Last week we saw the relationship between the crowds and the disciples and Jesus. Both groups follow Jesus in different ways. Today we look at a passage about two other groups and how they explain Jesus’ actions. Today we see how Jesus’ family treats him, and the Scribes understand how he has the authority to cast out demons. The scene is set at Jesus’ house in Capernaum. The crowd has gathered again, so much that Jesus and his disciples are unable to eat. While Jesus is at his house in Capernaum, his family comes to him, trying to take him away. However, Mark does not then explain his family (verses 31-35) but abruptly turns to the scribes. This ‘sandwich technique will occur at other times as well. He shows the relationship between these two interactions. To understand this ‘sandwich,’ we need to understand the individual parts first.
I. Demon possessed (22-30)
The scribes came from Jerusalem. The local scribes he had interacted with since the beginning of the ministry might have told the Scribes in Jerusalem, and they had come up to Galilee to see for themselves. They explain that Beelzebul must possess Jesus. Beelzebul or Beelzebub comes from 2 Kings 1:2-3 when Ahaziah fell from his upper chamber through the lattice and was sick. Messengers are sent to inquire of “Baal-zebub,” the god of Ekron, to heal him from his sickness. God sends Elijah to explain that they seek the god of Ekron because they believe there is no God in Israel. The Scribes in Mark say that he must be having this power to heal others because he is possessed by Beelzebul. In their minds, he can cast out demons because he is using the power of the prince of demons to cast them out. They have been amazed at Christ and his teaching, and they have finally worked out how he has the power to cast out demons.
Jesus asks them a simple question, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Their argument, Jesus explains, is invalid. He explains that if a kingdom is divided against itself, it will not stand. This is a true statement; many kingdoms have fallen not because of external enemies but because of internal spite and decay. This is what happened to Israel after Solomon’s reign. The kingdom split not because of another nation coming in and setting up camp in the middle of the two southern tribes and the ten northern tribes, but because of internal division. Even today, many church plants are church schisms. How can a basketball team win if they play against each other?
He continues and explains it another way, which is the strong man argument, which is found in verse 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.” You need to be stronger than your enemy. There is a competition that happens every year, called the “Strongest Man,” Men from all over the world come together to perform tasks showing their strength. The men in the competition are enormous. They lift cars and throw tree trucks. It would be like me going up to them and telling them they need to give me their wallet. Jesus says that if the house is divided, it will fall, but how can you cast out demons if you are a demon. You would have the same amount of power. To be possessed by something, they must possess you.
The ultimate error the scribes are making is that in saying Jesus is blaspheming, by calling himself God, they are the ones who are blaspheming. The scribes previously had said, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). Jesus has the authority to cast out demons because of the Holy Spirit. John had explained that the one who is to come is mightier than John (Mark 1:7). The Spirit came upon him at his baptism and then drove him out to the wilderness to be tempted to defeat Satan. Jesus bound the strong man. Then he comes to teach and cast out with authority. The Scribes then are saying the Holy Spirit is Satan, which is blasphemy. This unforgivable sin shows their hardness of hearts. They have hardened their hearts so much that their best reason that Jesus can cast out demons is that he is demon-possessed. They call an excellent thing evil, and more importantly, they attribute a work of God to a work of Satan.
Now, we should take a moment and reflect on this ‘unforgivable sin.’ What happens if you have committed the unforgivable sin? Can you repent? This is not given to us for condemnation or even to make us anxious. This is given to us as a warning. When you ascribe evil to Jesus, you deny that Jesus can forgive all sins, which the Scribes did in chapter two. Anyone who is asking the question of having committed the unforgivable sin has not committed it because they seek repentance, which is only a work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The sobering thought in all of this is that verse 28 says, “truly.” The unforgivable sin is real some people are guilty of eternal sin. Yet, the great news is that forgiveness is promised in the Bible. Not only is it promised to those who truly repent, but we also have the great truth that there is no record of scripture of someone genuinely asking for forgiveness and not getting it! The scribes answer the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” Their response is he must be Satan.
II. Delusional (20-21, 31-35)
We turn back to Jesus’ family standing at the door of his house. They come and ask for him that they might seize him. When the crowd turns to Jesus and explains the situation, Jesus answers them and asks a question, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Similar to the question given in the Good Samaritan, who is my neighbor? A neighbor is the one who does good unto others. Jesus’ family is not marked by DNA but the ones who do the will of God. What comfort those words would have been for James and John, who left their father and family to follow Jesus. It is ironic in some sense that Christ’s family is outside the house, and the group of strangers are inside the house we looked at last week, a disciple who is one with Christ, in close proximity to him. The two groups here are not divided by family trees but by those who are close to Jesus. Just because you bear the name Christian does not make you a true disciple. Even with the scribes and his family, the two categories are that they both have false assumptions about him. They stand on the outside watching, rather than the inside listening. The measure is not only their proximity to Christ but also that they do the will of God. As we will see in a couple of weeks, many people will hear what Jesus says but not understand. Even Judas sat close to Jesus. He washed his hands in the same bowl yet did not do the revealed will of God.
The key to how this sandwich is held together is Christ comes with all authority. In chapter three of Mark, everyone is questioning Jesus’ Authority. His authority on the Sabbath, with his healing. Jesus has the power to do these things because he is the stronger man. Jesus binds even the prince of demons. Jesus’ followers cannot bind him. Verse 21 explains that Jesus’ family heard of what he was doing and they went to him to try and seize him, saying he is out of his mind. They tried to bind the stronger man. Christ comes in all authority and power. This is why he is the Lord of the Sabbath. This is why his family cannot bind him and also why he can cast out unclean spirits. Christ is ‘unbound-able.’ This makes what he does on the cross even more impressive. Christ came down to earth, humbling himself as a servant, giving his life as a ransom for many. Jesus willingly gives his life up for his people. We see that Christ is king, and the kingdom is not divided.
The second important understanding is that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The household of God is not divided, hence why Jesus explains that “whoever does the will of God” are his family members. You can see that those who do not do the will of God would cause division, and the household of God would crumble. However, thanks to God, even the gates of hell will not prevail against God’s family. We need to be reminded constantly that Jesus is supreme over all things. As Paul writes in Colossians,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” Colossians 1:15–16.