Mark 3:20-35

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on June 3,2012.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Mk 3.

We’re used to thinking of Jesus as a wonderful person, God’s Love on earth. Who could be against such a man? But in his own time, people’s reactions were more varied. His family worried that he was crazy, and tried to bring him home for a long rest and some chicken soup–and the church leaders said he got his best moves from demonic forces. And the things he said!! In this passage, Jesus surprises everyone by saying that God can forgive just about any sin or filth they can think of. Then he turns and warns the religious leaders of eternal judgment, and finishes by seemingly throwing “family values” in the trashcan. Clearly Jesus was more provocative than we’ve given him credit for. Let’s look at 3 things he said which sparked amazement and resistance, but which are good news nonetheless.

You Are Forgiven As this passage begins, the region is full of talk about Jesus, and many want to hear him teach. He has been healing, preaching, and forgiving sins (scandalizing the religious leaders who think he’s handing out get-out-of-jail cards like he’s God—Mk 2:1-12). He has just picked twelve special students (the number 12 signaling loudly that he was forming a renewed “people of Israel” around himself…an important political and theological statement). As news of his miracles, forgiveness, and demon-fighting spreads, the religious leaders come out to accuse him of being possessed and tapping into satanic powers. [Specifically they attribute his abilities to Beelzebub or Beelzebul. This was the name of a Philistine deity (II Kings 1:2) and later became a term for a powerful demon or for Satan, the ultimate dark power.] They were unwilling to accept that he could be the real thing. They were upset about his putting people above rules (Mk 3:1-6), but most of all by the claim that he was the conduit for God’s forgiveness.

Jesus refutes their accusation, beginning with logic: is demonic power working against itself? How would that work? If Satan is casting out Satan, the scribes should be happy, because it means his kingdom is crumbling! He then warns those who attribute God’s power to demons that they are in danger of an unforgivable sin (he doesn’t declare that they’ve done it, but he tells them they’re on the edge). Reading this verse makes most people ask: What is this sin?  Have I committed it? This verse can tap into our fear that God is secretly waiting to blast us.

“Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit,” in this context, means actively attributing evil motives or power to Jesus, and trying to keep others from believing him. Bible scholar Frederick Bruner describes it as “trying to ruin Jesus in the eyes of others…so that others will not trust him.” Just before warning of this sin, Jesus has just said that all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven (see below). As Mark’s gospel goes on, we’ll see that this forgiveness comes to people through Jesus himself. So the one way to stay unreachable by forgiveness is to witness Jesus’ power and then, not only turn away from it, but actively try to persuade others that Jesus is evil or powered by something other than the Holy Spirit.

Does this scare us? Sure, anytime we’re talking about judgment it should give us pause. But it’s not meant to drive us to obsession. As Matthew Henry said, “Those who fear they may have committed this sin give a good sign that they have not.” In other words, if you’re wanting to stay good with Jesus, and concerned that you obey his warnings, that means you’re not rejecting him.

Look at the incredibly gracious thing Jesus says in verse 28. We might skim that verse too quickly because we know that the “big bad sin” is coming up next, but we should not overlook this promise. Jesus says (prefacing it with “I tell you truly”) that all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven. [One way to think of this distinction: Sins are what we do against human beings; blasphemies are things we do or say against God—actions, attitudes, and words that act like God doesn’t matter or that God isn’t good.]

What sins and blasphemies have we committed? What guilt do we carry around because of how we have neglected others, insulted them, lied to them or about them? What guilt do we carry for living our lives as if we were the final authority and as if there were no God? We have Jesus’ promise that God can and does forgive all of these. He sealed this promise by dying the death that our rebellion had earned for us. When you come to ask forgiveness from God, come with confidence that he is ready to do so!

You Are Liberated Jesus explains his exorcisms and the conflict he’s engaged in: through the power of God’s Spirit, Jesus is busy tying up a “strong man” and plundering his stuff. Jesus is the burglar; we are the loot. Jesus is liberating people and communities from the forces that divide, bind, and crush them.

Jesus doesn’t just see people as folks who can’t get it right, who mess up and it’s all their fault. He has compassion on us as harassed, hindered, and dominated by forces larger than ourselves. (Matthew 9:36)  Maybe it offends us to be compared to powerless property. But we have all known people and communities overwhelmed by addictions or genetic predispositions or thoughts or social & political movements that started out as harmless, or as controllable, but soon became inescapable masters. Many of us have personally experienced such domination, or we are trapped in something like that right now. Jesus says “I’m here to get you out of that.”  We didn’t get into this mess completely on our own; we had powerful, even supernatural help. And we have an even more powerful Helper.

The news of liberation and forgiveness can be so hard to believe and accept! It’s much easier to live as though we still had a debt to pay off to God, or as if we are inescapably enslaved to some other master. When we feel despairing, when we realize that our enemy is much stronger than we are…we need to be reminded by our fellow released-captives that our enemy is no longer the strongest one in the room. Jesus has broken the power of the devil; we can have confidence that he is on our side.

You Are Part of Jesus’ True Family Jesus’ mother and siblings (Joseph may have died by this time) come to restrain him (v. 21). They seem confused by this new public ministry, with its stark preaching and shocking displays of supernatural power. Perhaps they are trying to protect him, by quieting him down before the religious authorities harm him.

But when they try to interrupt Jesus’ teaching to take him away, he doesn’t allow it. When told his mother and brothers are outside looking for him, he looks at the people seated around him (that is, those who have come to learn from him as students) and says, “These are my family. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, my sister, and my mother.” This was a shocking statement. In Israel, as in almost all ancient societies, family and clan were paramount. Jesus’ redefinition of family was radical: not “who is related to me biologically?” but “who is following me?” He’s very clear (vv 34-35): those who are sitting listening to him (a posture of being a student or disciple) are the ones doing what God wants. Notice: the bar is set very low! He doesn’t say you have to perfectly understand everything he says, or perfectly carry it out, in order to become his adopted family, with all the privileges that brings. You just have to be there, open to what he’s telling you.

(As for Jesus’ biological family: lest we fear that this encounter left them “out in the cold,” we can be reassured that this scene is not the end of their relationship with Jesus. Mary comes to the cross where Jesus is being executed, and Jesus gives one of his disciples the task of caring for her: “Son, look, this is your mother now.” Acts 1:14 says that Jesus’ mother and brothers became part of the early church, and we know that James was a major leader in the early Christian movement.)

Through hearing this story about Jesus today, we too are sitting at his feet. Will we believe what he is saying to us?

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