Last week we were thinking about the way the Lord led the people to a mountain and chose the twelve apostles would would form the basis or the foundation of God’s new people on the earth. In the past, in the days of Moses, the Lord Almighty led the twelve tribes of Israel to Mount Sinai and chose them as his people. But now the Lord Jesus is forming a new people for himself, which will be built on the foundation of these twelve apostles. And after choosing them, the Lord sent the apostles to preach, because preaching the good news of Jesus Christ is the primary means of extending Christ’s kingdom throughout the world; and believing what is preached is the way we enter Christ’s kingdom.
We enter his kingdom and we become members of his people through faith: by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of the world. And the Lord also gave his apostles the authority to drive out demons. And the lesson we learned from that is that not even the Devil and all his demons can prevent the Lord from building his kingdom on the earth.
The Unpardonable Sin
And so we come to today’s passage where the Lord once again faced opposition and unbelief. We’ve seen before the opposition he faced and the questions and accusations of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. And in today’s passage we see how the big-hitters have come: some teachers of the law from Jerusalem have now come. So, these are the big-hitters, the experts from the capital city, who have come to see what was going on out in the country. And they too have made up their minds about the Lord Jesus; and they’re ready to accuse him. And you see their accusation there in verse 22: they claimed that the Lord Jesus Christ — God’s Son and our Saviour — is possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of Demons, the Devil himself. They claimed that the Lord Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan himself. So, his power was satanic; and he was wicked and was serving the Devil in all he did and said.
It was a terrible accusation. Imagine saying such things about the Lord Jesus Christ. And it was utterly absurd. It was absurd. And the Lord made clear just how absurd it was by his answer to them in verses 24 and 25. ‘How can Satan drive out Satan?’ he asked. That’s what they were saying: that by the power of Satan, the Lord was casting out Satan’s demons. It makes no sense. It’s as if one kingdom were divided against itself. If a kingdom is divided like that, it will not stand but will surely fall. The people of that kingdom who are fighting against one another will only destroy themselves and the kingdom will be split into two and that one kingdom will be no more. And it’s as if a family in a house were divided against itself. If a family is divided like that, it will not stand; it will be ruined if mum and the girls are fighting every day with dad and the boys. If that happens, you’ll soon have a divorce and a family breakup and the family will be no more. A kingdom fighting against itself will not stand; a family fighting against itself will not stand. And so, it’s absurd, it’s nonsense, the Lord is saying, for you to suggest that the Devil would send me to drive out his own demons. That would mean the Devil was fighting against himself. He would be destroying his own work. It’s absurd.
But that’s what they were suggesting about the Lord Jesus: that he was serving the Devil. And it’s in this context that the Lord warns us about the unpardonable sin. Look at verse 28 which begins with these solemn words:
I tell you the truth….
The Lord wants to underline the truth and the seriousness of what he’s about to say to his enemies. And, first of all he says something which we all need to hear and remember and believe. He said:
all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them….
Let’s pause there, and let that truth sink in, because this speaks to us of God’s glorious grace, for he is the one who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; he’s the one who does not treat us as our sins deserve, and who does not repay us according to our iniquities. He’s the one who — for the sake of Christ — pardons our sins and remembers them no more, because the Lord Jesus took our sin upon himself and he suffered God’s wrath in our place and he bore our punishment on the cross so that whoever repents and believes in him will be forgiven for what they have done wrong and they will be accepted by God and will receive from him the free gift of eternal life. So, all the sins and blasphemies of men — all the wrong things we have done; all the wrong things we have said; all the wrong thoughts we have had — all their sins and blasphemies, will be forgiven them.
Of course — and we need to pay attention to this as well — none of our sins and blasphemies will be forgiven unless we repent and believe. Perhaps there are people here today and you’ve never confessed your sin and guilt to God; and you’ve never asked him to forgive your sins. If that’s you, then you need to realise that your sins and blasphemies will never be forgiven unless you repent and believe and ask God to forgive you. And unless you repent and believe and ask God to forgive you, then when you stand before God’s judgment seat — as we all will one day — you will be condemned by God and not pardoned; and you will be sent away to be punished for ever, instead of being brought in to enjoy everlasting life. None of your sins will be forgiven unless you repent and believe and ask God to forgive you. So, repent and believe, ask God to forgive you for the sake of Christ who died for sinners. And whoever repents and believes can rejoice, because all the sins and blasphemies of men and women and children will be forgiven them, because Jesus Christ the Saviour has died to pay for our sins and he was raised to give us life.
So, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven. However, the Lord then went on to refer to this unpardonable sin. So, all sins and blasphemies will be forgiven, apart from this one unpardonable sin. And this one unpardonable sin is, according to verse 29, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit, whoever slanders him, will never be forgiven; that person is guilty of an eternal sin. And then Mark adds a little explanation in verse 30:
He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’
So, instead of attributing the things the Lord did to the Holy Spirit, they were attributing the things he did to the Devil. Instead of saying his work was good, they were saying it was evil; and that the Spirit inside him, by which he was able to cast out demons, was an evil Spirit. And so, because of their unbelief, they were rejecting the only Saviour of the world.
Now believers sometimes worry that they have committed the unpardonable sin. They worry that they have said something or done something which cannot be pardoned and so they have lost their salvation and will never ever be pardoned by God. But believers need to remember what God has promised in his word. They need to remember that he has promised that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; and nothing will ever separate them from his love for them in Christ Jesus. They need to remember the promise of the Lord Jesus that he gives his people eternal life and that they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of his hand. Or, listen to what our church’s Confession says. In Chapter 17 on perseverance, it says:
Those whom God has accepted in his Beloved Son and effectively called and sanctified by his Spirit can never totally or finally fall out of the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere in that state to the end and be eternally saved.
So, they shall certainly persevere and be eternally saved. Then the Confession goes on to explain that their ability to persevere does not depend on themselves, but on God the Father who has loved his people and planned their salvation from all eternity; and on God the Son who has accomplished their salvation; and on God the Holy Spirit who applies their salvation to them. So believers need to take comfort in the promises of God who promises to keep his people to the end. And so, when the Lord refers to an unpardonable sin, this is not a sin which the Lord’s people can commit. He who promises to keep us to the end will not let his people commit this sin. This is a sin which only those who don’t believe can commit.
And it’s unpardonable because, by deliberately rejecting the only Saviour of the world, they’ve rejected the only one who can save them from their sins and give them eternal life. Here were the teachers of the law: and the Saviour of the world was standing among them. By the things he did — casting out demons and by healing the sick and by preaching the good news — he demonstrated that he was the Promised Saviour. All through the Old Testament, God promised that the Saviour would do what the Lord Jesus did. But instead of believing in him, the teachers of the law said that instead of being sent from God to save, he had been sent from Satan to destroy. So, they rejected him; and they stood against the only Saviour of the world. Instead of loving him, they hated him. And instead of teaching others to believe in him — which is what they should have done since they were teachers of the law — they taught the people to doubt him.
And so the Lord warns us about this unpardonable sin: rejecting the only Saviour by attributing what he did to the Devil. However, we shouldn’t spend all our time on this and think that this passage is only about the unpardonable sin, because the Lord also includes here a statement to give us hope and encouragement. Look with me now at verse 27:
No one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties us the strong man. Then he can rob his house.
When the Lord referred to the strong man, he was referring to the Devil. And in a sense, this world is his house, because — as John the Apostle tells us — the world is under his control. Ever since Adam’s first sin, the Devil has held the human race under his power and he’s held us captive to do his will. Since the days of Adam, he has deceived the nations and he’s blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from knowing and worshipping the true God. But now, the Lord Jesus Christ has come into the world; and the Lord Jesus Christ is the even stronger man who has bound the Devil. And now that the Devil has been bound, the Lord Jesus is able plunder his house and to set the Lord’s people free.
Think again of the book of Exodus which were were studying on Sunday evenings. Think of how Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was a strong man, a powerful king, who kept the Israelites in slavery and who refused to let them go. But the Lord God came down from heaven and he humbled the Pharaoh and broke his power and the Israelites were finally set free. Like the Pharaoh, so the Devil has kept the human race in slavery. But now, in the person of his Son, God has come down from heaven to overpower him and to bind him and to set his people free.
Think of what it was like before he came. In Revelation 20 it talks about how, before he was bound, the Devil was able to deceive the nations. So, before the Lord came into the world, he was able to keep the nations from believing. All the nations — apart from the people of Israel — did not know the Lord or worship him. They bowed down to false gods and idols; and they did not believe in the one, true and living God who made all things and in whose image they were created. Though everything around them and in them spoke to them of the greatness of God, the Devil managed to deceive them and to keep them from coming to a knowledge of the truth.
But then, the Lord Jesus came into the world; and he’s the even stronger man who has bound the Devil to prevent him from deceiving the nations any longer. And so now, the gospel is preached throughout the world, to people in every nation. And those who were once deceived and held fast by Satan are being set free from his tyranny and they’re being brought into Christ’s kingdom of grace, which is an everlasting kingdom which cannot fall.
Once the Devil was able to deceive the nations and keep them from knowing God. But that’s no longer the case, because the Lord Jesus Christ has come into the world and he’s the even stronger man who has received all authority in heaven and on earth. And after his death and resurrection, he commanded his apostles to go into all the world, to preach his word and to make disciples of all the nations. And they went out, as he commanded, and they preached his word. And wherever they went, men and women and children heard their message about Jesus Christ and they believed the message about Jesus Christ and they called out to Jesus Christ for salvation. Satan had once been able to deceive them to keep them under his power. Once he held them captive to do his will. But now that the Lord Jesus has come and he has overpowered the Devil; and through the preaching of his word, the Lord Jesus takes hold of those who were once held fast by Satan and he brings them out of Satan’s house to belong to his own everlasting kingdom of grace.
And so this is the confidence the Lord gives to his church and to those who have been called to preach his word. The Bible warns us about the Devil, that he’s a roaring lion. And it tells us how he blinds the minds of unbelievers. And yet, though the Devil is a roaring lion, he’s a roaring lion who has been chained up and his power has been restrained. And though the Devil is still able to blind the minds of many to prevent them from coming to a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless the Lord Jesus is greater than the Devil and he’s able to make his light shine in the hearts of many others to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
And so, when preachers go out to preach, they can be confident that the Lord is still able to work through the reading and preaching of his word to convince and convert sinners to faith in Christ, because the Devil has been bound, and his power to deceive has been restrained; and the Lord Jesus will build his church on the earth and the gates of hell will not be able to prevail. And so, when we pray for the extension of Christ’s kingdom throughout the world, we pray with confidence, because the Devil is no longer able to deceive the nations as he once did before the Lord came into the world; and Christ’s word will go out and his kingdom will be enlarged through the preaching of his word.
We’ve seen that the Lord warned the teachers of the law about the unpardonable sin. And we’ve seen that the Lord spoke about how he has bound the Devil. But on either side of the Lord’s conversation with the teachers of the law is a story about his family. Whereas the teachers of the law were saying the Lord Jesus was wicked, some of the members of his family were worried that he was mad. Look at verse 21 where we read that his family wanted to take charge of him, because they said, ‘He’s out of his mind’. They thought he’d had some kind of mental breakdown; and so they needed to come and to take him away to get some rest and perhaps some help. And then in verse 31 we read how his mother and brothers arrived at the house where he was staying. Because of the crowd of people inside the house, they had to remain outside. But they sent someone in to call him. Well, they were looking for him in order to take him away. You see, at that time, they did not believe in him. Later, they will come to believe, and James — one of the Lord’s half-brothers — became a prominent figure in the early church. But for now, they did not believe in him and they were worried that he had had some kind of mental breakdown.
But the Lord uses this opportunity to teach us something very wonderful. And it’s this: whenever the Lord frees us from the Devil’s tyranny and brings us into his own kingdom of grace, he doesn’t make us his slaves; no, he makes us members of his family. We become his brothers and sisters.
Just look at the passage: in verse 32 someone told him that his mother and brothers were outside. ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. And he looked around at all those people who were seated in a circle, presumably listening to him as he taught them about the kingdom of God, and he said:
Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.
You know what God’s will is, don’t you? God’s will for us is to believe in his Son. So, whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is set free from Satan’s tyranny, and we’re brought into Christ’s kingdom of grace, and we’re adopted into his family. God the Father becomes our loving Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ becomes our elder brother. And so, the members of Christ’s kingdom are also the members of his family; and the Eternal Son of God, who rules and reigns in heaven above, is not ashamed to call us his brothers and his sisters.
Think of the parable of the Prodigal Son. When the son came to his senses, he decided to return to the family farm and he was going to offer to serve his father as a servant. But when his father saw him, he was so pleased that his son has come back, that he welcomed him back into the family as a son; and there was a party to celebrate. And whenever a sinner repents and believes, there is joy in heaven above, because another sinner has repented and has believed and has been added to Christ’s family here on earth.
This is God’s grace to us: we’re guilty sinners, who deserve to be condemned forever because of all our sin and blasphemies. But instead of condemning us, he pardons us and brings us into his kingdom and he adopts us into his family. And so we ought to give thanks to him and praise him for ever and for ever for God’s glorious grace.