Mark 3:20-35: There are only two kinds of people in the world. But there are at least three opinions about Jesus.

(This study was written a while back, but it got lost in the system, and I only recently realised that I hadn’t posted it online. So here it is now.)

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

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.” So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 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. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

 The passage above describes a pretty chaotic scene. It takes place in a house. We’re not told whose house it is. Mark calls it “home”; so maybe it is Peter’s family home in Capernaum, which seems to have been a base of operations for Jesus and the disciples when they were in that area. But whoever lived there, they must have wondered what hit them on this day. There are people everywhere. Jesus has just called twelve men as apostles, and he has a very important task for those men to do. They will be with him, and he will send them out from him to preach and to drive out demons, to demonstrate that God’s kingdom has indeed come. But if they hoped that by going into the house, they would have some time alone together- to talk about things- and there are plenty of things they might want to talk about- then they were disappointed. They get no time to stop and think at all.

The crowds that have been following Jesus all over Galilee follow him into the house. There are so many people that Jesus and his disciples can’t eat. Either the house is so packed that there is no space to prepare a meal, or there are so many people with so many questions and requests that Jesus and the Twelve don’t have time to eat. Or (probably) both. There is such a crush that when Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive, they can’t get in. They have to send a messenger into the house to push through the people and speak to Jesus. This house is packed to the rafters. It is hot and sticky. There are people everywhere; comments are flying around about Jesus. It is hot and sticky and cramped and noisy and confused. Chaos.

But although the situation is chaotic, Mark’s description of what happened there is not. Mark is very clear in the way he structures this account, focusing the attention on three groups of people. There are three distinct groups in this passage. The first group have some natural connection with Jesus. The second group hate Jesus bitterly. And the third group is sitting around Jesus. Mark mentions them symmetrically. The first group he mentions are the disciples. He starts with the disciples in v20, then goes to Jesus’ earthly family in v 21, then to the scribes who hate Jesus in v22-30, then back to the family again in v31-32, and finally, in v33-35, the disciples again. 

 We’ll take a look at each group in turn, and look at how they react to Jesus, and why; and hopefully learn some lessons for ourselves.

Family

1. How do Jesus’ family react to him, and why?

2. How did the families of other rulers of Israel react to them?

Teachers

3. Who are these “teachers of the law”? Are they different from the Pharisees and scribes who have previously argued with Jesus?

4. What is the verdict of the teachers on Jesus?

5. What is Jesus’ verdict on the teachers?

6. What is this unforgiveable sin of which Jesus speaks?

Disciples

7. What about Jesus’ disciples?

8. CS Lewis proposed a famous trilemma: “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 the 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.” Do the three reactions to Jesus we see in this passage fall into this pattern?

 1. How do Jesus’ family react to him, and why?

The first group we’ll look at is Jesus’ natural family. They are described as his family in v21, but the actual phrase is a little more vague- literally, “those of him”. It seems to be his actual flesh and blood family in view, but there could be more people than just Mary and Jesus’ brothers. Maybe there are family friends there, or other relatives apart from the immediate family. These people have heard about what is going on. Jesus is famous at this point. It’s fairly early in his public ministry, but already, he’s a celebrity. And he’s not merely a local celebrity- his fame is national. If there were newspapers, he’d be on the front page. If they had telly, he’d be on all the channels. But they didn’t have those things. News in this society travelled by word of mouth. And the things Jesus has been doing are so exciting that this news has travelled fast. Just look at the list of places in v8. Crowds have been coming not just from the local area of Galilee, but from as far away as Judea and Jerusalem in the South; Idumea in the middle; over across the Jordan in the East; and way up in Tyre and Sidon in the North. How many of us would travel to the other end of the country to hear a particular preacher? How many preachers today can draw crowds from Cardiff, Aberdeen, Newcastle, Liverpool, Dover, and Exeter, all to the same event? Not many, if any at all, even though we’d only have to hop in the car and drive for a day to get there. Jesus can draw crowds from all over the country, even though they might have to travel for weeks to get to him. Jesus is famous. And his family have been listening to the reports of his doings. They’ve heard that Jesus has been causing quite a stir, they’ve heard about the miracles he’s done and the teaching he’s been giving. They’ve heard that he’s attracted huge crowds, and had an impact that is nationwide. And they’ve heard about the lifestyle he’s leading. When you’re famous, you tend to lead a stressful life. Everybody wants a piece of you. You’re not allowed to have any privacy. The phone is constantly ringing. People always want to talk to you, or to take your picture, or to get you to do something for them. You’re never left in peace. And Jesus’ lifestyle was very stressful. He chose to make it so. He was working himself very hard indeed. He spent long hours teaching publicly. He spent more long hours healing and casting out demons. Crowds pressed about him, giving him no rest. Countless times in the gospels, we read of desperate people coming to Jesus for help. And not once do we read of Jesus saying, “Sorry, I’m too tired right now” or, “Why don’t you come back tomorrow.” He gave himself to this work. He gave and gave and gave, and held nothing back. He moved from place to place, and slept wherever he could find lodgings, and I should think that often, he and the disciples slept rough. Foxes and birds have homes, but not the Son of Man. Sometimes, he didn’t sleep at all. He spent nights in prayer, while the disciples slept. He was so busy, he couldn’t even eat- he missed meals so that he could keep on working for the kingdom of God, keep on teaching and healing and defeating Satan. The family heard about that.

 Now having heard these things, what is their response? Are they excited for Jesus? Do they want to join the crowds and listen to their son or their brother teaching? Do they want to see his miracles? Do they want to pray for him? Do they want to support him in his mission?

No, far from it. They seem to have felt almost indignant. They find the whole thing embarrassing, disturbing. We’ve no reason to believe that these people hated Jesus. On the contrary, they loved him. Just consider things from their point of view. Mary has had profound spiritual experiences- angels appearing to her and the like. But this was all three decades ago. And for the last thirty years, she’s had a son who has lived a life in many ways like that of any other Israelite. There have been the odd episodes where Jesus’ calling has shone through- like the time he went missing on a visit to Jerusalem, and was found at the temple, amazing the scribes with his knowledge. But apart from that, Jesus has been a dutiful and loving son. As far as we know, he’s lived in Nazareth, worked for his living, and doesn’t seem to have distinguished himself much in the eyes of men. Jesus’ brothers have lived with him through their formative years, and have seen an older brother who, although doubtless abnormally patient and kind and righteous, still ate and drank and worked in the carpenter’s shop or wherever.

And now, all of a sudden, their brother has gone and got religion. He’s gone down South to see John the Baptist, been baptised, and started preaching everywhere. Maybe they tolerate it at first- “it’s just a phase”, “he’ll get over it”, that sort of thing. But Mary is worried for her son, and it soon becomes obvious to her that this not “just a phase”. We can imagine that the family would have met together, and talked about Jesus. Families do, don’t they. They talk over the meal table, and decide things. Jesus’ family would have talked, and come to a common mind about what they needed to do.

 Their thinking seems to have gone along these lines: “Look at what Jesus is doing to himself. He spends all his time on the road these days, and that’s no way to live. He sleeps rough. He’s working too hard. He doesn’t even have time for square meals. Maybe all this publicity has gone to his head or something. He’ll do himself an injury if he keeps on like this. People are taking advantage of him- he’s too kind, too accommodating. He’s allowing himself to be put under too much stress. He gets no rest. He isn’t eating properly. He ought to be taking better care of himself. And besides, you know what usually happens to wild populist prophets and idealists. Sooner or later, they make too many enemies, and they end up being killed. Well, it’s a good thing he’s got us around to look after him. He needs somebody to protect him. We ought to get him out of there. What we should do, is we should go and talk to him. We should tell him he needs to take a break. If he just took a month off, and cooled his head, it would do him the world of good. That’s what he needs. We’ll go and have a quiet word in his ear, make sure he sees sense. He needs us to go and take charge.” Mark tells us that they said “He is out of his mind”.

 So they all troop off to where Jesus is preaching, planning to give him a good talking to. When they get there, they send someone to summon Jesus out to them. Maybe this is necessary, if there is a big crowd around Jesus- but it reads as though they are trying to stamp their authority on Jesus. He must come at their call; they won’t go in to speak with him. They plan to tell him to calm down, to stop being so silly, to consider his poor mother. They think that he’s a little touched in the head, and that they will hustle him back off home, and keep him quiet until he’s sorted himself out.

 And they are foolish, this family. They didn’t really understand what Jesus was about. They didn’t see why he was doing what he was doing. We know from John’s gospel (7:5) that Jesus’ brothers doubted his claims. Mary is different, isn’t she? We can see from Luke that Mary seems to have understood some things about who Jesus was and what he had come to do very clearly, and to have believed. But she was also told that these things would be like a sword piercing her heart. I should think that what is happening now, at the start of Jesus’ public ministry, are the begging of that pain. She watches her son go about hungry and sleepless and stressed, and it pained her. Like a sword through her heart. And so she agrees that maybe the family should try to get Jesus to tone it all down a bit. She wants to spare him the grief and pain he’s chosen. They should have known. They should have known that they couldn’t treat Jesus like you’d treat somebody normal, somebody who wasn’t the Messiah. They should have known that you can’t take charge of Jesus the way you have to take charge of a foolish child who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

2. How did the families of other rulers of Israel react to them?

Other leaders could rely on support from their own people. Tribal allegiance could run high. David was king in Judah long before the other tribes accepted him. But Jesus’ family, who you’d think might support him, especially given the things they must have known about his birth and his character, try to keep him quiet. Jesus is the man of sorrows. He warned his followers, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

Jesus is not exempt from those sufferings. And loyalty to him must transcend and override all other loyalties, even that to family. Other people might think we’re mad. And especially those close to us may think we’re mad.  Jesus’ own family were close to him. They were highly privileged. They’d had much exposure to Jesus, they knew all about him, they’d spent lots of time with him, they’d had ready access to him, talked and travelled with him. They’d grown up with him. Mary had seen him grow from a loving dutiful child into a loving dutiful adult. His younger brothers had seen the way he behaved at home. They likely slept in the same room.

You know that family life is a little different from public life, isn’t it. A family, even a very well-behaved family, have moments they’re ashamed of in the privacy of the home. There can’t be many people who have brothers and sisters, and who can’t remember a time when each of their siblings has gone off the handle over something relatively unimportant. They wouldn’t behave that way with their friends, or at church, or on the street. But in the privacy of the family home, control is relaxed a bit. Families get to see the nastier side of you, the side you hide from everybody else- the side you ought to hide from people, the side hat you shouldn’t have at all. Families are close to you in a way few other people can be. Jesus’ brothers grew up with him, and they never saw him become angry without a cause. They never saw him act selfishly, or go into a sulk. They knew he didn’t have a side he needed to be ashamed of. They knew him very well. And yet they didn’t really know him at all. They didn’t believe that he was the Messiah. They just couldn’t understand why he was doing the things he was doing. They think Jesus is off his head. They think he’s taken leave of his senses, think he’s out of his mind.

It is one of the hardest things a believer faces when those closest to you in natural terms, just don’t and can’t understand you, because they’re not believers. When the people you love, and who love you, just don’t understand why you want to go to some cranky church, instead of spending time with the family. It’s not easy, but if that’s you, then there is one at the right hand of God who knows exactly how it feels. His family said he was mad, and tried to take him into care.

Again, it can be hard when those close to you ignore your witness, when neighbours or friends or relatives remain completely untouched by the things you say and do to call their attention to God. We can even feel guilty when that happens- we begin to ask what’s wrong with us, in what way we’re deficient, what it is that’s spoiling our witness- because it must be something. What are we doing wrong? Or saying wrong? Of course there may some flaw in our witness, but that’s not necessarily the case. There was no flaw in Jesus, yet his own brothers remained utterly unimpressed by his ministry for many years, so much that they thought him bonkers, Again, the one who rules heaven and earth knows what that is like. You don’t suffer alone.

3. Who are these “teachers of the law”? Are they different from the Pharisees and scribes who have previously argued with Jesus?

These men are scribes, which means that they were experts in the law. They’d read the books of the law many times, and thought about them long and hard. If you wanted to know how to interpret an obscure point of law, or what the law said you ought to do about a difficult problem, then you’d go and ask a scribe. The scribes and Pharisees and chief priests are kind of lumped together in Mark as “official” Jews. They are the men who represent the establishment religion. And they have been opposed to Jesus from the start. But they’ve gotten consistently more opposed to him. You can trace through Mark’s Gospel the encounters Jesus has with them, and see how they get stronger and stronger in their opposition. You see them first just having doubting questions in their hearts- how can this man claim to forgive sins? Isn’t that blasphemy? It’s a hostile question, but they don’t speak out against Jesus. Jesus knows what they are thinking, and pre-empts them. Then they come with more questions, which they do voice- “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Again, maybe it’s a hostile question, but it’s only a question. Jesus’ answer does nothing to reassure them, and the next time Mark tells us about a meeting they had with Jesus, they clash openly. They (falsely) accuse Jesus of letting his disciples go around Sabbath-breaking. These are just snapshots of Jesus’ interaction with these men. Jesus is preaching and teaching and healing every day. There would have been scribes and Pharisees present for most of his public ministry, but Mark can’t record all of that. Instead, he picks out representative events to record, to give us the big picture of what was going on. And when we look at these events, we see that they tell a story of increasing hostility.

After the clash in the fields, the Pharisees and Jesus met again, and Jesus healed a man in front of them, on the Sabbath. And after that, they started plotting secretly to kill him. These religious men, who could have told you exactly where the law forbade murder, and how bad murder was in comparison to other things outlawed, were plotting to kill a man. And now they openly accuse him of being evil incarnate.  They are deeply opposed to Jesus, and now express their hatred in striking terms.

And these, notice are no longer just the local scribes. Previously, Jesus has clashed with scribes and Pharisees- but these seem to have been local bigwigs. This episode marks a new development. Jesus’ fame has indeed spread. We saw in 3:8 that people from all over the country are flocking to hear him. This is a cause for concern among the religious authorities in Jerusalem. They are worried that this man could be a loose cannon. People are talking about his signs and wonders, and he is obviously a potential Messiah. Well, if there is going to be a Messiah walking around, then the Sanhedrin will want to be sure he isn’t walking where he shouldn’t. Jerusalem is the seat of religious power in Israel, and the Chief Priests want to maintain a tight grip on things. If this man is the Messiah, then he ought to be their Messiah. After all, they are the official guardians of Jewish orthodoxy. Surely a genuine Messiah would want to work with them, wouldn’t he? They won’t tolerate unauthorised teachers attracting vast crowds. It smacks of uncontrollable populism. Wesley, Whitefield, and Spurgeon all attracted this sort of suspicion in their day, and Jesus was their master. They only followed in his footsteps. And so the Jerusalem powers are concerned enough to send a group of inquisitors down to see whether this Galilean teacher checks out O.K. They will report back to the temple in Jerusalem about what they have seen. These men have been sent from Jerusalem. This isn’t just the local Jewish mafia now. These are hit men sent by Al Capone himself from Chicago.

 

4. What is their verdict on Jesus?

The envoys from Jerusalem don’t like what they see, any more than their local clones in Galilee liked it. Jesus talks to sinners. He preaches repentance to tax-collectors. He tells them about the kingdom of God. And every Pharisee knows that the kingdom of God is for good people and not for tax-collectors.

And what about the way this Jesus sets himself up as God’s prophet? He IS a loose cannon, say the inspectors. He’s speaking about God’s kingdom without any authorisation or control from the Temple. And the Temple is God’s house- the divinely approved centre of Jewish religion. If a man were God’s prophet, surely he’d want to pay his respects to the Temple dignitaries. Any Messiah worth his salt would know that. He’d work through the “official” channels. Jesus, breaking all the rules, is short-circuiting the official channels. He goes around granting forgiveness of sins- something which ordinarily would be obtained through sacrifice at the Temple.

So the big boys try to take Jesus down. The way these men try to get at Jesus, to assassinate him, is by slander. They say that it is by the power of Beelzebub- a name taken from the book of Kings for a foreign god, and used here to mean the top demon, Satan- it is by Satan’s power, they say, that Jesus is casting out demons. These men aren’t those who love Jesus and act out of concern for him. They hate Jesus. They want to do him down, and this is how they go about it. They paint him as a servant of the devil. They choose this option partly because they don’t have much of a choice. They could claim that Jesus is deluded, is a false prophet- they could have said, “This man is a liar. He is just a village carpenter, and a false prophet. Ignore him. If anything, he should be stoned, not respected. There’s nothing to see here folks, now move along.” But that option isn’t open to them. It would be manifestly untrue. They can’t deny that Jesus has got something going for him. He’s healing people left right and centre. He’s taking those who have had their minds destroyed by demons, and setting them clothed and in their right minds. He’s plainly doing something big and important. They can’t hush it up. Either they have to admit that he does the signs he does by God’s power, and therefore is a prophet of God, and that the things he says about himself and God’s kingdom are therefore true, or they have to find an alternative explanation for the miracles. They don’t like the first option because Jesus is a threat to them. The crowds are following him, and they are envious of his fame and popularity. So they go for option 2. They make a radical defence- “yes, he’s casting out demons, but don’t you see- this is all part of Satan’s plan.” They hit back hard at Jesus. “Satan is making sacrifices like you do in chess. He’s going to gull you to be his followers. Jesus’ ministry is hellish.”

5. What is Jesus’ verdict on them?

That’s the accusation. In v23-30, Jesus responds. He says it’s irrational. If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand. This is real life, not chess. Jesus says that it just doesn’t make sense for Satan to use his power to war against those under his power. A kingdom doesn’t set its cavalry against its archers. The two regiments fight together against a common enemy, not among themselves. Any kingdom which fights itself is doomed.  And Satan’s kingdom is not fractured in that sense. The demons work together against God. They do not oppose each other. If demons are being cast out, it is not at the command of their ally, but of their enemy. Here is Jesus, casting out demons, releasing people from possession, healing them of demonic influence. Does that look to you like the work of Satan? Is Satan really in the business of healing people from possession? Of course not. Satan loves having power over people, and he loves causing misery and destruction. He wouldn’t go about actually causing life and wholeness. If Satan was doing that, then his whole kingdom would be in tatters. He’d be his own worst enemy. His house would be unsustainable, unviable. It is an irrational accusation. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil- and that is very clearly what he is doing. It’s plain silly. Jesus frees those who have been under Satan’s power. He is obviously not under Satan’s power himself.

And it’s not only irrational but it’s perverse. Jesus says that nobody can enter a strong man’s house unless he first ties up the strong man. The strong man here is Satan and his possessions are the people he controls, whose minds he has destroyed. Jesus is saying that if he’s driving out demons, it’s not because he’s Satan’s agent or ally. Rather, it’s because he’s Satan’s conqueror. It is because he has defeated Satan, overcome Satan, that he can cast out Satan’s little helpers, the demons. He has tied Satan up, and that’s why he can carry off all Satan’s stuff. The accusation is topsy-turvy. These men, led by their envy, get it precisely the wrong way round. What Jesus is doing proves that he is Satan’s enemy, and that he has beaten Satan. These men think it proves that Jesus is working for Satan. They take evidence of the epic victory as evidence of a shameful alliance.

And it’s not only irrational and perverse, it’s bordering on the unforgiveable. Jesus says that all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Jesus says that in order to warn the scribes. They are skating on thin ice. They are treading on dangerous ground. Jesus doesn’t actually say that they have committed a sin which will never be forgiven, but he certainly means to warn them that if they keep going the way they are, they will cross the invisible line, and God won’t ever bring them to repentance. Their accusation is not just irrational and perverse, but it is on the road to being unforgiveable.

 

6. What is this unforgiveable sin of which Jesus speaks?

What is it that they are doing that is so dangerous? What is this unforgiveable sin? Aren’t all sins forgivable? If God can forgive a murder and adulterer like David, or a murderer and hypocrite like Paul, then how can any sin be unforgivable? And Jesus says here that the eternal sin, which will never be forgiven, is “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”. So what actually is this blasphemy? How does one commit it? How can we be sure we’re not committing it? And how can we be sure we never have committed it? If we did commit it, would we “lose our salvation”? Would repentance and faith do nothing in the face of this sin? These questions and others like them grip the consciences of many believers. It’s a question which many Christians have agonised over, which many sensitive souls have become seriously worried about, some even to the point of becoming suicidal. Imagine that- thinking that you might have done something unforgiveable, and feeling so full of worry and despair that you think it would be better just to end it all, and kill yourself. What actually is this sin? Are people right to worry about it like that?

As is often the case, the anxiety springs from a lack of proper context. People who try to define “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” without looking at the context in which the phrase appears are very likely to end up with crippling spiritual worry. Looking at this passage, it is clear how Jesus is using the phrase. It is a warning to a specific group of people who are indeed in grave danger of committing the unforgivable sin.

To blaspheme is to take God’s name in vain. It’s the blasphemous content that is unforgiveable, but crucially, not blasphemy against Jesus. The unforgiveable thing about their accusation is that they blaspheme against the Spirit. Jesus says elsewhere that blasphemy against the Son of Man will be forgiven. Paul tells us in I Tim 1 that he was a blasphemer, yet he was shown mercy. The unforgiveable thing is their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Now, how does that work? How can there be such a sharp distinction between blaspheming against the Son of man, and blaspheming against the Spirit? They’re both equally God, aren’t they? It doesn’t seem to make sense. And what does it mean anyway, to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? When an unbeliever hits his thumb with a hammer, is it worse for him to take the Holy Spirit’s name in vain than to take Jesus’ name in vain? Can that really make much of a difference?

I don’t think so. I think we look at the context of the passage in order to see what the sin is that Jesus is talking about. Jesus doesn’t just issue a warning about unforgiveable sin out of nowhere and to nobody in particular. He warns particular people, who have been doing a particular thing. These teachers of the law are looking at Jesus perform miracles, and instead of admitting the obvious- “This is the work of the Spirit of God”- they say, “This is the work of the evil one”. This is blasphemy against the Spirit of God.

So why is it unforgivable? If a pagan can blaspheme the Father and be forgiven, and if a Paul can persecute Jesus Christ and be forgiven, then why are these men in danger of crossing the line and becoming unforgivable? How is their sin worse than Paul’s? Well, it isn’t necessarily. Note that Jesus has not said that they actually are now damned forever- he is simply raising the possibility as a warning. But their sin is one which is uniquely dangerous. We believe that God can convert anyone he chooses- because he can do anything he chooses. He is God. But God usually ordains means to accomplish his ends. He chooses ways to do the things he purposes to do. He converts people by the preaching of the Gospel. He convinces them of the truth. They don’t just suddenly repent out of nowhere. They read the Bible, or listen to a preacher. They think about their sins, and about God’s holiness, and realise that they need salvation. They feel sinful and helpless, and they cry out to Jesus to save them.

The point is this- these men are taking visible irrefutable evidence, evidence provided by the Holy Spirit, and saying that it is Satan’s doing. It’s a case of flying in the face of irrefutable evidence. To look on the exorcisms, to witness these poor broken tormented men and women have their demons cast out of them and become new and liberated, to see such a vivid demonstration of God’s kingdom at work, and to say “that’s not the power of God, that’s the power of Satan” That isn’t merely unbelieving, that’s hard hearted stiff necked unbelief. That’s going towards the sort of hardened hatred of God that those beings in hell feel. Paul says he was a blasphemer but was shown mercy because being ignorant he acted in unbelief. It was possible to have contact with Jesus, as Paul may well have done. It was possible to see and speak to him, and remain ignorant. But Jesus warns the scribes here that seeing what they’ve seen and remaining wilfully ignorant about the power and grace and identity of the Holy Spirit, saying that Satan did the things the Holy Spirit did- that’s dangerous ground. When you’re that hard, what hope is there for you? What could anybody possibly say to you that would convince you?

Christians are mistaken when they become obsessed by the thought that they may be guilty of this sin. Many sensitive souls have agonized over it, over whether God will really forgive the things they’ve done, again and again and again. But apart from the question of whether it’s even possible to commit the unforgiveable sin outside the context of seeing demons cast out, the very nature of this sin means you don’t worry about committing it. It is a sin of defiance, a sin you relish, a sin of hardness almost for the sake of it. It’s a sin of utter hatred of God. And if you’re committing that sin, then it’s pretty certain that you’re not worried about it. And all other sins will be forgiven. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.

 

7. What about Jesus’ disciples?

The third group are sitting around Jesus. Here in the house, you’ve got the people who have been drinking up all Jesus has had to say. And Jesus identifies those people, his disciples, those who hear his words and obey them, as his real family. The disciples are the people to whom he is closest. They are the ones who understand where he’s coming from, who share his desires and his priorities, who share his life in a deeper way than his brothers who grew up with him. They share his sufferings in a way his natural family don’t; look at v20- when Jesus doesn’t have time to eat, then neither do his disciples.

So when a messenger tells Jesus that his family- talking literally now about his mothers and brothers- are outside and want to see him, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach his disciples about who they are.

The message from Jesus’ mother and brothers gets a surprising response. It seems to be offensive. Jesus doesn’t just say, “OK, I’m a little busy right now, but tell them to wait around, and I’ll be out to speak to them.” Instead, he looks around and says, “My mother and brothers, the people I care for most deeply, the people to whom I have the greatest obligations; are the ones who do the will of God.” Why so dismissive of his mother and brothers? I think Jesus probably knows exactly why his family have come for him. When he hears that they are waiting outside, and want him to come out to have a word with them, he must be aware that they don’t see why he is doing the things he is doing. And so he says that his real mother and brothers are those around him, those who do God’s will. Jesus’ family, who come to drag him away from his preaching and back to Nazareth, are publicly disowned. They are his natural family, and he is close to them and has spent time with them. As his family, it would be natural for them to support him in his work. But they are using that position to try to stop his work. Jesus says that they are not acting like family towards him. Instead, the apostles are his family. The group of men who do support him, who do share his work- these men are his family.

And we can learn from that too. We saw earlier that natural privileges mean nothing without spiritual life. Jesus’ natural brothers, who knew him as well as anybody, didn’t believe. But there’s a flip side to that coin. Perhaps you’re here and you’re a believer, but you look around the church and you think- I just don’t have the advantages others have. I had a bad start in life. I didn’t have a mum and a dad who loved the Lord. Perhaps I didn’t have a mum and a dad at all. I’m not familiar with the religious language, the words people in church use. I’ve not moved all my life in those circles. Other Christians have been reading the Bible for decades, since they were children. But I didn’t pick it up until late in life. I’m grateful that God has saved me, but I’ll never be as good as these folk.  I can’t be a proper Christian like they are. How can I? I can’t just forget all the stuff that’s gone on in my past life. Perhaps that’s what you’re saying. But take on board what Jesus is saying. Those who have no privileges at all can be owned as Jesus’ brother and sister and mother.  It’s not your background that matters; it is doing the will of God. It is those who do God’s will who have all the privileges that really count. As Jesus looks at us here, he’s not interested in how and when you became a believer, or who your family are, or how well taught you’ve been. What he cares about is that now, today, you are doing the will of God. To those who are, he says, “you are my brother, my sister, my mother”. You are close to Jesus, closer than many who have had all the privileges you never did, and who still don’t believe. And that’s what really matters.

 

8. Do the three reactions to Jesus we see in this passage fall into Lewis’s trilemma?

The three groups in this passage do appear to fit CS Lewis’ famous trilemma pretty closely. 

a) Jesus’ family think he is out of his mind

b) Envoys from Jerusalem accuse Jesus of being a tool of the devil

c) Jesus’ true family recognise that he is the Messiah

These, as Lewis pointed out, are the only options possible. Lunatic, liar, or Lord of all. I suppose you could have a fourth option of “Legend”, meaning that Jesus was a fine moral teacher and general good guy, whose disciples invented this rather unfortunate “God myth” about him after he’d died.  But that will not stand unless you’re going to deny that we can trust the gospel narratives; and so you also have to deny that we can know anything much really reliable about Jesus at all.

But the key thing is that while a group can pass judgement on Jesus, ultimately their judgement says less about Jesus than it does about themselves. Thinking Jesus is mad or bad does not actually make him either. Rather, it makes those who think it to be cut off from the kingdom of God. The key thing about anyone- and everyone- is their relation to Jesus. If they will submit to his teaching and serve him, then they are his family. If they think him a lunatic, or a deceiver, or just plain irrelevant, then they declare themselves outside of his kingdom, and hence outside of God’s mercy unless they repent.

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