Text: Mark 3:20-35
Date: Pentecost III (Proper 5b) + 6/10/18
One of the main themes of the New Testament Gospels is the necessity of knowing and believing a right identity of Jesus, who He is and what He came to do. It is as Jesus asked His disciples directly, “Who do you say that I am?” When you get it right you hear Jesus’ response to St. Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16:17). That is, discovering, knowing and believing Jesus’ true identity is only be revealed by God the Father through His Word by the gift of the Holy Spirit, namely, faith in Jesus.
But whereas there is only one right answer and confession of Jesus Christ, there are at
least two ways of coming up with a wrong answer. One way is forgivable, the other the so-called unforgivable sin which we have in today’s Gospel. Jesus puts it this way. “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” (Mk 3:28-29).
Actually, the word “blasphemy” means something worse than merely a mistake. It is to speak sacrilegiously about God or sacred things, irreverence or taking the Lord’s name in vain. So any false talk about God, whether it comes from ignorance or from active unbelief or false teaching Jesus calls “blasphemy.”
First He says, “all sins will be forgiven.” Do you believe that Jesus’ death is the adequate payment for all sins by everyone? I usually say, “There is no unforgivable sin.” All sins have already been paid for. It is the refusal to believe this, to believe in Jesus’ blood and righteousness, the rejection of His gift of forgiveness that damns a person. That’s as far as I understood what the so-called unforgivable sin is, namely, the refusal of God’s forgiveness, the refusal to believe it.
In the context of these words of Jesus however we see the unforgivable or unpardonable sin is much more specific than that.
Jesus said and did many unusual things people had and have a hard time to understand and explain, especially His healing ministry. That’s where today’s Gospel begins. Jesus’ popularity was growing rapidly so that crowds gathered around Him more and more. Today St. Mark tells us the crowd was so big and kept Jesus so busy “that they could not even eat.” It is amazing to hear Jesus’ family sound so contemporary when they say, “He is out of his mind,” “He’s gone crazy!” That, of course, is one way to explain Jesus’ unusual actions. Of course, they were wrong. To think of Jesus as going crazy is wrong and to believe it is a sin. But Jesus says even these blasphemies or sins are forgiven, as He said from the cross, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Thanks be to God for His gift of forgiveness even and especially when it is the result of our ignorance and weakness. Remember that Jesus also said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan” when he disagreed with Jesus’ prediction of the necessity of His death for the life of the world. Yet even when Satan is involved our sin is forgiven.
What then is the unforgivable sin? What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? It is that of the scribes and Pharisees in our text who were convinced and accusing Jesus of acting in league with Satan. “The prince of demons” has many names. “Beelzebul” is a name derived from the false god Baal. So the unpardonable sin is to falsely accuse Jesus of being an agent of the devil.
In His little parable Jesus points out the impossibility of Satan being against himself, of a house divided. Here He calls Satan “the strong man.” Jesus alone is the one stronger as John the Baptist declared when he said, “After me comes he who is mightier than I” (Mark 1:7). But these parables suggest the reality that Satan and his forces are not done away with completely. He’s still on the loose. How did St. Peter later say it? “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). What to do about it? Remember that ever since the cross and empty tomb the Old Evil Foe is bound, limited under the authority of Jesus. So, “Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet 5:9). Remember that wonderful stanza in the hymn “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It” that seems to outright mock the devil.
Satan, hear this proclamation:
I am baptized into Christ!
Drop your ugly accusation,
I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I’ve traveled,
All your might has come unraveled,
And, against your tyranny,
God, my Lord, unites with me! (LSB 594:3)
Blasphemy that is the result of a false judgment, failing to recognize who Jesus really is, is still forgivable. The rejection of our Lord that led to opposition and the destruction of Jesus by those gentlemen so beautifully depicted on the cover of your service folder stands condemned.
The day is coming when the Stronger One will plunder the Strong Man’s house and bring an end to all sin, temptation and death at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.