PRAY: Humbly ask God to give you wisdom to understand this portion of the Bible and the faith to live out what He reveals to you.
READ: Mark 3:20-35
Note: We are combining two weeks of lessons in this one commentary, as Mark has closely tied these two passages together and it will be difficult to understand one without the other. This passage is difficult and sensitive, and as such will be a little longer read.
Christian apologist and celebrated author, C.S. Lewis, first put forth an argument called, “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” He argued that Jesus must be classified as one of the three, he cannot merely be labeled as just another good moral teacher and then dismissed. If he were merely a good teacher, how can you reconcile all the things Jesus claimed about being divine and the miracles he wrought? That would make him a liar, not a good moral teacher. If you say he was insane and that’s why he claimed these things, you cannot claim him as a good teacher either, nor can you reconcile that with the amazing teachings that have quite literally shaped world history. The only option left is to “… fall at his feet and call him Lord and God!”
No passage more clearly illustrates this argument than the one we will be discussing the next two weeks. Mark sets the scene back in (Jesus’s) home town of Nazareth. Throngs of people have surrounded him to hear his teachings and see his miracles, so much so that he cannot even sit down to have a meal. His family hears of this and come to rescue him, thinking he has gone completely mad.
Mark then inserts a confrontation with the Pharisees and the “unforgivable sin” into the story before he resolves the family conflict, forming a sort of bracket. This is meant to draw a connection between these two types of rejection. Finally, he resolves the confrontation with (Jesus’s) family and declares a new social group: the family of God.
His family thought he was a lunatic. The Pharisees thought he was demonic. His disciples declared him Lord, and were welcomed into the family of God.
Let us first address the conflict with the Pharisees, then we’ll deal with the family conflict, and finally talk about how the two relate.
THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN:
Up to this point in Mark, Jesus has been traveling around the country teaching and performing miracles. His fame has broadly grown among the people and equally his infamy among religious class. So much so that earlier in this chapter they had even begun to plot his death with the Herodians (a sort of political party of Hellenistic Jews allied with Herod Antipas). They had apparently dispatched a group of religious officials from Jerusalem to follow him to Nazareth (3:22), some 70 miles away through rough, mountainous terrain, to watch Jesus and try to disrupt and derail his ministry.
The scribes see the miracles Jesus is working and claim he does them by the power of “Beezlebub” or the ruler of demons. Interestingly, they do not deny the miracles themselves, they instead try to discredit the man performing them in an ad hominem attack. Jesus counters their flawed logic, asking how Satan could cast out Satan. Why would he be against himself and war against his own kingdom?
Jesus counters the teaching with a parable, saying the only way to break into a strong man’s house and plunder his property is to first bind that strong man, then he can plunder his goods. This is a vitally important point to understand what follows. Here Jesus is saying that Satan is the strong man. This earth is Satan’s home or kingdom that he rules (Eph 2:1-2, 2 Cor 4:4, Mat 4:9). Jesus is the one who is stronger than Satan, has invaded his realm, bound the strong man, and is plundering his goods – namely, you and me. Jesus wasn’t simply performing miracles for the sake of miracles, he was rescuing souls from the grasp of Satan, plundering hell and setting the captives free.
In that context we come to the “unforgivable sin.” Every Christian must wrestle with the passage at some point in their life. We’ve all had periods of hard heartedness and rebellion toward the gospel, and many fear they have said or done something that constitutes “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” and have entered into this unforgivable state. The scribes and Pharisees look at this “plundering of the strong man’s house,” the redeeming salvific (having the intent or power to save or redeem) work of Christ by the power of the Spirit and reject it. They call it Satanic. They prefer the strong man’s rule over the redeemer’s freedom. That is how I believe Jesus has framed the “unforgivable sin” here in this passage.
The problem many of your group members or perhaps even you yourself may struggle with here is taking that single passage out of the larger context. The temptation is simply to read verses 28-29 in isolation and fear that we have said something against the Holy Spirit or some charismatic preacher and fear that we’ve crossed that line. If you encounter this push back, I encourage you to guide your group back to verse 27 (and the broader context of what has been happening in Mark chapters 1-3) where Jesus sets the parameters for what 28-29 are talking about.
The sin that men cannot be forgiven then and now is rejecting that saving work of the Holy Spirit. He has plundered the strong man and offers you freedom and you say, “No thanks, I prefer the strong man.”
THE NEW FAMILY:
Mark now returns to a different kind of objection to Christ’s work. His family arrives at the door of the house he is in after the showdown with the religious leaders and cannot even get inside because of the crowds. They pass word to Jesus asking him to come out to them so they can take him away, because they think him mad. Maybe they don’t think he’s demonic, but they certainly aren’t buying into this whole miraculous healing, demon-casting out, Messiah thing. They think he’s just gone nuts and is embarrassing himself and his family.
Jesus’ response would have been shocking to the time and culture of the day, more so than it even is today. He says those earthly family members waiting outside the door who do not believe in him are not his family, but those who are there around him accepting his teaching are his family. In today’s western culture we typically find our identity and meaning in our work, career, and accomplishments. Ancient Middle Eastern culture on the other hand found their identity primarily in the family or tribal unit.
I see at least four strong implications of this powerful statement Jesus is making.
First, that our earthly families are not where our identities lie, nor are our jobs or accomplishments.
Second, following Jesus might be costly. It may strain your relationships with family, friends, and career aspirations as you seek to work out an identity rooted in the Christ.
Third, our identities instead lie with a larger group or family, the family of God through Jesus Christ. God gives us purpose, meaning, mission, family, and fellowship.
Fourth and most importantly, rejection of the One who gives us that identity leaves us outside the family of God, standing at the door screaming Jesus is a madman or a demon.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER:
Mark weaves these incidents together to the same purpose and result, rejecting Jesus’s salvific work results in our ultimate rejection. There is no hope for salvation, no relationship with God, no purpose, no meaning, and no identity apart from that which we receive from God, through the work of Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Living that out requires a radical realignment of our lives. We cannot say that our identity, purpose, and meaning are tied up in Christ and at the same time compartmentalize him or not center our life around him. He must be Lord of every aspect of our lives or not at all.
Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. – C.S. Lewis
- Why is understanding the parable in 3:27 so important to understanding the unforgivable sin?
- Where do you find your identity? What do you think it means to find your identity in Christ? What might it cost you?
- C.S. Lewis argued that Jesus had to be either a horrible liar, a madman, or the Son of God as he claimed. Why can’t he just be a “good teacher”? Do you see any other possibility?
Memory Verse: Mark 3:27, “On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he will rob his house.”
This week's devotional is written by John Wells. John is a City Church Owner who serves as a Redemption Group Leader and works for the IT Department of UF.