Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sermon: Mark 3: 20-35 Jesus: Mad, Bad, or God?

One of your friends has just started dating their new boyfriend or girlfriend. And then you’re introduced to them. Later on, or the next time you meet your friend, you know what they’re going to ask you. Well, what do you think of him/her? Or, something newsworthy happens and the TV cameras roll into town, asking people: what do you think about what’s happened? Or, on the way home from the rugby match last night, the chat was asking what did you think of such and such a player?

It happens so often that we’re probably not even aware that we’re doing it - but all the time we are forming opinions about other people. Every time we meet someone or see them or hear about them, we’re revising our thoughts on them - for good or ill. And that’s also true of our opinion about Jesus. Every time we open our Bible (or not!), every time we come to church and hear another little bit from Mark, we are forming and re-forming our opinion about what we think of Jesus.

In this morning’s reading, we get to hear some people’s opinions about Jesus. And these opinions might be influential, as you make up your own mind about Jesus. Because in this morning’s reading, we hear the verdict of Jesus’ family, those who had known him the longest and the closest; and we also hear the verdict of some religious leaders from Jerusalem itself, the centre of the Jewish religious system.

But what do you think of Jesus? That’s what matters. To help you narrow down what you think, CS Lewis, who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, narrows down the options. There are only three. He says that Jesus is either mad, or bad, or God. Those are your options. And, it just so happens, that we find two of those options in our reading today. So as we dive into the passage, keep asking yourself - which of these represents my view of Jesus? What do I think about Jesus?

As our reading opens in verse 20, we’re in familiar territory in Mark’s gospel. None of this should come as a surprise. Jesus has entered a house, and again a crowd gathered. Mark keeps talking about the crowds following Jesus, coming to hear him teach, coming to be healed, coming to see who Jesus is. But this time, the crowd is so great, that Jesus and the disciples aren’t even able to eat. There are so many people, with so many demands, that Jesus isn’t even able to get a bite to eat. He’s so busy that he’s in danger of overdoing things.

But there’s an intervention on its way. Look at verse 21. ‘When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”’

So that’s the family opinion. They’ve heard how Jesus is getting on, he’s overwhelmed but still keeps helping other people, and so the family decide to intervene. They’re coming to take charge of him. And do you see how it fits into CS Lewis’ categories? The family say ‘He is out of his mind.’ He must be mad!

Now, later on we’ll see what happens when they arrive. But, while they’re still on their way to take charge of him, Mark tells us about another opinion about Jesus. And this one seems to be important. ‘And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”’ (22).

So these are religious leaders who have travelled down to Galilee from Headquarters in Jerusalem. They must have heard something about Jesus, and they’ve come to see for themselves, to investigate all that’s happening, to formulate an official viewpoint. And their official report says - ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub!’ He’s empowered by the devil, the prince of demons, to drive out demons.

We get another summary of what they’re saying in verse 30. ‘He has an evil spirit.’ So Jesus’ family think that he’s mad; the religious leaders think that he’s bad. He’s working on the devil’s team, as he drives out demons, or evil spirits.

So what do you think? Is Jesus mad? Is he bad? Or could he be God? To help us decide, it’s important to not just listen to what other people were saying about Jesus, but also to listen to what Jesus says about himself. And so from verse 23, we see how Jesus answers their accusation. ‘So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables.’ He’s replying to the teachers of the law, and he shows them how absurd their accusation is.

First of all, from the middle of verse 23: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.’ (23-26)

Now, very conveniently, both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party provided examples of this truth this week! There were divisions within each party, over Brexit and other things, and the moment came when the eight Labour MPs and three Conservative MPs left to form The Independent Group. Whether they’ll be able to stand together or not, we’ll see as time goes on. But the principle is clear - division and disunity leads to disaster. So if Satan is divided against himself, and Jesus is driving out demons by the power of the demons, then Satan is finished. So that’s ridiculous to think that Jesus is bad, that he’s possessed by Beelzebub or an evil spirit.

So what is going on? Why is Jesus driving out demons? How does he do it? ‘In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. then he can rob his house.’ (27)

Jesus is speaking in parables (23). And when you look closely at this parable, you find that Jesus portrays himself in a way you wouldn’t expect. So there’s a strong man, who’s in his house with all his possessions. Now, how could someone carry off the strong man’s possessions? You would have to tie up the strong man first of all, and then you’d be free to rob his house.

And the surprising thing is that in this parable, Jesus pictures himself as - not the strong man, but the stronger man who robs the strong man’s house. You see, in this parable, the strong man is Satan. He’s secure in his house. He has all he possesses. But Jesus has come into the world to rescue people from demons and evil spirits. Jesus can only do that because he is stronger than the strong man. He has tied up Satan, and is free to rescue people from his hands and his possession.

Satan isn’t divided. Jesus has come to oppose Satan; to overpower Satan; to bring about freedom; to bring about good. So he isn’t bad (as the religious leaders thought) - he is good. In fact, he’s more than good, he is God.

We can see that in how he speaks in verses 28-29. He says that there is forgiveness available for ‘all the sins and blasphemies of men’ - Jesus himself is the guarantee of that statement, because he is on his way to the cross to die to make that forgiveness possible. But there is one sin that is an eternal sin, for which there is no forgiveness. Some churches talk about mortal sins and venial sins, but the truth is that all sins are mortal - any sin deserves the penalty of death. But Jesus describes only one sin as an eternal sin, for which is there is no forgiveness. And it’s this: ‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ (29)

So what is this sin? It’s to describe the work of the Holy Spirit as the work of a demon. It’s to call ‘evil’ what is good. It is to deny that God is God. Verse 30 helps us to see what it is: ‘He said this because they were saying. “He has an evil spirit.”’

Jesus is not bad. To think that would be dangerous. But is Jesus mad? Remember, that’s what the family of Jesus thought. And by verse 31, they’ve arrived to take Jesus home, away from the crowds, away from everybody, for some peace and quiet and less of this mad nonsense!

So they send word inside the house to call him. Now, perhaps Jesus response would have confirmed their suspicions that he was indeed mad. It certainly would have been hurtful, even painful for them to hear. But the message comes: ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’

‘“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”’ (33-35).

Jesus came to rescue us from the hands of Satan, and when he does so he forms us into his new family - a family not based on blood relations, but on being brothers and sisters of Jesus. And the family likeness is obedience to God. Whoever does God’s will is part of the family.

That must have been hard for Mary to hear. She had borne him, had raised him, had given her all for him. It sounds as if Jesus has gone mad! Family ties were even stronger in those days than our family ties are these days.

But fast forward from that day, and we discover that eventually Mary and some of Jesus’ brothers become his brothers in the family of God. James becomes one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, and writes one of the New Testament letters (describing himself only as a servant of Jesus!). Jude, who writes another of the New Testament letters describes himself as a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.

And you can be a brother or sister of Jesus too. It depends on coming to a right verdict on who he is - not mad, not bad, but God, who came to rescue us from the strong man Satan; God, who came to give his life to secure the forgiveness of our sins; God, who came to welcome us into his family by giving us the Holy Spirit to help us to do the will of God.

So what do you think of Jesus? Mad? Bad? Or God?

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 24th February 2019

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