Bible Study

The Stronger Man (Mark 3:23-27)

Mark’s Gospel is a breathless account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In the first chapter alone, Jesus calls his disciples, casts out a demon, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, cures “many who were sick” and “drives out many demons.”  It should be of no surprise then, by the third chapter, Jesus is drawing huge crowds.

Much of what Jesus said and did was controversial by the standards of his time and, because of this, Jesus’ public ministry was not treated with cheers by the guardians of the culture. In Mark 3:22, scribes from Jerusalem follow him to Nazareth and accuse him of being “possessed by Beelzebub.” They claim that his mastery over demons is a result of demonic powers. Jesus answers them this way, 


How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house. (Mark 3:23-27)

It seems that when we speak of the devil, modern believers tend to make one of two mistakes. One, they act as if the devil is somehow irrelevant as if he has dropped from existence. This is where the erroneous school of thought, that proclaims the devil to be nothing more than the personification of man’s tendency to choose wrong, comes from. Or they adhere to the second school of error. This is the one in which the devil is seen as an almost cosmic counter force to God. This school sees the devil and Jesus as similar in power and leaves the believer in a helpless state against the army of darkness’ advances.  In short, the devil is ascribed no power, or he is attributed total power. Both are wrong. That is why I love when Jesus speaks of the strong man. 

The devil is real.  He is bad, and he has a fair amount of power. Thus, “strong man.” In a state of demonic possession, a person has come entirely under the influence of this evil. The strong man, the devil, has made the person his home.  Jesus does not deny that the devil has this power. He does not deny the devil’s ability to dominate those who have come under his influence. So, right here, Jesus sets the initial error I alluded to in the last paragraph, straight. But, far from being all-powerful, Jesus then gives insight into how he deals with the demonic.  In short, he binds them. You cannot plunder a strong man’s house unless you first tie him up. So, while Jesus does refer to the devil as the strong man, it is clear that he is the much stronger man. 

So, what is our take away? The devil is real. He is powerful but he is not all powerful. Jesus claims authority over the demonic, and they do as he commands. Far from ignoring them, he binds them and “plunders” their homes. I love that. We need to remember this. In our struggle for holiness, there will be opposition but, we are not helpless. In Christ’s authority, we need to stand firm against every tactic of the evil one. When the demonic whispers corrupt inspiration into our ears, we, like Christ, need to stand in the authority of a son or daughter of the living God, and we need to rebuke the voice of temptation, binding and silencing it in Jesus’ name, casting it away in that same authority.  Far from denying the reality of the devil, we need to understand that our lives are being lived out on a battlefield (Catechism 409), but we also need to know that the evil forces arrayed against us are no match for the Lord.

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Remain in My Love (John 15:9-17)

Jesus said to his disciples, "As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.” 


In John 15:9-17, Jesus tells the disciples that he loves them like the father loves him. What does that mean? It means Jesus loves us a lot. Shouldn’t we get that Jesus loves us? He lives for us, dies for us, and rises from the dead for us. He does all of that out of love. Hear that. Jesus really loves us. But, here is the thing, that doesn’t mean we always feel that love. In fact, there are many people, both inside the Church and out, who Jesus loves. The reality is that every human being ever created is loved by God. That is a truth. Jesus came to save all mankind. Also true and terrible, is that not every man will accept that salvation. Many of those whom Jesus loves choose to live outside of his love.

It is a tragedy, one that “being a Christian” in name only will not save you from. Jesus makes that clear too when He is talking to his disciples. These are followers who walked with him up until the end of John’s Gospel. He tells them he loves them and then says “remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” 

It might be tempting to think that Jesus just laid out some sort of quid pro quo scenario. There is a cynical voice that creeps in and says, “see you have to earn Jesus’ love.” But, this is not the case. 1 John 14 tells us that “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” Jesus loves us, not because we earned it but because that is who he is. God is love. 

So, what is the deal with the “keep my commandments” talk? Well, Jesus knows human nature. (John 2:24) He knows that, as much as he loves us, we are prone to finding other gods. We worship our sports, our work, our children, celebrities, and on and on. So, he gave us a commandment to keep us safe, and in his love. It’s the first one, “You shall have no other gods!” It isn’t so much that God is asking for something, or else! Instead, he is warning us against all the things that will draw us away from him. God desires the very best for us and wants us to live in the reality of his love. His commandments are the guide-rails that keep us on that path. 

Consider the rest of this passage. Jesus commands us to “love one another, as I have loved you.” Can you imagine a life lived totally in this way? How much joy would there be in that? A life where every person you met was treated like they were someone incredibly precious. A life where people regularly sacrificed and put others before themselves. If every Christian really took this command to heart, we would not have to look for the love of God. We would feel it regularly through the work and life of our fellow believers. 

Too often, we have equated being a Christian with being in some sort of club with great long-term benefits. Too often, living the faith becomes completing some vague list of minimum attendance requirements. The truth is, we were meant to live in the love of Christ and to go forth and share the love of Christ. The two are not separate but, instead, are intimately connected. Jesus makes that clear. If you are going to remain in his love, then you are called to love like he does. 

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Christmas, Easter AND PENTECOST!


We all know Christmas and Easter. One marks Christ birth, the other marks his resurrection. A lot of celebration and festivities accompanies each of these feasts. That is a good thing. These are huge events. Through the incarnation, i.e., Christmas, a savior who is God himself is born to us. God becomes fully human. Jesus, the son, remains fully divine but makes himself reliant upon the Holy Spirit to keep him in union with his Father. There is a great mystery in that. Why would God do this? Why would he establish this relationship between himself and the Spirit? 

In Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and the death of, well, death.  Jesus takes the sin of the world to the cross, he offers himself as an atoning sacrifice, and he dies. That is good Friday. If the story ended there, it would be tragic. If God had died, and that was the end of the story, it would be a pretty terrible story. Thankfully, Easter happened. Jesus rose from the dead. That takes a tragic story and makes it amazing. To top it off,  forty days later Jesus ascended to heaven. It is a fantastic tale and an awesome reality. The problem is a lot of people, both in the Church and out of it, act like it is the whole story. It is not. 

Yes, God came. He lived as a human. He died for our sin. He conquered death, rose to new life and went back to heaven on a cloud. Incredible! But, once he ascends to heaven, aren't we basically in the same situation we were in before he came? I know Christ died for our sin. I know he rose so that we might have new life. But, if the story is over at the Ascension, we have no way to live in that new life. 

Christmas and Easter are reality changing, but they are not enough.  They are only part of the story. Big parts? Yes. Huge parts! But alone, the story is incomplete. God did not come to save us, and then leave us. His plan was something much greater. Jesus says as much in John's Gospel. In chapter sixteen, at the last supper, Jesus teaches the disciples that something new is going to happen. Another person is coming. This person is so crucial that Jesus tells the Apostles that it is better for him to leave so this new person can come. Those are not my words. They are Jesus' words. Here is the quote from John 16:7

But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you...

Did you catch that?  Try to wrap your head around it.  Christmas is a big deal. Easter is a big deal. Jesus is saying that the coming of this next person is a big deal too.  Big enough that Jesus tells the Apostles he needs to go so that the Advocate can come. Right before Jesus ascension, Jesus talks again about this. 

“He enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Before he returns to heaven Jesus tells the Apostles, "you are not done yet. Go wait for the Holy Spirit." So, they went back to Jerusalem and, waited.  When the time came to celebrate the Pentecost, the Jewish feast celebrating the giving of the law, something unexpected happened, 

Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

The Advocate had arrived. God, in the person of the Holy Spirit had come. Just like Christmas celebrates the coming of Christ, Pentecost marks the coming of the Spirit. In Christmas, we celebrate that God has come for us. In Pentecost, we rejoice that God has come to dwell within us.  Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are the three great feasts of the Church. Without the last of these, we would still be distant from the Lord. Through the coming of the Spirit we are made members of Christ's family, and in the Spirit we are enabled to "cry out, "Abba! Father."" Don't miss it. Pentecost is important. We need to celebrate the great thing that God has done for us. 

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Do You Believe Jesus? (Mark 16:17-18)

Do we believe Jesus words?  I think most practicing Catholics would say “yes, of course we do.”  Then they may cite Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”  Or, they might cite Jesus’ words about the Eucharist in John chapter 6:53, “unless you eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood you have no life within you.”  While we may struggle at times, for the most part we get Jesus teachings about the Church and the sacraments. That is where most of our minds jump when asked, “Do you believe Jesus words?”  But what about the things Jesus said about you? What about Jesus words about the life we are called to in him? What about the things Jesus said about the Holy Spirit? Do you believe those words? I’ll give you and example. At the end of Mark’s Gospel Jesus says to the disciples, 

These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:17-18)

Do you believe Jesus words there? Hopefully, you will never have to handle poisonous snakes, or drink poison. Let’s be clear, Jesus is not saying we should seek such things out. But what about laying hands on the sick? What about engaging spiritual warfare in your own life and the life of your family? Do you believe that God could prompt you to pray over someone and that in His name, they could be healed? Do you believe that you could tell a spirit of lust or accusation that is coming against you to be silent in Jesus name, and command it to leave? 


It is interesting that when Jesus speaks of the supernatural life of his followers, or of the action of the Holy Spirit, we tend to rationalize. Right now you may be thinking, “Well, he was speaking to the Apostles. What he really meant was that the bishops and priests would do this kind of stuff. This is not for the ordinary, everyday catholic, like me.”  Yes it is true the the ordained clergy exercise these gifts in a special way but to say that you as a lay Catholic are not called to this life too is just wrong.  Mark’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus says these words he is speaking to the disciples. This is not specifically addressed to the twelve. It is addressed to all the followers of Christ. You and I are disciples.  You may also be tempted to think, “Well, that was then, and this is now. The world is different now.”  Yes, that is true. The world has changed a lot since the day Jesus spoke these words. But the thing is, Jesus is still the same. He is unchanging. His word is enduring. The fact that we have smartphones now does not mean that somehow the Spirit of the Lord is bound up and inactive.  

A quick reading through Acts of the Apostles will demonstrate that this life Jesus speaks about in Mark 16:17-18 was exactly how the first generation set out. They moved in the power of the Holy Spirit. You may think that phrase sounds a bit fantastic, but again, I am using Jesus words. In Acts, chapter one, Jesus tells those who are gathered before his ascension “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”  The word for power there is less electricity, and more explosive. The Greek word used in the gospel is dunamis. It is the same root word that we use for dynamite. When Jesus speaks of the power of the Spirit coming upon his followers he uses this forceful word to express what he means. Something tangible is taking place. Later in Acts 10, as Peter is speaking, the Holy Spirit falls upon the gentile believers, and it is so obvious that Peter says “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  When the Spirit shows up, people notice.

As modern Catholics we need to be challenged by Jesus words.  Some of the things he said may seem too fantastic to believe.  Perhaps, that is why the Lord gave us the witness of the early Church in Acts and the Epistles.  The truth is, when we reflect upon what Jesus said about the Christian life and compare that to the life of the early Church, it becomes pretty clear that God’s desire for his people is something more than an academic, routine faith. He desires to move in and through us in inexplicable ways.  

So, do you believe Jesus words? Do you believe that God can move in your life in the way Jesus spoke of at the end of Mark’s Gospel?

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