Text: Mark 3:20-35
Date: Pentecost II + Proper 5 + 6/7/15
God sent His Son to save us from sin, death and the devil. Not everyone understands that or accepts Him for what He is.
Our first reading sets the stage. It is the famous “curse oracle” in the account of the fall into sin. God’s Word tells us how sin began with the temptation by the devil, called the serpent. First he casts doubt on God’s Word asking, “Did God say you should not eat of every tree in the garden?” When countered by God’s Word of Law, “you shall not eat of the tree in the midst of the garden…or you shall die,” the Old Evil Foe then flatly and brazenly contradicts God’s Word, saying, “you will not die!” Finally the devil removes God’s Word completely and replaces it with his own false promises, his own lie, saying, “for in the day you eat of it you will be like God knowing good and evil.” The temptation worked and the first family transgressed God’s clear Word of warning.
Both Law and Gospel, words of condemnation and salvation, are included in what is called the “curse oracle” of Genesis 3. It has three parts. The first the curse of the devil himself. Then follows words spoken to the woman, then the third part, words spoken to the man. Notice that today we hear only the first part concerning the role of the devil, Satan, for this is the subject of today’s Gospel from Mark 3.
You will recall that at our Lord’s baptism the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus and drove Him into the wilderness to confront the devil and his temptations head on as of first importance. By the same Spirit and the Word of God Jesus there became the first man ever who was tempted by the devil and won the battle. This was, as our text today says, the “binding of the strong man,” so that Jesus could proceed through His earthly ministry to take back God’s creation from Satan’s tyranny and bring salvation to all the world.
It was this galactic battle that confused both Jesus’ enemies and His family in today’s Gospel. In these words we will learn, first, more of who Jesus is and what He came to do and, second, that our faithful carrying on of His work as His Church in the world will also be confusing to the world and even bring opposition and criticism to us.
St. Mark draws the picture of Jesus’ ministry by describing crowds being drawn to Him, so many and so often that, he says, “they could not even eat bread.” First we read of the concern of His family who tried to rescue Him from the crowds. But they were “getting Him wrong” and didn’t understand what He was doing, saying, rather, “He is out of his mind.” The word there (ἐξέστη) is where we get the word “ecstasy,” a state beyond reason or self-control. They thought He was crazy.
Then come His chief critics the scribes suggesting “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” another name for the devil, “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” Well, they were right in one sense, that they were witnessing a demonic battle. Of course Jesus explains how their estimation of Him was wrong, that they were “getting Him wrong.” Is Jesus in league with the devil? But that makes no sense. So He said “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.” Rather, what they are seeing is Satan, the devil, “coming to an end.”
The devil is still coming to an end today. What began in the wilderness temptation continued through Jesus’ earthly ministry. Then began Satan’s final demise as Jesus declared on the cross, “It is finished.” Then there was war in heaven. Michael the archangel fought and Satan was expelled even as the risen Christ ascended and took His rightful place of rule at the Father’s right hand. All that remains is the final judgment when the devil will lose even his grip on the creation and fall into the eternal fire prepared for him.
Christ came to bind and cast out the devil and to deliver people from his tyranny and from their own sin. “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man” He says. There is no unforgiveable sin, even downright blasphemies or false belief that always proceed from spiritual ignorance. But here is where we discover that there is one sin that cannot be forgiven. It is called the blasphemy or sin against the Holy Spirit. And what is that? It is simply and disastrously to refuse to believe and receive God’s forgiveness, the rejection of Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation, which is just what these guys were doing, “for they had said, ‘He (Jesus) has an unclean spirit.’”
Now as for His mother and His brothers, His family, they had the crowd tell Jesus they were looking to speak with Him. They were still worried. They were still getting Him wrong. This provided the occasion for an important lesson for all who were listening, and for all of us today. At first, it seemed crazy for Jesus to ask out loud, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Surely He knew. We know. Mary is His mother and we’re even told the names of some of His brothers and sisters, James and Joses and Judas and Simon (Mk 6:3). But looking about at those who sat around him, and now looking at us, too, he opens His arms toward us and declares, “Here, here are my mother and my brothers!” Then He explains, “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” And what is the will of God? That you believe in Jesus whom God has sent (Jn 6:29). And what happens when you believe in Jesus? You become a member of His family, you are considered to be related to Him. By the rebirth of water and the Spirit, you are no longer your own, for you were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19), the exceedingly great price of His own blood shed on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. In that living water each of us become partakers in His death and resurrection.
Now, as people, even those closest to Him, misunderstood Him, were “getting Him wrong,” so will be our experience and lot as His body in the world today, His Church. In our day we see evidence of opposition due to spiritual ignorance growing faster even than the invasive kudzu vines of the Southeastern United States that kill everything else over which they speedily grow. The world does not understand our faith in God’s Word that calls sin “sin,” the Bible’s clear teachings regarding marriage and the roles of men and women according to God’s design. They may even accuse our faith and witness as demonic and hateful!
So we need to be careful and faithful, not allowing any division in our house lest we will not be able to stand. Rather, as the apostle Paul wrote, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph 6:10-13). “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Rom 16:17). “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14).
Such misunderstanding and even accusations, rejection and mistreatment may increase. But so must our faith, faith in the great promise in the words of St. James, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12), and the words of Jesus Himself in the Revelation, saying, “I know your tribulation…and the slander of those who…are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days” (that is all our days spent in this world) “you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:9-10).