“Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
“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 he called them to him and said to them in parables, “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. 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. “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”- for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
— Mark 3:20-25
This sermon was preached in Chapel at Trinity School for Ministry on March 2, 2010.
Back when I was a teenager Jesus Christ Superstar premiered on Broadway and caused a lot of controversy among churchgoers. People were really put off by Jesus being represented as a ‘superstar’. The word ‘superstar’ itself was fairly new in the English language at that point, a reflection of a growing amount of hype in advertising. It was no longer enough just be a star, you had to be a superstar. And now here was a musical suggesting that Jesus was a superstar – that he was just one more pop culture icon hyped up by ancient history’s answer to modern-day marketing gurus.
Looking at our New Testament reading for today, it’s pretty clear Jesus didn’t need a marketing consultant in order to appeal to the masses. Take a look for a moment at Jesus’ rise to fame. In the first chapter of Mark v. 28 we read “his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee”. By the last verse of just the first chapter of Mark, “Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places.” (45) And then just before our reading in chapter 3, Mark tells us “a great crowd followed [him] from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem” and a number of other places some of which were a week’s walk away from where Jesus was living. Can you think of any celebrities you would travel for a week to see? That’s how great his fame was.
So as our reading opens in ch 3 v 20 we find Jesus and his disciples trying to have a home-cooked meal and the crowd won’t even let them eat! Just to get a small idea of what this might have been like, imagine for a moment that Bruce Springsteen is coming to your house for dinner tonight, and word has gotten out that he’s going to be there. There would be people all over your yard, trying to break into your house, stealing your trash, paparazzi everywhere… you can forget about dinner. And to continue the parallel, imagine Bruce’s mother and brothers show up and say “Yo, this is nuts!” and try to drag him home to South Jersey. And then on top of that a bunch of music critics from New York show up and start accusing The Boss of putting Satanic messages in his songs which you can hear if you play them backwards… you get the idea.
This is pretty much the scene in Capernaum. It’s nuts, and that’s why Jesus’ family was concerned. Jesus had a whole lot of people around him, saying a whole lot of different things, but very few of them are actually hearing Him. We see the scribes accusing Him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, we see a handful of disciples who are trying to catch on to what he’s saying, and we see a huge crowd demanding His attention and basically behaving like fans. I’m not saying it’s wrong to be a fan per se, but fandom can have a dark side. Case in point. Many years ago I was talking to a fan of a musician who was a friend of a friend. The fan was going on and on about things I knew weren’t true, and at one point I said to her “what you’re saying about this guy has nothing do to with the real person.” She looked at me like I was nuts and said “I don’t want to know the real person!!” As a musician, this made me feel sad, and as a Christian I see the same thing happening to Jesus. For the most part, Jesus’ disciples aside, this mob doesn’t seem to be all that interested in knowing Jesus as a real person.
But Jesus doesn’t let people get away with that. He begins His response by calling the scribes to him and poking holes in the logic of their accusations. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asks. How can evil destroy evil? If evil gets rid of evil, that would be good, and evil can’t be good… the logic doesn’t hold up. Interesting side note btw: the scribes, when they question Jesus, are not questioning his ability to cast out demons, they’re questioning the source of His power. I find it interesting that even Jesus’ enemies don’t question His ability to work miracles. End of side note.
Jesus goes on to begin to explain to the crowd who He really is. He says, “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.” In previous chapters Jesus demonstrated His ability to bind Satan and cast out demons. Jesus has the power to take anything and anyone Satan possesses and set them free. Not so long before, this same crowd had witnessed Jesus saying “your sins are forgiven” to a paralyzed man – before He said “get up and walk”. This is also who Jesus really is – he has come into the world to bring God’s forgiveness to fallen humanity. That’s His heart, that’s His mission.
BUT Jesus also says, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”. So what is this unforgivable sin? Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not something a person can do by accident. It’s not the kind of sin a person can just fall into. The sin is in “attributing to Satan the work the Holy Spirit has done… a conscious and deliberate rejection of the saving power and grace of God.” As Jesus prays to His Father in John 17:3 “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit at its root is saying to Jesus, “I don’t want to know the real You”. Anything else can be forgiven, but if you don’t know Him, you’re lost. A person who doesn’t recognize the Holy Spirit as being the Holy Spirit, doesn’t know him.
Going back to our scene in Mark… those folks at the door who were keeping Jesus from His meal may not have figured out yet who He was, and some of them didn’t stick around long enough to find out. But some of them did want to know who Jesus was, and ended up following Him all the way to Calvary and beyond.
What’s troubling to me is that throughout the New Testament the ones who consistently and steadfastly refused to know Jesus were the religious leaders. And sadly, too often the same can be said in our day. So much of the decline of our churches I think can be traced to this. Leaders aren’t presenting the real Jesus, and as a result churches have become like Jesus fan clubs. They keep a picture of their hero hanging somewhere in the church, and they may talk about the issues Jesus raised, but they never get to know Him. One of the big reasons I’m here at Trinity is because I couldn’t stand to hang around the fan club any more. I want more. I want to know Jesus and make Him known. And I need to be around people who want to know Jesus and make Him known.
And yet at the same time I know how easily I can be distracted from Jesus even by good things like studying church history, or the writings of CS Lewis. When I’m honest with myself I realize it’s far easier to learn *about* God than to *know* God. God grant me the grace to grow in knowing Him, because it takes His grace to do it. God grant us all that grace.
Mark gives us one final vignette in our reading. Jesus’ mother and brothers have come in a misguided attempt to save Jesus from Himself and take Him home. It says they stood outside and sent someone in to call Jesus. In their case it wasn’t that they didn’t want to know Him, they got the wrong end of the stick. They hadn’t quite figured him out yet. They would eventually, but not yet. And so Jesus refuses to comply. Instead, “looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus looks at us too as we strive to know and follow Him and calls us “brother” and “sister”. And what an incredible encouragement that is, that as flawed as we are, He still claims us as members of His family.
So it’s all about knowing Him. And however well we know Him, there’s still a lot more to know. May God inspire in us a desire to know Him more and more, forever and ever. Amen.