Preached by Pastor Jeff Hamling
Sunday, November 29, 2020
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan was running for a second term as president. He ran against Walter Mondale.
Reagan was 73 years old—the oldest person to ever hold the office of President in American history. Walter Mondale was only 47 years old.
During the election campaign, Reagan’s age became a major issue. In the first presidential debate with Mondale, Reagan displayed signs of cognitive decline. He couldn’t finish sentences. He lost his train of thought. He wasn’t very articulate.
Mondale was quite confident at his shot of winning the Presidency after that first debate,
Then came the night of the second debate. The moderator asked the following question to Reagan: “You are already the oldest president in history. And some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent debate with Mr. Mondale. I recall that President Kennedy had to go days on end with very little sleep during the Cuban Missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?”
Reagan responded: “Not at all. And I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” The audience exploded with laughter. Mondale himself couldn’t help laughing. In fact, later he would admit that he knew that in that moment he had lost the Presidency. Reagan would go on to win in a landslide—winning 49 states.
Reagan took an attack and turned it into something winsome and compelling. People were attracted to him because of the way he responded to an accusation.
What if Christians could do that? What if Christians could take accusations and criticism about Christianity and respond in a way that is winsome, compelling, and attractive?
That’s what Jesus does in this passage: Ask: What Jesus is accused of? How does he respond?
What is Jesus accused of?
There are two accusations or criticisms raised against Jesus.
First, in v.21 his family accuse him of being out of his mind. Attracted crowds, hanging out with fringe people, coming under attack from the religious leaders, so busy he doesn’t even have time to eat.
In the Bible, being out of your mind is often associated with demon possession.
This is connected to the second accusation levied against Jesus. In v.22 teachers of the law from Jerusalem accuse him. They are not local figures; these are the big guns from Jerusalem. They accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul or Satan. They are saying that the only way Jesus performs healing and casts out demons is because he’s possessed by Satan.
There is a principle known as Godwin’s Rule. It states: As a discussion on social media grows longer, the probability increases that that someone will be compared to Hitler. Why? Because you can easily dismiss your opponent if you can associate them with someone evil.
This is what the religious leaders are doing to Jesus.
It’s important to recognize this because it also sometimes happens to Christians.
Carl Trueman, seminary professor: You kid yourselves if you think you can be a Christian and be at the same time cool enough and hip enough to cut it in the wider world. Frankly, in a couple of years it will not matter how [many tattoos] you sport, how much fair trade coffee you drink, how many craft brews you can name…or how much money you give for social justice: maintaining biblical sexual ethics will be the equivalent in our culture of being a white supremacist.
What’s he saying? If you hold to a traditional, Christian view of marriage, gender, or sex—you’ll be accused of being a bigot. Of being on the side of evil.
Sometimes Christians do or say things that deserve to be criticized. But how should Christians respond when they are unjustly vilified or accused?
How does Jesus respond?
There are 4 elements to Jesus’ response:
First, he engages their argument.
He doesn’t retaliate by calling them a bunch of names: “No, you’re Beelzebul!” instead he engages the substance of their accusation.
In 23-26, Jesus says, “If I’m Satan casting out demons—how does that even make sense? How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom or a household wages war against itself—it will destroy itself. He shows the inconsistency of their argument.
There’s an important lesson here for Christians. Instead of engaging in discussions or responding to accusations with name calling or yelling. We should engage the actual substance of what is being said. Call it: loving logic.
Second, he points out the good accomplished by his mission.
In v.27, Jesus describes what’s really going on with his healing and casting out demons:
I’m tying up the strong man and plundering his house. “I’m not working for Satan—I’m binding him up. I’m setting free all the people he has held in captive.”
I remember watching a debate between the atheist, Christopher Hitchens, and the Christian journalist, Marvin Olasky.
Hitchens argued that “Religion Poisons everything.” (Hitchens is English, extremely eloquent, and bright.—an extremely gifted and experienced debater.) Marvin Olasky had never debated before. Yet, Olasky simply pointed out all the good accomplished by the mission of Christianity. He specifically pointed out the good that families and churches were doing in the very town the Hitchens lived in.
That’s essentially what Jesus is doing here. He points out the good accomplished by his mission.
Third, he points out the error in their assumptions.
In v.28-29 Jesus mentions how blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin.
Throughout history, many Christians have lived in terror that they might have committed the unforgivable sin.
But it’s important to read this verse in context. In this passage, the religious leaders look at Jesus’ healing ministry and all the ways he is helping people—empowered by the Holy Spirit. And they attribute the work to Satan.
Jesus is pointing out: if you start with the assumption that the work I do is empowered by Satan instead of the Spirit, no matter what good I do, no matter what miracle I perform, it will only serve as further evidence that I’m the devil. You’ll always be blind to the truth.
You’re like a deranged patient who believes that their doctor is a psychopath murderer. Every time the doctor offers medicine—the patient will believe it’s just another attempt at his demise. The patient will never give their consent to receiving the medicine.
When talking with people who are hostile to Christianity and who don’t believe in God, it’s important to point out their assumptions. Often, they are starting with the assumption that God cannot be an explanation for anything.
Everything we see and experience is just the result of naturalistic causes. If you start with that assumption—you will always rule out God as an explanation.
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga says this kind of thinking is like a drunk man who insists on looking for his lost car keys only under the streetlight on the grounds that the light was better there. It’s like arguing that because the keys would be hard to find in the dark, they must be under the light.
Jesus points out the error in their assumptions.
Fourth, Jesus extends an invitation
At the end of the passage, the story comes back to Jesus’ family who arrived to bring him home because they thought he was insane.
In v.32, someone tells Jesus, your mother and brothers are looking for you. Jesus responds in v.33-35: Who are my mother and my brothers? And then he points to those around him and says—Here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.
At first, this seems almost rude. Is he disowning his family?
But actually, he’s extending an invitation. He’s making the claim that to be part of the family of God:
- It’s not about bloodlines or who you are related to.
- It’s not about ethnicity.
- It’s not a political party.
- It’s not a sociological class.
Jesus throws open the doors to the kingdom of God and says, all are welcome. It’s an invitation for everyone and anyone to be a part of the family of God.
It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t just say you can be my brother or sister. He says in v.35, if you do the will of my Father, if you work to bring healing to this broken world, you can be my mother. What does that mean?
One commentary explains it this way: Members of the family of God are not merely adopted as younger siblings of Jesus; by doing God’s will they in a real since bring Jesus into the world.
In other words, Jesus doesn’t merely refute accusations about his work—he goes a step further and invites skeptics to join in his work.
He invites them to be part of a movement that gives birth to Christ’s presence in the world. That brings the love of Jesus to a broken world.
There’s a woman by the name of Jana Harmon who did her PhD research on adult atheist conversions. She researched the stories of atheists who were converted to Christianity as adults. (Something that is extremely rare.) I listened to her interviewed on a podcast. And one element that pretty much every atheist (who converted) shared—was that someone invited them to be in a relationship with them. To join their family. And even to come to church.
This is what Jesus is doing. Think of what this must have meant to the outcasts surrounding Jesus! He says to them: Here are my mother and brothers!
Summary: So Jesus 1) engages their argument, 2) he points to the good of his mission, 3) he points out the error in their assumptions, and then 4) he extends an invitation to join him.
You might think, I could never do that! I can’t think on my feet. I don’t know what I would say, if someone launched a bunch of accusations for being a Christian.
If that’s the case, I think it’s important to just start by doing the last thing he mentions: Being Christ’s mother. Doing the will of God. Bring the presence of Christ into the world. People will still judge you and accuse you—but it makes it harder.
Chris Pratt is a Hollywood actor who is open about his Christianity. Recently, he declined to attend a political fund-raising event. Twitter exploded. He was ruthlessly attacked and accused.
But his cast members from Avengers rose up to defend him. Most notably, Robert Downing Junior defended him with the following tweet:
What a world… The “sinless” are casting stones at my brother, Chris Pratt. A real Christian who lives by principle, has never demonstrated anything but positivity and gratitude…If you take issue with Chris, I’ve got a novel idea. Delete your social media accounts, sit with your OWN defects of character, work on THEM, then celebrate your humanness.
That’s the goal. To live your life as sinner who has been impacted by God’s grace in such a way that when people see your life—that say: This person is the real deal.
And that’s ultimately what happens in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is smeared and accused and attacked.
And yet he lived his life in such a way, and even gave his life in such a way, that at the climax of the Gospel, when Jesus is dying on the cross, in Mark 15:39 a Roman soldier who helped put Jesus to death, stands at the foot of the cross and says—surely this man is the Son of God.
Jesus allowed himself to be falsely accused because we stand accused and condemned sinners.
Many of the accusations levied against Christians are false. But the fact remains, We are guilty of selfishness and pride and an almost infinite litany of wrongs.
He takes all the accusations that we deserve on himself. We are cleansed and forgiven.
If God is for us who can be against us.