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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Lord Jesus misunderstood by family and foe alike
Text:Mark 3:20-27 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 113
Psalm 51:1-3
Psalm 55:1-3
Hymn 51:1
Psalm 61:5-6 (after the offertory)
Hymn 6

Reading: Isaiah 49:22-26
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus,

In the Athanasian Creed, we confess that a right knowledge of Jesus Christ is essential for salvation. Getting his identity right is a matter of eternal life and death. “This is the catholic faith. Unless a man believes it faithfully and steadfastly, he cannot be saved.” With the creed, we confess that part of the catholic faith is that he is the one Christ, the Son of God, equally both God and man. It is crucially important to know and believe the right understanding of who our Saviour is.

The identity of Jesus Christ is one of the fundamental questions addressed by the gospel according to Mark. That’s why the book begins with the title, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” No other gospel begins with such an assertion of who Jesus is. Mark insists that he is the Christ, the Son of God and as the gospel unfolds, we see further that he is the suffering Son of God who can only be understood in terms of this suffering. Ironically, his descent into suffering includes the chronic misunderstandings of his true identity.

Today we come to a passage in Mark that centers around this theme of misunderstanding. Two groups of people fail to grasp who he is and what he has come to do. We’ll see that that the Lord Jesus was misunderstood by family and foe alike. And we’ll also see the challenging message that this passage presents to us today.

The scene before us is still in Capernaum. Jesus entered into a house, probably his own house in that city and soon enough a crowd gathered around him once again. It was nearly impossible for him to get away from the crowds and it appears that most of the time he wanted to be with the crowds. That’s where ministry takes place – with people. The problem was that there were so many people and they stayed for so long that it was impossible to even eat. It was impossible to prepare any food in the house and it was also impossible to get out and buy some food.

With verse 21, Jesus’ family hears about this situation. They left Nazareth and traveled to Capernaum. They wanted to “take charge of him.” They believed that he’d gone insane and so they were going to take him into a sort of protective custody. Now we should ask the question, “Why?” Why did they think that he was out of his mind? The text doesn’t directly tell us, so we’re left to work it out from the broader context of Scripture. John 7:5 gives us some help here. We read there that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him, at least not before his ascension -- Acts 1:14 tells us that they later did believe. But at this point, his brothers, James, Joses, Judas and Simon did not believe in him. They didn’t believe that he was the Christ, the Son of God. Instead, they thought he was insane. He was crazy for allowing the crowds to box him in to such an extent that he and his disciples could no longer even eat. To them, this may have appeared as a sort of ego trip. Jesus was destroying himself for the sake of his ego.

Imagine being so misunderstood by those closest to you! The brothers he grew up with had no idea what he was really about. They didn’t recognize him as the Son of God. Loved ones, this is part of his shame and suffering, his descent into humiliation. He endured the pain and frustration of being misunderstood for you. What you’re witnessing here in this passage is part of your redemption, his work for you. Here he is, your Saviour: the one whose family thought he was out of his mind.

As we see Jesus here, we may remember that first of all we have union with him. We are united to him by faith and that means we will share in his sufferings in this life to a certain degree. But we also need to remember that he is a sympathetic high priest for us. He endured suffering and the frustrations of life, including being misunderstood by those closest to him. He knows and understands. Brothers and sisters, when you’re faced with frustration at being misunderstood, despite your best intentions, know that you have a sympathetic Saviour in Jesus Christ. You can bring your frustrations to him and he understands and he will give you strength to get through it. Through faith (your lifeline to Christ) and through his Spirit and Word (the instruments Christ uses to help us), he will bring you through these difficulties.

Verses 31-35 describe in more detail the relationship between Christ and his family. At the end of verse 21, his family is on their way to take charge of him. They don’t arrive until verse 31. In the meantime, a different group of people appear on the scene: the teachers of the law.

We’ve met them before in Mark’s gospel. They’ve come down from Jerusalem and they’ve been shadowing Jesus for some time now, like some kind of rabbinical paparazzi. They’ve watched what he’s been doing and what he’s been teaching. They’ve asked a few snarky questions and have tried to turn Jesus’ disciples against him. The conflict between Christ and these Jewish leaders is slowly intensifying.

Before we look closely at exactly what they said, let’s note a couple of things. First of all, what drives these men? What’s in their hearts? Of course, no one but God can look into hearts and examine and rightly identify all the motives. In this case, God has done that and he has given us an answer. Matthew 27:18 tells us that the Jewish leaders wanted to destroy Jesus because of envy. They were out to get him because he drew the people away from them and their teaching. Their concern was not the truth of the Word of God, but rather their own personal prestige and power. With somebody like John the Baptist, it was entirely different. In John 3:30, we hear him saying, “He must become greater; I must become less.” John understood the nature of the kingdom of heaven; the teachers of the law did not. Why not? Because their eyes were blinded to the Word of God.

A second thing we need to consider is that the Jewish leaders were sinning against their better knowledge. In John 3, Nicodemus came to the Lord Jesus by night. You’ll remember that he was a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin. The first thing he said to Jesus was, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Those Jewish leaders knew that the Lord Jesus was a servant of God. Though they might not admit it openly, they knew that he was on God’s side. That made their sin of envy that much more wicked and heinous. Sinning in ignorance is one thing, but when you know better, you’re that much more to blame. James 4:17 says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” And the Lord Jesus said in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

That brings us to consider what it was that they said. They had probably heard what Jesus’ family and others were saying about his mental health. They would have been only too happy to hear this about their archenemy. They piggy-backed on those derogatory comments with their own insults. They threw two accusations his way: first, that he was possessed by Beelzebul. The exact meaning of Beelzebul isn’t clear; it could mean “Lord of the flies,” “Lord of the house,” or “Lord of the dung pile.” Whatever it’s meaning, it was an insulting way to speak about Satan. The Jewish leaders wanted to express their utter revulsion for Satan and everything he stands for and they did this by calling him Beelzebul.

The second accusation was that Jesus casts out demons by the prince of demons. This reference to exorcism seems to come out of the blue in Mark, but in the parallel passages of Luke and Matthew, we discover that immediately before this the Lord Jesus had cast a demon out of a deaf and mute man and healed him. With this accusation, the teachers of the law were saying that Jesus and Satan were in fact allies. Satan gave him the power to do these mighty miracles. Jesus actively looked to Satan for that power -- so they said.

The first accusation, that Christ was possessed by Satan, is answered in verses 28-30. It’s the second accusation that gets the focus in verses 23 to 27. “By the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Jesus is a co-worker of Satan, they said.

Verse 23 says that Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables. He directly confronts those who were saying these malicious things about him. Now this is the first time that that we find Christ speaking in parables in Mark. We have to consider the purpose of parables and why Christ begins using them at this time. There’s a shift here and that shift tracks with the development of the conflict between Christ and the Jewish leaders. As the conflict intensifies, he moves from responding directly to responding with parables.

Some see this shift to parables as a way that Jesus is trying to persuade the Jewish leaders of his identity. They say the parables are there to make things easier for the Scribes and Pharisees. However, that directly conflicts with what we read in Mark 4 and Matthew 13 about the purpose of parables. According to Christ, parables were primarily given to further harden the hearts of unbelievers. So, here in Mark 3, when Christ speaks in parables, this purpose needs to be kept in mind. It’s a purpose that fits with the preaching of Christ in general, both now and then. To some it is the aroma of life and to others it is the aroma of death. The question that comes to Christ’s hearers then and now is: which is it going to be for us? Christ calls us to hear the Word in faith and believe it.

He asks, “How can Satan drive out Satan?” This initial question highlights the problem with the thinking of the teachers of the law. Because of the hardness of their hearts towards Jesus, they can’t grasp a basic common sense idea: Satan is not going to work against himself. Did you notice that the Lord Jesus changed the wording here a bit? The teachers of the law were speaking about the driving out of demons, but Jesus speaks about the driving out of Satan. For his intents and purposes, the demons (plural) are a manifestation or representative of Satan (singular). ‘Satan’ simply means ‘enemy.’ And so the demons are part of the army under Satan’s control. They are collectively the enemy. And the enemy is not going to work against himself if he can help it.

The Lord Jesus continues this line of reasoning by speaking about a kingdom and a house. If those are divided against themselves, common sense and logic tell us that they cannot stand. There’s nothing difficult here. Organizations, persons, and things need to have a unified purpose and work towards a common goal if they are to continue to exist. When they’re divided, they’re not going to stand for very long.

The reasoning here is so simple that even a child can understand it. Imagine a soccer team. The goalkeeper brought along his Game Boy and is playing something or other. The defense have decided to try and score on their own net. The midfielders are tired and are taking a nap. And the forwards decided to go out for pizza. That’s not a soccer team, that’s chaos. It would be insane. Why even bother playing? No one is working towards the same goal.

Verse 26 has some different language but the basic thought is exactly the same. If Satan rises up against himself, if there’s civil war and rebellion in the satanic army and it’s divided, then it’s not possible for Satan to stand. Instead, Christ says, his end has come. It would be decisively over for him.

There is a deep and heavy irony in those words. Because Satan does have an end. He is rising up against Jesus at this moment in Mark. He’s been trying to destroy him since his birth and even before that. After this event, he’s going to continue to try and destroy him. He doesn’t think that he’s rising up against himself by rising against Jesus, but that’s really what’s happening. In trying to destroy Jesus, he’s going to ensure that his end has come. Satan is done for and there’s nothing he can do about it. Nevertheless, Satan wouldn’t self-consciously oppose himself and that’s the point that the Lord Jesus is driving home here to the Jewish leaders.

Finally, Christ paints a picture of a home invasion. Those sorts of things happened in ancient times just like they happen today. When you break into a house and people are home, you have to do something about the people, otherwise you won’t get the goods. In some instances, you can just make a threat and the people will let you do your dirty business. But what if you bust into a house where the owner is six foot four and full of muscles? Then you’d better be ready to subdue him somehow and tie him up. Once that’s done, then you’ll have free reign to rob and steal as you please.

What’s the point here? Well, Satan is the strong man and he’s been tied up. Christ is robbing him blind through his exorcisms and everything else good that he’s been doing, including his preaching and teaching. He’s plundering and taking away everything he has. Satan wouldn’t cooperate with that sort of thing – that’s why he had to be tied up! A normal home owner wouldn’t cooperate with somebody who violently invaded his house.

This image of someone taking plunder from a strong man’s house seems to come from Isaiah 49. Isaiah prophesied that indeed, God would take back what belongs to him. Seen in that light, the picture in Mark 3 is not really the picture of a criminal act, but a rescue mission. Much like Abraham going out to rescue Lot and his family from Kedorlaomer and his allies in Genesis 14. The strong man has what doesn’t really belong to him and the one breaking in is justified in doing this. The Lord Jesus is bringing freedom to the captives!

At the same time, these words remind us not to underestimate the power of Satan. He is a strong man. In 1 Peter 5:8 we’re told that “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We live in a world which often minimizes or denies the existence of the devil and his forces. However, the Bible insists that we have a fierce and powerful enemy who is very real. Satan will take advantage of anything and everything to take us down if he can. He wants to devour us, literally to drink us up. Beloved, though we hate him, we must recognize his power. But at the same time, Christ is revealed to us here as One who is stronger, much stronger! The battle is not between equals. Christ has the power to subdue this strong man and tie him up. When faced with the attacks of the devil and his forces, we need to look in faith to Christ, just as the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent in the wilderness. Christ has conquered and he will conquer! The strong man is not only tied up, not only limited in what he can do, but he will be thrown into the lake of fire at the end of the age. Jesus Christ will throw him in there!

Brothers and sisters, through this text our God wants us to be clear about who Christ is. He is the Son of God who suffered for us. He was misunderstood by his earthly family and by his foes. His enemies painted him as one in league with Satan himself. These accusations propelled him yet further along the trajectory of suffering for you. These misunderstandings pushed him towards the cross where Satan would meet his end, where the serpent’s head would be crushed and we would be saved.

You know, it’s easy to read this text and look down our noses at the teachers of the law and Jesus’ family. But when we consider why all this happened, we should become more cautious and humble. After all, it was your sin and my sin that brought Jesus this humiliation. It was our sin that put him on the cross. It was all the times we have misunderstood who Jesus is and what he’s about, all the times we have misunderstood, both ignorantly and deliberately, how faith in him should mold and shape our lives. Let’s not deceive ourselves: this text exposes our own shortcomings. Oh, perhaps we would never say that Jesus is crazy, or that he is possessed by Beelzebub, or that he did his miracles by the power of the devil. But we have our own misunderstandings and distortions, all of us. Thankfully, we have a Saviour who gave himself for our sins. Through his blood, suffering and obedience we are forgiven for our misunderstandings. As part of his saving work, he is also our chief prophet and teacher. He corrects our misunderstandings with his Word. As we read his Word, as we hear it preached, as we study it, the Holy Spirit corrects what is faulty or lacking in our understanding. He guides us into all the truth about who Christ really is and the riches that we have in him.

Since Christ works through his Spirit and Word, it’s important that we regularly study his Word. We can and should read and study the Bible on our own, but there is an added benefit to studying God’s Word together – we can benefit from the insights and wisdom of others in the body of Christ. We need one another.

Loved ones, nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important in this world than knowing Jesus Christ and knowing him rightly. We need to understand who he is from his Word and through his Spirit. Let’s now pray for God’s help in that:

Lord God in heaven,

We thank you for the revelation of Jesus Christ in your Word. Help us to know him rightly and to understand who he is and what he is about. Help us to believe in him each and every day. We pray that you would guide us by your Spirit and Word into all the truth you would have us know. Please correct our misunderstandings, fill in the gaps, and teach us. Illumine our hearts and minds and help our unbelief. Protect us also, we pray, from the devil and his forces. Teach us with your Word to resist him and to stand firm in our faith. We eagerly pray for the great day of our Lord Jesus to come quickly when Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire. We pray in Christ our Saviour, AMEN.

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

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