We’re going to be in Mark 3 today—verses 20-35.
Through the end of the summer (the end of August)
we as a community are following Jesus—
watching what he’s doing, listening to what he’s saying—
and asking, “What would it look like for us to take this guy seriously?”
More particularly, we’re following Jesus
around the gospel according to Mark.
We could spend WAY more time than twelve weeks in Mark’s gospel—
we’re just really skimming the surface.
We’ve been trying to hit some of the most distinct passages in Mark—
some of the stories with the strongest Mark-flavor,
and that’s the reason we’re begin forced to engage the end of Mark 3.
All week I’ve thought,
“It would SOOO much easier to preach a different passage on Sunday.”
All week I’ve been tempted to go in a different direction this morning and just skim right over this passage.
No one would know.
But this passage has got a strong Mark-flavor—
there’s a detail here that only shows us up in Mark’s story—
so I feel like we’ve got wrestle through it.
So here we go.
(3.20-35) 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 Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak 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 without first tying him up.
Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.
Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure 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.”
I told you, I told you.
This is a thick one.
This is a hard one.
It would have been easier to skip it and talk about something else,
but that’s not what we do here at BCC.
We’re interested in REALLY following Jesus
and REALLY watching where he goes,
and REALLY listening to what he says.
But, boy howdy, is this one a doozy. Beelzebul and strong men and blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
What are we to make of this?
Well, let’s remember where we are first—
what’s been happening as we’ve been follow Jesus.
Mark has been telling us the story of action-hero Jesus—
Jesus who bursts into world like a champion onto a battlefield—
like Aragon Son of Arathorn approaching the gates of Mordor,
like Indiana Jones charging into a room full of Nazis.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is this powerful figure who is banishing evil and spreading life wherever he goes.
The sick are being healed,
people are being forgiven,
whatever is broken is being restored,
the forces of evil are in full retreat—
Jesus calls this “the kingdom of God.”
This is what the world looks like
when things are as God wants them to be.
But especially last week,
we saw that as Jesus is doing all that he’s doing,
there are a lot of people of his own people (the Jewish people)
who are starting to get nervous—even angry.
For example, sure, Jesus is healing people,
but he’s doing it on the Sabbath—the Sabbath!
The Sabbath is one of the ways that the Jewish people
had stayed separate from the world—that they stayed “holy” in the world.
And last week we saw Jesus seeming to be go out of his way
to challenge some of Jewish leadership.
Jesus—very publicly—healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.
With one simple act of inviting a broken man into the middle of the synagogue
and healing him on the Sabbath,
Jesus has challenged not only how
the Jewish people understand the Sabbath but also the very heart of what it means to be God’s people in the world.
Is being holy—
honoring the Sabbath,
and observing dietary regulations,
and circumcising your little boys
and whatever we make “holiness” about today—
is holiness ultimately about a group of holy people being separate from the world?
Maybe even being against the world?
Is that’s God’s ultimate goal?
Is God’s ultimate goal to have a people in the world who are FOR the world?
What if the ultimate goal for a holy people is that they would be a healing people?
What if God’s primary aim is to bring healing to the entire world?
What if that was the entire point of God creating a people in the first place—
that all the world would be blessed?
“What is lawful on the Sabbath?”
—that’s what Jesus asks the religious leaders
right before he heals a man this man in front of everyone.
And then the religious leaders went out and began plotting how they might destroy Jesus.
That’s where we’ve been—that’s what we’ve seen.
At first following Jesus was all buzzing excitement and soaring popularity but now the tension is starting to rise.
And maybe that why accusations are starting to fly.
Jesus has just formed a posse (v13-18)
that he’s teaching to do what he does— namely proclaim the kingdom and drive out demons (v15).
Jesus and the posse go into a house (v20).
Maybe that same house that the crowds
already tore part of the roof off of
so that they could get to him.
And the crowds are continuing to swell.
This is an introvert’s nightmare—
there are so many people coming and going but mostly staying around,
that Jesus and his disciples are working themselves ragged.
They’re missing meals.
They’re not even able to eat.
And now we get a peculiar detail.
Jesus’ family hears where he is and what’s going on, and they come to “take charge of him”
The NIV pulls the punch.
This is the same word that’s used later in Mark’s story when Jesus is arrested in Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus’ family is coming to arrest him—
to seize him, to restrain him,
to put him in a straightjacket.
They’re saying to themselves: “Jesus has lost it—he’s out of his mind” (v21).
These are the people who should know Jesus the best—
who should understand Jesus.
This is Jesus’ family.
These are insiders.
And they don’t understand Jesus.
This is one of those things that you wouldn’t have made up.
This is an embarrassing story for Jesus.
If you’re trying to build a case for Jesus’ credibility, maybe you should just leave out the story of Jesus’ family thinking he’s crazy.
That’s what Matthew and Luke decide to do. They leave this part of the story out of their gospels.
Mark is the only gospel-writer who tell us this.
Jesus’ family doesn’t understand Jesus.
They think he’s lost it.
He’s taking this whole kingdom-of-God-thing a bit too far—
he’s getting carried away with himself.
And so they’re coming to take him home—by force, if needed.
But then in verse 22, Mark makes a shift.
He quick zooms the camera out
leaving behind from Jesus’ family loading up the station wagon
with their ether-soaked rags and their straightjacket,
and zooms the camera in on the house that Jesus is in.
This is a story-telling technique that Mark likes—
he likes sandwiching stories.
Mark is going to leave us hanging about Jesus’ family
and while Jesus’ family is on their way
he’s going to tell us a smaller story inside of that one.
So the camera swings away from the Jesus-family-station-wagon,
and zooms in on the house that Jesus is in.
(Maybe the camera comes in through the hole in the roof).
Jesus is in this house with wall-to-wall people.
There’s no A/C, no swamp-coolers—there aren’t even ceiling fans.
And Jesus is hungry and exhausted and—if chapter one is any indicator—
he’s continuing to heal people and cast out demons.
Again—an introvert’s nightmare.
And evidently the plot to destroy Jesus is now in full motion
because some teachers of the law have come down from Jerusalem (v22)
to evaluate this Jesus-fellow.
These are the experts on God.
They’re the Scripture-experts from Jerusalem— from the political and social and religious center of the Jewish world.
These are the ultimate insiders.
They should recognize the activity of God in the world, right?
But they don’t understand Jesus one bit,
because they make a terrifying public accusation against Jesus.
Maybe they walk up straight up to Jesus,
maybe they try to casually drop it in conversation,
but these experts say that Jesus is demon-possessed.
Well that escalated quickly.
(Again, this is not the sort of thing you make up.)
Notice, they don’t deny
that amazing and powerful things are happening around Jesus.
“We’re not saying that you’re not doing some amazing stuff, Jesus. It’s just that in our considered opinion, you’re a demon-possessed.”
“Maybe by Beelzebul (some kind of powerful demon).
Maybe even Satan himself.
Hard to tell.
This is a big deal.
Dabbling in witchcraft,
consorting with demons
or practicing magic—
these are criminal charges in first-century Judaism.
Punishable by exile or even death.
Everyone is looking at Jesus— maybe with a look of suspicion for the first time.
This couldn’t be true, could it?
Surely not Jesus.
Is Jesus going to be arrested before his family can even get here?
What’s Jesus going to say?
How is Jesus going to answer these charges?
Jesus answers them with a couple of parables— with a couple of micro-stories.
He says, this makes no sense (v23):
how can the Accuser drive our the Accuser?
how can Satan drive out out Satan?
Imagine a kingdom that’s in civil war (v24)— that’s a kingdom that’s on the verge of collapse.
Imagine a family always attacking each other (v25)—
that’s a family that’s not going to make it.
“If what you’re saying is true—if I really am demon-possessed—
well, what’s happening around me is still good news.
Because it means that the powers of evil are collapsing from the inside (v26).”
But then in verse 27,
Jesus says that the reality of what is happening
is the exact opposite thing than what they’re saying.
They’re calling black “white” and white “black”
what’s happening is less like a civil war
where families or countries self-destruct
What’s happening is more like a home invasion
where you tie up the owner of the house
and steal all their stuff.
In a home invasion
you need Someone Stronger than the owner of the house—
someone stronger than the Strong Man.
No one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.
That’s a strange thing for Jesus to say—for Jesus to compare himself to.
When is a home invasion a good thing?
Jesus just lets that story hang there.
But the insinuation is that Jesus is Stronger than the Strong Man—
and that plundering the house of darkness is what he’s been doing in the gospel of Mark From the very beginning of the story when John the Baptist said Someone Stronger is coming after him (1.7)
to the arrival of Jesus and his constant trashing of evil and casting out of evil,
to the story in chapter five of a naked demon-possessed man
who lives in a graveyard and “no one [is] strong enough to subdue” (5.4)
but who finds freedom and sanity and dignity when he meets Jesus.
The story of Jesus in Mark
is the story of Someone Stronger than powers of evil
breaking into the house of darkness and taking whatever he wants.
And what Jesus wants is people.
When is a home invasion a good thing? When there are children chained up in the basement.
I could get behind a breaking and entering
to save some kidnap victims.
Jesus isn’t in league with the devil—far from it!
He’s here to plunder the devil’s basement and set people free.
Jesus will say in chapter 10,
that the entire reason he has come into the world
is to spend his entire life for the sake of setting people free—
to give his life as a ransom for many (cf. 10.45).
People can be and people will be
forgiven and set free from everything (v28)—
every kind of slander, every kind of blasphemy, every kind of sin, every kind of evil.
And that’s why Jesus is here—he’s here to forgive.
He’s here to give his life to setting people free.
But then in verse 29, Jesus says something very perplexing indeed.
He says that there’s a kind of sin that people won’t find freedom from.
(That word “aphesis” means both forgiveness and release.)
Whoever is blaspheming the Holy Spirit
“has no forgiveness” or “has no release.”
But if we think about it—
what Jesus is saying makes total sense.
It’s not that the Holy Spirit
is the particularly sensitive person of the Trinity—
a bit like your Aunt Prudence who just has a hard time forgiving people.
Jesus is saying this (v30)
because he’s being accused of being demon-possessed—
of having an impure spirit.
He’s really got the purest of spirits—
the holiest of spirits, the Spirit of God—
at work in him.
But the religious leaders—
the experts on God, the ultimate insiders—
are calling black “white” and white “black.”
You, Jesus, your spirit is evil—
And I think Jesus is warning them:
“Be so very careful that you don’t really believe
these wild accusations that you’re throwing at me.”
“That you don’t really believe that the Spirit at work in me is evil.”
“Be so care, dear children, that you don’t develop Stockholm Syndrome—
that you don’t fall in love with your kidnapper, with your captor.
Because if you begin believing that his dungeon is really your home,
and that your chains are really your toys,
and that your rescuer is really the devil—
there’s no way you can be free.”
And then with that stark warning, the camera swings from the conversation over to the door.
Jesus’ family has finally arrived (v31),
and they’ve sent someone in to get him to come outside.
“Oh Jesus… your mother and brothers are here.
Would you mind coming out here?
And breathing deeply from this rag?
Your family is outside and would like to take you home.”
Jesus must have thought,
“They sure are on the outside—they don’t understand.”
And then (v34) he looks at those who are sitting around him—
those who are listening to him and learning from him.
And Jesus says,
“Here is my family—the people I count as brothers and sisters.
Here are the people who really understand who I am—those who do the will of God.”
People use that phrase—“the will of God”—to talk about a great number of things.
But as we follow continue to follow Jesus,
I think we begin realizing that he’s putting on crystal-clear display what the will of God is.
The will of God looks like Jesus exhausting his entire life
to serve others and to set others free.
(10.45) “[Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
That’s why Jesus came— that’s what Jesus is always doing.
Serving and setting free.
That’s how that Stronger Someone uses all his strength.
This is what true strength looks like.
Serving those around him in love, setting those around him free from darkness.
And that’s really the only way to understand Jesus.
To let him serve you, and let him set you free.
Remember, the people who should have known what Jesus is like—
the people who were insiders, his flesh and blood—
didn’t understand him.
They thought he might have something wrong with him—
he can’t even eat,
he’s going to get himself killed,
he’s out of his mind.
And the people who should have known what God is like—
the people who were insiders, the experts—
thought there might be something diabolical about him.
The people who should understand him don’t.
All the insiders turn out to be on the outside.
And the outsiders— the poor, the broken, the tortured, the sinful, the written-off— the outsiders turn out to be the true family of Jesus.
I think that’s because only outsiders are desperate enough
to let Jesus serve them and set them free.
Everyone else thinks they’ve already got life figured out— and Jesus figured out too.
And so they want to manage Jesus—to restrain him, to arrest him, to accuse him.
We spend most of our lives trying to be on the inside— trying to figure out life and make our lives work, trying to pretend we don’t need healing or help.
But Jesus didn’t come to call the whole—he came to call the broken.
He came to serve the broken.
He came to heal the broken.
The only people who really understand Jesus
are those who are desperate—who have no other hope.
It’s only when we are at the end of our ropes,
only when we are honest about our shame and our sin,
only when we confess our weakness and our brokenness and our poverty,
only then do we finally allow Jesus to do what Jesus came to do— to serve us and set us free.
This table is the place we come each week to receive from Jesus— to trust that he’s Someone Stronger than the darkness that binds us, and he has come to serve us and set us free.
This table is the place where we remember that while we are sick and murderous Jesus will serve us in love.
This table is the place where we remember
that when we are in darkness and in chains
Jesus will set us free.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
If we want to take Jesus seriously—
if we want to understand who Jesus is and begin experiencing the best possible kind of life that he offers us— we’ve got ask ourselves:
“Am I trying to still trying to manage Jesus—
to fit him into my world
and into my life?
“Or am I finally desperate enough to really understand Jesus—
to have him define my world
and to receive my life from him?”
In a few moments you’ll be invited to come down this center aisle,
to receive a cracker, to dip it in the juice, and to return to your seats along the sides.
As we come this morning,
may the Father rescue all of us from our Stockholm Syndromes— may he grant us the wisdom to discern the holy from the hellish, the light from the darkness, life from death—
may the Son remind us how he uses his unspeakable strength—
he uses it to love others to his last breath and plunder death from the inside,
and may the Spirit empower all us to practice the will of God—
to join him in banishing the forces of darkness
by serving others and setting others free.