Video of the [second half of the] Divine Service is here. The sermon begins at the 3:05 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Often when we hear this passage from Mark 3, or the parallels in Matthew and Luke, the first question we want to ask is, “What is the ‘sin against the Holy Spirit,’ the ‘unforgiveable sin’?” And the other question people sometimes ask is, “Have I committed the unforgiveable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit?” But notice—though that is a significant question, and sometimes pressing—that’s not the question that’s being asked or answered here. The question isn’t whether some particular person has committed the unforgiveable sin; the question is about Jesus: does He cast out demons by Satan or by the Holy Spirit? Is Jesus’ work the work of unclean spirits, or the work of the Holy Spirit? Mark says the Holy Spirit in chapter 1, after Jesus’ baptism. The scribes say unclean spirits.
Mark sets it up for us in a very tight structure. There are three main groups of people in Mark 3: first there is the crowd. This large crowd follows Jesus pretty much everywhere He goes. It is neither for nor against Jesus, although some from the crowd believe. It is just a large group of people. And in chapter 14, the crowd turns completely against Jesus. Second, there is Jesus’ family, and at least some of His family members want to seize Him and remove Him from the house. They think He is out of His mind, that He is not thinking straight. Third, there are the scribes from Jerusalem. In verse 22, they say that Jesus has Beelzebul, the prince of demons, and in verse 30, they say, “He has an unclean spirit.”
So watch how this goes: crowd; family; scribes. Then: scribes, family, crowd. In the middle are the scribes and their accusation that Jesus has an unclean spirit. Jesus answers that by saying it makes no sense. Why would Satan cast out his own demons? If he were doing so, it would mean that Satan’s kingdom is divided against itself, and so coming to an end. A house divided against itself must fall. And it is in response to that accusation that Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not forgiven into eternity. Why? Because it’s really, really bad? Because it’s so bad that even Jesus won’t have anything to do with it, and can’t forgive it? No. Though it is bad, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgiven because it is the forgiveness itself that’s being refused.
If it is true that I cannot believe in Jesus or come to Him by my own reason and strength; and if it is true that only the Holy Spirit can call me, enlighten me, make me holy, and keep me in the true faith, then to reject the Holy Spirit is to reject faith, the Gospel, forgiveness, and life: that is, to reject Jesus Himself. It’s like a dead man saying he doesn’t want to live. What else is there between life and death? What else is there between the Holy Spirit and eternal unbelief and unforgiveness? Only the Holy Spirit gives faith that holds to Christ; no Holy Spirit, no faith, and no Christ. And only that rejection is not forgiven, because rejection of the Holy Spirit is rejection of forgiveness. When the scribes say that Jesus has an unclean spirit, they show that they are on the side of the unclean spirits, and not on the side of the Holy Spirit.
So in the middle of these verses are the scribes who reject Jesus as being on the side of Satan, and so reject the Holy Spirit. Next, there is Jesus’ family, who at this time do not believe. They think He is out of His mind, and they want to remove Him from the crowd. Later, we know that Jesus’ mother and brothers, at least, do believe Him. But for now they do not. Then, there is the crowd, particularly the crowd gathered around Jesus in the house. They tell Jesus that His mother and brothers are outside calling for Him, but Jesus says, “Who are My mother and brothers?” And then He looks at those sitting in a circle around Him, and He says, “These are My mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is My mother and brother and sister.” And what are they doing? How does Jesus identify them? Because they are listening to His words and they believe Him. This is the opposite of the blasphemy against the Spirit: to hear and believe Jesus, which is from the Holy Spirit.
Jesus completely redefines everything. He goes beyond the crowds, His family, and the scribes, and says that the most important thing is how people are related to Him, by faith or not. The most important relationship is no longer blood. It is no longer genealogy. It is no longer the family into which you are born in the natural way. The most important thing is, are you part of the family of Jesus, born from above, from His Father by the Spirit? These are the only family ties that will not be broken by death. Everything is redefined, which is why when some members of a family believe Jesus’ words, and some do not, there is division within that family. There is a sword that divides husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. The sword is the word of Jesus, believed or not—double-edged.
But Jesus doesn’t only redefine my relationships with other people. He redefines even my relationship with myself. If I have been born again from above by water and the Spirit, if I have died to sin, then the Spirit in me is opposed to my sinful flesh. Then the outer nature is opposed to the inner nature. Then the life that the Spirit brings in Christ is opposed to the death that is in me from Adam. In fact, I have become a house divided against itself. The more the Holy Spirit is at work, the more conflict and contradiction we find in ourselves. This is why we struggle against ourselves, against our sinful natures. The struggle only ceases when we drive out the Holy Spirit or when we die, and not before. This divided house must fall, which is why we see the outer nature slowly dying. My outer nature is wasting away, as Paul says. The older we get, the more we see and feel it. But what we see is not all there is. We know that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will raise us also, and so we do not lose heart; we do not despair. Because even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. The Holy Spirit is sanctifying us, conforming us to the image of Christ, the image of God. What we see and feel: sin, death, division, struggle, conflict, contradiction, the work of Satan; these things are all passing away, coming to an end. What we do not see or feel: the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting, the renewal of this creation, wholeness in ourselves with others, Christ Himself; these things are eternal. Our glorified bodies, not born in the natural way, but made by the hand of God, are kept in Christ for us in the heavens, until the day when we see the New Jerusalem descending from the heavens to the earth and God restores all things.
This house divided will indeed fall, but that is only because Jesus is bringing the kingdom of the devil to an end. And He is doing it by the forgiveness of sins. Against every human reason and sense, all sins are forgiven; your sin is forgiven. Jesus was cut off from His own Father by the sin He bore, an unspeakable division. But He was restored from death, God and Man, reconciled, made whole and one. All sins are forgiven; your sins are forgiven. You are the family of Jesus, born by faith from God the Father, His mothers and brothers and sisters, no longer hiding from your Creator. Even in the division of this world, sometimes within families, Jesus is working and restoring and giving a family to people, especially those who have none. It is an eternal family, joined together by faith in Christ, celebrated in the communion of this altar. Until the time when these tents, our earthly homes, are destroyed, and we are clothed in the flesh and bone of immortality. So we believe, and so we speak; we look not to the things that are unseen, but to the things that are seen.
“Jesus Christ, my sure defense and my Savior, now is living! Knowing this, my confidence rests upon the hope here given, though the night of death be fraught still with many an anxious thought. … [But] take comfort and rejoice, for His members Christ will cherish. Fear not, [you] will hear His voice; dying, [you] will never perish; for the very grave is stirred when the trumpet’s blast is heard. Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave and at death no longer tremble; He, the Lord, who came to save will at last His own assemble. [You] will go [your] Lord to meet, treading death beneath [your] feet” (LSB 741:6-7).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/4/21