Pastor David B. Curtis


The Unforgivable Sin

Mark 3:20-35

Delivered 02/19/2006

Several times in my pastoral experience, people have come to me in fear that they had committed the unpardonable sin. Due to particularly grievous sins in their lives or fears about their spiritual condition, they have seriously questioned whether or not God could ever forgive them of their sins. Some that had gone through the agony and guilt of divorce were left thinking they had committed the unpardonable sin. Others that were angry with God and expressed that anger in different ways feared they could never be forgiven. Some that had irrational ideas pounded into their psyches were left thinking they had done something that was unforgivable in God's eyes. All these ideas come from our text this morning where Jesus says:

Mark 3:29 (NASB) but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"--

This morning we are going to deal with the question: Is there an unforgivable sin? If so, who can commit it? Could a believer? What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? These are practical question for those of us who take the Word of God seriously.

In our text for this morning, Jesus will not only encounter trouble in His family, but He will also redefine for us the notion of family. He will show that there is a stronger bond than that of flesh and blood.

Let me give you an overview of this text before we look at its parts. Verses 20-21 and 31-35 provide the frame; verses 20-21 set the scene and tell of the arrival of Jesus' mother and brothers who intend to bring Him home, because they think He is insane. Verses 31-35 describe Jesus' response upon being told that His family are seeking Him: He says that His authentic family are those who do the will of God. This frame about his own biographical family's judgment of His behavior as insane encloses the longer central panel narrating Jesus' response to the Jerusalem scribes who have claimed He is demonically possessed. Together the frame and the central panel portray vividly a critical juncture in the career of Jesus: Representatives of the religious establishment publicly assert that Jesus is the tool of Satan and His own biological family believe He is insane. In response, Jesus must and does claim his own identity and allegiance to His new family.

Mark 3:20-21 (NASB) And He came^ home, and the multitude gathered^ again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. 21 And when His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, "He has lost His senses."

"He came home" - The house is most likely that of Peter in Capernaum. Jesus goes back home and the crowds start coming in again. Here is the multitude mentioned back in verse 7-8 who came out of every quarter of ancient Palestine. They had partially dispersed, but now that Jesus was at a specific house, the crowd gathered around again. He gave Himself so totally to this ministry to these crowds that He had no time even to eat.

"His own people" - There are arguments about whether this meant family or friends; the Greek word goes either way. The word translated "people" really means: "relatives" - literally, "those from beside Him." We learn from the latter part of the chapter that it is actually His mother and His brothers.

"Heard of this" - They are hearing what Jesus is saying. He's in conflict with the scribes and the Pharisees and they're saying that this whole thing has gotten out of control, and they think Jesus has lost it!

"They went out to take custody of Him" - The word used here for "custody" is a word that is typically translated: "to arrest" Him. It does mean that, if necessary, they will take Him physically by force, and they'll carry Him back home. This was an intervention, because in their minds, He's lost it.

"He has lost His senses" - this is a mild translation. In the Greek it means: "to be bewitched, or amazed to the point of being irrational, besides self, incapable of caring for self." We could translate it, "He has lost His mind; He has gone crazy; He's had a breakdown; He's not right anymore." It is contrasted in 2 Corinthians 5:13 with a sound mind, so this would mean to be unsound mentally.

So the earthly family of Christ concluded that He was not of a sound mind, that he was not able to care for Himself. He wasn't even following the traditions of the elders. He had become a fanatic. He was suffering from delusions of grandeur. So, the only thing left to do was to go and bring Him back home, where He would be out of the public eye and try to get Him some help.

So His family thinks He is mentally unsound, the next section tells us that the religious leaders thought He was of Satan.

Let's look at what was most likely going on behind the scene. In Jerusalem the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of Israel, has convened. This august body of the 70 leading elders of Israel has assembled to discuss the key issues facing their nation. Caiaphas, the high priest and president of the Sanhedrin, asks the scribe, "What is the next order of business?" It concerns a young Galilean carpenter who has left His workshop and begun a ministry of preaching, teaching, casting out demons and healing. "He is reported to have the complete sanction of John the Baptist. He has gathered several disciples together. The leader of the synagogue at Nazareth says that He disrupted a recent service by His teachings. We have a complaint against this man from the Galilean Pharisees- they report that He is violating our Sabbath laws."

"Who is this man?" asks Caiaphas. "His name is Jesus." Upon hearing the name, one of the more distinguished members of the Sanhedrin raises his head with a start. He closes his eyes and remembers a moonlight meeting, but no one notices that the mind of Nicodemus is wandering to a midnight conversation and a troubling dialogue.

"What is to be done about this man?" "I move that a delegation be sent to observe Him and determine if there is any warrant to these charges." "So ordered."

Mark 3:22 (NASB) And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons."

Mark omits the incident of Jesus casting out a demon, recorded by Matthew and Luke, which seems to be the reason why the scribes responded the way they did.

Luke 11:14-15 (NASB) And He was casting out a demon, and it was dumb; and it came about that when the demon had gone out, the dumb man spoke; and the multitudes marveled. 15 But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons."

The "some" of Luke 11:15 is the scribes of Mark 3:22. The multitudes were marveling at the works of Jesus, so the religious leaders had to respond to this. So they said:

Mark 3:22 (NASB) And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebul," and "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons."

The religious officials in Jerusalem had sent a delegation to Galilee to keep tabs on Jesus. This Jerusalem delegation was made up of scribes. These were the intellectuals of the day. It was their duty to make copies of the Scriptures. They knew the word of God inside and out. They could tell you how many Hebrew letters there were on any given page of the Bible.

They have been watching Jesus for some time now. They had heard of this man who taught with authority and not like the scribes (Mark 1:22). They had heard of His ministry of healing and casting out demons. They had been present when the paralytic was healed (Mark 2:6). And now they have a problem. They cannot deny that miraculous power has been at work. And so they have one of two options:

1. They can accept Him as Messiah, believing His message and repenting of their sins and trusting in Him alone for salvation.

2. Or they can reject Him, looking for an alternate explanation.

They couldn't say He was of God, but it was clear that supernatural things were happening, so they said, "He is possessed by Beelzebul, and "He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons."

The name "Beelzebub" refers to an old Canaanite deity. "Baal" is the Canaanite word for "lord." "Zebub" was a reference to "flies." It first appears back in 2 Kings, chapter 1, and refers to the god of Ekron to whom king Ahaziah of Israel sent to inquire whether he would recover from his incapacity. He was known as Baal-zebub, the "Lord of the Flies." He was the god of diseases.

The Jews had taken this name and changed it to Baal-zebel, which meant "Lord of the Dung." It was a term of derision. And they eventually came to use it as a title for Satan.

Do you see what they are doing? They are pointing to Jesus and they are saying, "He is Satan in the flesh! He is only able to cure diseases because he is the demon of diseases!"

The Lord basically tells these scribes, who were very bright men; the lawyers and recorders of their day, that they were not making sense.

Mark 3:23-24 (NASB) And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 "And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

"He began speaking to them in parables" - The word "Parable" has a wide range of meanings: "a saying, a word picture, a proverb, a riddle, an ethical maxim, a comparison."

Mark's use of the word "parables" is consistently used in a manner indicating that the images are "riddles"-figurative language that communicates meaning directly to "insiders" who discern at once what is meant but that remains obscure, and requires interpretation for "outsiders" who may grasp no more than that the story or image points to a meaning lying elsewhere than on the surface.

Mark 3:24-26 (NASB) "And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 "And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 "And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished!

This is a principle of life. It is built into the order of the universe. To oppose yourself is to fail at what you are trying to do. Where there is opposition from within, all manner of problems arise. It is like a cancer to the body. It is a part of the body, but the cells are growing out of control and draining the life of the body, Cancer is the body at odds with itself. And it can end in death if not corrected.

Jesus asks these religious leaders, What sense does it make that I would be casting out demons in the power of Satan? To do that means Satan is attacking his own army; he is attacking his own demons. A house divided will certainly fail. If this is true, then Satan is finished. He is going to destroy himself. He is saying that makes no sense; that's ludicrous! Satan would not be attacking his own army.

Interesting to note that these learned scribes were champions of logic - but in the face of Christ, their logic, their training, breaks down.

When there is civil war in a nation, that nation does not prosper. When a husband and wife set themselves against one another, it is not long before their marriage begins to collapse.

Mark 3:26 (NASB) "And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished!

Do they really believe that Satan has risen up against himself. That Satan has gone mad and is destroying himself -he who deceived Eve, impoverished Job, caused David to sin grievously, accused Joshua the High Priest before God? And is now risen up against himself, fighting with himself and bringing himself to nought, to his final end? Did they really believe this? Even their own teaching declared that only God could defeat him, and that he had in the end to be defeated by God.

Mark 3:27 (NASB) "But no one can enter the strong man's house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.

Jesus probably has in mind earlier words of Isaiah:

Isaiah 49:24-25 (NASB) "Can the prey be taken from the mighty man, Or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?" 25 Surely, thus says the LORD, "Even the captives of the mighty man will be taken away, And the prey of the tyrant will be rescued; For I will contend with the one who contends with you, And I will save your sons.

So here God was at work in deliverance as promised in Isaiah. How could they then deny it? The Lord has entered into the domain of Satan and He has bound him, and now the Lord can plunder the evil house of Satan. This cannot be done if Jesus was empowered by Satan.

Jesus is saying: "I'm not doing this in the power of Satan, but this is a power greater than Satan. This is a power so great that I can bind him and I'm plundering his house"-- which, again, is a clear declaration of Jesus' deity. He is saying this is being done in the power of God.

Satan's house was being plundered by the Lord Jesus every time He cast out a demon. So, the obvious conclusion was that Jesus was the stronger man who had bound the strong man of the house. We see here the preeminence of a victorious Savior.

One of the aspects of Christ's earthly mission was to destroy the devil:

Hebrews 2:14 (NASB) Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil;

The Greek word for "render powerless" is katargeo: "to be (render) entirely idle (useless), lit. or fig.:--abolish, cease, destroy, do away, become (make) of no (none, without) effect, bring (come) to nought, put away (down), vanish away, make void."

Was Christ a failure in this mission? Most Christians act like he was, they're still all worried about the devil. I think we want him to still be around so we have someone to blame for our sin.

1 John 3:8 (NASB) the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil.

The Greek word for "destroy" is luo, which means: "to loosen, destroy, dissolve, put off". Christ is said to have destroyed the devil and his works. Do you believe the Bible?

Colossians 2:15 (NASB) When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

According to my Bible, Satan is a defeated foe. Jesus Christ has conquered the devil.

When Jesus began His ministry, He had bound satan. This binding was made complete at the cross.

Revelation 20:1-3 (NASB) And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

I see this "thousand year" period as representing the transition period which ran from Pentecost to the destruction of Jerusalem. In Scripture, the term "thousand," when in reference to time, is always used symbolically of a predetermined time that God chooses.

Revelation 20:7-9 (NASB) And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. 9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.

The scene of "Gog and Magog" was the great end-time battle centered within the historical occurrence of the Jewish War. The "Beloved City" is Jerusalem. The Holy, Beloved City was destroyed by Satan when he is released from his prison. Then Satan was cast into the lake of fire. He is done - toast!

Mark 3:28-30 (NASB) "Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"-- 30 because they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit."

Please notice that verse 28 focuses on the forgiveness of God. The Psalmist has told us, "There is forgiveness with You that You may be feared." And Micah tells us,

Micah 7:18 (NASB) Who is a God like Thee, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love.

Isaiah reminds us,

Isaiah 55:7 (NASB) Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.

Forgiveness, pardon, compassion, and unchanging love ­ those words are familiar themes as we think upon our God. And yet, Jesus Christ tells us that there is particular sin that shall not be forgiven.

Mark 3:29 (NASB) but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"--

This concept of an unpardonable sin has caused many Christians a lot of unnecessary anxiety. I have had people tell me they are concerned they have committed the unpardonable sin.

A lady tells the story of when she was a young teenager she got so angry at her mother, who was a Christian, that she locked herself in her room and used every swear word and oath and foul language against the Holy Spirit that she could think of. That day was seared into her conscience and came back to haunt her again and again. She questioned whether she had committed the unforgivable sin. It is not merely an academic question. What could be more terrifying than to believe you are beyond forgiveness and bound for eternal misery with no escape?

A young man writes, ""I would like to just know if what it says in Mark is true. It states that every sin is forgivable, except if a person speaks badly about the Holy Spirit. I have attended a private Christian school and one day my Bible teacher was saying that a person is not forgiven if he/she speaks against the Holy Spirit. As he stated that... I thought something against the Holy Spirit. I did not mean to... it just happened. I prayed and asked forgiveness, but does that mean I am forgiven or eternally condemned? SINCERELY WORRIED"

I'm sure that countless numbers of people have read this in their Bibles and wondered if it applied to them. Have you ever wondered that? Have you ever questioned if maybe you have committed the unforgivable sin? This is a serious issue.

Jesus clearly states, "...whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness." So we really need to understand what is "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit."

The word "blasphemy" is a compound word made from the Greek words "to speak" (phemi) and "to hurt" (blapto). It describes the act of speaking of someone in a hurtful way.

Blasphemy is the opposite of praise and worship. Praise is to speak good of someone. Worship is to assign worth to someone. Blasphemy is to speak evil and to attempt to take worth away from one that is deserving of such. Blasphemy is speaking evil against God. This is a serious sin. In the Old Testament, it called for the death of the offender.

Leviticus 24:16 (NASB) 'Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.

Blasphemy was a serious crime. It was a capital offense. And yet, even blasphemy can be forgiven. The Apostle Paul confessed to having been "a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor" (1 Timothy 1:13). But he was shown mercy.

We have a God who forgives. Forgiveness is a crucified Messiah praying to His Father that those who had pounded the nails into His flesh would not be held accountable. This is why Jesus came. He came to die and by His death purchase forgiveness for all His elect. He is able to forgive every manner of evil - except one.

So, it is imperative that we understand what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. The problem here is that Bible teachers can attach a meaning to this that was never intended by the Lord and thus hold people in guilt and fear. Listen to how one author describes this sin:

I will summarize what it is that constitutes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
1) Conspiring against and causing harm to those who have prophetic gifts,
2) Pretending that the human interpretation of sacred writings is equivalent to the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Spirit of Truth,
3)Misleading innocent people with false prophesy, (I guess the dispensationalist are really in trouble)
4) Standing in opposition to those who speak Words of Wisdom,
5) Standing in opposition to those who speak Words of Knowledge,
6) Standing in opposition to those able to Discern the True Spirit,
7) Standing in opposition to those who possess the Gift of Faith,
8) Standing in opposition to those who possess the Gift of Healing,
9) Standing in opposition to those who possess the Gift of the Working of Miracles,
10) Standing in opposition to those who possess the Gift of Prophesy,
11) Standing in opposition to those who possess the Gift of Diversity of Tongues,
12) Standing in opposition to those who possess the Gift of Interpretation of Tongues,
13) Espousing philosophies that deny or in any way undermine the work of the Holy Spirit

This writer goes on to say, "The great majority of modern Christian theologians teach the doctrine of cessationism. Cessationists teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased in the 1st century A.D. According to these learned seminarians, the gifts of the Holy Spirit just died out because they were no longer needed. The history of the Western Church is the history of the opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit. From the time of the Edict of Milan (A.D. 313) the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit has been ruthlessly suppressed in one wave of terror after the next. If blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is in fact the worst sin one can commit, as Jesus has said, then how are we to characterize Christian Churches that believe in cessationism?"

According to this man, I'm committing the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, and I'll never be forgiven. With interpretations like that no wonder so many are troubled by this verse. Do you see what he is doing? He is saying that anyone who questions what He is doing is blaspheming the Holy Spirit and will never have forgiveness.

If this man is not correct, and he's not, what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

In context, the scribes had been given all of the evidence. They had seen the miracles. They had heard the teachings. And they still rejected Christ. They have just accused Him of performing miracles by the power of Satan. They have witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit, and they said, "That is Satan!" They pointed to the Holy Spirit and said, "Unholy and unclean!" They rejected the very One in whom it was necessary to believe in order to receive forgiveness. As a result, there remained no possibility of forgiveness.

These scribes made the most serious accusation; that what Christ had done by the power of the Holy Spirit in testimony to His Messiahship, was attributed to be the work of the devil. Jesus was saying that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that is revealing who He is and what He came to do. The power of the Holy Spirit has made that so evident. The clear revelation of Christ as the Messianic King, affirmed by the unmistakable healing and deliverance by the power of the Spirit, was totally rejected and declared to be of the devil. They attributed the work of God to Satan.

Technically the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be committed today. Jesus Christ is not physically on earth. No one can witness Jesus Christ performing a miracle and then attribute that power to Satan instead of the Spirit.

Today, the only unpardonable sin is to die having rejected Jesus as Savior. Any sin today can be forgiven. But if they deny the person and work of Jesus Christ, there is no means by which God can forgive them--because they have denied the only way to salvation. That's the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin is to deny Jesus as the Christ. Every other sin can be forgiven. But to reject Jesus Christ as the Savior leaves no means by which God can grant forgiveness.

John 14:6 (NASB) Jesus said^ to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.

That truth is stated over and over and over again in the New Testament--that Jesus is the only way of salvation. But many so called Christians are very offended by that, so they will refer to us as being intolerant, rigid, judgmental fundamentalists. They want to be considered Christians, but they deny the very essence of Christ Himself.

So if the unforgivable sin is to reject Jesus Christ, then no Christian can commit this sin. Our sins, all of them, are forgiven forever.

Colossians 2:13 (NASB) And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

The Greek word for "forgiven" here is charizomai, it means: "forgiveness as the result of grace or an act of love." It means to bestow a favor unconditionally. How many of our sins are forgiven? ALL. Not just the past sins, not just the present sins, not just the big sins, not just the little sins, but ALL of them. Paul put it this way in Romans:

Romans 8:1 (NASB) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This text teaches us that there is no condemnation, no punishment, no judgment to those in Christ Jesus. We are no longer in Adam and will, therefore, not receive punishment for Adam's sin. We are now "in Christ" and have received His righteousness.

Mark 3:31-35 (NASB) And His mother and His brothers arrived^, and standing outside they sent word to Him, and called Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him, and they said^ to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You." 33 And answering them, He said^, "Who are My mother and My brothers?" 34 And looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He said^, "Behold, My mother and My brothers! 35 "For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."

Jesus has just accused the Jerusalem Delegation of committing an unpardonable sin. They have rejected Him, and they in turn have been rejected by Him. Now the family of Jesus arrives on the scene. They haven't come to hear Him preach or to see the miracles. They have come to talk to Him. They have heard of His sudden rise to popularity, and they have concluded that He has lost contact with reality, and they have come to take Him into custody. This is seen back in:

Mark 3:21 (NASB) And when His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, "He has lost His senses."

Do you see that phrase "His own people"? It is literally: "those from His side." This was a common figure of speech in the Septuagint to refer to someone's family.

This passage may come as quite a shock to us. And this is especially so in the light of the fifth commandment to honor father and mother, which was treated very seriously by the Jews, and hopefully by us.

Jesus makes clear His new position. He was now no longer a carpenter and family man, He was, as God's chosen One, the foundation and central pillar of the new people of God, the new Israel, and it was with such that His loyalties now lay.

His family had not come to listen and to learn, but to interfere with His ministry. They "stood outside," not only outside where He was, but outside His ministry and outside the will of God.

You see, the brothers of Jesus didn't believe in Him (John 7:5). They had grown up with Him and had lived with Him for many years, and they did not believe that He was the Messiah of Israel. That is amazing. I can understand the scribes from Jerusalem hearing and not understanding, but his own brothers?

Mary, Jesus' mother, had not been replaced in His affections, only in His mission. He would still provide for His mother when she needed it most (John 19.26).

On this occasion when many gathered to hear Jesus, He pointed to another and higher reality of spiritual kinship, namely the family of God. An early martyr once said that "a Christian's only relatives are the saints." Those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ enter into a new family, a family of "saints" here on earth and in heaven. Jesus changes the order of relationships and shows that true kinship is not just a matter of flesh and blood. Our adoption as sons and daughters of God transforms all our relationships and requires a new order of loyalty to God and His kingdom.

Do your relationships, whether family or friends, help you or hinder you in living for God?

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