“A House Divided” (Mark 3:20-35)
It seemed as though Jesus couldn’t win for losing sometimes. Here he is in our text, achieving rock star status in Galilee. Word of his work had spread to Jerusalem, the other side of the Jordan River, and over to the seacoast. Crowds are swarming around him, following him wherever he goes. They know he’s a healer. A preacher. An exorcist. “Could this also be the long-awaited Messiah?” they must have wondered. Yet even though Jesus was popular with the crowds, his family wasn’t so sure about him. They thought he was crazy. The religious leaders were not crazy about his popularity. They tried to turn the crowds against Jesus by claiming he was in league with Beelzebul, another name among the Jews in those days for the devil himself. The house was divided. Opinions varied over what should be done about this Jesus.
At least Jesus’ family was concerned about him. Perhaps they were worried that he was being overworked, stretched too thin, needing a break from the press of the crowd. They were ready to resort to seizing him by force if necessary.
Now, everyone has an eccentric aunt or uncle in their family somewhere, right? I had a great-aunt who was quite the character. She was a bit unkempt. She was a chain-smoker. She religiously watched professional wrestling on TV and thought it was real (I didn’t just spoil pro-wrestling for you, did I?). I remember visiting her home. But you dare not interrupt her when wrestling was on. That little old lady would literally jump up and down on her couch and yell at her favorite wrestlers on the screen, “Get him! Get him!” Aunt Ruby was a little different, alright. But not enough to have her committed.
What would have prompted Jesus’ family to think he was mentally unstable? Were his actions and words that of someone who wasn’t in his right mind? The New Testament portrait of Jesus is not a painting of a lunatic. Maybe his family simply didn’t want him making waves, making a public scene, disturbing the status quo. Maybe you and I don’t like to admit it, but we don’t like it when Jesus’ words make waves in our life, disturbing our status quo. His words call us out and point out our sin. We would never dare call Jesus “crazy.” But our response to his Word suggests that maybe it would be better if we could just stash him away somewhere … out of sight, out of mind. That way I can keep on doing what I’m doing, in spite of what Jesus says in his Word.
The religious house was divided against him, too. The spiritual teachers among his own people were suspicious of his popularity. Instead of recognizing him as the Messiah, they attributed God’s good work in Christ to Satan. Jesus, of course, points out the absurdity of their claim: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end” (Mark 3:23-26). What the scribes did the Scriptures call “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” To blaspheme is to speak against the nature and power of God. It’s to call the good work of God evil. The scribes did precisely this when they said that Jesus did his miracles by the power of Satan, the chief evil spirit. They had hardened their hearts against the work of the Holy Spirit who creates faith and recognizes in Jesus the presence of God. In such a state of willful, persistent opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit, there is no possibility of repentance, and therefore no forgiveness.
Satan tries every trick in the book to divide the house. He tries every crafty maneuver to twist God’s Word, to cause us to doubt, to tempt us to sin, to drive us to that state of willful, persistent opposition to God. He’s been doing it since the very beginning. “Don’t eat from the tree,” God said. “Eat,” Satan said. What God called evil, Satan called good. And he’s been twisting God’s Word among us ever since. His intrusion into the peaceful garden made our primal parents enemies of God. Descended from Adam, we are all now by nature enemies of God. We are divided from him. We are divided from each other.
In order to bring this division to an end, God the Father decided that it was necessary for his own house to be divided. He was divided against his Son at the cross. With the sin of the world laid to his account, Jesus suffered the wrath of God so that Satan’s kingdom would come to an end and so that you and I could be united with God through faith in Jesus and his work at the cross.
Humanly speaking, it would be very easy to “blaspheme” against this. It would be very easy to call the death of Jesus on the cross “evil.” How could the death of the only innocent person who ever lived be “good”? But what appeared to be the greatest evil was actually the greatest good. It was planned from eternity. It was not Plan B. It was not a contingency that the Father had in his secret files, ready to pull out in case this Adam and Eve “experiment” didn’t work. No. Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8 KJV).
The promise of this was given all the way back at the beginning. Gen. 3:15 is called the “Protoevangelium” … the “First Gospel” promise. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” At the cross, Jesus bruised the devil’s head, a crushing blow that defeated him.
Satan interfered with the perfect relationship that Adam and Eve shared with God. He caused everything to fall apart. They did Satan’s will and became a part of his family … that is, until God intervened and promised a Savior. Jesus entered into Satan’s domain, this fallen world, bound the “strong man,” and plundered his goods … that is, you and me, all of us who were under Satan’s power. Jesus delivered us from everlasting condemnation through his death on the cross. He proved his victory over sin, death, and the devil when he rose from the dead.
Satan is now bound. He is given a little bit of slack on his leash. He’s like a vicious dog that is tied up in the yard. His bite can still harm you. But you should know better than to go play in the yard. Don’t go where you know he can reach you. And Peter reminds us that the devil is a “roaring lion” who prowls about, seeking someone to devour. So be diligent. Be watchful. Be aware of the crafty ways he tries to cause us to slip up. But know also that you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you, and Satan is no match for him.
In Holy Baptism, we are taken out of Satan’s family and made to be a part of God’s family. The forgiveness of the cross is applied to us personally. And speaking of forgiveness … note how Jesus says in our text that “all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” I think when Christians read this portion of Scripture, they often focus on the wrong thing. They get very anxious wondering whether they have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. Instead, we ought to focus on the words “all” and “whatever” here. What sins will be forgiven? ALL! WHATEVER! If you are worried about having committed the unforgivable sin, then that’s a good sign you have NOT. That means the Holy Spirit is still present convicting you of your sin and leading you to repentant trust in Christ. If you had committed the unforgivable sin, you wouldn’t care any longer. More than likely, you would also be actively fighting against Christ and his Word rather than worrying whether you have sinned against Christ and his Word.
You are a part of Christ’s family. In our text, the crowd told Jesus that his mother and brothers were looking for him. Then, “looking about at those who sat around him, he said ‘Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Who is Christ’s family? Whoever does the will of God. It is those who are sitting around him, listening attentively to his Word, waiting in anticipation to receive gifts from him, looking to him for all their blessings and benefits … healing; restoration; feeding; deliverance from evil, death, the devil; resurrection. You are Christ’s family. You are baptized into his name. The Holy Spirit has come upon you through water and the Word. You are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. You are given a place in God’s house. You are sitting here listening attentively, and you are receiving his gifts today … his gifts of life, and salvation … his precious body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of ALL your sins, forgiveness for WHATEVER you have thought, said, or done.