Mark 3:20–35—Jesus and evil spirits, Jesus’ family

20 When Jesus returned to the house where he was staying, the crowds began to gather again, and soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. 21 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him home with them. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. 22 But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.” 23 Jesus called them over and said to them by way of illustration, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 A kingdom at war with itself will collapse. 25 A home divided against itself is doomed. 26 And if Satan is fighting against himself, how can he stand? He would never survive. 27 Let me illustrate this. You can’t enter a strong man’s house and rob him without first tying him up. Only then can his house be robbed! 28 I assure you that any sin can be forgiven, including blasphemy; 29 but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. It is an eternal sin.” 30 He told them this because they were saying he had an evil spirit. 31 Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived at the house where he was teaching. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. 32 There was a crowd around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”

33 Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 34 Then he looked at those around him and said, “These are my mother and brothers. 35 Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Points of Interest:

  • ‘He’s out of his mind’—Jesus is provoking pretty strong opinions about himself. His family thinks he is crazy, and the religious leaders think he is demon-possessed. Both of these opinions come from groups of people who might consider themselves experts. His family thinks they are experts on Jesus. They’ve known him his entire life. They know his place in the world. And this rock star popularity, bands of groupies, and antagonism with the authorities is not what they expect of him. It’s not like him. He must be going through a nervous breakdown, they think. The religious teachers consider themselves experts on God. They know the law. They know what it says about God and about the kind of people God listens to. And from what they know of God, God can’t be behind what Jesus is doing. They recognize that casting out demons requires spiritual power, but it’s not God’s power—it must be from Satan. Both of these groups of experts get very harsh warnings from Jesus. The religious experts are told that they are in danger of committing an unforgivable sin. His family is left outside while he claims another group as his family. To pretend to be an expert on Jesus but reject what Jesus is doing leads toward being left out in the cold.
  • Tying up the strong man—Jesus makes it very clear how it is he casts out demons. He is stronger than them. He wrestles them, ties them up, and then takes their possessions away. Satan would never allow him to do what he does if he had any power to resist, because Jesus is doing too much damage to his kingdom. In the contest of Satan’s kingdom and Jesus’ kingdom, Jesus is winning. The kingdom of God is taking ground.
  • ‘Anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven’—Why would there be a sin that could not be forgiven? And what happens if you accidentally commit the unforgivable sin? What exactly is this ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?’ What Jesus says is a bit paradoxical: any sin can be forgiven, including blasphemy; but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. How can it be simultaneously true that any sin can be forgiven and that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot? Perhaps blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is more than just a simple action. If the religious teachers are our example of someone in danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, it seems like blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is more like a gradual process of rejection of Jesus. In their relationships with Jesus, they move from critical, to skeptical, to hostile. They end up claiming Jesus is demon-possessed, which is, in fact, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—it is calling the Holy Spirit an evil spirit. But it was not an impulsive action—it was a series of decisions to reject Jesus. By this process, they’ve gotten themselves to the point that they looked at a person being freed from the clutches of an evil spirit and they called it demonic. They look at good and they see harm. They look at Jesus, and they call his Spirit evil. They have moved a long way from Jesus. And if they think he is demon-possessed, they are not likely to seek him for forgiveness. And if they don’t seek him for forgiveness, they can’t receive it, because only God can forgive sins. By their own decisions and their own logic, they have cut themselves off from forgiveness. The apostles are on a process toward Jesus: they are spending time with him, and they will do what he does. The teachers have moved in the opposite direction: they went away from him, and they reject what he does. They’ve gotten so far away from Jesus that it would be very difficult at this point for them to turn and be forgiven.

Taking it home:

  • For you: The Pharisees certainly didn’t set out with the intention of calling the Holy Spirit the prince of demons. But through a long, slow process they cut themselves off from the source of God’s mercy. This is a sobering thing! The disciples, on the other hand, made daily choices to follow Jesus, and now Jesus calls them his family. What are the decisions in front of you today? How could that decision distance you from Jesus? How could it take you another step toward him? Ask God for the grace today to make another step toward him.
  • For your 6: Jesus says, anyone who does my will is a member of my family. Not only does following Jesus’ words bring benefits to the lives of your 6, it draws them closer in relationship to him. Jesus loves to spend time with people who are trying to trust God. Again, encourage your friends to try out Jesus’ advice for their lives. Affirm them for the choices of faith they make.
  • For our church: Both the teachers of the law and Jesus’ family became arrogant, and it left them on the outside. Ask Jesus to give our church a humble heart and a listening ear, so that we can learn more about him and draw closer to him. Ask Jesus to protect us from the desire to be experts.