Guilty of an Eternal Sin | Mark 3:20-35

Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

“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”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:20-35 ESV

Even though we are not far into the ministry of Jesus, we find glaring evidence that the people around Him did not have a proper category for Him. Here was someone whose touch cleansed lepers and healed the sick, whose presence petrified demons, who called out to sinners, who forgave as though all sin was primarily against Him. Jesus was clearly not normal. Our present text displays how two groups of people sought to rationalize the extraordinariness of Jesus.

HE WENT HOME // VERSES 20-21

After withdrawing to the sea and appointing His twelve apostles, he went home, which is presumably back in Capernaum. But while we typically think of home as place of rest, Jesus found no such solace. And the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. Jesus’ reputation as a miracle-worker ensured that the masses would search and press in upon Him anywhere. They did not give Him even the luxury of eating in His own home.

While Mark continues to show that the constant crowds are a danger and hindrance to Christ’s ministry, we do not see Jesus despising or rejecting them. Indeed, while the crowd does not have enough collective compassion to give Jesus a moment to eat, Jesus will soon have compassion on a mighty multitude of more than 5000 persons and will give them food to eat. While the crowds continue to take from Jesus, He happily continues to give. He pours Himself out to them, even knowing that most do not want to be with Him but only want the miracle that He do for them.

Such selfless giving out of Himself elicits an interesting reaction from Jesus’ family: And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” We should not read ill motives into His family’s reaction because it seems that they cared for Him and were genuinely worried about His activities. They likely feared how He was expending Himself, but they also may have been afraid of the attention that He was drawing and the rumors that were running about Him. He was making Himself known, and in a cold, cruel, and sinful world, causing a stir was a good path toward execution. Jesus was defying the commonsense principles of self-care and self-preservation. He was giving Himself as a living sacrifice before He would go on to be a dying sacrifice. And His family thought He had gone crazy. They wanted to protect Him from Himself.

Jesus’ family, of course, is the rule rather than the exception. “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). These are words that the world cannot understand because they run contrary to human wisdom. Indeed, we are inundated today with messages from the world on the supreme value of taking care of yourself. It declares that we all have an inherent right to be safe, healthy, and happy. If words or ideas make your worldview feel unsafe, then call it hate, blasphemy against the god of self. If friends or even family do not contribute to your happiness, then dump them. You don’t need such negative people in your life, right? I found a quotation by Sylvester McNutt (who apparently is a self-help guru) that encapsulates this ideology:

I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to be wasteful, of anything, or any moment. I don’t want to stay in places that drain me, for what? I don’t want to keep up with people who don’t offer growth or positivity. Maybe I’m selfish, and that’s okay, but I want to bring value and get value. I don’t want to waste food, energy, time, or my life in anyway possible.

If your worldview is entirely divorced from God, then McNutt’s priorities make all the sense in the world. If this life is all we have, why waste any of it on anything that does not make us happy? The problem, of course, is that we do believe in something more than this life alone. We believe that dying to self now is the planting of a seed that will fruit into glory in the life to come. Time spent in places that drain or with people who only take is not necessarily time wasted. Jesus’ ministry only lasted three years, and still He gave His remarkably short time to the needy, largely unbelieving crowds.

We should do the same. The Bible does not guarantee our happiness. In fact, it does not even treat happiness as a virtue to aspire toward. In place of happiness which is fleeting, He offers us joy, which is able to reach into even the deepest of sorrows. That joy is often found in sacrifice. Christ calls us to be living sacrifices like Himself. Do not buy the lie of our culture that you must put yourself first. Like Jesus, let us give ourselves away to serving God and others.

THE UNFORGIVEN SIN // VERSES 22-30

Before His family can reach Him, another group enters the fray: And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” Whether these scribes had come to Galilee on other business or whether they were sent specifically to assess the rumors of Jesus, their declarations had a heavier weight than scribes of smaller towns and villages, and they too believe that something is wrong with Jesus. But while His family thinks Him to be mad, the scribes were calling Him diabolical. They attacked both Jesus’ identity and His work. As we have seen of the religious leaders, these verdicts were evidently not made to Christ directly; therefore, Jesus again brought their whispers into the light:

And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

Here Jesus addressed their second statement first, poking a logical hole in the notion that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan. He begins with two earthly concepts, a kingdom and a house, and notes that neither can stand if they are divided within. History reveals time and time again that the greatest threat to mighty kingdoms is rarely from other kingdoms but from within. Likewise, most families can attest to the reality that division within the home is always more painful than suffering that comes from outside the home. When unity is dissolved, both kingdoms and households proceed to dissolve.

The same is true of Satan’s domain of darkness. As we discussed last year, Satan cannot facilitate unity as God does. God, as omnipotent, is able to freely empower His servants without any lessening of Himself. The more glorious His creations become the more infinitely glorious He is revealed to be as the Creator. Thus, our God gives without measure, and as He draws us to Himself, we become more distinctly ourselves even as we reflect Him more clearly. Satan, however, is finite and hungry for glory. He, thus, can only consume. The fallen angels who believed Satan’s lie that they could ascend to God’s throne are now demons who are scarcely their own beings any longer, instead the Bible speaks of them as if they were extensions of Satan himself. Satan devours individuality and pulls all things into himself. Therefore, it is even more true that Satan can stand no division in his ranks than with kingdoms or houses.

But if Jesus did not cast out demons by Satan, how did He do it? Jesus answers that question by saying, But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. G. Campbell Morgan explains this parable:

In that picture our Lord claimed that He was stronger than the strong man armed. The strong man is Satan himself, the master of the underworld of evil, holding its hosts of opposition under his control. But the One upon Whom they had been looking, to Whom they had been listening, Whose works they had been discussing, against Whom their hearts were now moving in hatred, because they were unable to understand Him, and were not honest enough to follow Him, claimed in that hour to be stronger than the strong man armed; and declared that every exorcism that He wrought was the result of His power, which was superior to the whole underworld of evil.[1]

Not only was Jesus not casting out demons by power of Satan, but He was casting out Satan himself. Each exorcism was a robbing of hell, a pushing back against the darkness. He was showing Himself to be stronger than the strong man.

But after addressing their defamation of His work, Jesus then answered their claim of His identity:

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”—for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.

R. C. Sproul comments on the first words of this statement:

He began in a radical way by saying, “Assuredly, I say to you.” Sometimes evangelical Christians who want to express agreement with something they have heard from a preacher or teacher will say “Amen.” The word amen is transliterated from the Hebrew amein, which means “truth” or “it is true,” so those saying “Amen” are agreeing with what they have heard. But instead of giving His teaching and waiting for His hearers to say “Amen,” Jesus Himself said “Amen” before He gave His teaching. The word translated as “assuredly” here is the Greek equivalent of the word amein. In other words, Jesus announced that He was about to say something true. This was a way of saying, “Now hear this.” He was giving great emphasis to the teaching He was about to utter.[2]

And for good reason He said it, for these three verses are frightening ones to hear uttered by our Lord. Here He speaks of an eternal sin, a sin for which there is no forgiveness, a sin that binds a person for all time and beyond time itself to the lake of fire which God prepared as the place of torment for Satan and his demons. Such a horrifying truth should rightly give us a fright and lead us to pray, “Not me, Lord; let this never be true of me! Preserve me by Your grace!”

But what is this eternal sin?

Jesus says that it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and Mark concludes by adding an editorial note for explanation: for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Particularly because of Mark’s comment, many interpret the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to be exactly what the scribes were doing. Jesus performed His miracles by the power of the Spirit, yet they said that His miracles were powered by Satan. More than just slandering Jesus Himself, they were slandering the Comforter by whom Jesus did His wonders. This is clearly the warning that Jesus was giving to the scribes. Whether God had entirely given them over the hardness of their hearts at the time already or if they were only in danger of sliding down a slope from which there is no return, that is not for us to know. We do know that those who accused Jesus of blasphemy in 2:7 were now guilty of blasphemy themselves.

Yet this sin is not reserved exclusively for the people of Jesus’ day. Instead, because it is the Spirit who testifies to us of Christ (John 15:26), convicts “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8), is the seal of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13), and is the evidence of our adoption (Romans 8:15), a blasphemous rejection of the Spirit is a rejection of salvation altogether. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9). We cannot belong to Christ without belonging to the Spirit. Therefore, a continued rejection of the Spirit’s conviction and guidance toward repentance will ultimately go unforgiven.

For this reason, I believe that we should rightly call it “the unforgiven sin” rather than “the unforgiveable sin.” Did Jesus not begin with the astounding words that all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter? All sin will be forgiven, except for the sin that refuses forgiveness entirely.

The famously difficult text of Hebrews 6:4-8, I believe, describes those who appeared to be Christians yet proved to be guilty of this sin. Cody Curtis of the group Psallos composed an album based upon Hebrews, and here is how he helpfully (and poetically) explains that particular passage:

In the case of those whose minds have been lit,
Who have tasted and wasted the heavenly gift,
Who have shared in the Spirit,
who have shaken and stirred,
Who have savored the flavors
 of the goodness of the Word
Of God and the powers that come one day,
Yet from grace they have fallen away,
You cannot restore them, they will not repent,
They will not cry mercy, they will not relent
For the Son they have placed on the cross again,
And are holding the Christ in contempt.
Like the land that has drunk
 of the rain from the Lord
And is blessed for the crop
 that the earth brings forth,
Are the ones who endure, are the ones who persist,
Are the ones who remain in the faith, but if
You neglect what you’ve heard
 and the truth you’ve confessed,
And abandon the faith and you live for the flesh,
You cannot expect that the Father will bless you
For your thistles and thorns.
Be warned, be warned!
Pay attention to what you’ve heard,
Don’t drift away from the Word.[3]

We should indeed be warned, but we should also rejoice. If our hearts are not hardened to repentance, then we can look to Christ and know that His death has covered all our sins once for all. The only sin that He will not forgive is the sin that refuses to repent and denies the forgiveness found in Christ.

WHOEVER DOES THE WILL OF GOD // VERSES 31-35

After this encounter, Jesus’ family come back into the text. This time we are told that it is specifically his mother and his brothers and that they were standing outside (presumably because of the crowd), calling for Him. Of course, we remember that they wanted to take Jesus away from His ministry because they thought that He was out of His mind. Surely His showdown with the scribes from Jerusalem had only deepened that belief. Although their intentions were certainly better than the scribes (and we know that at least James and Jude came to faith in Jesus after His resurrection), both parties were working against Him, one thinking Him mad and the other demonic. Interestingly enough, C. S. Lewis notes that both thoughts are logically more consistent than calling Jesus “a great moral teacher.” In Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote:

I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on the 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. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[4]

Although neither the crowds nor Jesus’ own disciples truly understand His identity, they are ready to follow Him as their Lord rather than dub Him a lunatic or demon possessed. From here, Jesus makes a powerful point about His true family:

And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Let us first establish what Jesus was not saying. He was not disavowing Mary or any of His brothers as being His family. The fact that James and Jude came to worship their older brother as God is testament to the fact that Jesus clearly did not cut off His relationship with them. Jesus’ commitment of His mother to the care of John is a similar reminder. Thus, Jesus was not rejecting His family, but He was pointing to something that runs deeper than physical relation. As Ryle says,

Let all true Christians drink comfort out of these words. Let them know that there is One at least, who knows them, loves them, cares for them, and reckons them as his own family. What though they be poor in this world? They have no cause to be ashamed, when they remember that they are the brethren and sisters of the Son of God—What though they be persecuted and ill-treated in their own homes because of their religion? They may remember the words of David, and apply them to their own case, ‘When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up’ (Psa. 27:10).[5]

Let us rejoice that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters and mother, but let us also resolve to follow His path in doing the will of God. In 14:36, Jesus displays for us the greatest example of submission to God’s will as He prayed in Gethsemane with the crucifixion fast approaching: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Just as Christ lived according to the God’s will, a living sacrifice, so He also died according to God’s will, a dying sacrifice. Let us follow His supreme example, wherever He will lead. Let us die to self, and submit ourselves, body and soul, both in life and in death, to the will of He who did not spare His own Son to rescue us from the damnation of our sin.


[1] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, 81.

[2] R. C. Sproul, Mark: An Expositional Commentary, 62.

[3]“Wilderness: A Third Warning” from the album Hebrews by Psallos

[4] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 52.

[5] J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, 48.

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