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Crowds, family, demons and the Holy Spirit

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Genesis 3:8-15 & Mark 3:20-35
SMAS 10.30am
(10-6-12)

It feels rather like I’ve drawn the short straw two week’s running. Last week having to speak on the Trinity and this week’s Bible passage which is well known to be notoriously difficult. After setting it in context I’m going to take us through it a bit at a time. The set readings for the next seven Sundays are all from Mark’s Gospel. They will show us Mark’s picture of Jesus and also what it means to become a follower of Jesus.

Mark’s is the earliest and shortest Gospel, written in a fast moving style. The word ‘immediately’ is used to hurry us along from one scene to another. There are more miracles than parables and Jesus’ authority is shown in His power over demons, disease, death and natural forces. He doesn’t use His divine authority to "lord it over" people but to serve them. He allows free expression of faith to inviting Him to come into our lives. People are ‘amazed’ by what they see. Jesus attracts large crowds, which clearly show those who are ‘insiders’ and those who are ‘outsiders’.

By today’s reading Jesus has already called his disciples and begun public ministry with a successful preaching tour. He's proclaimed the Kingdom of God is coming and shown what it will look like by driving out demons and healing all kinds of people. His popularity makes it hard for him to enter towns and find time and space to eat. He’s also experienced opposition from the Scribes and Pharisees, which has hardened to the point that they’ve begun to conspire to destroy him.

As if this wasn’t enough Jesus also has to cope with apparent disbelief from his own family (v20-21). Jesus grew up as a normal boy, His brothers just thought of him as a brother and were probably surprised when he began preaching and perhaps especially so when He began casting out demons. Hearing reports that He’s gone out of his mind, they go intending to restrain Him, probably without having had the opportunity to assess the situation for themselves. On arrival there’s such a crowd they can’t get in to see Him. Just as well for had Jesus been taken off be cared by family it would have confirmed the incorrect suspicion that He was out of His mind!

If what the family hear causes them concern it’s as nothing compared to the religious authorities (v22-27). He doesn’t fit any of their categories about what’s normal/God-ordained. He ignores the Sabbath and heals whenever and wherever there’s need. He casts out demons and welcomes everyone, tax-collectors, sinners and those who’ve not fasted properly, all those normally excluded by certain religious restrictions.

The religious Jews related to God by obeying the law and performing rituals. In some ways their obsession with legalistic structures seems to be their way of ‘controlling’ God. Jesus doesn't conform to their structures and declares that the law isn't about regulating our relationship with God but was, instead, given by God to help us get more out of life.

Jesus finds it more lawful to meet human need than let suffering go on unnecessarily. He understood the heart of God's Law and points to the merciful and gracious God who is always doing a new thing. Most certainly not a God who can be controlled or tidied up in anyway.

Consequently they religious leaders label Him crazy, worse even, demon possessed. Saying He’s only able to perform healing miracles and cast out demons because he's got a demon, the chief demon in fact. Seeking to discredit him in the crowd’s eyes they say Jesus is working by Satan's power not God's. Jesus explains that for Satan to oppose himself would be self-destructive and mark the beginning of his own end. H e had been able to cleanse a man of his unclean spirit by overpowering Satan.

We have an advantage from their accusing Him of being Satan. If, as some people allege, the Bible was made-up by man instead of being God’s Word then a passage asserting that Jesus was in league with the devil would not have been included. We can therefore rest assured that this piece of writing is solid and true.

This in turn makes the next part of the reading (28-30) difficult for some. It’s caused many a Christian anxiety, the idea that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit means we can never be forgiven and have eternal life.

Before Jesus pronounces this heavy judgement He first of all speaks of the possibility of grace. The Jewish law said, "One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death". But Jesus says: ‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter’. He is not promising that all blasphemers will be forgiven, but instead keeps the door open to the possibility of forgiveness for penitent blasphemers. Let me assure you that if it worries you then you’re definitely not one of the unforgiven!

The religious leaders had seen the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus, healing and casting-out demons. It wasn’t just that they doubted or disbelieved but that they saw great works of goodness and attributed them to the devil. Furthermore, Jesus makes it plain, those who repent will be forgiven but these people had got beyond the point where they would ever think they needed forgiveness let alone ask for it.
They declared God's work evil, no longer recognizing or valuing what is good, no longer striving for it. Having decided Christ is satanic, they’re not open to receiving His help and cannot be candidates for the salvation He offers.

In v31-34 you might think Jesus sounds disrespectful, as if He is disowning his family, but that’s not the case. Jesus doesn’t ask this question to exclude his mother and brothers, but instead to set the stage for expanding the idea of family to include all those who do the will of God.

St Paul said, " those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." St John said ‘to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’

If we are sons and daughters of God, then we’re brothers and sisters! The Spirit of God unites us as family in a bond of love able to withstand the storms of life and last through eternity. It transcends boundaries of age, race, nationality and gender. It encompasses folk from every station and walk of life.

Jesus wasn’t saying, "Those outside are not my mother and brothers" but was pointing to a spiritual, rather than a physical, family relationship as the basis for life in the kingdom of God. I echo that - everywhere I’ve lived and worked I’ve always been part of a church family.

Jesus' statement moves the value of human relationships beyond the physical to the spiritual. He wasn’t denying the claim of His family on His life, but He was setting a boundary around their authority over him. Family tensions like this happen all the time. A child chooses to vote for a different political party to their parents or a different line of work instead of joining the family business. Important as physical relationships are, they’re not as important as spiritual relationships.

Jesus doesn’t suggest believers ignore or abandon their families, only that they put God’s will above everything else in life. He teaches that His family are those that do the will of God.

Mark's Gospel has no birth/infancy narrative. The writer doesn’t emphasize the family of Jesus and implies no knowledge of any traditions about Jesus’ family. But, in that culture, family was what determined who you are. We must remember that Jesus was Son of God AND son of Mary. BUT His relationship to God came first and foremost, and so must ours.

The first sin in the Garden of Eden brought about a breaking down of relationships, between people, and God. Jesus aims to restore those relationships. In this new and improved way of experiencing family, it doesn't matter who your mother or father is, or what you've done in the past.

How does one enter the family of God? By means of a new birth, a spiritual birth from above. When the sinner trusts Jesus as Saviour, he experiences this new birth and can call God “Father”. This spiritual birth is not something we accomplish for ourselves, nor can others do it for us. It is God’s work of grace; all we can do is believe and receive. Amen.

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