Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit
Karl Barth said, “Tell me how it stands with your Christology and I will tell you who you are.” Every major religion in the world over the last 2,000 years has thought something about Jesus. Islam teaches that Jesus is the great prophet Isa. He’s mentioned 187 times in the Quran. Judaism teaches that Jesus, or Joshua, was one of many false messiahs. Some Jewish polemics still contend that Jesus did supernatural works by the power of demons like the scribes in this text. Hinduism teaches that Jesus is the incarnation of their god Vishnu.
Modern Western atheists, agnostics, and humanists may label Jesus of Nazareth as a “good teacher;” akin to Plato or Aristotle. This is basically what Protestant liberalism teaches about Jesus. They strip him of his hard words and miraculous deeds and leave us with an ethics professor. The question that Christianity has always posed the world is what will you do with Jesus? Where do you stand with Christ?
The world has tried to come up with answers about Jesus for two millennia. This pericope reveals to us how both (1) Jesus’ family, and (2) the STJ leadership felt about Jesus. But are their answers about Christ sufficient? What are we to do with Jesus?
The first view of Jesus is that he is essential lost. This is not offered in this passage, but it is the modern mentality, so we must consider it. Modern westerners believe that we can’t actually know the true Jesus. They contend that the NT is filled with claims made up by the early church to try and propagate Christianity. Tim Keller gives three reasons why this cannot be the case. (1) The NT was written too early. The Gospel of Mark was written about 30 years after the death of Jesus. People would’ve still been alive to refute these stories if they were false.
(2) There are too many problematic stories if this were all falsified. Why would the early church paint James, Peter, Mary and others in a negative light if it didn’t actually happen? And (3) there are too many obscure details for ancient writing. Notice in vs. 20 how it says that they were so crowded that they couldn’t even eat. That doesn’t further the story at all. That doesn’t teach anything about Jesus. You may say that is a common literary device, to add details to make it seem more realistic. It’s common now for the modern novel, but it wasn’t in the 1st century. CS Lewis, who was a literary scholar, says that there are two options on how to read the NT. Either (1) they are honest eye-witness accounts, or (2) these authors, and these alone, looked ahead 2,000 years at the modern novel style and employed it in their day. So Jesus is not lost to us. What are the other options?
Look at how his own family reacted to him, 21 and when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” This is the first time Jesus’ family is mentioned in Mark’s Gospel. They’re only mentioned one other time in ch. 6. So all that Mark really gives us about Jesus’ family is that they think he’s crazy. They’ve obviously caught wind that Jesus has been causing a kerfuffle around Galilee and so they’ve come to seize him.
His family, his own flesh and blood, thinks he’s a lunatic. Thy think he’s mad. This is the first option for how you can view Jesus. You can look at all of the things he said and the things he did and you can believe that he’s crazy. I mean he did claim to forgive sins. He did claim to create the world. If someone were walking around espousing these things today, we would certainly label them certifiable. Maybe Jesus is a lunatic.
Notice the scribes in vs. 22 give us another opinion, 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.” The scribes were the professional religious teachers; religion was their job. They think Jesus is a liar; or more accurately, the Liar. They’re saying he’s lying by saying his power is of God when really it’s from Satan. If Jesus’ family thinks he’s mad, then the scribes think he’s bad. They believe that he is Satan from hell. Maybe Jesus is a liar.
Mark is showing us that the scribes and Jesus’ family are doing a similar thing. Mark uses identical Greek phrases in vs. 21 and 22. The Greek is ἔλεγον ὅτι, translated “were saying” in the ESV. His family saying, “He is out of his mind.” The scribes were saying, “He is possessed.” His family thinks he’s a lunatic. The scribes think he’s a liar.
Look at Jesus’ response staring in vs. 23, 23 and he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 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 is coming to an end. Jesus answers them with two parables. The first is about the absurdity of their satanic claim. The second is about what he’s actually doing with Satan.
In 1858 Abraham Lincoln gave his famous speech where he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln was talking about slavery in America, and the Lord Jesus was just as right when he uttered the words 1800 years earlier. Jesus says that this world is like a kingdom, and Satan is its evil leader. It would be counterproductive for him to destroy his own soldiers. If Satan’s house were divided, it would fall. Satan is not omnipotent; he’s a creature. He needs all the help he can get. So it would be illogical for Satan to be sacrificing his own soldiers. Their charge is illogical.
And then Jesus tells them what’s really going on. Satan’s kingdom is falling, but it’s not because of civil war. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. Jesus has come to bind Satan and plunder his goods. In Mark.1.7 John the Baptizer preached about Jesus: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. The adjective “mighty” is the Greek word ἰσχυρός. It’s the same word used of Satan in vs. 27. Satan may be strong, but Jesus is stronger. He’s come to bind Satan and plunder his goods.
Notice this is the same language we read from Isaiah 49 in our call to worship. Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. He is the LORD who has come to free the captives. Satan’s kingdom is falling because the kingdom of God has arrived in the Christ event (Mark 1.14-15). The exorcism of demons, the healing of the sick, the conquering of death, all of these things have been realized in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has come to bind this strong enemy.
Jesus did this initially when he defeated Satan in the wilderness. For the first time in human history, a man withstood Satan’s temptation. But Jesus is also pointing them forward; he is the king going to the cross. Jesus will bind the strong man, but it will be through his own death and resurrection. He will bruise your head and you will bruise his heel (Gen 3.15). Our salvation will come through Jesus’ judgment. Christ plundered Satan’s house by being bound to the cross and having his goods plundered.
Jesus’ family thought he was a lunatic, and the scribes thought him a liar, but Mark’s burden is to reveal to us that Jesus is actually the Lord. He is the King. If you don’t trust Christ, you’re under the sway of Satan. Take Christ by faith. Repent and believe the good news. Be transferred from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
This is the warning Jesus gives in vss. 28-30: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” There’s been a lot of debate over these words for the last 2,000 years. Some early Christians believed that murder and adultery were the unforgivable sins. That’s clearly contrary to Scripture or else David would be in hell. The RCC has wrong proliferated the false dichotomy between mortal sins and venial sins. Augustine said that the unforgivable sin was final impenitence. Luther said it was rejecting the mercy of God. Calvin said it was a hardness of heart. Barth said it was works-based righteousness.
Consider the context. Jesus just said that he’s come to overthrow the enemy and then immediately warns that whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness. What is the person and work of the Holy Spirit? He is the 3rd person of the holy Trinity who has come to point people to Christ. All of his work: regeneration, baptism, indwelling, comfort, teaching, etc. is Christ-centered. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to deny that which he promotes – the gospel!
This is similar to what we see in Hebrews 6. It is a warning against those who have come close to Christ and then consciously reject the gospel. So a word of warning, do not resist the good news of Jesus. The Holy Spirit testifies his work on your behalf. And comfort to the Christian, if you’re worried that you’ve committed the unforgiveable sin, you obviously haven’t. Your concern is proof that you’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit of God.
And then finally we see the response of those who trust Jesus as Lord – obedience.
31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Notice Mark’s careful use of setting. Jesus’ family is physically outside the house while his disciples are inside. His own flesh and blood is outsiders. Jesus says that his family is those who do the will of God. If your sins have been forgiven, you will obey the Lord. It’s another warning from Christ. Don’t assume that because your parents, siblings, grandparents, whoever, are believers, that you’re in Christ. Christianity isn’t a birthright. Just like the scribes didn’t get it even though they were religious scholars, it’s also true that Jesus’ kin weren't automatically disciples because they were related to Jesus. Those who follow Jesus want to do the will of God. These are the ones who know Jesus as Lord.
Where do you stand with Jesus? Do you think he’s a lunatic like his family? Do you think he’s a liar like the scribes? Or do you think he’s the Lord? There are no other options. He can’t merely be a good teacher. He said too many controversial things. He can’t just be a great prophet. There’s no wiggle room in the Scripture. Where do you stand with Jesus? Tell me that, and I’ll tell you who you are.