Predictability

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-2).

When I read the story of the woman “caught in the act” of adultery (John 8:1ff) I get the impression the whole thing was staged. In other words, I don’t think they just “happened” to catch her. I think it was a setup (more on that another time).

But I don’t get the impression a “setup” is what is happening in Mark 3. It is simply a confluence of events. Certain things were going to happen at a certain time. The Pharisees and Herodians simply determined they would use them for their own purpose.

They knew it was the Sabbath. They knew where the crippled man would be on the Sabbath. They knew Jesus was in town. They knew where he would be on the Sabbath – gathering with God’s people (Luke says it was Jesus’ “custom” – Luke 4:16). They knew what Jesus would do upon meeting the crippled man.

Which leads me to this: Our lives, like that of Jesus, should have a bit of predictability about them. In particular, when God’s people gather, everyone should be able to count on us gathering too. And folks who know us should be able to tell how we will react to situations we encounter – always like Jesus.

Never Forgiven

Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin (Mark 3:28-29).

An eternal sin? Never forgiven?

That’s a show stopper! Matthew and Luke also mention this warning. Even John mentions a “sin that leads to death” (1 John 5:16).

But what is it?

Context, and a little Old Testament, can help our understanding. In Numbers 15:27-31 God speaks of sin that “remains.” Unforgivable, it is the defiant sin. The prophet Eli’s sons persisting impenitently in what they knew God found reprehensible. Eli himself committed it because he refused to discipline his boys. They became “un-atoneable.”

Most sin takes us on a steady, slight, spiritual decline. The problem with defiant sin is that the slope is at a greater angle and before we know it, we’re at a dead run in the wrong direction we cannot stop.

In our text, Jesus’ opponents are distressed by teaching they perceive as “new” and at odds with what they’ve always thought. Rather than carefully consider who Jesus might be (and the truthfulness of his words) they sought to counter the Lord with a “name calling” campaign to impugn his reputation. While Jesus is willing to forgive them, he knows they are unwilling to repent and will later even oppose His replacement, the Holy Spirit. They are racing down Fool’s Hill to the city of Beyond Hope.

All sins, really, are forgivable – as long as we turn from them. The eternal sin begins as one we won’t turn from. It ends as one we can’t turn from. That’s what makes it eternal. Consider the road you take. It may not have an exit.

Family

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21)

Mark is the only gospel writer to give us this little tidbit. It is the first of his “sandwich” stories – where he starts one story, seems to lose his train of thought, tells another story, and then, surprisingly, comes back for the rest of the first story (there are nine of these in Mark). The story in the middle of the sandwich (the meat) helps to flavor the outer layers (the bread).

In this case, the “meat” story concerns the very foolish and absurd notion that Jesus is casting out demons by the power of Satan. How could his enemies be so stupidly blind? If Satan has turned on himself . . . well . . . his doom is sealed.

But what’s the difference really between those who think Jesus is nuts, and those who think he’s related to the devil?

No difference at all really.

Which puts his family in a rather precarious spiritual condition (to put it entirely too mildly). And where does that put those of us who find Jesus’ life, his lifestyle, his teachings and his expectations unrealistic and “crazy over the top?” In the same boat with his blood family who came to take charge of him – no real family at all.

Who is his family? Jesus says: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

The Call

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:13-15).

Jesus called them one by one
Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
Next came Philip, Thomas too,
Matthew and Bartholomew.

So goes the children’s ditty to help them learn the names of the Apostles.  You will find all their names (though not the song) in the four verses that follow our text.

There is more  to the call however than just the call.  First, it was a call of grace.  Why did he pick these guys?  What made them special?  Evidently nothing.  He did not call them because they were special.  His call made them special. Second, it was a call of commitment, a call “to himself” (that part is repeated in the Greek text) and no one else.  Third, it was a call “away” from their previous lives  – a different life signified by a change in their names.  Fourth, it was not just a call to join his entourage, but a call to engage in Jesus work – with his full authority.  Finally, it was a call of conflict: the disciples were to be “with” Jesus, and yet they were to go out from Jesus into the world.

It was, in fact, the precursor and example of what it will mean to be a Christian.

Living by God’s Will

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. (Mark 3:4)

The gospel of Mark opens with a volley of testimonials about Jesus: His importance (John the Baptist), his lineage (God Himself), and his authority (attested by his ability to heal as well as by statements of synagogue members and even the demons).

How should a man of such stature behave?

Certainly not the way he did – at least in the eyes of his critics.

From the beginning, Jesus is “filled with compassion” (1:41) toward the needy. He ministers to those sick in body and soul and fellowships the outcast with a view toward their redemption. This earns him condemnation from his critics who believe he is sacrificing obedience to the Law in favor of ministry to others (because he forgives sins, doesn’t fast, and heals on the Sabbath).

In point of fact, Jesus doesn’t break the law but as chapter two comes to a close he makes this singular point: the purpose of the Law was always for the good of mankind – not to excuse evil.

I do not always know why God commands what He does, but whatever His reason, it has to do with our welfare (specifically stated ten times in Deuteronomy). Don’t mistake this principle for license (“I must do what’s best for me”) or an excuse for poor behavior. Jesus doesn’t break the law. He sticks with it and obeys it which leads him to minister to those sick in body or soul and redeem those who find the way of the Lord difficult.

In short, he knows not only the Law of God, but also the will of God and that leads him to act as the Son of God. So should we all.