A House Divided
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 3:20–35
The Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2021
“A House Divided”
Ten days from now is the occasion marking the date of a famous speech given by Abraham Lincoln. On June 16, 1858, after he received and accepted the nomination from the Republican Party to serve as the state of Illinois’ United States Senator, Abraham Lincoln said these famous words:
“A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”
I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.
I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing or all the other.
Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
“Along with the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, the speech became one of the best-known of his [Lincoln’s] career” (Lincoln's House Divided Speech - Wikipedia). In his speech, Abraham Lincoln was quoting Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson. That Gospel lesson serves as the basis for today’s sermon under the theme, “A House Divided.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus is out of control – that’s pretty much what his family thought. More than that, they thought that he was literally out of his mind. In fact, that’s what they said (Mark 3:21). And so there was this family intervention underway to rescue Jesus and take him home. Anyone who has ever gone through this knows it is a very tense time filled with lots of raw emotion. Meanwhile, the official investigative team of religious leaders from Jerusalem is on site to monitor and evaluate the content of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. Their less-than-positive comment, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out demons” (Mark 3:22) means that they believe Jesus is in league with the devil himself. All of this leads Jesus to say what he does: “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” (Mark 3:24-25). If Jesus is casting out demons which will undermine and thwart the devil’s plans, how can Jesus be in league with the devil? No, there is something greater at work here. Someone has to bind that strong man and plunder his house. That someone is Jesus.
Only three chapters into the first book of the Bible, we see what the devil’s plans are all about (Genesis 3:1-7). The shattering effect of his deception and lies to Adam and Eve are what hear about in today’s Old Testament lesson (Genesis 3:8-15). After they did what God had commanded them not to do, Adam and Eve hid themselves from the Lord’s presence, and we’ve been doing the same thing ever since: running away from the Lord God, hiding ourselves from his presence, fearful and afraid to come before him, finger-pointing and blaming each other for our own sins rather than admitting we have done wrong. The fall into sin began in the garden, but it soon extended out into the fields and to the entire world itself. We live daily with the consequences of that fall into sin by our first parents. And yet, even in the midst of Adam and Eve’s sin and their rebellion against him, God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 86:15). The closing words of today’s Old Testament lesson are the first promise of a Savior: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). In speaking these words to the devil, the Lord God promised that One who was woman’s offspring would come and would bruise his head; that is, strike a death blow to his power and might. This One would bind that strong man and plunder his house. By his birth and life, by his full obedience to the Father’s will, by his innocent suffering and death upon the cross, by his glorious resurrection from the dead, Jesus has crushed the head of that ancient serpent, the devil (see Revelation 12:9; 20:2). Jesus, true God and true man, casts out demons not by the prince of demons but by his own almighty power.
In our own lives, we may feel like we are a “house divided.” At present, our national life is fraught with great divides that have placed terrible strain upon our country. Sometimes our home and family life can make us think we are a house divided because of tension, mistrust, or conflict. Even in our own faith life, we can feel like a house divided as Paul the apostle expressed this so well: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing… For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:18b-20, 22-25a). If that was true for Paul, it’s certainly true for you and me! But the saving truth remains, Jesus has bound that strong man and plundered his house. Jesus has delivered us from this body of death, and we belong to him by his own amazing grace.
It is only stubborn, steadfast rejection of Jesus – the refusal to receive the gift of God’s amazing grace in Jesus – that is the unforgivable sin; the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. If we are concerned that we have somehow committed this unforgivable sin, then that is proof we have not. To be concerned about this means that this same Holy Spirit is at work in our heart and mind, calling us to repentance. And that is a hopeful sign. The tearing asunder of God’s good plan for his creation is restored through the cleansing blood of Jesus. This now ushers in a new definition of family; a new definition of belonging. In spite of his own family’s intention to take him away, Jesus names as his family whoever does God’s will. That person “is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 10:35). Our Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection places us in the family of believers as brothers and sisters in Christ. As fellow believers, this means that we have a holy charge and responsibility for one another. Cain’s age-old question to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9), is a yes. Yes, in fact, we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. In so doing, a house divided starts to become a house united; united under the banner of Jesus’ love. May God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.