We all have that one relative. You know the one I am talking about. It’s generally the relative that you absolutely loved when you were a kid. Maybe it was that crazy uncle or the cousin who was always doing risky stuff. This relative always pushed the boundaries and brought some excitement into your life. As a kid, you absolutely, positively loved it! You couldn’t wait to see this particular relative, but as life moved on and you matured, you started viewing things a bit differently. As you matured, you found out that your relative didn’t. While you stopped acting like a child, your relative never did. The risks actually became greater. The behavior became more self destructive. You wondered why you ever thought your kin was so cool.
Sometimes, such family members begin to have very destructive behavior. Sometimes they begin to drink heavily or delve into drugs. Sometimes they become abusive. Sometimes they begin gambling or neglecting themselves or the rest of their family. In such cases, family members get together and work to change their loved one’s behavior. We have such a word for this process. It’s called an intervention. These can be very important times in a family’s life. They can bring healing and wholeness and restoration–not only for the one committing the destructive behavior, but for the entire family as a unit. Interventions are sometimes very, very necessary.
Jesus’ family thought so too. Jesus’ family believed they needed to intervene in His life as well. We have a very interesting bibilical snippet before us this morning from the book of Mark. It’s actually two stories sandwiched together by the writer Mark. Now, I personally believe Mark is a tremendous writer and storyteller. I believe there is very much a purpose behind much of Mark’s writing. Details are important to Mark as he conveys to us the story of Jesus’ life and teaching. There is a reason Mark puts these two stories together. He is trying to tell us something very important.
As I said before, the story begins with Jesus’ family deciding they need to perform an intervention. The translation from the Greek we have before us is a little muddied. The English in the NRSV is not exactly what is portrayed in the Greek. It should read, “21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for they were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.” The Greek does not add any extra “people.” Jesus’ family believes He has gone out of His mind.
This presents a bit of a conundrum as we take a look at the rest of the Gospel stories. I mean, included in Jesus’ family, we find just a few verses later, is Jesus’ very own mother. Mary is included in those who are coming to arrest–that’s literally what it says later–Jesus. This is the Mother of our Lord who had the angel announce to her that she would give birth to the Savior. This is Mary who heard the witness of the wise men and pondered these things in her heart. This is Mary who had stood up at the wedding at Canaan and pronounced, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” If Mary knew her child was the Son of God; if she knew He was the Messiah; then why did she allow the rest of the family to proclaim Jesus crazy? Why did she go with them to arrest Him and participate in the intervention?
As I thought about it, I wondered if Mary didn’t quite understand exactly how her son would fulfill His Messianic duties. I wonder if the rest of the family had the wrong idea about what Jesus was supposed to be doing as the promised Messiah–I mean you don’t really think Mary would have kept that a secret from the rest of them, do you? Before I get too convoluted with the questioning, let me explain.
You see, Jesus was going around the region proclaiming, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the good news.” Jesus had also been proclaimed the Son of God at His baptism, and as Jesus went about the region casting out demons, the demons would shout out, “You are the Holy One of God!” Even though Jesus commanded them to be silent, word was spreading. Jesus was also coming into conflict with the religious authorities. He was forgiving people of their sins even though they had not offered the appropriate sacrifices. He was healing on the Sabbath. Such behavior was a recipe for disaster. How so?
Well, if Jesus was going around saying, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” He was directly undercutting the ruling, Roman authorities. The Romans had instituted the Kingdom of Caesar. Proclaiming the Kingdom of God was seen as sedition. It carried the death sentence. By casting out demons; healing the sick; making the lame to walk; and proclaiming a forgiveness of sins while undercutting some of the laws of the Old Testament, Jesus placed himself squarely in opposition to the religious authorities. They would not have been pleased with one undercutting thousands of years of tradition. They would not have been happy with one who was teaching things which were borderline blasphemy. If they believed Jesus was leading the people astray, they could try Him and convict Him of blasphemy and ask that the Romans put Him to death. Do you find it interesting that this is exactly what happened to Jesus later?
His family could see this. They could see the end. They could see Jesus’ self-destructive behavior. They could see where this path was leading. They knew that He knew this as well. “He must be crazy!” they thought. “This is not how the Messiah is supposed to act. We’ve got to put a stop to this. It’s time for an intervention.”
And now we have a break from this story as Mark inserts a related anecdote. The scribes send a delegation from Jerusalem to deal with Jesus. Remember what I said earlier about Jesus’ teaching and healing. The scribes are not happy with Jesus, and they want to discredit Him. They begin to tell the people, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of demons, Jesus casts out demons.” They are obviously trying to paint Jesus as evil–as outside the bounds of the Law and the Prophets. They are saying Jesus is not from God and anyone who associates with Jesus is buying into such deceit.
Jesus points out the flaw in their logic. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” In other words, “We can all agree that getting rid of a demon and freeing a person is a good thing. No one would argue that. Why would evil seek to do good? If evil seeks to do good, then it is divided and its kingdom will fall. If Satan is casting out Satan, then he is ushering in his own demise. Do you really think Satan would do that?” The answer is obviously no. Not a chance. Satan would do no such thing. But Jesus isn’t finished. He makes one more pronouncement, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— 30for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”
This passage gives some folks difficulty. It’s not surprising. What is such an eternal sin? Have I committed an unforgivable sin? Several commentaries noted, “If you are asking whether or not you have committed this sin, then you haven’t.” That’s a bit comforting, but it still leaves us asking, “What is it? What is this unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit?”
I think Mark closes things out and brings us full circle by bring us back to Jesus’ family and their attempts at intervention. I think Mark gives us an answer to that question. Let us turn there now.
As I said earlier, Jesus’ family, including His mother, show up to arrest Him. They didn’t just show up to restrain Him. They want to arrest Him; seize Him; stop Him from this insanity. They can’t get into the house because of the crowd, so word spreads through the crowd that Jesus’ family has arrived. Jesus hears, and He makes a startling pronouncement:
33And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
Now, if you aren’t shocked by that statement, then you really don’t understand the ancient world. For family was everything in that world. From your family, you received your identity. You received your value. You received your worth. Think about that for a moment as you hear Jesus say, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Essentially, Jesus is denying His origin! He is denying where everyone would find the source of their identity; their value; and their worth. No one in His right mind would do such a thing!! At least in that time and place.
But then, Jesus does something more. Looking at those around Him–most commentaries suggest that Jesus looks at His disciples–Jesus says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Let’s think about this for just a moment. Jesus points to those sitting around Him–they may be the disciples. They maybe the entire crowd in the house. It doesn’t really matter in my estimation. The question that I want to ask is, “What are they doing?” Jesus says they are doing the will of God, so what are they doing? What activity are they participating in? Are they living perfect and upright lives? Are they staying free from any and all sexual sins? Are they doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God? Are they loving God and loving neighbor? Are they offering sacrifices for sin and atoning for their wrongdoings? Are they feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; visiting the sick and imprisoned; and trying to transform the world into the Kingdom of God. No. They are doing no such things.
What are they doing? They are turning to Jesus for healing. They are turning to Jesus for identity. They are turning to Jesus to understand God. They are placing their trust in Him and following Him. They have made Jesus the most important thing in their lives. Jesus’ family was placing a higher value upon the status of the family and their own expectations of what Jesus should be. The scribes were putting a higher value upon Jewish law and upholding their status as religious leaders. Neither were letting Jesus be who He was intended to be: The Lord and Savior of the world.
Which leads us to the sin against the Holy Spirit. What is that sin? It is the Holy Spirit which brings us to the knowledge that Jesus is no lunatic or liar. It is the Holy Spirit which calls us through the Gospel to see Jesus as the Savior and Redeemer of the world. It is the Holy Spirit which leads us to place our trust in Him above any and every other thing. To sin against the Holy Spirit is nothing less than to place our trust in something other than Jesus–to desire something else more than Jesus–to trust in our own selves and our own actions or in the actions and promises of something other than Jesus. And why should you put your trust solely in Him?
No other God is willing to die for you. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.”
C.S. Lewis once said the following, “A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.” Jesus’ family thought He was a lunatic. The scribes thought Him a liar. The crowd and the disciples saw Him as Lord. What about you? Amen.