God's Intimate Family
A sermon on Mark 3:7-35 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 8/29/99
Is there an unforgivable sin? Is there a sin that you can commit once, and thereby ruin any chance you may have for salvation?
Mark 3:29, which we encounter in today's passage, reads: "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin."
What does Jesus mean here? Why is he speaking so harshly?
This verse has bothered many Christians. They reflect back on their lives and recall things they said or did years earlier and wonder: "Did I blaspheme against the Holy Spirit?" Perhaps some of you ask that very question.
Let me state right now that nothing you did in the distant past can have an impact on whether or not God can save you right now. We could point to many verses throughout the Bible that prove this is true, but for now look at verse 35 in this same chapter: "Whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."
Jesus says, "Whoever does the will of God is part of my intimate family!" Part of the family of God! Can such a person be lost eternally?
The confusion arising from verse 29 is an example of the problems created when difficult verses are ripped out of their context. We must look at the entire section to understand the verse about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. So this morning, we will do that. We will first consider the wider context of where we are in the gospel of Mark, then look more closely at chapter 3 beginning in verse 7. We will see that Mark continues to build on the theme we emphasized last time: True religion consists not in external obedience to a set of rules, but in a joyous relationship with Jesus Christ. Mark develops this theme through his discussion of Jesus choosing the 12 disciples, and through his using the language of the family to describe this relationship.
But in chapter 3, Mark begins a second, parallel theme, answering the question: Who can take part in this joyous relationship? Is everyone who receives a miraculous physical healing in this relationship? What about the many who crowd around Jesus? Are all of the physical descendants of Abraham in this relationship? As Mark shows in this chapter and in the parable of the sower in the next, the answer to all these questions is no. Jesus has been preaching the good news of the gospel; here, for the first time in Mark's account, he shows the flip side of that good news: Those who do not respond to this offer with faith and obedience are lost. The offer of eternal joy and intimacy is made to all, but woe to the one who rejects that offer. Neither nationality nor physical healing nor attendance at meetings will save them. They must believe, and obey.
So let us begin by reminding ourselves of the what occurs in Mark chapter 2 and the first verses of chapter 3. Mark here relates the escalating conflict between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees.
In the first 12 verses of chapter 2 Mark tells the story of the paralytic let down through the roof in front of Jesus while he is teaching. Recall that Jesus at first does not heal him, but declares: "Your sins are forgiven." The scribes think, "This man is a blasphemer! Only God can forgive sins." And, of course, they are right; only God can forgive sins. So Jesus claims divinity when he replies: "In order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins:" turning to the paralytic he says: "Rise, take up your pallet, and go home." The man does as Jesus says.
Verses 13 to 17 relate Jesus' calling as his disciple one of the most despised persons in Jewish society: a tax collector, Levi Matthew. Matthew responds, and in his joy throws a party. But the only people who will come to his party are his fellow tax collectors, other obvious sinners -- and Jesus. He celebrates together with these scurrilous fellows. The scribes are offended: "How can he do this? How can a supposed man of God eat and interact with such scum as these?" Jesus responds with a key statement: "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." So Jesus begins to clarify that his offer of the gospel requires our acknowledgment of our need for help. We must recognize our own spiritual poverty before we can benefit from the good news.
In verses 18 to 22 the scribes and disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus why his disciples don't engage in regular fasting. Jesus then says that his presence is like that of a bridegroom: "While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom do not fast, do they?" In Jewish culture at that time, weddings were the largest parties imaginable, times of great joy. Jesus here emphasizes that true religion is a relationship to Him -- and if he is present there should be joy and celebration.
So both the sacrificial system and fasts were intended by God to be times of humbling oneself before him, acknowledging His goodness, recognizing one's own spiritual poverty, and relying on God alone for your righteousness. But the Pharisees missed the point entirely. They made their external obedience to regular fasting and sacrifices grounds for pride, for self-righteousness.
Mark develops this thought more fully in verses 2:23-3:6, when Jesus and the authorities clash over what is permissible on the Sabbath. Jesus' disciples pick heads of grain to eat; he himself heals a man. These actions violate the Pharisees' Sabbath regulations, so they protest. But Jesus responds: "The Sabbath was made for Man, not man for the Sabbath. The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." Once again, Jesus claims divinity by claiming to be the authoritative interpreter of Old Testament Sabbath regulations.
This period of conflict culminates in 3:6, when the Pharisees and their enemies, the Herodians, work together -- on the Sabbath no less -- to come up with a plan for destroying Jesus.
So the two major themes in the section immediately prior to today's passage are that true religion is a joyous relationship with Jesus Christ, and that this relationship is available to all who humble themselves before God, acknowledging their spiritual poverty.
Let us begin today's section by reading verses 7-12 of chapter 3:
7 And Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, 8 and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude heard of all that He was doing and came to Him. 9 And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the multitude, in order that they might not crowd Him; 10 for He had healed many, with the result that all those who had afflictions pressed about Him in order to touch Him. 11 And whenever the unclean spirits beheld Him, they would fall down before Him and cry out, saying, "You are the Son of God!" 12 And He earnestly warned them not to make Him known. (NASB)
Question: Does Jesus want to draw large crowds? Are these crowds a sign of success?
Note that he has a hard time preaching because of all those coming to him desiring physical healing. He even has a boat standing ready so that, if necessary, he can escape from those pressing about him, yet still remain close enough to preach.
Remember back in chapter 1, Jesus is faced with a dilemma: Why did he come? Is his ministry primarily one of meeting the present needs of people, or to proclaim the gospel? After a night spent in prayer, Jesus leaves the area, concluding that his primary mission while on earth was to preach and teach.
Now, Jesus continues to heal people, for at least three reasons: as an expression of His compassion, as a verification of his deity (Mark 2:10), and as an illustration of the truths he is proclaiming (see sermon on 1:40-45). But Jesus never uses healing to attract crowds; indeed he never tries to attract crowds at all. Instead, he silences the demons who try to call attention to him, and rejects (during his temptation in the wilderness) Satan's suggestions that he use his miraculous powers to play to the crowd.
How contrary to techniques used by many churches and parachurch organizations today! Often, the strategy seems to be to get as many people as possible to a meeting by any means possible -- especially by appealing to their desire for healing or excitement. This is justified by saying that they then take the opportunity to preach the gospel.
Jesus could have done that. He could have had the disciples fan through the town saying, "Are you suffering from migraines? Is one leg shorter than another? Any friends with paralysis? Come to tonight's meeting!"
Or they could have said, "Come see the excitement! Be thrilled as Jesus climbs to the top of the temple and, defying death, jumps off! You've never seen anything like this! Come one, come all!"
The latter, you will recall, was Satan's temptation to Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:9); the former, I suggest, is Satan's temptation at the end of Mark 1. Jesus rejects them both.
And so should we. Our services and programs must focus on bringing honor and glory to God, not in offering worldly excitement in an attempt to entice non-believers to come. Crowds are no sign of the success of the gospel or the faithfulness of the preacher; and the lack of large response is no sign of failure or unfaithfulness on the part of those ministering.
Choosing His Intimate Family
So Jesus rejects the idea of trying to draw large crowds. When the crowds come anyway, Jesus selects a small number of men for a special purpose. Jesus spends considerable energy on these men who will be part of his intimate family. Verses 13 to 19 relate Jesus' selection of these disciples:
13 And He *went up to the mountain and *summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. 14 And He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach, 15 and to have authority to cast out the demons. 16 And He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom He gave the name Peter), 17 and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder"); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot; 19 and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him.
Think about the crowds surrounding Jesus, coming to be healed, or to see healings, or listening to him preach. How many out of the crowds eventually believed in Him?
Some scholars have suggested that the answer is none; certainly at the time of the crucifixion, the vast majority of the people have deserted him. Yet my personal belief is that some select individuals did believe: the paralytic let down through the roof, whom Jesus looked in the face, declaring his sins forgiven; Jairus, the synagogue ruler we meet in chapter 5; and a handful of others. But all commentators agree that at most a very small proportion of these crowds became true followers.
So Jesus focuses not on the crowds, but on a small number of men. He selects these who, eventually, will spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Verse 13 uses three interesting verbs to describe this selection process:
These statements are true not only of the disciples, but of every Christian. Jesus desires that intimate relationship with you, with me; He calls us, summoning us to himself; and, praise God, we are enabled to answer that call. We too join that intimate family.
Verse 14 describes 3 purposes for appointing them:
(1) That they might be with him
To be with Jesus is prior to any other purpose He has for them. The relationship is primary; they must be with Him before they can work for Him. Jesus didn't summon them so that he could teach them a new set of rules or law. While limited by his physical body, Jesus could not have relationship with thousands in the crowds. In order to model the relationship he has as risen Lord with each of us, he had to focus on a few.
But there is more than this. Throughout the history of the nation of Israel, most of the people reject God. But God always preserves a remnant, a sometimes small group that remains faithful. Just so in the ministry of Jesus. The multitude crowds Him, seeking thrills, excitement, and physical healing alone. Jesus picks out a few men as His faithful remnant to be with Him and to know Him intimately.
(2) To send them out to preach
Jesus prepares others to fulfill his primary calling of preaching and teaching.
(3) To have authority to cast out demons
The battle with the Evil One continues, and Jesus prepares these men for that battle. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6: "Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies."
Confusion in His Earthly Family
Mark contrasts the intimacy and unity of purpose Jesus has with his newly-chosen disciples with the questions raised by his earthly family. Let us look at verses 20 and 21:
20 And He *came home, and the multitude *gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. 21 And when His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, "He has lost His senses."
The crowds continue to present problems to Jesus, to the extent that he can't even eat. In many cultures, it is impolite to eat in another's presence unless you share your meal. So if people are visiting and you don't have enough to feed everyone, you don't eat until they leave. Perhaps that is the situation in this case: people are always around seeking healing, so there is no private time for eating.
Verse 21 uses an interesting phrase, "His own people." On its own, the phrase is somewhat ambiguous, but given that Jesus' mother and brothers arrive on the scene in verse 31, it is clearly referring to them.
What is it that his family has heard that prompts them to believe that he has lost his senses, that he is out of his mind?
Surely one thing they hear is the fact that Jesus is so crowded he can't eat -- mothers are always concerned when their children aren't eating enough. Yet this doesn't seem sufficient to make them conclude that he has lost his senses. Probably they have also heard of His "violations" of the Sabbath, and the escalating conflict with the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. Perhaps they even know something of the plot to destroy him (3:6). Indeed, the Pharisees might have tried to enlist the aid of His family in silencing Jesus. Perhaps they sent word, saying: "Your son/brother is in trouble; he is speaking against the Law, violating the Sabbath, and claiming to be able to forgive sins. You had better come take care of him or something worse might happen!"
For whatever reason, Jesus' brothers and even Mary are thinking, "He has lost his mind!" They come to take control of him. The word used here is very strong: they are coming to take him by force if necessary. Those who should know him best now doubt his rationality. His earthly family is now (temporarily) in opposition.
The Scribes' Accusation
His earthly family believes him to be out of his mind, and the religious leaders of his nation now say that he has a demon:
22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons." 23 And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 "And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 "And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 "And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! 27 "But no one can enter the strong man's house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house. 28 "Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"-- 30 because they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit." (NASB)
Jesus responds to the accusation first with logic, then with a stern warning. If Satan's demons are fighting against each other, then Satan's kingdom is little threat. How can the one who is destroying the demons, freeing people from their slavery, be on the side of the demons? On the contrary, Jesus himself is the one who will bind the strong man, Satan, and plunder his "property" -- that is, all of this world.
It is at this point that Jesus makes the stern warning about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. When the scribes and Pharisees question him initially, he responds by teaching. In 3:5 Mark reports his anger at their hardness of heart. Now he says: Watch where you are going! You are headed on the path of destruction!
Recall that the Pharisees thought they were right with God for two reasons:
Jesus has already shown that their self-righteous obedience to the external requirements of the law was not pleasing to God; indeed, he has shown that they themselves are breaking the very purpose of that law.
Now he attacks their first reason, saying, in effect: "If you continue to ascribe my work to Satan, if you believe my power comes from the evil one, if you insist on remaining in obstinate opposition, denying the very facts you see with your eyes -- then there is no hope for you. You cannot depend on your physical descent from Abraham. You are excluded from God's people for all eternity. You are not part of the family of God, you are not among the chosen people."
That is the purpose of this statement. Jesus is not here providing a full theology of salvation -- Paul does that much more thoroughly in his epistles. Here, Jesus is issuing a stern warning, supplementing and amplifying what he has said previously. He says, "You are in danger of hell; repent and believe the gospel!"
Who is God's Intimate Family?
So at this point Mark tells us of the arrival of Jesus's human family:
31 And His mother and His brothers *arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him, and called Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him, and they *said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You." 33 And answering them, He *said, "Who are My mother and My brothers?" 34 And looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He *said, "Behold, My mother and My brothers! 35 "For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother." (NASB)
Jesus' family arrives but can't get to him because of the crowd. They pass word along, which perhaps is relayed person to person through the crowd until it reaches Jesus: "We, your mother and brothers are here. Please come out to us." Apparently, this message is spoken loudly enough that the crowd hears it. Recall that Jesus' family plans to remove him from the scene, taking charge of him, bringing him home -- for His own good (so they think).
Jesus doesn't see them! They traveled a long distance to come to this place -- but he doesn't even greet them! Instead he looks around at each person sitting near him: "Who are my mother and brothers? You are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother!"
What does Jesus mean?
Luke 11:27-28 sheds some light on this statement of Jesus. These verses in Luke directly follow Luke's account of the accusation of the scribes that Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul.
And it came about while He said these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice, and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed." But He said, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it." (Luke 11:27-28, NASB)
These verses state the same idea: blessings go not to those who are in Jesus' natural human family, but to those who believe and act on that belief. Blessings result from spiritual intimacy with Him, and this results not from a natural relationship -- such as being His mother or brother or fellow Jew -- but from supernatural intimacy, as evidenced by our hearing the word of God and obeying.
Here Roman Catholic teaching about Mary obscures the biblical truth. Jesus invites each of us to be part of his intimate family -- as much a part of his family as Mary! Mary is part of that intimate family not because she bore him as her child, but because she was a woman of faith: she heard the word of God and did it! Yes, she failed occasionally, as in this passage -- but her life was characterized by faith. If we too become people of faith, if we too hear the word of God and observe it, we too become part of Jesus' intimate family. We too spend eternity in the deepest, most personal, most satisfying relationships imaginable.
What about you?
Don't concern yourself with something you may have said or done in the past. The question is: Where do you stand right now with regard to Jesus? The most important question that you must answer is: Who is Jesus?
My friend, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God in the flesh, the Savior of the world.
Is the Holy Spirit tugging at your heart? Have you resisted his urging?
Don't reject the prompting of the Holy Spirit! As Jesus states, there is a real danger here. Not responding to the truth makes us callous to that truth, and can, eventually, close our ears to the truth. Forgiveness comes no other way except by believing in Him.
But if you do believe and obey, you will be part of God's intimate family, loved by Him, dear to Him, for all eternity. You will be as much a part of that family as Mary or believing Jews, or anyone else who believed years or decades before you. No matter what you have done -- you will be made as white as snow, the perfect bride of Christ.
Christians, you who claim to believe: What characterizes your life? Are you living a life of obedience? That is the only evidence of a true faith. Jesus says "blessed is he who hears the word of God and observes it." "Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother." Don't put your trust in walking down an aisle or any ritual, such as baptism, or any experience. Accept Jesus by faith, and live a life day by day of active dependence on Him, humbly seeking Him, confessing your sins, and asking that he might enable you to live a life worthy of your calling.
God's offer is free to all: You too can be part of God's intimate family. This is the good news. So repent and believe!
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 8/29/99.
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