We are continuing our summer sermon series, Jesus Unfiltered. The title comes from the idea
of filtering photos. In my younger days, we took pictures on film. We would take a dozen picture
or more of the same people of things in the hope that at least one would be okay. If you went to a
professional photographer to have your portrait taken, he or she may be able to retouch the photo
to take out blemishes, enhance the color, and so on. My mother’s senior picture was really a black
and white that had been tinted to look like a color photo. Now, with the advent of digital cameras,
smart phones, and computers, we can do a lot of that retouching ourselves. Many true photographers
may think that most of us over enhance our photos, so much so that the pictures no longer look real.
Now, if you see a “perfect” photograph, it often has been enhanced in some way. Pictures in magazines,
online and TV advertising may have been “airbrushed” to make the models look perfect (to some
imagined ideal). Now that all of this is so common, it is actually expected. On those rare occasions
when the picture is amazing but no enhancement has been done, the note #NoFilter might be included.
That is how we are viewing Jesus’ ministry this summer. As we go through parts of Mark and John,
we will look at Jesus without the filter of the clichés of our expectations. Many have a picture of Jesus
as gentle, meek, and mild … serene. There are times when he is that way, but Jesus is more complex
than that. There are times when he is confrontational and challenging with hard sayings and difficult
lessons. Our passage today from Mark 3:20-35 is another one of those passages. In fact, Jesus says
two very challenging things here.
In the past, I’ve found this whole section challenging, not only because of these two things that Jesus
says, but because the passage seemed confusing, almost like random verses put together without a
discernable connection, or so I thought.
It is really two stories in one. Jesus’ brothers and Mary are coming to collect Jesus to take him home.
Then there’s a flashback to what may have prompted them to come, a confrontation with some scribes
from Jerusalem. Then, we return to Jesus’ family when they arrive at the house where he is staying.
So, let’s look at this passage in more detail and discover part of what it is trying to tell us.
Mark 3:20-35 (NIV)
20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered,so that he and his
disciples were not even able to eat.21 When his family[a] heard about this, they went
to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed
by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How
can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot
stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan
opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one
can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the
strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every
slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be
forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone
in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother
and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother
and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
We have talked about how this passage includes a flashback, namely Jesus’ altercation with the scribes.
Right now, we are going to flash forward. We are going to talk about one of the most confusing and
disturbing verses in the whole Bible from a personal salvation perspective, verse 29, where Jesus says,
“but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
There is a lot of misinformation out there, and on the surface to our own eyes, it can be very disturbing.
Right from the start, let me tell you some things that it does not mean. It does not refer to suicide. Some
Christian traditions deem suicide as an unforgivable sin, but not because of this passage. It is because if
you kill someone, you could ask for forgiveness, but if you are dead, you can’t do that. Some people
considered suicide as an instant ticket to heaven, and the authorities didn’t want everyone killing themselves.
Now, even many of the most strident groups acknowledge that a person’s state of mind at the time is relevant,
and that Jesus would judge that person fairly and with compassion. So, suicide is NOT the unforgivable sin
that Jesus is talking about here.
Again, looking at it on the very surface, almost anything could be considered a sin against the Holy Spirit.
After all as a part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is God, and a sin is an affront against God. And yet, we know
that this is not the case because of the verse before. In verse 28 Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, people can be
forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter.” So, everything can be forgiven, but … this one thing
that Jesus is referring to as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. So, we are talking about a very narrow definition.
Let’s look at who Jesus is talking to here. What is the context? He is talking to scribes from Jerusalem. Scribes
were experts in the Jewish law, and we see Jesus have interactions with them throughout the gospels. However,
these are not ordinary scribes. These were scribes from Jerusalem. They were the elite. Their credentials were
When I worked for a hospital, the highest level of stress was when we were expecting an inspection from the
Joint Commission. Those of you who have worked in the hospital or medical environment may know what I’m
talking about. This body inspects and credentials hospitals. Basically, if you don’t pass inspection, you’ll have
to close. Now, the point is not to close down hospitals, but to improve the quality of care. So, if they find a
deficiency, you may get a warning and a deadline for improvement depending on the kind of problem they
find. If you don’t receive, Joint Commission accreditation, ultimately you will be shut down. The scribes
from Jerusalem were trying to shut down Jesus.
Other authorities have already tried to shut down Jesus. They said that he eats with tax collectors and sinners,
something no morally upright Jewish person would do. They said that he and his disciples don’t fast, which is
something that they would be expected to do. He doesn’t observe the Sabbath “correctly.”
Now, the scribes from Jerusalem have come. They don’t mess around. They say that he is able to do all these
amazing things that are attracting the crowds not through the power of God, but because he is aligned with
Satan! You would think that if anything would convince these crowds, accusing Jesus of being in league with
Satan would do it.
When Jesus is talking about the unforgivable sin, he is talking to these particular people, these scribes, experts
in the Law with a capital “E.” If anyone should have been able to see that this was the work of God, of the Holy
Spirit, it should have been them. They don’t even seem open to the possibility that God could act in the world
in this way. Instead, they have attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. This is what is unforgivable.
This is the same group that later will lobby for Jesus’ execution.
So no, Jesus is not referring to suicide here. It’s not a saying a curse word or taking the Lord’s name in
vain. It’s not random doubts or questions that everyone has. It is not most any kind of questionable thing
you can think of. Jesus is not waiting to trip you up, so that he can send you to hell. Quite the contrary. Jesus
came to bind Satan and set his victims free. “No one can enter a strong man’s house [meaning Satan’s home
in this world] without first tying him up. [Jesus the Stronger One, who resisted Satan’s temptations in the
desert among other things.]People can be forgiven all their sins [the times they’ve missed the mark] and
every slander they utter.” (vs. 27-28)
If you are an expert theologian, and you attribute an act of God to Satan, you might be in trouble, but apart
from that you have nothing to worry about.
Now, let’s go back to where all this started. Jesus’ biological family has heard how the crowds are mobbing
him, how the scribes from Jerusalem have come to confront him and basically say that he was out of his mind
by doing the bidding of Satan. He must be out of his mind to attack the scribes from Jerusalem. He could be
thrown out of the synagogue, out of the Temple, out of Jewish life. Ultimately, they can have him killed, which
of course eventually they do. So, his family come to take him home, to protect him.
The scribes can’t see who Jesus is, and his biological family can’t see it either. They know their brother. Mary
knows her son. They don’t know this person who is such a challenge to their traditions and the Jewish leadership,
who can attract such crowds.
Jesus cannot allow his biological family to draw him away. What he is doing is too important. In the meantime,
when they arrive at the house to take him home, it is so crowded that they can’t get inside. They send word in to
him that they are there. He asks who his family is. It is the people who are with him, who follow him. It seems
so harsh. Is Jesus anti-family? No, at his crucifixion, hanging on the cross, he makes sure that his mother, who
is right there with him, will be taken care of. (cf. John 19:26-27) Eventually, his biological family will come to
understand, but only after experiencing the trauma of the death and resurrection of their son and brother.
But followers of Jesus have been shunned and ostracized by their families from the beginning. Their families
may not understand. It happened with people in Jesus day, but also during the time of the Early Church. Fo
r Jewish people and Gentiles (non-Jewish people), following the Ways of Jesus Christ was a scandal. How can
you follow someone who was turned over by the top Jewish authorities and was executed by the Roman
government? That’s crazy talk. No matter who you were, being executed by the Romans was not a ringing
endorsement to mainstream society.
Not only then, but today, Christians, Jesus Followers can be considered out of their minds. Today, if you
follow Jesus too closely or fervently people might consider you a “Jesus freak” or some other disparaging
term. That’s how Methodism got its name. The founders were too diligent with their schedules and disciplines,
their methods, so they were dismissed as “methodists.”
I mean, how smart can you be to follow a man who got himself executed by the Romans over 2000 years ago?
I remember 20 years ago when I was attending my first United Methodist Church. I wasn’t really a believer or
a follower yet. I was curious. I was moved. I wanted to know more. I was more in the category of thinking of
Jesus as a nice man and a moral teacher. He actually isn’t too nice in this passage is he?
Despite my uncertainty, I kept being drawn back. I was very inquisitive, and I was invited to participate in
Disciple Bible Study. One of the many things that struck me during the course of the 34 week study was the
videos that went with each week’s class. The speakers were eloquent and articulate. I found them quite intelligent.
Every week the host and narrator inspired me, an African American pastor by the name of Zan Wesley Holmes.
All of these people convinced me that intelligent thinking people could believe in God, believe in Jesus and
dedicate their lives to following him.
20 years ago, I felt like I had to justify my interest in Jesus. People often have to justify their interest in Jesus
to friends and family today. People 2000 years ago whether they came from a Jewish or non-Jewish background
had to justify what they were doing. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 1:23, “but we preach Christ crucified: a
scandal to Jews and foolishness to non-Jews.” Many were ostracized by their families. They felt like they no
longer had a family. One of the messages Jesus and Mark have here is that even if your biological family doesn’t
understand what you are doing and rejects you, even if they think you are out of your mind by following this
Jesus person, as a child of God, you have a family. You have your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Because that is Jesus Unfiltered. There is no half-way with Jesus. He was not merely a nice man with wise
teachings about how to live a moral life. He claimed to be the Son of God! He claimed to be able to do what
God does, forgive sins and explain what God’s law means and how to apply it to our daily lives. If he wasn’t
who he said he was, he was out of his mind, and so are we for following him. However, if he is who he says
he is, well, we would be out of our minds not to follow him.
Following Jesus: It’s risky. It’s exciting. It is threatening to the powers of this world. That is Jesus Unfiltered.