First Act. Presentation of Jesus: Mark 1.14-8.30
Scene 3: Counter Opposition by Jesus: Mark 3.7-35
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So Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea. A large crowd from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from across the Jordan, and from the region around Tyre and Sidon followed him. They came to him because they kept hearing about everything he was doing. Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready for him so that the crowd wouldn’t crush him, because he had healed so many people that everyone who had diseases kept crowding up against him in order to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they would fall down in front of him and scream, “You are the Son of God!” But he sternly ordered them again and again not to tell people who he was.
Then Jesus went up on a hillside and called to himself those whom he had decided on, and they approached him. He appointed the Twelve, whom he called apostles, to accompany him, to be sent out to preach, and to have the authority to drive out demons. He appointed the Twelve: Simon (whom he named Peter), Zebedee’s sons James and his brother John (whom he named Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
Then he went home. Such a large crowd gathered again that Jesus and his disciples couldn’t even eat. When his family heard about it, they went to restrain him, because they kept saying, “He’s out of his mind!”
The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem kept repeating, “He has Beelzebul,” and “He drives out demons by the ruler of demons.”
So Jesus called them together and began to speak to them in parables. “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a household is divided against itself, that household will not stand. So if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand. Indeed, his end has come. No one can go into a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions without first tying up the strong man. Then he can ransack his house. I tell all of you with certainty, people will be forgiven their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven, but is guilty of eternal sin.”
For they had been saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers arrived. Milling around outside, they sent for him, continually summoning him. A crowd was sitting around him. They told him, “Look! Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.”
He answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
Then looking at the people sitting around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Over the past decade in the church, many have written manifestos, which are usually a clear counter opposition to some event or group of events that have happened. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola have clearly taken on the shallow state of the church in their book Jesus Manifesto. In doing so, the blogs lit up with responses. This whole episode is like a counter opposition to the counter opposition to the original opposition. Okay, that sentence causes my head to spin. Mark records that when the religious leaders of the day opposed Jesus, he pushed back. Mark’s story in this section is fascinating.
Over the years, I have found that pushing back on the system of the church often brings a response that demonstrates the deep hidden insecurity that is kept silent but often known by the congregants. When leaders think their authority, which they actually don’t have, is being threatened, they revolt. Two camps evolve: those that close their eyes and those whose eyes are open and feel a new freedom to speak to authority about its abuse.
Observing Mark’s Story
When you discover that you are being opposed, it seems natural to counter oppose. This, in fact, is what Jesus did. In the previous stories, Mark established that Jesus faced opposition. In the following stories, Jesus illustrates the art of counter opposition (3.7-19) and he discusses the unpardonable sin (3.20-35).
Interpreting Mark’s Story
Counter Opposition (Mark 3.7-19)
Life is full of decisions. We make them every day. We often say things like, “I’m not going to make a decision on that issue.” When, in fact, we just made a decision not to make a decision. A decision is the act of making up one’s mind. Most Jesus followers cop out of making decisions based on the following: If something good happens, it must be God’s will. If something bad happens, it must not be God’s will.
The present story brings us to the point of Jesus making a decision about how he was going to minister in light of the growing opposition of the religious parties of the day. While the religious leaders saw him as a threat to everything they held sacred, the nonreligious folks of the day flocked to see him.
I have been a part of working in churches in four different denominations. They all worked pretty much the same. If you toed the distinctive theological line, they left you alone. If, however, you spoke or wrote about something different than the status quo, you are seen as a threat and your demise is almost predetermined, unless of course, you are leading a large group of congregants. Those folks seem to have some leverage, so to speak. As an example, once in a group of meetings that I was teaching in Arkansas, I taught a Sunday school class before the main service where I was also going to speak. Someone asked me a question and I gave a fair answer. What I was unaware of was that the question being asked had a settled answer in that church. The person asking the question was perplexed that I did not give the selected prescribed answer. After the main service, the lead pastor approached me and told me that I had stepped over the theological bounds of that congregation and told me that what I had said was like taking a feather pillow and opening it up and flinging the feathers everywhere and once that was done, one could never gather them all up again and put the pillow back together. I felt like I was listening to Humpty Dumpty.
Humpty Dumpty (the supposed theological statement) had set on a wall, but I had given Humpty Dumpty a push and he fell-off the wall, and all the staff pastors and all the elder men would never be able to put Humpty together again. I smiled and said. That’s great, Humpty Dumpty needed to die! Needless, the lead pastor was unhappy with me. How did I know? His whole body twitched when I responded. He was not used to anyone standing against his beliefs and authority.
Developing Popularity (Mark 3.7-12)
Note the following. Jesus did not stop ministering just because the leaders of the day did not like what he was doing. He did not stop ministering the way he understood he should minister. He knew what his purpose was—he was the presence of the kingdom of God. Therefore, he did not let his popularity with the crowds dictate what he should or should not do. Because of his popularity with the crowds and the opposition of the religious leaders, he had a decision to make. His decision was to delegate authority and power to others to carry out the same ministry God had given him.
Delegation of the Twelve (Mark 2.13-19)
With crowds growing, Jesus withdrew and called those whom he had chosen. He appointed these twelve men first, to be with him. It is no different today. He wants his followers to be with him, to have fellowship with him. How can this occur? It really is simple. We are with him in the same way that we are with anyone else. Being with him is not some super-spiritual activity that we can work up into a frenzy. We fellowship with him by talking to him. Take him to a ballgame with you or fishing or to a party. Take him golfing. Have fun with Jesus. He is not some cosmic killjoy who only wants you to live a sullen life. He is one who loves to bring and give joy.
Next, Jesus sent the twelve out to proclaim the kingdom of God with words and works. It is important to note the inspired divine order that Mark gives us. First, they were with him. Then they were given a ministry to accomplish. We seem to like the order reversed. We love to go minister and think by doing such that we are being with Jesus. We need to reverse our wrongheaded order and dip into the divine order. It will change our life. If you want to be successful in the ministries that God has given you, you must order your life to his order.
Behind the Scenes: Who were the Twelve?
Jesus surely chose a variegated group of followers.
- Simon Peter: the impetuous one: Here are some words that might describe him—anxious, eager, impatient, passionate, abrupt, hasty, headlong, impulsive, reckless, and devoted.
- James and John: the sons of thunder, (hot heads if you please), a part of the inner circle of Jesus. Jesus rebuked them for wanting to call fire down from heaven on a Samaritan village because the village did not accept Jesus (Luke 9). They also caused envy among the other eleven disciples by desiring a place of honor, and even got their mother to make the request. James, died early by the hand of Herod Agrippa. John, was the last of the twelve disciples to die. He wrote 1, 2, 3 John, Gospel of John, and Revelation.
- Andrew (which means manly): the second fiddle player. He was known as Simon Peter’s brother. He was first a disciple of John the Baptist who pointed him toward Jesus. Then, Andrew pointed others to Jesus in the same way, first his brother and then, with Philip, those from outside the Jewish faith (John. 12). He was probably crucified in Greece.
- Philip (which means house-lover): the endorser. He suggested the way to feed the 5,000. He brought outsiders, with Andrew, to Jesus and he wanted to see the Father.
- Bartholomew: only mentioned here in the listing of the disciples. Some believe Bartholomew was Philip’s friend Nathaniel (the gift of God).
- Matthew: the tax collector, the IRS guy, and writer of the Gospel that bears his name.
- Thomas: the doubter (unfortunate press for him): he was the twin. He wanted to go with Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus and even to death if necessary (John 11).
- James the son of Alphaeus: the one younger or the smaller in stature one.
- Thaddaeus: the warm one. One wonders if he reflected his name-meaning in his life.
- Simon: the Zealot, which was a political party given to kill all who bowed their knee to Rome. He is the only one of the twelve whose position clearly illustrates the vivid difference between his former and new position. What revolution of thought could be more superior than one, which changed a fierce warrior of the day into a follower of Jesus? What must have taken place to keep him from killing Matthew, a hated tax collector who had committed treason against Jehovah because of his allegiance to Rome? Truly, Jesus does make people over into his image.
- Judas: who betrayed Jesus. He serves as an example of the uncommitted follower of Jesus who is in his company but does not share a real relationship.
Unpardonable Sin (Mark 3.20-35)
After Jesus chose the twelve, he returned to Capernaum to Peter’s house where he responded to the accusation about being out of his mind and being in league with Beelzebub.
There are two sets of people who respond to Jesus in this story: his family and the religious community. First, his family kept saying that he was a lunatic. This word lunatic means “to be out of one’s mind.” This is the first response from the family of Jesus that Mark reveals. How would you like to have your family call you a lunatic because they did not understand what you were doing?
Second, the religious community said that he was in league with the Devil. The word Beelzebub was the fly god of Ekron (2 Kings 1) and prince of demons.
Behind the Scenes. Demons
The Greeks thought of demons as spirits of the dead who were endowed with supernatural power. The Jews thought of angels and spirits rather than demons. Angels were understood to be messengers of God who, when they appeared on earth, appeared in human form (Dan. 10). In the OT, The Satan was simply one of these angels, who by divine permission could tempt Job (Job 1-2). Even spirits designated as evil spirits were merely emissaries of God when looked at through Old Testament eyes (Judges 9; 1 Sam. 16).
During the Second Temple Period (520 BC-AD 70), angelology (belief about angels) and pneumatology (belief about spirits) of the Jews flourished. Angels were conceived of as an army, which will take part in the final war against the wicked, as seen in the Testament of Levi 3.3 from the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Opposed to the good angels and spirits are the hostile (fallen) angels or evil spirits as seen in the New Testament Pseudepigrapha (1 Enoch 15.8-12; 16.1; Jubilees 12.20), under the leadership of one variously called Satan, Mastema, or Beliar (Jubilees 10.12; 10.7; 1.20; 1 Enoch 54.6).
I know! I know! All those books mentioned and passages cited above are not to be understood as Scripture, they do give us a window to see how the people of that time frame thought and possibly believed. If you are curious, you can google them and even read portions of them.
Here a quick overview:
What Can Demons Do?
They can harm us spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally (demon stories in Mark), and by deluding us doctrinally (1 Tim. 4; 1 John 4).
Where Are Demons?
Some are chained until judgment (Col. 2; 1 Pet. 3; 2 Pet. 2; Jude). Others are held until the end of time (Luke 8; Rev. 20). Yet others are loose and free to do all the damage they can (Eph. 6).
What Are Demons?
They are intelligent (Acts 16), spirits (Luke 10), wicked (Matt. 12), know their own end (Matt. 8; James 2), have supernatural strength (Luke 8; Acts 19), but must bow to Jesus’ name (Mark 5; Luke 8).
If you choose to read any of the passages above, you might want to read the whole chapter that they appear in to see how they are used in the overall context.
Answer of Jesus (Mark 3.23-30)
Jesus answered his accusers in parables. These are the first parables that Mark records for us. The first parable was about dividing the house of Satan (Mark 3) and the second was the binding of the strong man who is identified as Satan (Mark 2). Jesus told his listeners that no one could plunder a strongman’s house (drive out demons, heal the sick, etc.) until he had first bound the strong man. Jesus then speaks a judgment on them. He said that if you blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, you have committed an eternal sin. Then he interprets what he means by the saying when he said, because they were saying, “he had an evil spirit” (Mark 3). So, one has to be careful not to apply the demonic to the divine.
A New Family (3.31-35)
When Jesus’ mother and brother arrived (remember, they had come to take him away, saying that he was a lunatic), Jesus took the opportunity to teach about his new family. His real family were those who did the will of the Father, which in the context of Mark was to proclaim the words and do the works of the Father—be a conduit for the rule of God to influence the part of the world that we live in.
Living Into Mark’s Story
- We are called to be with Jesus, then we are called to work for him (Mark 2). How can a fellowship of Jesus followers keep this order straight? How can you personally keep it straight?
- How have you reacted to those who distress others with the concern that they may have blasphemed the Holy Spirit (Mark 3)?
- Read Mark 4
Easy to Understand
Tom Wright. Mark for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone [Paperback]
Winn Griffin. Gracelets: Being Conduits of the Extravagant Acts of God’s Grace [Paperback]
Ben Witherington III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.
William L. Lane. The Gospel according to Mark: The English Text With Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)