Text: Mark 3:20–35
Main Idea: True disciples of Jesus Christ believe his claims and embrace his authority.
I. Jesus’ Family Reveal their Unbelief (Mark 3:20–21)
II. The Scribes Attack His Authority (Mark 3:22)
III. Jesus Defends His Sovereign Authority (Mark 3:23–30)
IV. Jesus Redefines Family Relationships (Mark 3:31–35)
According to Wikipedia, the sandwich—that marvelous portable meal of peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, or corned beef and sauerkraut bound together by two pieces of bread—can be traced back to the 18th-century aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.
Evidently he was so engrossed in a card game that he didn’t want to stop for dinner. So he asked his valet to bring him some meat tucked between two pieces of bread… and soon thereafter other people started ordering “the same thing as Sandwich!”
Well, this morning I want to introduce you to a different type of sandwich—a literary device that Mark employs at least 10x in his Gospel; a literary device most scholars call a “Markan Sandwich.” And this is exactly what we see in out text this morning: Mark starts one story (about Jesus’ family), switches to another (about the Scribes), and then returns to original story (about Jesus’ family). And he ultimately does this because we wants us to interpret the two accounts in light of each other.
Main Idea: True disciples of Jesus Christ believe his claims and embrace his authority.
- Jesus’ Family Reveal their Unbelief (Mark 3:20–21)
- The Scribes Attack His Authority (Mark 3:22)
- Jesus Defends His Sovereign Authority (Mark 3:23–30)
- Jesus Redefines Family Relationships (Mark 3:31–35)
Jesus’ Family Disclose Their Unbelief (Mark 3:20–21)
This is the first time that Jesus’ family appears in the Gospel of Mark. And it is clear that they care about Jesus, in that, when they heard that he didn’t have time to eat they tracked him down. But, Mary and his siblings are not stopping by with a bucket of KFC or a tuna casserole, they tracked Jesus down so that they could “seize him.”
The Greek verb behind the English word seize (κρατέω) has a broad range of meaning. And in this context it indicates that his family is attempting to arrest or seizeJesus so that they can forcibly remove him for his own good. But even more, the word “seize” is a key term in the Gospel of Mark, in that, Mark usually uses this word to describe opposition to Jesus.
- He uses it 8x to describe the actions of those who are openly against Jesus (3:21; 6:17; 12:12; 14:1, 44, 46, 49, 51).
- He uses it 4x contexts where Jesus is in direct conflict with his adversaries (7:3, 4, 8; 9:10)
And in our immediate context, the word “seize” is important in the light of what happens in the middle of the sandwich when Jesus uses the language of “binding” (v. 27).
But why? Why do they want to seize him and take him home to Nazareth? They believe that he is “out of his mind” (ἐξίστημι). As one commentator rightly observes, the Greek wording in this text is more explicit that our English translations indicate, in that: they don’t merely believe he is overworked—they believe he has gone completely berserk!
And when we remember that Jesus is living in a honor-shame culture where an individual’s actions brought honor or shame to his or her family, we can see that his family is ignoring the clear manifestations of God’s activity in Jesus’ early ministry and reacting to those things that reflected poorly on their family.
Jesus’ Antagonists Attack His Authority (Mark 3:22)
Don’t miss this. Mark wants us to see that Jesus’ family members are more like the Scribes than the disciples in that they are both misjudging Jesus. On one hand, his family is trying to seize him and extinguish his influence over the crowd to protect their name. And on the other hand, the scribes are launching an all-out frontal assault against Jesus in hopes that they can contain Jesus and undermine his influence over the crowds. His family thinks he is insane. The Scribes think his is possessed by Beelzebul or in modern English, Satan himself.
The Insanity of Unbelief
Now, before we turn our attention to Jesus’ reply I want you to see the insanity of the Scribe’s unbelief. They never deny that Jesus can perform supernatural acts. Rather, they choose to reinterpret his supernaturalacts of healing and deliverance as sinisteracts of demonic origin!
Supernatural acts flow from one of two sources—there is no third option! Don’t let anyone every convince you that there is a neutral supernatural third-party. And in the case of Jesus, the source is either:
- God and Jesus is extending the kingdom of God.
- The devil and Jesus is extending the kingdom of Satan.
And Jesus is going to defend his authority by exposing the utter absurdity of their attack. (Mark 3:23–27)
Jesus Defends His Authority (Mark 3:23–30)
The Central Question: How can Jesus be empowered by Satan if everything he says and does is diametrically opposed to Satan? (Mark 3:23–26)
First, If exorcisms bring healing and deliverance NOT harm, why in the world would Satan cooperate with wide-spread deeds of mercy that, decimate his malevolent minions, deliver hopeless captives humans, and direct sinful humans toward repentance and belief?
Second, If the Scribe’s accusations are correct, Satan’s empire is collapsing from the inside out, in that, either (1) his kingdom is fractured by warring demonic factions or (2) Satan is trying to destroy himself because has fallen into complete insanity. But, this is impossible, look at contrast in verse 26.
Mark 3:26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but (ἀλλὰ) is coming to an end.
Jesus wants them to see that their accusations are not only groundless but that they are utter illogical, in that he uses the strongest contrastive conjunction available in Koine Greek (ἀλλὰ)to make his point—Satan and his kingdom are coming to an end! Jesus’ healings, exorcisms, and preaching clearly reveal thatSatan’s kingdom is not embroiled in an internal conflict or civil war, it is being invaded from the outside. It like trying to call Pearl Harbor, D-Day, or Desert Storm a civil war!
The Clear Revelation: (Mark 3:27)
This simply parable of the “strongman” is an allegory.
Satan is the “strong man,” his “house” is this present world, and his “goods” are the unregenerate offspring of Adam.
Ephesians 2:2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.
2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Jesus is the stronger one who “binds the strong man” so that he can utterly plunder Satan’s house. And Jesus didn’t just make up a pithy story, he is pointing the Scribes to God’s promise through the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 49:24–25 Can 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.
The kingdom of God is finally breaking into human history. But, God is not attacking petty tyrants like Caesar and his earthly dominion. Rather, he is invading Satan’s kingdom which has enslaved the entire human race since Genesis 3. Remember, Jesus has already faced Satan and defeated him in the wilderness, a defeat clearly manifest in countless exorcisms.
Jason Meyer’s acute reflection on this encounter is utterly devastating: The stunning irony in this encounter is that the most gifted and knowledgeable spiritual leaders in Israel are so blind they cannot tell the difference between the work of God and the work of Satan.
A Powerful Warning (Mark 3:28–30)
Now, I realize that many of you have been anticipating these three verses since we launched into our study of the Gospel of Mark. Some of you simply want assurance you are reading these verses correctly but, on the other hand, some of you are constantly tormented by this powerful warning. So let me address this from two angles this morning: the immediate context and some pastoral implications.
The Immediate Context:
The Greek word for “blasphemy” refers to speech that demeans, denigrates, or disrespects another person. And when this word group is used in Scripture its objects is almost always God himself. So, blasphemy is any speech that disrespects or maligns God.
Therefore, Jesus is warning the Scribes against speech that disrespects or maligns the 3rd person of the Trinity—the Holy Spirit. But, what exactly does it mean to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? Because, if the truth be told I have said thousands of things in my life that disrespect God. Well, thankfully Mark tells is what this “unforgivable and eternal sin” is in verse 30.
Mark 3:30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.
Notice that this clause begins with the logical conjunction “for.” In other words, the word “for” indicates that reason why Jesus is warning them about the “unforgivable sin.”
Therefore, blasphemy of the Spirit is “not an indefinable offense against God, but a specific misjudgment that Jesus is motivated by evil rather than by good, that he is empowered by the devil rather than by God.” Which is the very thing they did in verse 22.
Mark 3:22 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.”
And this is an “unforgivable sin” because “blasphemy of the Spirit” is a deliberate decision to reject the person and message of Jesus instead of humbly responding in repentance and faith.
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Blasphemy against the Spirit is unforgiveable and eternal because forgiveness and restoration to God come through Jesus Christ alone!
Some pastoral implications:
First, sin and blasphemy are forgivable (3:28). Mark 3:28 Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter. In fact, the testimony of Paul demonstrates that God even forgives blasphemy against the Spirit. As Paul recounts God’s undeserved mercy he admits in 1 Timothy 1:13 that he was a “former blasphemer” a Pharisee who was no different from the Scribes in Mark 3 who rejected Jesus as a satanic cancer who was destroying the very fabric of Judaism (Gal. 1:13–14). In addition to this the book of Acts tells us that a large number of Pharisees repented and believed in Jesus as well. I want you to see this because it corelates with the verb tense in verse 29. Yes, at one time they believed Jesus was of the Devil, but they did not persist in their blasphemous rejection.
Second, you can find comfort rather than terror in this passage when you understand that the so-called “unforgivable sin” is deliberately rejecting the person and work of Jesus Christ. Heart-felt panic that you have blasphemed against the Spirit is, in fact, evidence that you have done no such thing. And if this is something that you struggle with I’d encourage you to dig into God’s promises about the preserving work of the Holy Spirit.
Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
In other words, the bedrock foundation of our security in Christ is not the strength of our faith in Jesus but the presence and power of the Holy Spirit’s work in our life. To put it another way, true beliers will preserver in their faith and produce good works because—by the power of the Holy Spirit—they are finally alive!
Third, you can find encouragement to pray for and pursue friends and family who have utterly rejected the gospel or abandoned their faith later in life.
2 Timothy 2:24–26 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness.God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
This is an important point, don’t get so frustrated and angry that you break off all contact! Maintain your relationship but redefine it. Before you treated them like a fellow believer and talked about the things of God together. But, now you need to pepper your conversations with gospel, apologetics, and doctrine in hopes that they will repent.
And if you ever think you are alone in that you are the only Christian in your family, Jesus experienced the same thing. In fact, the way that Mark sandwiches this section together we can see that… Jesus’ biological family is facing the same danger that the Scribes are facing because they think he is insane! They do not see the hand of God all they see is mental illness…
Jesus Redefines Family Relationships (Mark 3:31–35)
An Unexpected Reply
Jesus is not Rejecting or Disrespecting his Family Rather, Jesus is driving his point home with forceful rhetoric to: discipleship demands new allegiances and a new orientation in every human relationship.
Mark wants to accomplish two things in this encounter:
He wants to show us that the closest people to Jesus—his own family—do not understand him or his mission.
He wants to us to see that spiritual relationships—between disciples—always supersede biological, ethnic, and national relationships.
How can Jesus’ counter-intuitive view of family help us strengthen our families today?
First, Jesus is telling us that our family allegiances always take a back seat to his mission.
I am not saying we can use this passage to undermine or ignore Jesus’ clear condemnation of anyone who attempts to justify family negligence under religious pretense (Mark 7:6–13). Scripture constantly calls us to love and care for our families.
I am saying that true disciples of Jesus do not leverage their family obligations or family calendar against Jesus’ disciple-making mission with the family of God (our local church).
Second, Jesus is pointing us to God’s greater purpose for the family of God.
The reality of the gospel is that faith in Jesus Christ divides more families than it unites. Fathers, mothers, son, and daughters are treated as outsiders because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
The local Church is the only place where isolated believers (believers who love their biological families but are alone in their faith) can enjoy family-like fellowship. Which ultimately means that Christian families magnify the gospel the best when they help enfold and assimilate other believers into a greater spiritual family whose relationships are stronger than any biological bond.
Mark L. Strauss, Mark, vol. 2 of Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 47.
James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 118.
Strauss, Mark, 168.
Jason Meyer, “The True Family of God,” https://bethlehem.church/sermon/the-true-family-of-god.
“Later Jewish polemic made similar claims, namely, that Jesus practiced sorcery and led Israel astray (b. Sanh. 43a; cf. Justin Martyr, Dial., 69; Origen,Cels.1.6);” (Walter W. Wessel and Mark L. Strauss, “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark, Revised Edition., eds. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010], 746).
Jason Meyer, ““The True Family of God,” https://bethlehem.church/sermon/the-true-family-of-god.
Walter Bauer et al.,A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2000).
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 123.
Strauss, Mark, 174.