“I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.
He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of breath from your nostrils.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”
Today we are going to talk about the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of God.
“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’
So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’
He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’” (Mark 3:20-30)
If you remember the context of this passage, you’ll remember that Jesus has been getting busier and busier since He began His ministry. He’s been teaching and performing miracles in public, is surrounded by large crowds, and has already had confrontations with some local religious leaders – called the Pharisees and Saducees.
Jesus, because of the crowds, retreated into a boat that was waiting for Him on shore, and then left to go alone to a mountainside so He could rest and pray. He brought with Him to the mountain 12 men who would become the apostles, and gave them authority to preach and to cast out demons.
What we have just read is what happened when they came down from the mountain after their “Strategic Withdrawal”. Jesus continues his ministry, enters a house, and is immediately surrounded by crowds. So many people, and so many needs, that Jesus and His followers don’t even have time to take any kind of a break – not even to eat.
This is the context for two very important events. In this crowd are a lot of different people with many different needs. Some are there to be part of the event, others to be touched and healed. Some have come to listen to Jesus, others to speak to Him. But of all the people in this huge crowd there are two groups that Mark points out for us that have a special relationship to Jesus, and will tell us a lot about who He is.
First, there was Jesus family. These are the people whom you would think know Jesus best and might have come to support Him, but notice what verse 21 says, “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Even those who were closest to Jesus – his mother Mary, his brothers and sisters – didn’t really understand what He was doing and were ready to wrap him in a straight jacket and put him in a rubber room. They figured He’d gone over the edge as some kind of religious fanatic.
I can hear his brothers apologizing to people in the crowd as they slide through… “It’s the heat… He’s been under a lot of stress… He’s not eating well… I’m sorry… we’ll go get him…” They were fine when His teachings were confined to a small crowd, but now it’s getting out of control, people are getting upset, He’s attracting a lot of attention, and some of it isn’t good. It was time for the family to come and stop Him.
The second group were “teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem”. This is who I want to focus on for a bit. If you recall, the Pharisees (who were the religious elite, keepers of the most strict traditions and laws – who were worried that Jesus’ teaching would make them lose their control over the people) and the Herodians (who were influential supporters of the Roman occupation – who were worried that if Jesus created an uproar that that the people might rebel against Rome and cause a war) had already joined up together to try to kill Jesus. What this probably means is that they sent word to Jerusalem for the scribes, the teachers, the lawyers, and everyone else with public influence, to come down and figure out a way to discredit and eliminate this man who was having such a powerful effect on the people — and who every time they challenged Him made them all look like fools.
Their main problem was that none of them could deny the supernatural power that Jesus had. His teaching was captivating and authoritative, but it was more than that. He had also healed the sick, made lepers well and had paralytics pick up their mat and walk in front of large crowds. He had commanded demons to be silent and then driven them out of people with only a word from His mouth. He had a true and real power that could not be denied. A power none of them possessed.
But, because they were so steeped in the muck and mire of their own religious constructs, they refused to see what was right in front of them – that the Son of God, the Messiah had come. They didn’t want to believe that Jesus’ power was from God, because if they admitted that, then they would have to accept Him as the Messiah, give up their power, their plans, their influence. They simply couldn’t do that. They would have to give up their political positions up to Jesus. They would have to accept Jesus’ interpretation of the Law instead of their own. They would have to change the way lived. Maybe worst of all, they would have submit to Him as their Lord.
So, they only had one other recourse. Since they could not deny His power, they had to tell everyone that the power did not come from God – but from Satan. If they could convince people of that, it not only discredited his teachings, but had the added benefit that practicing magic by Satan’s power was a capital offence, and therefore punishable by stoning the person to death.
Come and Get It
So let’s get the picture. A huge crowd all making noise and calling out for Jesus. Suddenly, right through the crowd comes one of the most preeminent scholars in the land, or one of the lead Pharisees from Jerusalem. They come walking up through the crowd with a huge entourage, dressed in their finest, most religious attire…
The crowd falls silent, shocked by the appearance of this teacher. What was about to happen?
“He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
That would have certainly gotten the crowd’s attention.
Beelzebub is a word that is hard to understand. It is most likely the same word that was used in the Old Testament referring to Ba’al, the same false-god that Elijah had a contest with on Mount Carmel. That name is combined with the word for “Exalted Dwelling” or “Strong House” (which Jesus will pick up on later). Suffice to say, it was the word for an enemy of God. Everyone would have understood it to be another name for Satan.
Their accusation was ridiculous and nonsensical, and Jesus points that out to them. Look at what happens. You can see a crowd of teachers, lawyers and Pharisees now yelling accusations, trying to draw attention to themselves and away from Jesus. So what does Jesus do?
“So Jesus called them…”
I love that. I’ve watched a lot of action movies and there’s almost always a scene like this at some point. One of my favourites is The Matrix where the main character Neo is being mentored by a man named Morpheus. They go into the sparring room after learning Kung-Fu, and after a quick demonstration of their abilities Morpheus says, “Ok, hit me… if you can.” After a little bit of sparring young Neo gets up some confidence and his mentor looks him square in the eyes, and without a word gestures: “Come and get it.”
Maybe I’m reading a little into the passage, but that’s exactly what I Jesus doing here. He looks through the crowd, right into the eyes of these “experts” and says, “Ok, hit me… if you can.”
A House Divided Cannot Stand
But He wasn’t going to call down fire on them, or lay down a complex theology for them — instead he disarms their argument by telling them a simple story. That way they, and everyone else around listening, would understand that what they were saying was absurd!
“How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.”
“Listen guys”, Jesus seems to be saying, “What you’re saying doesn’t hold together at all.”
How could Jesus be serving Satan, or possessed by Satan, when everything He is doing is wreaking havoc and doing devastating damage to Satan’s kingdom? Beelzebub isn’t running around, divided from the demons, healing people and proclaiming the love and salvation of God! There is no civil war in the demonic realm. No, Satan and His demons are still active and is doing all He can to oppose what is good and draws people to God. The demons have power, but they have absolutely no authority over Jesus.
Jesus is King over ALL – and that includes everything in the spiritual realm. All demons are fearful of, and must obey Jesus. The only one that can walk into a fortress and take on the strong man, is a stronger man. The only one that can liberate the captives and possessions of a powerful kingdom, is a more powerful kingdom. That was the devastating truth that the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law didn’t want to admit. That Jesus was the stronger One, the mightier King, had the greater Kingdom. They would not admit, despite all of the evidence, that He was stronger, wiser, more powerful, more spiritual, more knowledgeable, and more worthy to be a teacher, guide, and Lord than they. He is the Mighty King of the Universe to whom all will give their deference.
The Other Jesus
I started with Psalm 18 because the picture we have in our mind of Jesus is often far too tame. We speak far more of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, the one who is surrounded by lambs and children and always has a soft glow about Him. He would never hurt a fly, never raise his voice, never challenge anyone, never hurt anyone’s feelings. This is the only view of Jesus that many people know.
And without question, Jesus was gentle and kind, loving and patient – the most gentle and patient person ever. But that is not the only picture of Jesus we have in scripture. Jesus is also the conquering King, the warrior, the Lion of Judah, the Strong Deliverer, the Rock, the Fortress, our Shield, Our Defender, the Stronghold of our Salvation.
I’m reminded of the description of Jesus that we see in Revelation 19:11-21 where Jesus is bringing the final battle against His enemies:
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True [that’s Jesus!]. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.”
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.”
This is another picture of Jesus, one we don’t often talk about, but one we need to remember. Believing in Jesus is not a trivial thing. Worshipping Jesus is not a choice! One day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. This passage does not describe a battle – it describes a slaughter. Jesus, with the power of just His words, destroyed his enemies.
At some point, everyone will believe in Jesus, because they will all stand before Him. They will all see. But by then, for most, it will be too late, because believing in Jesus is not enough! James 2:19 says that even the demons believe in Jesus. What is required is repentance from sin, faith in Him, and the belief that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour whom you love, honour and obey. That all happens in this life now. We are in the between time when we have the opportunity to be saved. One day, it will be too late.
All Sins Can Be Forgiven
You see, this is why Jesus gave the warning to the Teachers of the Law about the unforgivable sin. He said:
“I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”
This is the truth, and a critical point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Believing in Jesus in your mind is not enough. The Pharisees could not deny that they were seeing Jesus do amazing things. They believed it because they saw it with their own eyes. They couldn’t deny the facts.
But we are not here today to acknowledge the historical fact that Jesus died for our sins, and then rose again. We are here today to exercise our faith and trust in Jesus, the One who lives today. We are here to give our obedience, worship, tithes, offerings, service, and praise to the Son of God who reigns on high and is King of All… and King of our hearts… and King of our Lives. We confess that in our worship today.
We confess the Omnipotence of Almighty God, the Majesty of King Jesus, the Power of the Holy Spirit. And not just confess them, but welcome them. Not just welcome them, but invite them. And not just invite them, but ask them to inhabit this place, to invade this place, to take over everything we are doing… right into our own hearts. We give Him ownership of our very selves because He saves and forgives us.
Jesus says that all sins and blasphemes of men will be forgiven. That is a scriptural truth. Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, dying for the sins of every individual who believes in Him, there is no sin that we can commit that will not be forgiven – nothing. From the whitest lie to the most perverted, inhuman, detestable action, we can be freed from guilt and declared righteous because of Jesus (Acts 13:39). No matter how stained, or bad, or evil you have been, God has promised that He can make you clean (Isaiah 1:18). 1st John 1:9 says:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
King Jesus, because of the Amazing Grace of God is our only way of Salvation.
The Unforgiveable Sin
There is but one thing that cannot be forgiven and it’s tied right to our perception of who Jesus is. Let’s turn to another translation to better understand this passage. It’s written better in the ESV:
“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…”
And alongside it let’s also bring in another passage from Luke 12:10:
“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
So what is the “unforgivable sin”? What is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?”
“Blasphemy” is an act that is performed by speaking… it is expressing the thoughts and the inner workings of a person’s heart.
Here we see a group of bible experts, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, who have seen the evidence of Jesus’ power and goodness, saying that the work was not from God, but from the devil. They harden their hearts to what God is doing right in front of them. Because of all the things they would have to lose if they admitted Jesus was the Messiah, they voluntarily, deliberately, knowingly and permanently harden their hearts against the work of the Holy Spirit.
That’s what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is:
Voluntarily, deliberately, knowingly and permanently hardening one’s heart against the work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus distinguishes this from other sins. All sins will be forgiven, except this one. Let me read a bit from one of my commentaries.
“What makes the unpardonable sin different from others is it’s relation to the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to enlighten the mind of sinners, to reveal and teach the gospel, [and persuade] souls to repent and believe the truth. The Spirit not only explains the Word of God, but opens the mind so that it is perceived. When His influence is deliberately and knowingly refused, in opposition to the light, then the irreversible sin can be committed as a voluntary, informed act of malice. In response, there is a hardening of the heart from God that rules out repentance and faith. God permits the decision of the human will to be permanent in this case. God does not do this lightly or without cause, but in response to an offence against his love.
A person who wants to repent, that is, to reverse the sins they may be guilty of, has not suffered this hardening and has not committed the profound act of hatred that God has determined He will not forgive. Anyone who has been born again will not commit this sin, because the Spirit lives in that person, and God is not divided against Himself.” (Reformation Study Bible)
“Christians often worry that they have committed this sin, but such a concern is itself evidence of an openness to the work of the Spirit.” (ESV Study bible Note)
Remember, the only way to commit this sin is to have an enlightenment and understanding from God about sin, salvation, and His love – all of which are acts of the Holy Spirit – and then to wilfully shut that door on that enlightenment, reject God, reject forgiveness, and reject His love. Looking into the heart of God, the love of Jesus… and then walking away because you would rather have something else. This is a matter of the heart, not a matter of accidentally saying something.
The Teachers of the Law were dangerously close to crossing that line and I believe Jesus was giving them a warning. Their hearts were hardening, near stone. Their mouths were blaspheming, and Jesus was telling them that they need to come back from the precipice because they didn’t have any steps left.
Now Is the Favourable Time
Not everyone will be saved. Salvation is offered to everyone, but it will not be accepted by most. Some form of light is shown to everyone, but most will reject it.
Listen to Romans 1:18-23:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
They harden their hearts. They are without excuse. They will stand before Jesus at the end of time and be without excuse when He condemns them to eternal torment in Hell. All of the people who say they are going to see God and give Him a piece of their minds, or talk themselves into heaven, or explain away why they rejected what God revealed bout himself in scripture are fools. All of their reasons and excuses and arguments will melt away like wax in the presence of Jesus.
I say with Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:1-2:
“Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Jesus will redeem from sin anyone who would repent from sin and believe in Him. And so I ask you today to open your heart to Him. If you have heard Him speaking to you, or He has been showing you His presence, do not close your heart to Him. Do not deny Him, and don’t wait until later.
And if you are already saved, remember that Jesus isn’t just meek and mild, but is a warrior, a King, and a deliverer. Turn to Him in your time of trouble. When you feel temptation, or spiritual oppression, and when you hear the voice of your accuser in your ear… call on your defender, your shield and strong tower. He will come and save you. He loves you, and as Psalm 18 says, because He delights in you!
A Prayer for Salvation
If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Saviour, Lord and King, I invite you to bow your head and pray this prayer after me. What I’m about to lead you in is often called “The Sinners Prayer”, or the “Prayer of Salvation”. It’s not a magic formula, and it isn’t like fire-insurance where if you say it you won’t have to go to hell. This prayer must come from your heart. There is no right way to do this, but if you need help words to express what you are feeling inside, here are some:
“God, I am a sinner.
I’m sorry for my sin.
I’m willing to turn from my sin.
I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart
that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, so I might be forgiven.
I accept Jesus as my saviour.
I receive Jesus as Lord.
From this moment on I want to follow Him in the fellowship of the church.
From this moment on I will live with you as my King, my Saviour and my Lord.
Because Your Word is Truth,
I believe that I have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus
and will live forever with you.
In Christ’s name, Amen.”
If you prayed that prayer, I encourage you to tell me, or tell someone around you today so you can get encouragement and support!
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