We have all been blamed for something we didn’t do, whether at home growing up or in school. It might often take us, or it might not, but we get on with our lives. We find ourselves will Jesus at the beginning of his ministry and mission; he has been getting on with what God has called him to preach a message of repentance, establishing the Kingdom of Heaven by driving out the Kingdom of Darkness and bringing Glory to God the Father. Jesus is doing what he was called to do, and whatever follower is called to do – the will of God, and he will continue to do it regardless of how the world reacts to him. The work of Jesus confronts the world; it asks us to consider what we belong to and what we are living for. Furthermore, we are challenged today to ask (if we love Jesus) are willing to be marked out by obedience to and joy in the will of God regardless of the reaction of the world.
Mark 3:20-35 CSB
Jesus entered a house, and the crowd gathered again so that they were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard this, they set out to restrain him, because they said, “He’s out of his mind.” 22 The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons.” 23 So he summoned them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they utter. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31 His mother and his brothers came, and standing outside, they sent word to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him and told him, “Look, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters are outside asking for you.” 33 He replied to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 Looking at those sitting in a circle around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
A Divided Kingdom Fall (20-30)
In Mark 3:20-35, we join Jesus and his newly appointed disciples being squeezed into a house by a fair being joined by quite a large crowd (so large is the crowd that Mark informs us that Jesus and the disciples were not even able to grab a bite to eat (3:1)). The crowd is drawn in by whatever miracle Jesus has just performed, something that leaves his family thinking that he has lost his mind as they go to literally seize him and bring him under their control. The religious leaders dismissing him as the prince of darkness.
Jesus has captured the attention of this community, and news of him has even spread to the Capital (Where the teachers of the law came from). Think of the drama that must have been unfolding, Jesus and the newly appointed disciples squeezed into a house by the gathering crowd, the buzz that must have been murmuring from the crowd; then his irate family trying (and failing) to get through the crowd to seize him and strop all the madness before he gets himself into more trouble! We have gotten so used to Jesus that we have lost sight of the drama of Jesus: the effect that the teachings and ministry of Jesus had and should still have today as his disciples live out his calling. Jesus was not nice, he was not palatable, the essence of his teaching and message was not a neutered version of the Sermon on the Mount – no, it was all-encompassing and confronting.
Jesus was offensive (not for the sake of it) but because the message he brought to this world was not of this world. At this moment, we see both the draw and shock his ministry created. Let us ask ourselves today, is the Jesus we know and follow one who would offend the sensitivities of the world – not for the sake of being offensive – because his message is so out of this world, or does our Jesus affirm everything we believe and live out and challenge nothing in us. So offensive was what Christ was doing, and the message he was preaching at this point that the religious leaders of the day could only think of one associate for him, they accused him of being not a messenger of the Lord but one of Darkness and what a dangerous accusation it was.
A Dangerous Accusation (20 -22)
If it was not bad enough that his family think he has gone a bit mad, we find out that the law teachers think it is even worse! They accuse him of being one ‘possessed by Beelzebub!’ Mark often presents Jesus as dealing with Spiritual things. At the beginning of chapter three, we see him driving out evil spirits, then we see him appointing the twelve Apostles and sending them out to preach and “have authority to drive out demons.” Thus, it seems that whatever Jesus has been doing in the moments before being squeezed into the house had to do with his authority over the Spiritual Realm.
The religious teachers are startled by Jesus, his ministry, power and authority. They do not know what to do with him, and they do not know how to deal with him. Thus, rather than bow the knee to him and respond to his recognised authority in the right way, they accuse him of the most heinous of things – being possessed by the devil himself! How is he able to drive out evil spirits because he himself is empowered by one!
Jesus has been welcomed by the crowds, the people who were the source of the religious leaders’ power and status. Hence, he scares them because as he promotes the Kingdom of Heaven, he threatens their kingdom! Rather than recognise him as the light driving out darkness, they accuse him of being darkness himself – it is lunacy, and Jesus points it out. You can sense the pride in the Scribes accusation; rather than ask themselves questions, they dismiss the challenge by presenting it as a charade of darkness rather than a display of light. It was bad enough that his family thought him mad, but to accuse the Son of God of having authority by the associate is even worse. His family express unbelief as their assessment of his psychological state, yet, the religious teachers show their entrenchment of unbelief with something all the more sinister and the most dangerous of accusations, that this inaugurated Kingdom of God is, in fact, the work of the devil. Yet, in his response, Jesus shows the folly of their accusation and the danger of their misrecognition.
The Logic of Light and Wisdom of the Kingdom (23-27)
Jesus responds with his usual directness by pointing out the lunacy of what the teachers of the law have suggested: “How Can Satan Drive out Satan?” A question asked to point out the lunacy of the charge. If the world is spiritual and there are opposing forces at work, it would make no sense for a cause to inflict defeat or suffering on your own side. Thus, in the imagery of Kingdom or war, Jesus points out the folly of the suggestion: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” (3:24). The point? It never makes sense for a King to destroy their Kingdom, so why would the prince of Earthwork against his own forces? The lunacy of the Pharisees suggestion and the strength of Jesus teaching point is again pointed out as Jesus add to his imagery in verse 25 by extending the Metaphor to that of a divided house. He seems to be speaking of ‘house’ in the royal sense of the word: imagine two great families going to war with one another; it would hardly bid well for victory for one house to be at war with itself and the other. Thus, why would Satan work against himself!
Light Displaces Darkness
Have you ever been in a room that is so dark that it is disorientating? You can’t really tell what way you are facing, and you struggle to see your hand’s infant for you. If you wanted to eliminate the darkness, you would not try to create more of it (because darkness cannot drive out darkness). No, only light can – to drive the darkness out of the room, you turn on the light switch, and as the bulb flairs to life, the darkness is dispelled. Darkness is dispelled by light!
The only way to deal with the darkness, sin, and the evil that we come across in the world is to confront it with light. Christ is that light, and the message of the Gospel is how we displace the darkness of Satan at work in the world. The King of light has come and inaugurated the Kingdom of Light to drive out the stain of darkness from this world. Yet, the law teachers are so entrenched in their own ways that they chose to remain in darkness rather than see the light of the world. They would rather stain the reputation of Jesus than confront themselves with what it is he is doing.
The Stronger Light has Come
These three brief parables point out the lunacy of the scribes suggestion and their attempt to discredit Jesus. The idea that Satan would empower someone to work against him would suggest that his kingdom and rule was crumbling from within. Stupid says Jesus, yet, he does not stop there as he goes on to make another point with another short parable in Mark 3:27 with the imagery of the strong man. Satan has not empowered someone to work against him, yet, that does not mean that someone is not working against the Kingdom of Darkness.
Through the Parable of the bound strongman, Jesus seems to both acknowledge the strength of Satan, yet moreover, that someone stronger has come. For surely one must have greater strength to bind the strongman before taking from him: suggesting that while the devil was strong, there was no one stronger, and his name was Jesus. In a moment, Jesus had turned the tables on the teachers of the law, they had already acknowledged his authority over the Spiritual forces at work, and now he had presented a reason why – because he was greater than them! He had come to bind the Strongman of this world and take from him what he desired.
The implication fo the parable is clear, Jesus has the power to release those held captive by Satan and in the process bind him – a foretelling of the victory of the Cross.
Honouring the Name of the Lord (28-30)
Mark 3:28-30 marks a shift for Jesus as he begins to interpret all that has happened, not in the events of the moment but in the attitudes of the people around him. Jesus begins to speak to matters of the heart, and it is perhaps the most direct rebuke in all of the recorded speeches of Jesus. The rebuke in verse 28 is directly linked to the accusations of the teachers of the law as Jesus sharpens his rebuke toward’s those who have accused him by direct reference to the Holy Spirit. Jesus declares both a wonderful and startling reality: God will forgive all the sins of humankind (through faith in Christ), but there remains one unforgivable sin: Blasphemy or speaking evil of the Holy Spirit (29).
Context is always key to understanding the Bible, and it is no different here! The Critics of Jesus have witnessed God’s miraculous work in the world as he freed people from spiritual bondage. Rather than respond in wonder, they respond with evil rebuke; it is not that they ask questions, nor is it that they doubted that Jesus was God, not even that they did not understand. No, none of these things is unforgivable; in fact, they are understandable given the circumstances. These things are human moments of faith in following Jesus. What then is that God will not forgive? Donald English captures it succinctly:
“Their sin is that, in the presence of God’s grace in action, they have not only rejected it but ascribed it to the devil. This is their fixed position. No wonder they will not find forgiveness.”1
The unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirt is the attribution of the work of God in the world to the work of the devil. It is a dishonouring of the name of Yahweh by speaking his name and actions in association with the prince of darkness. If there is one thing the Bible makes clear, it is that Yahweh takes his honour seriously. Thus, we must be careful in how we approach him and speak of him.
The reach of Christ forgiveness is unlimited; if we are his followers, then we can be assured of his forgiveness; it is not that we can stumble into blaspheming the Holy Spirit and lose our forgiveness. Yet, we are challenged to consider here how we approach the Lord’s honour, the speaking of his name and how we show Him to the world. The scribes had shown the depravity of their sin by their interpretation of the authority of Jesus. In doing so, they challenge us to consider our now seriousness about the things of the Lord and our living for him.
A Family United For One Cause (31-35)
There have been two centres of disbelief in this section of Scripture, we have seen Jesus deal with the teachers of the law, now his family are back on the scene as they have seemed to make their way through the crowds to within earshot of Jesus and news of their presence has made it to Him as they send someone in to try and get his attention. The crowd responds to the family’s movement by saying to Jesus: “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” (3:32) As usual, Jesus takes an innocuous moment and turns it into a teaching moment about the reality of his new Kingdom. The focus is not on the family’s disbelief but rather on the new thing that Jesus is doing! In sum, Jesus is drawing new boundaries of community and belonging, defined not by bloodlines but through association with him. This new community emerges out of the presence of Jesus and those who respond to him.
A family where the mark of belonging is doing the will of the Lord! (35) You can imagine Jesus looking around the room at the crowd, perhaps even in sight of his mother and brothers, asking rhetorically: “Who are my mothers and brothers?”(34) outstretching his arms and declaring a profoundly new bond:
“Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”
This new Kingdom family is defined by a unity of purpose towards the will of God. Thus, there is also clear inference if we identify with Jesus today as Lord and saviour, we belong to this new spiritual family, but that belonging is marked by a desire for the things of God! The question: are we those who seek to do the will of the Lord wherever he has placed us in the power of the Holy Spirit? Or is our life defined by something else?
The new Spiritual family is united by and exists to bring Glory to God, its the marker of our belonging and our living, so let us make sure that is what defines us in this world and into the next – living in and delighting to do the will of God.
Carrying on the Word (Conclusion)
Jesus finds himself being questioned by two groups, his family and the religious authorities; they question who he is and what he is doing. They question him because what he is doing and how he is doing it has confronted them, challenged them, and scared them. Out of Grace and authority, he has answered those questions, yet, as we finish, we find ourselves in a position of being questioned by his answers. Jesus does not teach to simply inform; he teaches to transform as the world around him is confronted with the beauty of his truth and reign.
Two Tribes: Which is Ours?
Thus, we will find ourselves responding to his way and word in one way or another; neutrality is not an option when it comes to the Kingdom of God – we are either his servants or his foes. Two groups came to Jesus to assess him and stop him: his family where ashamed of all that was going on at that point, yet with time, they would come to see him and Known him not as a son or brother but as Lord and Saviour; then the teachers of the law who by their understanding should have to see clearly who Jesus was, yet, they would rather see the devil at work in the Grace of God than submit to him, they would never know the Grace of God and would choose to remain as foes of the Kingdom. Thus, the challenge? To what cause or Kingdom do we belong? Are we those easily identified with the Kingdom of God and the family of Christ because we delight in the things of God and seek to do his will, or are we those who would rather speak ill of the Grace of God at work in the world than submit to his rule and reign. There is no neutrality when it comes to teaching Jesus, so let’s make sure to which cause we belong then live out that identity.
The Reality of our Living and World
I would be lying if I did not respond to the difficulty of preaching passages such as this, the spiritual element is something that our context finds difficult to comprehend, yet, to ignore or preach around it would be sinful and negligent in light of the call of Gods word and the beauty and power of Scripture. Yet, Mark three reminds us that there is a Spiritual Element to our world and our living. To ignore the Spiritual reality is to ignore a big part of the world God created and if we are honest, what Christ came to do. Hence, a passage like this is difficult to preach and prepare for. They are also refreshing because they remind us about the fullness of Jesus reign and authority, that all things spiritual or material will submit to his way. Furthermore, Mark 3:20-35 reminds us that there is a spiritual aspect to our discipleship; to follow Jesus is to know the Holy Spirit’s work in us and through us to renew the world. So if we follow Jesus as Lord, if we belong to his family, then let us know we acknowledge that we are a people who live in both the material and the Spiritual.
Remembering the Purpose of our Existence
The law teachers are not presented well in this encounter with Jesus; they are meant to be the servants of God, yet, when they are confronted with the authority of God incarnate rather than recognise his authority, they dismiss him. As the devil of hell! Why? Because to give Jesus something at that moment would mean they would have to give up something of their own, something they did not want to give up – their glory. They were men concerned with their own position and the glory it afforded them rather than bringing glory to the name of God. Charles Spurgeon once wrote:
“When we believe that we ought to be satisfied, rather than God glorified, we set God below ourselves, imagine that He should submit His own honour to our advantage; we make ourselves more glorious than God, as though we were not made for Him, but He made for us; this is to have a very low esteem of the majesty of God.”
It is the chief summary of the preputial existence of the sinner before Grace: more concerned with the glorification of self than the honouring of God. The harshness of Jesus rebuke to the law teachers shows the seriousness of their sin; the choice will have an eternal consequence – they will forever be separated from the Love and forgiveness of God. The encounter shows the seriousness of sin and rejecting God. Are we serious about honouring the Lord? Yet, their dishonour also reminds us about our delight and duty to honour the Lord. We were made for God, to know Him, Love Him and live for Him! Thus, we must consider ourselves and our living – are we serious about honouring the name of the Lord? We exist to make Him Known; there is no other purpose to Christian discipleship and living. It is not one thing that we do. It is the consummation of all things we do and the orientation of our living, a preputial enjoyment of God and glorifying of God wherever we are, whatever we do. Are we serious about honouring the name of God? It doesn’t mean that suddenly we have to be dramatic about the Lord and our following of Jesus, awkwardly dropping it into every conversation, but it does mean that the focus of our lives and all that we do is to know more of God and make him known. It is a reorientation of our lives, considering how our actions will affect the name of the lord, whether it’s how we treat shop workers, fill out or taxes, or support our friends and family. We honour God by enjoying God and living for Him. Thus let us consider Are we serious about honouring the name of God? Interestingly Such orientation marks out our belonging to this new family of Christ.
The Beauty of Belonging
One of my favourite fables is the Narnia tales; even though they are children’s books, they are the love of many an adult because they capture so much of what life is – searching, seeking and finding belonging. In The Last Battle, CS Lewis writes: “I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.” Belonging is what we are all looking for, something we all need and in this passage, we are reminded about the places where our searching will end – Jesus. To know him is to find the belonging that we are all looking for, a belonging that is not defined by any earthly standard of boundary or borders but by the uniting blood of Jesus. We cannot earn a belonging by any effort of our own, but once we receive by faith through the precious victory of Christ on the Cross. In Jesus, we find all that we have been looking for, and in Jesus, we find the community that we seek. It is beautiful to truly belong.
Why our belonging is not earned, it is marked out. To belong to this new family that Jesus taught about is to be committed to the same cause of Christ – the will of God. The brothers are sisters of Jesus who delight in the will of the Father and seek to live it out for the Glory of God. The Kingdom people are committed to living out the King’s mission – knowing God and making Him known to the world around us. Today in our living, let us love him, seek to honour him with our lips and our lives, and above all be marketed out by our living for him. Today let us be those (if we love Jesus) who are marked out by obedience to, and joy in, the will of God regardless of the reaction of the world.
- English, D. (1992). The message of Mark: the mystery of faith (p. 89). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. ↩