Jesus: Deranged, Demonic, or Divine?
Rock of Ages,
Soften our hearts to receive Your Word.
Strengthen Your servant to preach.
Show us the saving power and grace of Jesus.
I invite you to take God’s Word and turn with me to the Gospel According to Mark and to the third chapter. The text before us today is one of the more daunting and difficult texts in Mark’s Gospel. Mark doesn’t have many of those due to the simplicity and straightforward nature of his record concerning the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Follow along then, as I read from Mark 3:20-30.
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.”
The Unpardonable Sin (v. 29-30)
The Unpardonable Sin (v. 29-30)
Now, what catches our attention from the reading of this text is typically not the gloriously, unequivocally good news that all sins and blasphemies under the sun will be forgiven by God. No, what we are so often captivated with in this passage is the one and only exception; that sin that won’t be forgiven.
And so, there would be no point of jumping into my sermon outline until I address this “elephant in the text”. Because if I don’t address it first, some of you won’t hear a word I say about the rest of our passage until I get to the elephant. That elephant is what has been called “the unpardonable sin”, or as Jesus so seriously phrases it, “an eternal sin”; the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. I think that by addressing this unforgivable sin first, it will shed some light on the verses leading up to it and will hopefully put some of your minds at ease.
There are so many questions surrounding Mark 3:29-30. And I want to do my best to address two of the bigger questions. Namely, what is the unpardonable sin and how can it still be committed today?
So, first, let me start by defining what this unpardonable or eternal sin is not, before I define what it is. Jesus warns in verses 29 and 30, “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.’” (Mark 3:29-30).
First of all, the unpardonable sin cannot merely be rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If that were the case, some of us in this room who now profess to believe in Christ are not truly saved because at one time you rejected Jesus Christ along with His gospel, perhaps vehemently. It would also disqualify Paul as a believer and apostle of Jesus Christ and inspired author of half the New Testament, since by his own admission in 1 Timothy he was “formerly a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of Christ and His Church (1 Tim. 1:13).
Secondly, the unpardonable sin cannot merely be unbelief. Again, if that were the case, all mankind would be damned forever because none of us are born believing in the person and work of Christ. There came a point in our lives when we began to believe. So, this sin cannot merely be about rejecting Christ or not believing in Christ. Although I will add that this sin does include rejection and unbelief, but it must be more than that.
So what exactly is the unpardonable sin? Let me toss out two definitions.
A narrow definition of this particular sin is essentially given to us in our text. Within the confines of this passage, “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to attribute the Spirit-empowered and anointed work of Jesus Christ to the work of Satan” [Kevin DeYoung “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit]. It is assigning the work of God done by and in Jesus Christ through the Spirit to the Devil or his demons. It is crediting Satan with what should be credited to the Spirit.
That’s the narrow definition which summarizes well what is going on in the text. The religious leaders were condemning Christ’s miracles and ministry done in the power of the Spirit as satanic. In this narrow sense, I do not believe this sin is repeatable today. It could only be committed after one had witnessed the Spirit-empowered miracles in Jesus’ earthly ministry and then that person concludes that the good Jesus was doing was evil and wrong. It was not from God but from Satan.
However, let me give you a broader definition of this unpardonable sin, which I think is relatable in our day.
“The unpardonable sin is an eternal sin that deliberately, actively, and continually despises, denies, and disbelieves the Spirit's witness to Jesus’ identity and activity as God and Savior.”
That is what Jesus is cautioning us about in these verses.
Let me break this definition down piece by piece. 1) The unpardonable sin is an eternal sin, meaning a sin that will always and forever stand against the offender, thus barring them from God’s glorious presence. 2) It is a deliberate sin because it is committed intentionally and knowingly. 3) It is an active sin because it is an ongoing act that defines a person’s words, works, and will. 4) It is a continual sin, meaning that it will never be repented of before the offender dies due to their hardness of heart and thus will never be forgiven. 5) It is a sin that despises Christ, not just refusing Him or rejecting Him, but actually hating Him altogether. 6) It is a sin that denies Christ perpetually, never acknowledging the truth about the goodness and grace of Christ. 7) It is a sin of disbelief because the one who commits it never receives Christ and His truth in humble faith. 8) And it is a sin specifically against the Holy Spirit, who testifies of Christ’s divine identity and activity, namely His eternal power to destroy Satan and provide deliverance through the forgiveness of sins to any who repent and believe the gospel.
Under this broad definition, this sin can be committed today. However, I want to clarify by whom.
Firstly, you’ll see from this text in Mark 3 that the people most in danger of committing the unpardonable sin were not those who were ignorant of the things of God, but were those who claimed to be most familiar with God, with His Word, ways, and will. So, this is not a sin one can commit in ignorance nor can it be committed unintentionally by accident. It is a sin that is only committed in open, obvious, ongoing rebellion to the truthful witness of the Spirit concerning Christ and His gospel as revealed in the Word of God.
Therefore, if there are any here today who fear that you’ve committed this sin before or are fearful that you are presently committing this unpardonable sin, let me assure you that you have not or are not. The very fact that you are concerned about committing this sin is proof that you have not committed it or are presently committing it. Those who commit this sin are so hardened in heart and their consciences are so seared that they would not care if they are committing this sin.
Secondly, this is a sin that God will not allow His saints, who have been purchased and pardoned by the blood of His Son, to ever commit. For that would nullify both the efficacious, saving work of Christ, which is impossible, and the eternal promise that nothing will ever separate us from the Father’s everlasting love for us in Christ. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be thankful for the grace of God given to you in Jesus Christ and be assured of your secure position with Christ, for you are seated with Him in the heavenlies.
All this being said, Mark 3:29-30 still serves as a warning to all of us. That is very much the tone of this passage. It is a passage that takes all sin seriously. This is not a passage that excuses a life of sin because every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, so long as we don’t commit the “big one”. This passage is a warning for any of us who “thinks that he stands to take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). This is not a passage enabling us to live a life in the pursuit of sin, but a passage that warns us to flee all sin in order to experience the freedom and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ. It is a passage calling us to confess Christ as Lord and believe upon His divine power and saving grace.
And that’s what I’d like to draw out of this passage for us with the remainder of our time. In Mark 3:20-30, we see that:
Theme: Jesus cautions against continuously rejecting the Spirit's testimony of His divine power to free us and His saving grace to forgive us.
Let’s momentarily overview two accusations against Jesus’ identity and then we will meditate on two activities of Jesus’ ministry.
Two Accusations against Jesus (v. 20-26)
Two Accusations against Jesus (v. 20-26)
In verses 20 to 22, we read that Jesus and His newly appointed apostles have descended the mountainside and have returned, presumably, to Peter’s house in Capernaum. In tow behind them was the massive crowd that had been pressing in upon Christ before. The needs of the crowd keep Jesus and His apostles from finding time or space to eat.
Jesus’ Family: Jesus is mad!
Jesus’ Family: Jesus is mad!
At this time, we come across the first accusation in verse 21.
And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
Jesus is met here with some opposition from those closest to Him; His own family. More than likely, they were concerned about Jesus, not just about His popularity with the masses prohibiting Him from eating, but they were probably more concerned about His going toe-to-toe with the Jewish religious authorities. They were worried about Jesus’ reputation and their own. “Jesus, don’t you know how much trouble this is causing us? Are you trying to get yourself killed? Because if you keep going on like this, saying what you’re saying and doing what you’re doing, they will put you to death! You are out of your mind!”
His family’s assessment was that Jesus was mad. Crazy. A lunatic. Deranged. They determine that they must gain control of the situation before it progresses any further and seize Jesus, a word used throughout Mark’s Gospel meaning “to take into custody; to put under arrest”. It’s used multiple times to refer to Christ’s eventual arrest that would lead to His crucifixion. So, it seems His family has, at the very least, misunderstood Jesus’ identity and mission on earth or are opposed to the negative attention He is drawing from the Pharisees and scribes.
Jesus’ Foes: Jesus is bad!
Jesus’ Foes: Jesus is bad!
The accusation from Jesus’ family is rather mild in comparison to the second accusation that comes from the scribes.
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.”
They travel 80 or more miles from Jerusalem to Capernaum to pronounce their verdict on Jesus’ identity. In both Matthew and Luke’s version of this account, Jesus has just performed another exorcism of a demon who had made a man blind and mute. After casting out the demon, the man began to talk and see.
The scribes respond to this amazing miracle with their condemning verdict. “Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons He casts out the demons” (Mk. 3:22). They cannot deny the supernatural power that Jesus had. But, as we have already seen back in verse 6, the religious leaders were determined to destroy Him. And so, rather than admit that His supernatural power has come from God, they chose to malign His name by pronouncing Jesus as demon possessed.
“Jesus is in league with Satan!” they claimed. He is not just mad, He is bad! He is a liar! Jesus is demonic. Those are the two accusations. He is deranged and He is demonic.
Jesus, in the rest of the passage, addresses the scribes accusation by pointing out that it is absurdly illogical to say He is doing the Devil’s dirty work.
And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?
And then He uses two parables to strengthen His argument. Just by way of reminder, a parable is taking something that is commonly understood to explain something that is not understood. In this case, Jesus uses the picture of a kingdom and house.
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.
In other words, if a kingdom wishes to thrive it will strive for unity and not resort to attacking itself. Or, take a household, a strong family will not have infighting that tears itself apart. Jesus then clarifies His parables with this point in the next verse.
And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.
Jesus’ point is essentially this: “Satan is certainly powerful and evil and promotes chaos, but he isn’t stupid or foolish enough to attack his own kingdom for that would defeat his purposes in the world and would spell his doom.” The last thing Satan would do is cast out himself. That would be the equivalent of spiritual suicide. It’s absurd and illogical. There would be no need for Jesus to cast out demons if Satan were going to destroy himself.
Jesus’ argument pretty well quashes the accusation of the scribes that He is demonic. Jesus has not been deceiving anyone or lying about who He is. This really leaves us with only one option to choose from when it comes to Jesus’ identity. If Jesus is who Mark says He is at the beginning of his Gospel, and if Jesus is who He Himself claims to be, then He isn’t a liar and He isn’t of the Devil, but has truly come from God and is in fact God in the flesh.
Two Activities of Jesus (v. 27-28)
Two Activities of Jesus (v. 27-28)
There are two activities that support Jesus’ divine identity. The first is explicitly stated in the text and the second is implied in the text. Both of these activities testify that Jesus is both God and Savior. The first activity showcases Jesus’ divine, eternal power in verse 27.
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.
Just in case you miss the meaning of this verse, let me explain what Jesus is talking about. The “strong man” is Satan. Satan’s “house” is the sinful world over which Satan has power, until Christ appeared. Satan’s “goods” are those who have been under Satan’s control and dominion.
1. Plundering Satan (v. 27)
1. Plundering Satan (v. 27)
And then we have Jesus, presenting Himself as the one binding and plundering Satan in order to rescue people for the Kingdom of God. Jesus, because He is from God and is God, is able to cast out Satan and plunder Satan’s kingdom. This is one of the primary reasons the Father sent His Son into the world. Isaiah recorded the LORD prophesying concerning His coming Servant:
Can the prey be taken from the mighty, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? For thus says the Lord: “Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken, and the prey of the tyrant be rescued, for I will contend with those who contend with you, and I will save your children. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. Then all flesh shall know that I am the Lord your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”
In the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, John the Baptist preached:
And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
In other words, John the Baptist may have been a great man, but Jesus is greater. Satan may be the “strong man”, but Jesus is the “stronger man”.
The apostle John wrote:
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
It is true that the kingdom of Satan and his house are coming to an end, but not by Satan’s hand, rather by the divine power of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the King who came, not to sit back on a throne, but to go into battle as a warrior. He came to wage war against the cosmic, spiritual forces of evil. He came to defeat the devil and to ransom for Himself a people who were held in bondage to the devil and to the fear the devil uses as chains, namely the fear of death.
Our Savior and King, Jesus Christ accomplished this colossal feat through His own death. In the hour when Satan and God’s enemies had thought they had defeated Jesus, it was actually the means of His victory over them. The author of Hebrews draws that out for us when he said:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
By casting out demons, Jesus points us to the decisive moment when Satan would be rendered powerless and defeated. It is through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. Paul had the power of the cross and resurrection in mind when he wrote to the Colossians that this was how God:
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
In doing this, Jesus is plundering Satan. Satan is merely waiting for the final judgment to fall upon him. In the meantime, the Lord is ransoming a people for His own possession. Those who were once enslaved to sin and Satan are being freed by Christ’s divine power. They are a people “called out of darkness and into His marvelous light. Once they were not a people, but now they are God’s people” (1 Pet. 1:9-10). And the promise of God to His people is that He “will soon crush Satan under [their] feet” (Rom. 16:20).
Is this a promise that belongs to you today? Has this divine power of Jesus done its work upon your life? To which kingdom do you belong? All of us would like to say we belong to the Kingdom of God and serve Jesus as King. And if that is the case, there will be certain evidences that testify to that truth. 1 John is a good place to go to see a multitude of these evidences of one who belongs to Christ and His Kingdom. John writes that:
They are those who keep God’s commands (1 Jn. 2:3-4)
They are those who walk the same way Christ walked (1 Jn. 2:5-6)
They are those who have the Holy Spirit (1 Jn. 3:24)
They are those who listen to and obey the Word (1 Jn. 4:6)
They are those who confess the Son and abide in Him (1 Jn. 4:15)
They are those who do not continually practice sin (1 Jn. 5:18)
Just to name a few.
If you belong to the Kingdom of God then you share in the victory of King Jesus over Satan and are now free from slavery to sin and death.
2. Pardoning Sinners (v. 28)
2. Pardoning Sinners (v. 28)
Along with the plundering of Satan and his kingdom, Jesus would have us know about His saving grace in pardoning sinners. We can get so wrapped up in verses 29 and 30 that we miss the gospel in verse 28. Since I began with the warning of the unpardonable sin, then it would be good to wrap up this portion in Mark chapter three with a most precious and promising verse.
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,
Pause for a moment and just take that truth in! Don’t run onto the next verse. Allow this verse to speak to your soul. “Truly,” Jesus declares. This is the first time in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus will preface something He wishes to teach with “Truly”. Literally, “Amen; so be it”. It would be the equivalent of an elementary teacher shouting over the noisy classroom to “Pipe down and listen”! The prophets would preface their messages with, “Thus saith the LORD”. Or a messenger might say, “Hear ye, Hear ye what the king declares unto you”. But Jesus speaks with the authority of a King and expects us to listen carefully to what He is about to say because it is the gospel truth.
This is the King’s message: “All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” Your eternal soul depends upon what Jesus says in this verse.
Jesus is not teaching universalism in this verse. He is not saying that all people are forgiven unconditionally, even if they never confess Him as Lord and never repent of their sins in this life. No, the implication of the text, alongside of the rest of the Bible and Jesus’ preaching, is that the condition for entering, experiencing, and enjoying the Kingdom of God is that one repent and believe the gospel. That is what Jesus preached throughout all of Galilee.
Also, I want you to see that the pardoning of sin is inseparably linked to the plundering of Satan. Paul says as much in his introduction of his letter to the Colossians.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Do you see the connection there? The deliverance from Satan’s domain and the transfer to the Savior’s domain is grounded in Jesus’ redemptive work, which forgives sins. When Jesus plunders Satan, He is pardoning sinners. As Jesus pardons sinners, Satan is being plundered.
Think of the worst sin that you’ve ever committed and be assured that Mark 3:28 covers that offense. Or think of the smallest sin you’ve ever committed that you might have thought has slipped by unnoticed and that too is covered. I don’t say this to minimize sin in any way. The wages of all sin is death. But rejoice today that Jesus offers forgiveness to sinners!
For most, if not all of us, the question is not “Have you committed the unpardonable sin?” No, the question is, “Will you confess that you are a sinner who needs Jesus Christ, the Son of God to pardon you from sin?” Will you be honest with yourself that you’ve sinned against a holy God? Repent from your sin by turning away from it. Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ by turning to Him in all humility pleading for Him to have mercy on you: to free you from the power of Satan by His divine power and forgive you of your sins by His saving grace. When you do that, Jesus is pleased to answer your plea.
Jesus can do all of this because He lived a perfectly sinless, righteous, obedient life that you should be living, but can’t because of sin. And Jesus died the death you deserve to die. He satisfied the wrath of God for your sin in your place. He paid the wages for your sin by dying on the cross. And God accepted His payment on your behalf because Jesus rose from the dead and lives today seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High, still pardoning and interceding for sinners. Any and all who put their trust in Christ and His atoning work receive His spotless righteousness and salvation. The record of their sins are expunged. They are forever accepted by God.
Oh, perfect redemption, the purchase of blood, to ev’ry believer the promise of God. The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
Come to Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life and Savior from your sin and experience the pardoning of your sin and the pleasure of being plundered from Satan’s defeated kingdom. Do not despise, deny, or disbelieve the Spirit’s testimony from His Word today regarding Jesus’ divine power and saving grace. Repent and believe in the gospel and you shall be safe and secure forevermore.
Our God and Savior,
We worship and adore You
For You are stronger.
Stronger than Satan.
Stronger than the grave.
And Your grace is greater.
Greater than our sin.
Greater than our guilt.
What mercy we find in the refuge of Your arms.
Forgiveness for every sin.
Healing for our brokenness.
Eternal life for our souls.
All we have ever needed, You Lord have provided.
If there be anyone here today that has yet to respond to Your voice, calling them unto salvation:
May they not harden their hearts.
May they see that today is a favorable time;
that now is the day of Salvation.
What a hope we have in You, Jesus.
and Glorious hope.
We praise and thank You.