's puppet, He is the devil's enemy, binding him and immobilizing him so as to liberate those held captive under Satan's tyranny. Jesus is Satan's plunderer, not his puppet!
So in counselling, should we detect some sort of enemy attachment, we ask Jesus to take and deal with whatever the enemy is afflicting the person with, and send it back to the place it belongs. People may not even realize they are beset by these problems until it's revealed through prayer; perhaps generational or occult sins are involved. Spooky as it may sound, it's really no problem for the Lord to handle, as long as we're willing to submit it to His intervention. The old hymns are right to refer to the power of the blood of Jesus, for it's His signature in confronting the power of 'the prince of demons'. His pure life, given in sacrifice for us, is our best defence against spiritual darkness.
Jesus solemnly states in v28 that "all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them" - though He doesn't mention the cost of the cross by which this debt would be paid. Yet He goes on to warn His opponents about the seriousness of the charges they were making when they said He had an evil spirit, v29: "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." This is 'the unforgivable sin' - speaking ill of the Holy Spirit, such as saying that what's of God is instead of the devil. Rejecting God so blatantly leaves an unbeliever cut off from the sole source of forgiveness, light, and life in eternity.
Notice what Jesus' statement implies but doesn't state outright - namely, that He's identified with the Holy Spirit, indwelt by Him. Jesus is possessed by a spirit, but it's the Holy Spirit. The miracles He does are an extension of God's activity in the world before their very eyes. Jesus is not demonic, but divine.
Jesus demands a response. His life and actions demand that we draw some conclusion about Him. What do you make of Jesus?
While the religious leaders had their own theories about Jesus' motives, His family was also getting concerned. Their superstar half-brother was getting so mobbed and pressed by the crowd, seeking healing and deliverance, that He didn't even have time to eat! In a culture that places so much importance on meals and rituals, this was outrageous. They figured Jesus had flipped. V21, "When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind."" They thought He'd gone bonkers; the word means 'beside oneself, insane'. They arrive to lay hold of Him in v31 and send a messenger to beckon Him. When Jesus is told His mother and brothers are outside looking for Him, He replies in v33 by looking at those seated in a circle around Him and saying, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Family ties are important; God commands us to honour our father and mother (Ex 20:12). Paul states quite pointedly in 1Tim 5(8), "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." But Jesus was very up-front with His disciples about the cost following Him might have on human relationships: He said it might involve leaving "home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children for me and the gospel..." (Mk 10:29) Clearly, heeding God's call in your life is more important than fearing family pressure, saving the family farm, or keeping the family business running for another generation. It may be difficult to walk away from some plum position your pa's been grooming you for, or from a mom who's trained you to stop in for dessert every day on your way home from work (I'm not joking, we've known such cases). But the supernatural tie to the Lord as an obedient part of His family takes precedence over all human relationships.
People have been asking if our children have made it back safely to their respective places after gathering for Keith's and Darcie's wedding - yes, praise God. As parents, we would frankly prefer that our daughter and son-in-law were not in Korea teaching English, and that another daughter was on this continent instead of studying worship and creative arts in Australia. But it's more important that they follow God's plan than our preferences for their lives. (I'm just glad the shuttle program isn't further along, or they might be setting their sights on some moon colony!)
Jesus is 'beside Himself' (the word literally connects with 'ecstasy'), He's 'crazy' for what God wants - even if that takes Him some distance from His family, or means He doesn't enjoy 3 square meals a day. And He invites us to be "fools" for Him, with Him - as Paul speaks of the 'foolishness' of the gospel (1Cor 1:23); like the T-shirt that on the front says, "Fool for Christ", and on the back - "Whose fool are you?" If we would follow Him, we need to also be "crazy" to do what God wants, rather than just respond to natural ties like family pressure. It means we will seek out and take God's view on things, to acknowledge and make allowance for spiritual realities in life - that there are supernatural forces beyond the physical realm pressing in upon and shaping life.
In that sense, the strictly naturalistic or humanistic worldview is like Natasha Kampusch's room - a very confined or limited existence, ignorant of what when on in the real universe. Jesus offers escape from naturalism's nihilism, He offers liberation for atheism's despair, into an eternal life with lasting meaning and significance, known and treasured by a loving and grace-ing God. As the sound of the vacuum cleaner provided a cover by which Natasha fled to safety, so the Holy Spirit (which, as one child put it, 'hoovered' over the face of the deep - Gen 1:2) - the Holy Spirit draws us to a whole new creation and life in relationship with the Father through the Son.
What do you make of Jesus? The 3 options have been summarized as "liar, lunatic, or Lord". CS Lewis wrote, "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg, or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse...but let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." He adds, "Now it seems to me obvious that he was neither a lunatic nor a fiend; and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that he was and is God. God has landed on this enemy occupied world in human form."
Endeavouring to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength separates us - makes us seem 'crazy' to - those who adopt some other view and driving force. The more the world slides morally, the more clear the distinction ought to become. Paul describes the confusion and darkened mental state of unbelievers in Ephesians 4(17-19): "So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." (Eph 4:17-19)
A news article reports that last Monday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that will require all businesses and groups receiving state funding -- even a financial aid grant to a student or any monetary assistance to a church -- to condone homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality. This means businesses and organizations that receive state funding cannot speak about homosexuality in any way which might be perceived as being negative. Karen England calls it "an outright, blatant assault on religious freedom in California." The state is clearly applying pressure for immorality to become acceptable in people's worldview. Charles Lowers, executive director of the pro-family Considering Homeschool organization, urges Christian parents to pull their children out of public schools immediately. He notes, "Worldview surveys show that the majority of kids from Christian homes are humanist by graduation...[Now] their minds and hearts will be molested by the curriculum."
Natasha was kidnapped for dark purposes as she walked to school...Who is kidnapping whom now? Are we preparing our youth to stand up even when they're called crazy, or others shake their heads at them?
This past Wednesday Yvonne & I accompanied her relatives visiting from England to see Blyth Festival's presentation of Schoolhouse. It was about the olden days of the one-room schoolhouse. When the new teacher started to try to get the class under control, she got them to say the Lord's Prayer. Each morning there was a Bible reading. Some of us here remember those days - if not the one-room school! When children misbehaved, the teacher repeatedly appealed to them to live up to their sense of Christian responsibility, their duty as Christian citizens. As teachers have probably done for over 16 centuries.
To what can a public-school teacher appeal now, to try to invoke a sense of conscience? To the Governor's legislation? To the clout of the most vocal lobby group that succeeds in winning over or coercing parliamentarians? To the majority opinion of Supreme Court justices that have their own personal biases?
A house divided cannot stand. As followers of Jesus, we can promote in our families and commend to our communities the benefits of doing God's will, of letting the Holy Spirit's goodness, righteousness, and truth free us from the captivity of the enemy. Let's pray.