Have I committed the unforgivable sin? (Mark 3:20-30)

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It’s a question that someone may well have asked you at some point.  Perhaps you’ve even asked it yourself. The possibility that I could commit a sin which puts me permanently and irreparably beyond God’s love and forgiveness is terrifying.

To understand what Jesus means when he describes a sin which is unforgivable, we need to look at the whole passage here and to set it in context.  What is happening?  Well, Jesus is continuing to draw huge crowds to himself and his family grow concerned for his well-being. As the eldest son, he would have been heir to Joseph’s business, he had a safe stablished route as a carpenter ahead of him.  Yet he has left all that behind to pull together a ragtag motely crew and his family conclude that he has gone out of his mind, he has lost it.

It’s fascinating and challenging that Mark includes his mother, Mary among the family members. Wasn’t she the one who had received an angelic message? Wasn’t she the one who experienced a miraculous birth, as shepherds, visited, angels sang and wise men brought gifts?  Hadn’t she had her husband themselves given up settled and secure life because of Jesus, fleeing to Egypt?

It is possible that even she has a wobble, loses confidence in those past events, doubts her own mind, maybe she was just a confused teenage girl who got into a messy pregnancy and had a kind of breakdown. I’m sure that’s what doubters will have suggested often enough.  Or maybe she had expected him to come into his kingdom, just not this way.  It is also possible that she has little agency in this, that she is not listened to and that it is Jesus’ brothers who are pushing the agenda.

Well, then, the scribes turn up and they too have an assessment of Jesus.  They think that he is using demonic, Satanic power to work his magic. He too is possessed by Beelzebub.  The name here is a reference to one of the ancient gods -a form of Baal.  The name Baal is itself a title rather than a first name, another word for “lord” or “master.”  This demon is the lord and ruler of the other demons and so is seen as a synonym for Satan.

Jesus responds by showing that their claim is ridiculous. If Satan is using his powers through him to attack and subdue other demons then that suggests his kingdom is broken, divided, in the middle of civil war.  The far more likely answer is that the one making war on Satan’s forces is Satan’s opponent, the strong man entering the house to bind the enemy (v27).

The age-old question posed by CS Lewis “Is Jesus mad, bad or God?” has its roots here. That’s the decision we all must make. We cannot simply conclude that he was a good man. The people of his day knew that his claims didn’t allow that. Either his claims about his identity were lies because he was deluded due to mental health or because he was deliberately lying to gain power and attention, or he was telling the truth.

That gives us the immediate context for Jesus’ statement that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.  The wider context which we’ve seen in Mark 3, is that there’s this very real conflict going on. Jesus is at work to do good, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to bring good news. His opponents are even using the Sabbath Day to plot murder.

You can see the significance there. Here were people faced with God himself walking among them, doing good, showing compassion and mercy. How do they respond? They respond by opposing and seeking to murder the prince of life.  They believe that by breaking God’s law they are doing God’s will.  They are in effect so twisted that they call good “evil” and evil “good”.

Now, the point is that if your mind is so twisted that you reverse good and evil, that suggests a complete blindness, deafness and hardness to God and his work that you reject the Holy Spirit. These men were attacking and blaspheming the very Spirit of God at work amongst them.

There is a warning here, I think that there is something so unique about their situation where they are so visibly confronted with the reality of the truth, that such an egregious sin is rare. Indeed, whenever anyone has asked me if they might have committed the unforgivable sin, I tell them that their worry and concern suggests a sensitive conscience which is still alert to God’s call on their life.  It is unlikely that they have committed the sin as this would be made manifest by a hardness to God and a dead conscience. 

However, there is a warning here that we should guard our hearts and minds.  Are we careful in our assessment of what God is doing in the lives of others? Are we careful not to judge? Do we seek to love and value the things Christ values? Are we open to and listening to the Holy Spirit?

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