“Then He went home, and the crowd gathered again so that they were not even able to eat. When His family heard this, they set out to restrain Him, because they said, “He’s out of His mind.” The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul in Him! ” and, “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons! ” So He summoned them and spoke to them in parables: “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 rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished! “On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he will rob his house. I assure you: People will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they may blaspheme. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:20-30 HCSB)
In Oklahoma, the term “a house divided” has a very specific meaning and it has to do with loyalty… loyalty to a college football team. Specifically, it means that the family has divided loyalties on whether they are fans of the University of Oklahoma (OU Sooner) or fans of Oklahoma State University (OSU Cowboys). Perhaps the husband is an OU graduate and the wife is an OSU graduate or vice versa and, thus, their divided loyalties. Seriously, around here you don’t plan a wedding or big event during a home game of your family’s favorite team and certainly not on OU/Texas or Bedlam weekends. That would be crazy. I mean, you need to have your priorities in the right order.
Priority. Loyalty. Commitment. Sacrifice. Love. Terms that might describe how we feel about a favorite team or, better yet, how we feel about our family or our country. Those are also great choices when it comes to loyalty, sacrifice and love. But what about God? Where on the list of priorities or importance does God fit? I know, most of you are probably saying that He would always get first place in your life. Love God above all else, right? But does it really play out that way in our daily lives? Does God really get first place in our thoughts, desires, decisions and actions or do you struggle with it like I do? Loving God first and foremost is something I really want to do but not something I always succeed at doing, consistently.
In this week’s focal passage, Mark introduces us to a divided house. Actually, he shows us a couple of divisions and then shows us how one division that was thought to exist, doesn’t really exist. Jesus goes home to Capernaum and the crowd gathers so that they were not even able to eat. It appears that things got so crazy and busy with this crowd and Jesus’ healing and casting out demons that nobody was able to find the time or bothered to take the time to stop and eat. The way this is worded, it seems to apply to Jesus and His disciples but also applies to the crowd. In other words, the needs of the people had Jesus and the disciples so focused and the crowd was so intent on getting to Him that they ignored the need to stop and eat. When Jesus’ family heard this, they wanted to restrain Him because they believed He was “out of His mind.”
So, the first divided house that we encounter is this division between Jesus and His family. He is so focused on the needs of the people that He neglects to eat a meal. His family hears about this and believes that it is indicative of a mental breakdown and that He’s not thinking rationally or clearly. It is important to note, they want to restrain Him. We aren’t told whether this single incident is the sole cause of His family’s concerns for His mental well-being or if their concerns have been developing since His baptism. I believe this incident might be the trigger for His family’s response but not the sole cause. I think this has been building in them since His baptism and the start of His public ministry. In their minds, Jesus just isn’t thinking or acting rationally – He’s out of His mind – and they need to act now to restrain and protect Him from Himself.
Next, there is division between Jesus and the religious leaders. Scribes from Jerusalem, the very men who claimed to have a deep understanding of and love for the Law of God, were at odds with it and with God’s embodiment and fulfillment of it – Jesus. They believed Jesus was not filled with God’s Spirit but was instead acting under and through the power of Satan or Beelzebul, the prince of demons. They didn’t view the healing, the miracles and the driving out of demons as an act of God but as an act of demonic possession and the power of evil. In their minds, this wasn’t God at work, it was Satan.
In His magnum opus – the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us: “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17 HCSB) So, in the actions of Jesus we clearly see the purpose, direction and fulfillment of God’s law but in the actions of the religious elite we MAY see a corruption of it. Ouch! Yes, at times that may even include you and me. We don’t always get it right, especially when it comes to how we apply scriptural truth, how we embody the love of God and how we apply grace to the needs and actions of others.
So, His family thought He was crazy and the religious leaders thought He was demon possessed but what did the crowd see? They saw someone who could bring relief for their pain, comfort to their mourning, healing for their diseases and freedom from the shackles of their demonic overlords. Let that sink in a bit… this crowd that came to Christ was filled with the sick, the diseased, the hurting, the troubled and the demon possessed. Instead of being repelled by them He had compassion on them and became focused on them and their condition – bound up in the lies and the power of Satan.
I live and work in the realm of technology and I make my living working as the head of Information Technology for a religious non-profit financial institution. As a part of my job, I must keep our data and systems secure. The biggest threat to our systems and our reputation is a data breach and the easiest way to breach our data defenses is through one of our employees. All a hacker needs to do is convince someone to believe a lie and grant them access by use of an email phishing scam. I can build and deploy complicated technological defenses but it only takes one careless person to circumvent all of those defenses. So, I spend a lot of my time educating and reminding our staff how to identify and defeat the attempts to breach those defenses.
Spiritually speaking, I do the same thing as a pastor. I spend most of my time educating and reminding you how to identify these spiritual lies because we fall for Satan’s “phishing scams” all the time. He tells us a lie, we believe it and let him influence or direct our thoughts, desires, decisions and actions. So, listen up…
Jesus responds to these accusations by His family and the Scribes by giving them a maxim and then telling them a parable: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand… If Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished. On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up (restrains) the strong man. Then he will rob his house.” First, the maxim is always true: a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. He then applies that maxim to their accusation, if He were demon possessed and casting out Satan’s own demons then Satan’s kingdom would collapse. So, their claim regarding His authoritative actions and source of power is ludicrous and illogical. He then gives them an alternate theory: to enter a strong man’s house and take his possessions, a person must first bind the strong man and then “rob his house.” In other words, a stronger man must subdue and bind the strong man in order to achieve the goal of entering the strong man’s home and taking what he owns.
If the truth of that parable eludes you, let me explain. First, consider these words by John the Baptist from our previous studies in Mark: “He [John] was preaching: “Someone more powerful than I will come after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals.” (Mark 1:7 HCSB) John had already announced that someone greater, more powerful would be coming after him. In fact, He would be so powerful and authoritative that John was not even worthy to untie His sandal. Now, back to the parable… the strong man is Satan and his home is this world (see Jn. 12:31). To rob Satan of his possessions, the people who are believing his lies and are suffering under his authority – the crowds who came to Jesus, a stronger man must slip in, subdue Satan and tie him up, then take his possessions. Jesus is acting in the stronger power and authority of God and has subdued Satan and is “robbing his house.”
How is Jesus robbing Satan of his possessions? By setting people free from Satan’s lies and his authority over them. Jesus is breaking the chains and casting out the demons that possess and control them. But be careful, there’s another subtle lie that Satan is even now whispering in your ear… I can be free if I just have relief from this pain or disease, or food for my belly, or a better paying job and a bigger house. But Jesus says that the truth will set you free and that He is that truth. There’s more that you need than just a good meal, a disease free body and a will able to act on it own desires. In other words, the world needs more than social reformation through the elimination of poverty, racial equality, personal justice and global peace. This world needs a Savior and Jesus is the only one capable of saving us, from Satan and from ourselves.
Don’t believe me? Listen to His next words, “I assure you: people will be forgiven for all sins and blasphemies.. but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness.” Those words “I assure you” is the translation of the single word: amen. We generally use that word after something is said, like a prayer. In that context, it means “may this be true” or “may this come to be reality.” The ONLY time this word is ever used at the beginning of a phrase is when God says something, “thus sayeth the Lord.” Isaiah says, “Whoever is blessed in the land will be blessed by the God of truth [amen]. (Is. 65:16)”
Ah, there it is… the “unpardonable sin”. That one sin that can never be forgiven. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. So many have struggled with what this means and whether they are guilty of committing said sin. I don’t want this to sound too simplistic, but if you are concerned about whether you’ve ever committed this sin then you most likely have not, here’s why. Listening to these words in the context of this story in which Mark gives them helps us more clearly understand what they mean.
Word of caution is clearly in order here. Notice how Mark clarifies these blasphemous words, “because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Flash back, Jesus was being accused of acting in the power and authority of Satan. In other words, what God was doing in and through Jesus was being denied as an act of God and was being attributed to Satan. In essence, these scribes were blaspheming the very name, authority and will of God by attributing Jesus’ [or God’s] actions to Satan. The very Holy Spirit of God was at work in the life and actions of Jesus of Nazareth but these men who claimed to know God and His Law were saying: “This isn’t God, this is the work of Satan himself!”
This is clearly akin to saying good is evil and evil is good and there are many today who are dangerously close to making a similar mistake with Christ, today. Many in our culture like to emphasize the love of God to the exclusion of the holiness of God. So, let me be very clear on this issue. God DOES love you and he loves you so much He was willing to die for you. But His love for you is so great that He’s unwilling to leave you like you are and He wants to transform you into His image. In other words, His love isn’t just about giving you what you desire but to transform you and your desires. Our desires are mirrored in the desires of the crowd who came to Jesus at the beginning of this story. They sought Him out and wanted the miracles He could perform. They mistakenly thought that regaining their health or being set free from their oppression would make life perfect, but it didn’t for them and it won’t for us, either. We need more than that, we need Him!
When we begin to be impacted by the authority and teaching of Jesus Christ, our actions and our relationships should be radically altered. In fact, that is at the very heart of everything Jesus teaches – radical life transformation. His family thought He wasn’t behaving normally and they were concerned that He had had a mental breakdown but they were entirely wrong. He was thinking very, very clearly. His thoughts and actions were seen as crazy by His family because they differed so much from the cultural norm. Jesus wasn’t following the dictates and patterns of His culture or the rules and demands of the spiritual elitist leadership, but He was following the leadership of God’s Spirit. Let me ask the obvious question, have you been impacted by the authority and teaching of Jesus Christ so that your thoughts, desires, decisions and actions are being radically altered, too?
We started out by talking about a house divided by team loyalty. In our lives, we have this need and desire for more than life seems to offer. We keep seeking fulfillment and satisfaction only to come up feeling empty and short changed. It feels a bit like a house divided. I know something’s missing and I keep trying all of the things that my culture tells me will make me happy, give me satisfaction and help me feel fulfilled but it never seems to be enough. Satan has been feeding us a lie, scamming us this entire time. Jesus has come in, tied him up and is now offering you a chance to escape and find life as God meant for it to be, walking with Him, living in Him, loving Him and being loved by Him and, in turn, learning to love others and no longer living in a house divided.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Let’s walk with Him, together… go to our prayer request page and drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you.