Mark 3:20-35

The title I have given to this series of sermons on the Gospel of Mark is “Who Then Is This?”  I believe this to be the question that drives the book – who is Jesus?  Just three chapters into the book we’ve considered some weighty claims that Jesus has made about himself.  We’ve seen him do some pretty incredible things.  I’ve made the case before that for those who are paying attention to all that Jesus has said and done, there are only three conclusions to make.  Either Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or he is Lord.  C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. 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. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”  (Mere Christianity, p. 56)

In the passage before us we will consider two conclusions people made about Jesus in his day.  His family believe him to be a lunatic.  The religious elite believe him to a liar empowered by Satan.

20Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”    Mark 3:20-21

Jesus returns from the mountain to go home where once again a crowd gathers.  We get a sense of the intensity of the continual crowd that surrounds Jesus – here we see that Jesus is not even able to eat.  In response, his family (Greek: “those belonging to him”) attempts to take control of him.  The ESV preserves the ambiguity in the Greek, as it is unclear whether it was the crowd or his family that were saying “He is out of his mind.” What is most painful here is that it would seem to be his own family, those on the “inside,” who do not understand who Jesus is.

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”  Mark 3:22

For the scribes who have come down from Jerusalem, there is a problem.  If they accept that Jesus is “out of his mind,” how can they explain the miracles he has done?  A crazy man might think he has the ability to walk on water – Jesus actually does.  A crazy man might think he has power over the demonic – Jesus actually does.  How can this be?  The scribes refuse to accept what is plainly before them – that Jesus is God.  This is a reminder once again that seeing the miraculous and hearing Jesus directly does not automatically produce faith.  So how can the scribes explain all that Jesus is doing?  They are grasping at straws and conclude that it must be by the power of Satan that he is performing all of these miracles.  It is by the power of Beelzebul that Jesus casts out demons.

23And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.  Mark 3:23-26

Jesus responds with two parables.  Here we see Jesus attempting to “reason” with these skeptics.  Jesus’ ministry has taken him primarily in two directions.  We’ve seen over and over the importance Jesus has placed on preaching and  confronting the demonic.  The first words we hear out of Jesus mouth are part of a sermon – “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:14-15).”  The first miracle we see is freeing a man with a demon (c.f. Mark 1:23-26).  After Jesus calls the apostles to be with him, he sends them out to carry out two tasks: to preach and exercise authority over demons.  Jesus has been quite successful in defeating the demons so far and so he asks – if I am empowered by Satan how could I wage war against Satan?  A kingdom or a house at war with itself is divided and will quickly come to an end.

But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.   Mark 3:27

In the second parable we hear Jesus explain his ministry.  To be clear the strong man here represents Satan.  The house and the goods represent  Satan’s victims.  Jesus describes what has happened so far in front of their very eyes.  He has come to bind Satan and free those under his power.  Indeed this is exactly what Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would do:

24Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? 25For thus says the LORD: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children.”    Isaiah 49:24-25

Jesus has come to set the captives free.  Such were all of us: living under the domain of darkness (c.f Colossians 1:13) following the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-2). And Jesus has set us free.

28Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”  Mark 3:28-30

And then Jesus issues a sobering warning.  But notice first the promise with which Jesus begins –  “all sins will be forgiven the children of men.” Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for all sin.  But Jesus warns that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin.

Context is very important here in coming to a right understanding of exactly what the “unforgivable sin” is.  First, we might ask why the Holy Spirit?  To understand this we go to back to the ministry of John the Baptist.  Remember his testimony concerning Jesus:

“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:7b-8).”

John says Jesus’ ministry will be empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus has come to rescue us from the powers of darkness and he does so empowered by the Spirit.  He is our only hope. The well-educated scribes have attributed the power behind his ministry not to the Holy Spirit but to an unclean spirit.  This is unforgivable because as with all sins, forgiveness comes only through Jesus.  When you refuse to come to Jesus, particularly when he is before you very eyes, and consider him an agent of Satan instead, you will never be forgiven.  It is impossible.  You’ve rejected the only lifeboat which can save you from the storm of God’s wrath.

Some might immediately ask – am I guilty of the unforgivable sin?  That you would be alert enough to ask such a question is likely a sign that you have not.  The scribes and Pharisees saw all that Jesus was doing but Jesus says back Mark 3:5 that their hearts were hard.  They persisted in their unbelief even when Jesus was before their very eyes.  Not only did they refuse to believe what was plainly before them, they attributed it to the devil.

The unforgivable sin is not about asking questions of Jesus.  The disciples asked questions of Jesus failing to fully comprehend who Jesus was (c.f. John 14:5, Acts 1:6).  Nor is the unforgivable sin about doubting Jesus.  Again the disciples doubted Jesus (c.f. John 20:25, Matthew 28:17).  The unforgivable sin is not about uttering carless words – many careless words were hurled at Jesus on the cross and he yet he prays on the cross “Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).”  The unforgivable sin is

31And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.”  Mark 3:31-32

This passage begins and ends with Jesus’s family.  Earlier they were attempting to seize him.  Here Mark simply tells us that that are “seeking” him.  Notice that there is no mention of Jesus’ father.  Many commentator attribute this to a possible early death.

Notice the unusual situation here.  Jesus is seated with the crowd who are on the inside.  Jesus’ family is on the outside.  This is not how it typically works.  We would expect to find someone’s family on the inside and the crowd on the outside.

33And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”   Mark 3:33-35

Jesus responds with a provocative question.  James Edwards writes:

“This sobering rejoinder is not exactly an insult to his family, but it is not an unequivocal affirmation either.  Jesus’ hearers must ponder its implications for them: those who assume that they are close to Jesus should think again; those who assume that they are far from him should take hope.  (Pillar NT Commentary: Mark, p.124).”

Jesus is not rejecting his nuclear family outright.  One of his brothers, James, would go on to a play a significant role in the early church, and is believed by many to be the James who wrote the New Testament letter that bears his name.

Jesus is giving us here a picture of the church.  Those who belong to Jesus are family.  Not an organization or a coalition but a family.  Such is the depth of relationship that exists between Jesus and his followers.

Discussion Questions

  1. What was the “problem” with Jesus according to his family? How did they attempt to solve it? Why might this have been a big deal in the honor culture of Jesus’ day? [v.20-21]
  2. The scribes do not agree with the family’s assessment of Jesus. Why might it be difficult for the scribes to believe Jesus is “out of his mind?” What accusation do they make about Jesus instead? [v.22]
  3. How did Jesus refute their claim that he was empowered by Satan?
  4. Who does the strong man represent in v. 27? Who or what does the strong man’s house represent? What is Jesus saying about his ministry in this parable?
  5. Verses 28 and 29 contain a promise and a warning. What is the promise? How does this give you hope? What is the warning?
  6. According to v. 30 why does Jesus give them this warning?
  7. Why do you think attributing Jesus’ work to an unclean spirit rather than the Holy Spirit is unforgivable? If someone believed Jesus to be empowered by an unclean spirit do you think they would ever submit to him as Savior and Lord?
  8. In verses 31 and 32 who is on the “inside” and who is on the “outside?” Why might this be surprising?
  9. Who does Jesus say are this mother and brothers? How might this startle his family who think they are on the inside? How does it give hope to the crowd who might think they are on the outside? How is this image of a family an appropriate metaphor for the church?
  10. How would you apply this passage to your life this week?


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