The picture above is from my family reunion at my mom’s 90th birthday. Family is important to me, but as important as my family is to me, following God’s will is the most important thing in my life. I’ve been blessed in that following God has never forced me to choose between my family and His will, but many have been forced to make that choice. In today’s story, Jesus has to make that very choice and He lets people know that His real family are those who do the will of God.
20. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. 21. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.
Jesus and His disciples came back into town and entered a house (v. 19). As happened with Jesus most of the time, His presence drew great crowds. People flocked to Him and the press of the crowd was so great they couldn’t even eat. I’ve visited a culture where the dining areas were set up in the same style that Jesus probably practiced for eating. The person dines by reclining on their left side while eating with their right hand. It would be hard enough to fit thirteen people around a table like that, but when the crowds showed up and pressed on them, it would be impossible to eat. Yes, all things are possible with Christ and He could have cleared the crowds away with a word or a gesture, but I don’t recall any time that He chased people away for His own convenience. Jesus took time to be with people – especially those hurting or in need. The King James describes the people who came to take Jesus away from the crowds as friends. Most other translations describe them as His family or His people. Whoever they were, they were close to Jesus personally and when they saw what was happening, they set off to the house to rescue Him from the crowds in the misguided belief that Jesus didn’t know what He was doing. (In short, they thought He was acting crazy.)
22. And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.
The scribes had another explanation for Jesus and His actions: they thought He was demon-possessed. As they thought about the power Jesus had over the demons, and I’m guessing from this exchange that Jesus had actually cast out some demons on this day, they decided that since He couldn’t be from God, since He didn’t fit their understanding of what a teacher from God would do, then He must have that power because He himself is possessed by a higher demon and that He was using His power over these lesser demons to cast them out of people and fool them into believing that they should follow Him as a teacher from God. (Sounds convoluted, doesn’t it?) The scribes reasoned that since they knew that they were following God, Jesus couldn’t be, and they wanted to get rid of this false teaching. In short, they considered anything that took away from their influence must be demonic and they didn’t want people to be tricked into falling away from their influence.
23. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? 24. And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. 27. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.
I think Jesus might have had a good laugh at people thinking that He was demon-possessed. At least at first. Then He made it clear that this idea was ridiculous. Would it make any sense for evil forces to be fighting against each other in their quest to battle against the Kingdom of God? As I read Jesus’s response, I can’t help but think of what happened in Russia during World War 1. Factions in the Russian empire went to war against each other, and the result was that the Bolsheviks/Communists were able to take over. The kingdom couldn’t stand both the “civil” war and the Bolshevik Revolution. If certain forces of Satan was warring against other forces of Satan, the end result would be good for the Kingdom of God. At the same time, I wonder if Jesus wasn’t warning the scribes that if God’s people warred against each other, then evil would triumph. The last verse in this section really isn’t meant to give instructions for robbing a house. I believe that Jesus is pointing out that if you’re going to mess with something evil, you don’t nibble around the edges, you go for the guy who’s in charge. When police officers seek to break up a drug ring, they may arrest the “small-fry” first, but they do it to seek information that will lead to the head honcho. Obviously, Jesus wasn’t talking about drug problems here, but, it’s an example of going after the guy in charge. Satan wouldn’t go after the demons, who were on his side, he would go after the leaders of God’s Kingdom. And, because we know the full story, we realize that the “strong man” in the Kingdom of God is Jesus. Perhaps this was even a back door slap in the face for the scribes who sought to discredit Jesus.
28. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: 29. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. 30. Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
If you want to get a lot of discussion going among Christians, just ask what they think the unforgivable sin is. And, since we’re dealing with that section now, as Mark talks about it, I’m going to ask your opinion, as well as giving my own. What do you think the unforgivable sin is? Based on the context of this story, I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin, is attributing the work of God, the work of the Spirit, to the power of Satan. I’m going to go out on a limb here and note that this sin is unforgivable at the end of life. Here’s my example: Suppose John Doe doesn’t know or understand the gospel. He sees Christians doing something that he thinks is wrong and he lets people know that what they’re doing is evil, even though they are following the leadership of the Holy Spirit. That would be blasphemy of the Spirit. Can John Doe later realize the truth of Jesus Christ, repent of his sin, and then be forgiven? I believe he can. If, however, he never comes to know Christ and rejects who He is, how can he be forgiven? That is how blasphemy of the Holy Spirit would be unforgivable as I understand it. I could be wrong and I welcome your input on the discussion.
All that being said, Jesus is making it clear that by attacking Him, and attacking the source of His power, the scribes are walking a dangerous line. The sad thing is that even though they’re walking that dangerous line, so much more in life can be forgiven. The key to forgiveness, though, is that we must seek the One who forgives, rather than seek to be forgiven. If we want to live forever in the presence of God, we should seek to know Him early in the process, and not as a last resort.
31. There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. 32. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.
And now, the family, that group of people who set off in verse 21, have arrived. My pastor has described this literary device as a Markan sandwich. The main story begins. There’s an interruption for a teaching that Mark wants to emphasize. Then we get the rest of the main story. Here, we’re told that His family thinks that He’s crazy and they set off to rescue Him from Himself. While they’re traveling, we get an important teaching about the power behind His teaching and the limits of forgiveness. Then, we get the end of the main story. So His brothers and His mother show up to take Jesus out of there. They can’t even break through the crowds. Notice that the crowd may pass His family’s message on to Jesus, but no one got out of the way to let them pass. I think their message was something along the lines of “Come on, Jesus. We need you back at the house. There’s carpentry to be done.” They may have thought He was crazy, but I don’t think they wanted to embarrass Him. I think we find that attitude from the world when we seek to serve God. We may be flying on a spiritual high, walking with God and sharing His love with others when well-minded people who don’t understand seek to bring us back to earth. The multitude sought to emphasize the importance of this message by noting that it came from His family.
33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? 34. And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 35. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
I can’t imagine how Mary, James, and His other brothers felt when Jesus said that. There’s an echo of Jesus’s teaching about being willing to leave family to follow the will of God in this answer. If we boil this incident down, what Jesus is reminding us is that our real family are those who seek to follow God along with us. If someone would seek to keep us from following God, they really aren’t family, no matter what the blood relationship might be. If someone follows someone other than God, they aren’t really family. Family are those who do the will of God. And, how do we know the will of God? The Spirit working in us teaches us God’s will. If someone would tear us away from following God’s Spirit, then, in a sense, they’re committing blasphemy against the Spirit of God. That brings the story full circle in our understanding. We must do the will of God no matter what others say. We mustn’t let family, religious leaders, or political leaders keep us from following what God has called us to do.