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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?
Text:Mark 3:20-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 29:1,2,3                                                                                

Ps 65:2,3                                                                                                        

Reading – Mark 3:7-35

Ps 109:1,2,12,13

Sermon – Mark 3:20-30

Hy 51:1,2,3

Hy 23:1,4,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ Jesus, there’s a critical question that we all need to face. It’s actually the most important question a person will ever answer: Who is Jesus? Consider why that’s so essential. Jesus is the Saviour that God has given to this world. Jesus is the person through whom we can be restored to peace with God. If we want to live, we need to know him!

Who is Jesus? That question was in the air during his ministry too. Think of what Jesus asked his disciples in Mark 8, “Who do men say that I am?” (v 27). And this is what they answered: Some say, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets” (v 28). And the disciples, what did they think? “Who do you say that I am?” (v 29). This is what Peter says, “You are the Christ” (v 29). He was right, of course. Jesus is the Christ, the One chosen by God to die in the place of sinners.

But that question remains, doesn’t it? Who is Jesus? Answering that is different than knowing lots about him. It’s different than getting full marks for identifying his parents and hometown, giving his various titles, and describing his work. No, what is a person’s heart response to Jesus? Do you believe in him? Do you trust that He has come to set you free from the power of the devil? Do you rest in his promises, and accept the claims that He makes?

The Christian writer C.S. Lewis once made a pointed comment about Jesus, and about the things He said and did. Lewis said that only one of three things can be true about Jesus Christ: “Either He was a liar, or He was a lunatic, or He was the Lord.” Maybe He was the greatest con artist, persuading everyone with tricks and fancy words—a liar. Or maybe this Jesus had spent too long in the sun, and He wasn’t able to think straight. Or maybe Jesus was telling the truth, and He was actually the Lord! Liar, lunatic, or Lord?

This was the question of his time on earth. “Who do you say that I am?” Our text is only a few chapters into Mark, but it’s likely that several months have already gone by since Day 1 of Jesus’ ministry, perhaps even up to a year. Which means that people have had time to form opinions about Jesus. And Jesus shows what an important matter this is. I preach to you God’s Word on this theme,

Everyone faces the critical question of who Jesus is:

  1. what some were saying
  2. what Jesus was doing
  3. what cannot be forgiven


1. what some were saying: The opening scene in our text is a massive crowd of people, “Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread” (v 20). Notice it says they came together again: this has been happening a lot lately. Look back to verse 7, “a great multitude from Galilee followed him.” But that’s not all: “and [a great multitude] from Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and beyond the Jordan” (vv 7-8). In addition, “those from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude” (v 8). It’s a picture of mass popularity, a wide recognition of Jesus’ goodness and power. It doesn’t mean that all these people know who Jesus really is, but there’s definitely an interest in his work.

This makes a striking contrast with what some are saying in our text. The multitude is coming together again, but not everyone shares the enthusiasm. The very ones who might have been expected to join in the excitement are stepping back, Jesus’ family, and the religious leaders.

First, those from his family: “When his own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind’” (v 21). Now, it’s not 100% clear who “his own people” are; the original says literally, “those from his side.” But that they are his family seems likely, because we see his brothers and his mother in the scene right after our text, and they are still calling to him, trying to draw Jesus to them (v 31).

Here they’re hoping to get Jesus away from the multitudes. They’re deeply concerned for him—they’ve even concluded that He’s gone mad, that it was time for him to be taken home, back to the peace and quiet of Nazareth.

In a way, you can understand his family’s point of view. To a normal person, what Jesus is doing is extraordinary, even alarming. Here He’s left the comforts of home, and probably a decent business in the carpenter’s shop, to become a homeless preacher, wandering the countryside. He’s thrown away security and safety, and look at this: He doesn’t even have opportunity to eat! He’s going to burn out soon.

Besides that, Jesus is getting tangled up with the religious leaders. He’s been arguing with them, embarrassing them, rebuking them. These are the people you want on your side! No sensible person goes up against the “powers that be,” because that’s sure to end in disaster. But Jesus doesn’t seem to care what they—or anyone—thinks of him.

For most people, like you and me, that’s what we spend so much time worrying about: What will people say? Will they approve? How will others view me? For most people, “The voice of their neighbours is louder than the voice of God.” But Jesus seeks only the approval of God. So He’s doing the work God has given him, even if that means taking risks and saying controversial things: forgiving sins, reinterpreting the law, embracing notorious sinners.

Yes, He’s gone crazy: He’s even started a little society of supporters. In the verses before, we read about the men in his entourage: some salty fisherman, a despised toll collector, a fiery nationalist. In general, these aren’t the sort of people you’d want to collaborate with, but Jesus is doing just that, even sending them out with his message and power.

Clearly, “He is out of his mind.” And his family isn’t thinking of that in terms of mental illness, like Jesus has become schizophrenic. In that time, people saw madness as directly related to being possessed by demons. They’ve concluded that Jesus is under the influence of the evil spirits! This is not a ministry from heaven, but from hell.

Jesus’ own family is missing the whole point. This doesn’t mean that none of them became believers—in fact, we know that some of them did later on. But at this stage of Jesus’ ministry, here’s a deeply discouraging reality for him: his family is not behind him.

Sadly, that’s still a real possibility, that Jesus can divide people, that his message can come between those even living in the same household. Such a separation is deeply painful. Yet Jesus said this once, that a man’s enemies might be from his own family (Matt 10:36), when some believe in Christ, and others don’t, and even oppose him. In the kingdom of God, earthly bonds are no guarantee of salvation. It applies to Jesus’ family, as much as to our families: the kingdom is made up of those who are committed to Christ with their whole heart.

We hear it in the verses after our text too, where there’s a contrast between family in flesh, and family in faith. The doubt-filled brothers of Jesus are contrasted with those who actually follow Jesus: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (v 35). For the Jews who valued family above almost everything else, this is a startling truth: more important than blood ties, more important than earthly bonds, is your loyalty to God, your faith in Christ. That is what joins you inseparably to other believers!

There’s another perspective on Jesus in verse 22. Once again we see “scribes,” the seminary professors and leaders of the church. Again they’ve come down from Jerusalem, probably to collect evidence against Jesus. They’ve heard all about the healings, the arguments, and especially the casting out of demons. And this is their judgment: “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons” (v 22).

This is a big moment, because it comes as the official reaction to Jesus. It’s an authoritative statement on his ministry. Before, their disputes with Jesus were about specific things He said, or things He did, and how they took issue with it. But this statement is deeper: it’s about Jesus’ identity, his character. They’re past arguing the finer points with him; now they’re trying to discredit who He is. “He has Beelzebub.” We sometimes see political candidates doing the same thing today, saying just about anything to destroy the reputation of their opponent.  

What is this word “Beelzebub”? We come across it in 2 Kings 1, where Beelzebub is the name of a Philistine god. There it means something like “Lord of the House.” The Israelites twisted that name by changing one letter of it, so that the god’s name became “Lord of the Flies” or “Lord of the Dung Pile.” Over time, that mocking name “Beelzebub” became another name for Satan, the grand old enemy of God the LORD.

The scribes don’t question that Jesus has power to cast out demons—that was impossible to deny, as He’s been doing it since chapter 1. What the scribes do say is that this power comes from the king of demons. The supernatural ability of Jesus is from Beelzebub, from Satan himself! It’s a damning judgment of the work of Jesus. All this good that He’s accomplished, all the healing and liberation that He’s brought, has actually been through the powers of darkness. It’s a desperate attempt to ruin Jesus’ reputation, to drive the multitudes away. But the accusation itself comes from the pits of hell.


2. what Jesus was doing: It’s a desperate accusation. Jesus knows it of course, and He wants everyone else to know it too. “So He called them to himself and said to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan?” (v 23). This was Exorcism 101: in order to cast out a demon, you have to rely on a greater power. But if Jesus has the spirit of Beelzebub, like they say, then that means He’s using the devil’s power to defeat the devil!

It’s absurd, for the results of Jesus’ ministry are exactly the opposite of what the devil is trying to achieve. In this world, the devil wants to produce all manner of suffering, captivity, madness, and falsehood. That’s his speciality. Satan doesn’t want to alleviate hardship, or scale back oppression, but that’s what Jesus has been doing.

To illustrate this, Jesus tells two parables. These aren’t parables like we usually think of, those interesting stories that teach a lesson. But these parables are simple comparisons: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (vv 24-25). You can have a country, but if there’s always civil war, that country is soon going to fall. Same for a household: If the children are always rebelling against Dad and Mom, and the parents are forever yelling at each other, that family unit is doomed, and it’s going to crumble.

The same holds for Jesus allegedly using the devil’s power to cast out demons: “If Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end” (v 26). You just wouldn’t see that, the devil using his power against himself. Satan might not be all-knowing like God is, but that doesn’t mean he’s stupid. These demons have been cast out by another power.            This is what Jesus has been doing. So this accusation gives him a good chance to explain what is his purpose on earth. Why did Jesus come? You can see his purpose already in chapter 1, when Jesus casts out that first unclean spirit in the synagogue. Then that terrified demon cried out: “Did you come to destroy us?” (1:24). And the demon was right—that is why Jesus came. Now Jesus says a bit more: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house” (v 27).

This is another comparison meant to teach a truth. Jesus imagines a situation where a person wants to break into someone else’s house and steal his things. There, on the other side of the wall, is the treasure you want, maybe a chest full of gold coins. In the days before security cameras and guard dogs, all you have to do is climb in through the window and enter the house. The only real obstacle is the owner himself: in order to take his gold, you have to get him out of the way. He needs to be tied up, or removed from the house. And that’s a problem if he’s a lot bigger than you are!

The devil is strong. Let no one ever misjudge him: the devil is strong, he is smart, he is determined. We see his cruel power every day, in our lives, and in the lives of people around us. We’re up against a cage-fighter who has lots of stamina, and great technique. The only way to defeat him is to take his power away. So Jesus has been tackling the strong man, binding him, and getting him under control.

This has been happening throughout the Gospel of Mark. Remember when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and how Jesus overcame him. The devil had to leave him, defeated—that was Round 1. Round 2 in the battle are these exorcisms, when Jesus continues to cast out of unclean spirits. One demon at a time, and sometimes whole packs at a time, Jesus shows that the strong man isn’t so invincible after all.

The critical moment will come at the very end, of course, when Satan schemes to have Jesus betrayed and crucified and killed. With salvation on the line, who will be stronger? Will Jesus—as weak as any man, yet able to command the power of heaven—will He be able to resist the temptation, stay on the cross, and cast out the prince of the world?

That comes later. But already here in Mark 3, Jesus is tying up the strong man. Already now, Jesus is starting to rob him. For too long, Satan has held people in his grip. For too long, he’s been captivating them, enslaving them, ruining us with lust and pride and greed and drunkenness and idolatry. If Satan has a house, it’s full of the souls of men: countless lives, under his control, lost to the power of sin. But Jesus has come to set the captives free. He is plundering the devil, taking away all those people he thought would have to join him in hell, and Christ is restoring them to life.

So you can see how wrong the scribes have been! The casting out of the demons doesn’t show that Jesus is somehow possessed, or in league with the devil. Rather the opposite. It shows that Satan’s defenses are already crumbling. The conquest has begun—the strong man is already wobbling on his feet, and Jesus is the one about to crush him! The devil’s kingdom is breaking down as we speak, and a glorious new kingdom is rising up.

Beloved, you can see how this fact underlines that critical question: Who is Jesus? If the whole nature of our life is a struggle between good and evil, if all the raging in this world is really the kingdom of Satan versus the kingdom the God, then what Jesus needs from us is a clear answer. Is He the one who can set you free from the devil’s power? Do you trust in Christ to save you? Only by his grace can we answer rightly. Only by his grace can we resist the devil.

There is a strong man in this world, and he is deadly. He will lie to us, and tempt us, and try to have us. To survive, you need to stand with someone stronger. You need to fall in behind Christ, and stay there. To live, you need to listen to what Jesus says, and believe in what Jesus has done.


3. what cannot be forgiven: A line has been crossed. The scribes’ occasional criticism of Jesus has become categorical—Jesus is in league with Satan! On the question of his identity, they reject him. And in response, Jesus is direct: “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (vv 28-29).

Let’s first hear how solemn this declaration is. It begins literally with an “Amen,” that word that is translated “assuredly.” Jesus says this is something of utmost importance. No wonder, because see what’s at stake: the forgiveness of sins! If you’re on the wrong side of this question, you’ll be subject to God’s everlasting wrath. All sins that you commit—and even all blasphemies—will be forgiven you if you repent and believe. But not this.

So what cannot be forgiven? The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Remember that the Holy Spirit has been at work in Jesus’ ministry from the very beginning, when He was baptized, and then when He began preaching. Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit means that He is God’s anointed One, for by the Spirit God is equipping for great works. The Spirit is the divine stamp of approval on Jesus’ ministry, the evidence that He is the Christ.

But these men looked at God-in-the-flesh, and they called him Satan-in-the flesh. In order to destroy Jesus’ influence, they deny the goodness of his words and deeds, and attribute it to the devil. Even though Jesus was clearly reversing the power of evil, and though it was obvious He couldn’t be doing so without God’s help, the scribes call it demonic. It’s kind of like a person today who starts accepting conspiracy theories, like that the U.S. government was behind the events of 9/11. You become so focused on your idea, that all the evidence you see simply confirms your belief. Everything is twisted against the truth, and you become blind to it.

The scribes refuse to see that Jesus is working through the power of God’s Spirit. And because they refuse to accept that, they cannot accept Jesus, the mediator appointed by God. And without Jesus, for such a deliberate rejection of him, there is no forgiveness.

Now, Jesus says these words in a specific situation, a time when He was opposed with great hostility. But it holds true today. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is something that can still be committed, and something that will still not be forgiven. It is to consciously and deliberately reject the work of Jesus, to say that it was not the work of the Holy Spirit in him, but the work of the devil. You see, it’s still that critical question of who Jesus is: Is He the Saviour? Or is He just another man, a liar, a lunatic? If a person who needs the saving work of Jesus refuses to recognize him, then he cuts himself off from forgiveness and he rejects God’s free gift.

Talking about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can make people nervous, and even cause them to doubt their salvation. “What if I’ve committed this sin? What if I don’t believe strongly enough, and I struggle with some things written in Scripture?” So we should understand it properly. This sin is a wilful opposition to God, and an unbroken rejection of his Word. It’s when a person has been told about Christ, and they have made up their mind not to listen to what the Holy Spirit says about him.

That’s not a one-time decision, or a sin that’s committed today and never again. It develops, and then it becomes a pattern. If you live in the dark long enough, you lose the ability to see. If you stay in bed long enough, you lose the ability to walk. And if a person refuses the testimony of God’s Spirit often enough, he becomes unable to recognize its truth. Isn’t that what happened to the scribes? They kept questioning, kept criticizing, kept opposing Jesus—until the terrible event in our text, when they are unable to accept that He is the Saviour. Their hatred will continue to grow, until Christ is hanging on the cross.

For today, it’s been said that if you worry you’ve committed this sin against the Holy Spirit, then that’s a good indication that you haven’t! If you are sensitive to how the Word of God admonishes you, and if it’s your desire to put sin away from you, and if you desire to walk with Christ, you may thank God that his Spirit is at work within you. For anyone who is repentant—no matter how shameful his or her sins may be, no matter what he has said or thought against the Lord—for anyone who repents, there’s great hope. Freely God forgives those who will seek his grace in Jesus Christ.

But let us be warned against knowing all about Christ in his Word, and still rejecting him. Let us be warned against the dangerous blindness caused by sin, the idea that we can stand with Christ and still lead an unholy life.

And once more, let us hear that essential question of Jesus’ ministry, of Mark’s Gospel, and of all Scripture. It’s the acid test: Who is Jesus? What did He come to do, and did He do this work for you? If you want to live, you need to know him! And remember what knowing him looks like. As Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother.” Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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