The Personnel of the Servant
Topic: Gospels Passage: Mark 3:13–35
13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the Son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is Sons of Thunder): 18 Andrew and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the Son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 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 is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
28 Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Although He never surrendered an ounce of His deity, when Jesus Christ walked this earth He did limit Himself as to the independent use of certain of His divine attributes in order to live among us. For example, since He assumed a human body like ours, how could He have been everywhere present at the same time?
Theologians have and will no doubt continue to discuss that conundrum until Jesus returns. By uniting the two natures of humanity with deity—the doctrine known as the hypostatic union—Jesus clearly “humbled himself” (cf. Philippians 2:8) in order to dwell among us. It was necessary for Him to do so if the eternal “Son of God” were to fulfill His mission as “the Son of Man.” And while we must speak cautiously of such things, as you and I read the Gospels we should do so with the awareness that Jesus carried out His earthly ministry not by His own prerogative as the second member of the Trinity, but in dependence upon and in perfect obedience to the Father and in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
If we look with care at the passage before us this morning we are able to see an example of that in the manner in which Jesus selected His twelve apostles. In addition, we see another aspect of it in how He responds to those who stand opposed to His ministry. And finally we see it again in the way He delineates those who are His true followers. As we will learn Jesus chooses the “unlikely” to become His disciples.
We’ll begin in verses 13 through 19 by considering...
The appointment of Jesus’ followers (verses 13-19)
Being God, Jesus could have carried out a “one-man” ministry during His time on earth, but instead we are told that “He appointed twelve...so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” The order is important. First, these disciples (who were later designated “apostles”) would be “with” Jesus, spending time with Him and being trained by Him. We should not be tempted to pass over the word “with” too quickly, for that is where discipleship begins...by spending time “with” Jesus, learning from Him and learning what it means to be like Him. Apart from the relationship of being “with” Jesus, there can be no real discipleship.
Then, having learned from Him—doubtless by way of instruction and observation—they were entrusted with opportunities to “preach” the same message their Mentor proclaimed. And finally, they were empowered—granted “authority”—to perform miraculous deeds as Jesus had done in order to authenticate their ministry.
S. Lewis Johnson, who was the pastor of Believers Chapel in Dallas for many years, explains something that I alluded to last week, namely that the call of the disciples appears to have come in stages. He writes,
“At the first, they became acquainted with the Lord, several evidently having been John’s disciples, and began to have fellowship with Him frequently, although remaining in their various secular occupations. The second stage came when they broke their ties with their homes and, leaving their secular ties, became regular members of the larger body of His followers. And, finally, there came the day when they were separated from the larger body and called by our Lord to the closest companionship with Him.”
It was clear from the very beginning of their association with Jesus that these were not “self-made” men. They would become the products of His creative activity. Had He not called them to “follow” Him, they would have likely lived out their days in their simple vocations. But through Jesus’ equipping them, they would in time transform the world.
Verse 1 tells us that Jesus “went up on the mountain and called those whom he desired, and they came to him.” In Luke’s parallel account of this event, we learn that He spent all night in prayer before choosing these men the next morning (cf. Luke 6:12ff). The word that is translated “called” can mean either a “summons” or an “invitation.” Keep that in mind, because we’ll see it again in this passage. There were many who had been following Jesus but He handpicked these twelve, naming them “apostles” or “ones sent forth with a message.” Thus, they were commissioned to “preach” with Jesus’ “authority.”
There are four listings of the “apostles” in the New Testament. Each of the Synoptic writers includes one (cf. Matthew 10:2-4 and Luke 6:13-16), and there is another found in the Book of Acts (1:13). With some variation in order, the lists are consistent with one another. Peter is named first in each list and Judas Iscariot is always last, except for the one in Acts where Judas—having died by that time—is omitted. Eleven of the twelve were from Galilee, with Judas again being the lone exception.
These men were so ordinary that we are tempted to wonder what prompted Jesus to choose them and not others with more impressive credentials. The answer must rest with God’s providential choice. Who can explain His sovereignty? Look around in this room—better yet, look into a mirror—can there be any other explanation for whom He chooses?
We might also ask, why He chose twelve? The reason seems to be the parallel created between the ministry of our Lord Jesus and the nation of Israel with its twelve tribes. We see this parallel in the description of “the holy city”—the New Jerusalem—described by John in Revelation 21(:9-14), where the names of the twelve tribes of Israel are inscribed on the gates of the city, and on the foundation are “the twelve names of the twelve apostles.” This is more than coincidental. Jesus is deliberately calling these twelve men to be the foundation of “the New Israel” that He has come to create.
The appointment of these men was a “milepost” event in Jesus’ ministry. As opposition would mount against Him, it became clear that others needed to be raised up who would carry on His ministry after His departure. It was an essential part of His plan so that the message of the Gospel might spread. Although “the age of the apostles” would be limited in time, their faithfulness to the commission they had been given would impact generations to come. Those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ this morning are the eventual products of the ministries they would carry out.
Even in His day, not everyone was so accepting of Jesus and willing to follow Him. As we saw last week, the authority with which Jesus taught and worked was not universally received. The hearts of men are by nature hard and resistant to God’s revealed truth.
The opposition to Jesus’ authority (verses 20-30)
...is exposed in verses 20 through 30. We addressed the matter of Jesus’ absolute authority last Sunday, and we encounter it again today. As we look at two negative reactions to Jesus in this section, let me encourage you not to distance yourself too quickly from those whom we will meet. Perhaps we are more like them than we would like to think.
Let’s read again verses 20 and 21: “Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” This is a startling statement...His own family were of the opinion that He had gone mad. In other words, they were embarrassed by Him and thought that He was insane. When the text says that “they went out to seize him,” the word that Mark employs has the idea of “taking by force,” and even “taking into custody.” In other words, they had come to “save Him from Himself,” for they were fearful of what He might do next. In today’s terminology, they wanted to have a family “intervention” in hopes of restoring Him to His senses.
How strange that His own family, those for whom He had cared as the eldest son, thinking that He had “lost His mind,” would come to carry him off to some safe place where he could indulge His “messianic delusions” without doing harm to Himself or others.
Although you and I would dare not charge Jesus with being “crazy,” I wonder if our hesitancy to speak up for Him doesn’t reveal something about our own lack of faith. Do you at times find yourself “holding back,” embarrassed and ashamed to align yourself with Him in your public conversations? Do you cower when you are put into a position of standing alone for Jesus? Do you wish at times someone would just change the subject when the conversation turns to matters of faith? Later on in this same Gospel, Jesus will address that concern with these words of warning: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
So this first opinion is one that is often held by an unbelieving world. The words Jesus proclaimed and the works He performed appear to be just too much for the mind that is set on the things of this world to be able to receive.
A second opinion, found in verses 22 through 30 is far less charitable. It is the verdict that He was a tool of Satan. The ones who rendered this opinion were the “scribes,” those highly trained legal specialists sent out by the religious elite from Jerusalem to assess Jesus’ miracles and to see whether the crowds that were following Him had been “seduced” by an “apostate preacher.” How long they had been keeping an eye on Jesus is not known, but their judgment of Him appears to have been after some close scrutiny. Matthew’s parallel account reveals that the scribes’ remarks followed another of Jesus’ healings, this time that of a demon-possessed man who was both blind and mute (cf. Matthew 22:22-32).
These scribes bring two separate but related indictments against Jesus. He is first of all accused of being demon possessed, and then He is charged with being in collusion with the devil himself. The name, “Beelzebul,” was originally associated with a Philistine deity (cf. 2 Kings 1:2). In time it came to mean “lord of evil spirits” and was applied to Satan Himself. In the words of Kent Hughes, the allegations of the scribes “reduced Jesus to a demonized sorcerer who majored in the black arts.” They were unable to deny the legitimacy of the healings and exorcisms He performed, but they simply could not accept them as having come from God. The only other option, they believed, was that they had to have been from Satan. And they say so. Their accusations were nothing short of blasphemy.
We see a tragic and profound irony when we compare this event with the one found earlier in this chapter, in verses 7 through 12. There, having been cast out, the “unclean spirits” declare Jesus to be “the Son of God.” But here, the religious leaders—those who should have known better—charge Him with aligning Himself with “the prince of demons.”
In response, we are told that Jesus “called them to him.” I take “them” to refer to the scribes who had brought the charges against Him. Interestingly, the verb “to call” (“”) is the same one we saw earlier in verse 13. Remember that word can mean “summons” or “invitation.” I would like to think that Jesus is reaching out with compassion to the very ones who have chosen to align themselves as His enemies. He is giving them a chance to reconsider who He was.
We are told that He speaks to them “in parables.” “Parables” served a twofold purpose in the teaching ministry of Jesus. On the one hand they revealed truth to those who would receive it, while on the other they concealed truth from those who would not. This is why our Lord at times concluded a parable with the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (cf. Mark 4:8 and 23).
In summary, the “parables” Jesus spoke that day illustrated the obvious impossibility of Satan working against himself in order to accomplish Satanic purposes. In what have become proverbial statements, neither a kingdom nor a house “divided against itself” is “able to stand.” How foolish the conclusions of these religious leaders had been. So, in verse 27, Jesus tells them what actually had happened when the blind and mute man was healed and the demon was cast from him: “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then he may plunder his house.”
The “strong man” is Satan. His “house” is the kingdom of darkness that he dominates here on earth. His “goods” are the helpless victims whom he keeps enslaved in their sin. There is only One who is stronger than Satan and is able to free the victims, and that is “the strong man,” Jesus Himself. He has entered Satan’s house, binding Him, and is releasing captive souls. And by making such a claim, Jesus has silenced His critics.
But He is not finished. He has something else to add, and it is a chilling warning. In verses 28 and 29 we read, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” Their “blasphemy,” as verse 30 adds, was that they were attributing the works of Jesus to “an unclean spirit”...to Satan himself.
If the reaction of Jesus’ family was the opinion of an unbelieving world, then the response on the part of these religious leaders was that of a disbelieving world. Let me try and distinguish the two terms in this way: Unbelief is the lack of belief in something, whereas disbelief is the outright denial—in spite of clear evidence—that something even exists. “Unbelief” is the inability to accept or receive something as true, whereas “disbelief” is the utter rejection of something in spite of incontrovertible evidence. I hope you are able to distinguish the difference. Of the two, “disbelief”—or the refusal to believe—is the greater danger. As we will see later on in Mark’s Gospel, “unbelief” is not necessarily fatal or final (cf. Mark 9:24). But “disbelief,” more often than not, can be irreversible and damning. In fact, in the passage we are studying, we see how it can lead to what many through the years have referred to as “the unpardonable (or unforgivable) sin.”
A little over a year ago I preached an entire sermon this topic, so I won’t take the time to repeat myself here. The text version of that message is available on the church website if you are interested. I do, however, need to provide a brief summary on this widely-misunderstood subject at this time just so that we are all clear.
The “blasphemy” “against the Holy Spirit, of which our Lord speaks in this passage refers to the persistent and unrepentant resistance against the witness of the Spirit concerning Jesus. Only moments before becoming the Church’s first martyr, Stephen rebuked the religious leaders who would slay him, saying, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). The so-called “unpardonable sin” is, therefore, not some vile act but rather an ongoing rejection of the Holy Spirit’s testimony regarding the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is that prevailing attitude that persists in calling light “darkness” and darkness “light.”
The perennial question that is often asked is if someone can be charged with “unpardonable sin” today? Those who say “no” argue that the circumstances in which Jesus made this statement are different than those of today. The ones against whom Jesus gave this warning were actually challenging Him to His face, having rejected the clear and visible evidence before them. They saw it with their own eyes and heard it with their own ears. We don’t have that same kind of evidence today, so the argument goes. But those who say “yes” appear to have more theological support, given the fact that the Holy Spirit continues to bear witness to Jesus today through the Scriptures and His active presence. Therefore, to persist in “disbelief” concerning the work and word of Jesus Christ renders one unable to ever be forgiven. And as depressing as it is for me to say, those most in danger of being “guilty of (this) eternal sin” are those who traffic in biblical truth regularly, and yet never submit to it.
But before I leave this topic, let me offer a word of consolation to those who may be afraid that they have committed “the unpardonable sin.” I find agreement with the words of J.C. Ryle, who upon researching this question a century-and-a-half ago, concluded, “There is such a thing as a sin which is never forgiven. But those who are troubled about it are unlikely to have committed it.” Kent Hughes offers still further encouragement, and I quote him at some length:
“To those who are afraid they have committed the sin, we can say with absolute confidence that their being so troubled is infallible testimony they have not committed it. Note that as vile as the blasphemy of the scribes was, Jesus did not say they had committed this sin, but only warned them. Those who continue to blaspheme the Holy Spirit do not care a whit about what they have done. If someone cares at all, though his sins be the worst, there is hope and the possibility of grace.”
In other words, the door of salvation remains open to those whose hearts have not yet become so hardened so as to refuse to enter. But you must be willing to enter and receive His offer of grace by repenting of sin and turning in faith to the salvation that Jesus offers.
Verses 20 through 30 have revealed to us that the personnel Jesus chose for the perpetuation of His ministry would not come from either his immediate family or the prevailing religious establishment of the day. As we saw in verses 13 through 19, the criteria by which His followers would be selected was not what we might initially suppose. But the relationship that He would forge with those He selected would become stronger than familial bonds. In fact, He would even refer to His followers as His “kin.”
The requirement for Jesus’ “family” (verses 31-35)
...is found in the last five verses of this chapter:
“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’ For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
It is interesting that we come to these words on Mother’s Day. This saying of Jesus would have been startling in any culture, but in Hebrew culture where the family was so sacred, it was downright shocking! Clearly, our Lord was not disowning His family. What we find here is another of Jesus’ “hard sayings,” which if taken out of context could be understood to mean that He was calling those who would follow Him to sever all family ties. Granted, Christian commitment sometimes brings division within the family, but our immediate family members should always be of primary importance to us.
What Jesus did mean was that there is a deeper relationship than flesh and blood, a spiritual kinship that is characterized by doing “the will of God.” It isn’t obedience to the Father that establishes a relationship with God—faith does that—but obedience is the demonstration that such a relationship exists. Jesus was saying that there is a new family that takes precedence over the human family. That is because it is an eternal relationship. He considered its ties to be stronger and its commitment more satisfying and demanding.
When Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of God...is my brother and sister and mother,” He was actually referring to two aspects of relationship. In the first place, obedience is the key to “experiencing family” with God. You are His by faith, but your fellowship with Him comes as a result of living in obedience to His revealed will. But also, obedience is also the key to “experiencing family” with God’s people. When God is our “Father,” our fellow believers are our “brothers” and “sisters.” Therefore, when we conform our wills to God’s will, we experience a dynamic relationship with others who are also living in submission to Him. Are you learning that is what His Church is all about?
An earthly family in which the members are bound by their common faith in Christ is a family that is doubly blessed. Writing in his Confessions, Augustine recalls how his mother faithfully and persistently prayed for him to come to Christ. When he finally did, he describes a scene in which the two of them stood together looking out a window and realizing that they were more kindred than ever before. Not only were they related by flesh and blood, but now they were united in spirit.
I am aware that some of us may not have had the best of relationships with our families. We may not have even grown up with our natural mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. For you in particular, these words should bring added comfort, for they introduce you to a new “family” with a bond that is stronger and more secure than any earthly family.
The Church of Jesus Christ is “true family.” This morning our Savior would say of us, “Look around...these are my brothers and sisters.” As unlikely as it may seem to a watching world, we are united by our relationship to Him. But what about you? I leave you with four questions:
- Are you a member of His “family”? Do you have a relationship with Him that has been born out of repentance and faith in Christ? If not, know that He invites you to kinship with Him today through repentance and faith.
- Do you have a growing sense of “family” with God? Is your relationship with Him growing as you get to know Him better through meditating in the Scriptures and investing quality time with Him in prayerful conversation?
- Is there a joyous sense of “family” when you gather with His people? Do you eagerly look forward to every opportunity to fellowship with your “brothers” and “sisters” and to study God’s Word regularly with them?
- Is your human family being elevated and perpetuated by the eternal sense of “family?” Is your home becoming a “little corner of the Kingdom”? Are you faithfully “living the Gospel” before those in your family who do not yet know Jesus? Are you faithfully praying that the members of your earthly family will one day soon join you in your heavenly “family” as well?
As unlikely as it may seem, if Jesus Christ is truly our Lord, then you and I are the personnel that the ideal Servant has chosen to carry on His ministry in our generation. And lest we think otherwise, let me remind you...He has no other plan.