Have you ever seen a friend or family member turn an awkward situation into a train wreck? You know, the sort of situation where you just want to get out of the room, hop in a car, and drive about 500 miles away just to escape the tension? Entire TV shows have been written around this sort of premise.
Usually, I’m the one who causes situations like that. But today, it’s Jesus. Or at least, that’s how his family feels about him.
Mark doesn’t talk a lot about Jesus’ family. In fact, this is the only passage where they are mentioned. But we do get to see their attitude toward him at this point in his ministry: “He is out of his mind.” They are so embarrassed by Jesus’ teaching and behavior that they’ve come to take him home and lock him away until they can nurse him back to reality.
Now, here’s where Mark launches into one of his “sandwich” stories. If you read his gospel carefully, you’ll see that Mark likes to begin a story, interrupt it with another story, and then return to finish his first story. So it’s kind of like a story sandwich. The inner story helps you to understand what’s going on in the outer story. In this case, the outer story (the sandwich bread) is Jesus’ response to his family; the inner story (the delicious sandwich innards) is Jesus’ response to the religious teachers from Jerusalem who have come to slander him. Mark interrupts the first story so that we can understand why Jesus responds to his family the way he does.
So let’s take a look at the interrupting story. Jesus has become so popular that religious leaders have traveled from the capital city of Jerusalem to backwater Galilee in order to see what’s going on. They see him heal people and they see him cast out demons, but they don’t like his teaching, because he’s attacking their legalism. So how do they convince people to reject Jesus? Well, they can’t deny that miracles are taking place, so they announce that “he is possessed by Beelzebul…by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And the fact is, they truly believe it. They have convinced themselves that Jesus is a demon-possessed, Satan-worshiping deceiver.
Of course, Jesus makes short work of their claims. He points out the obvious: a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, and neither can a household divided against itself. So why in the world would Satan launch a civil war against his own forces? He’s a little bit too bright for that.
Not content to shoot down these accusations, Jesus offers a better interpretation of what’s going on. “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods,” he says, “unless he first binds the strong man.” He likens Satan to a strong man who maintains a grip on the people of Israel through demon possession. Jesus is the stronger man who ties up Satan so that “he may plunder his house.” Jesus is setting people free from Satan’s oppression. That’s what these exorcisms are all about.
At this point, Jesus turns to these religious teachers and utters one of the most harrowing condemnations in scripture. “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.” This is “the unpardonable sin”—blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. These teachers have seen the Holy Spirit at work, and they have called him the devil. They have resisted the gospel to the point that they are witnessing the life-saving power of the Spirit and convincing themselves that he is utterly wicked. So Jesus tells them, “There is no hope for you. Forgiveness is available to anyone who repents of any sin, no matter how severe. But you will never repent.” Like Pharaoh, they have completely hardened their hearts against the Holy Spirit, so in an act of judgment, God will harden their hearts further so that they may never believe in Jesus Christ and be forgiven.
The awful irony is that these teachers accuse Jesus of being “possessed by Beelzebul,” yet it is they who have aligned themselves with the devil. To reject Jesus is to choose a side—you must be in league with Satan and his demonic forces. Oh, how you and I need to pray to God, “Keep our hearts soft and teachable so that we can remain faithful to our Savior!”
On this tragic note, Mark returns to his first story. Jesus’ family has arrived outside the house where he is teaching. They send word for him, but he refuses to come. “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asks. He looks around at those who are listening to him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
If we hadn’t read the interrupting story first, we might think that Jesus is being rather harsh toward his family. But now we understand: they rejected him first. They’ve chosen a side, and it is the side of Satan. They haven’t committed the unforgivable sin—they do repent and believe in him later. For now, though, we leave them standing outside, while Jesus has chosen to be with his new, adopted family instead.
This should be a clear lesson for us. Jesus doesn’t play favorites. If you grew up in a Christian home, or in a Christian culture, that’s no guarantee that Jesus won’t reject you. You must “be with him” (v 14) and do the will of God, proving that you really have believed in him. Jesus is a polarizing figure, separating insiders from outsiders. Will you be on his side or on the devil’s side?