By Paul Koch –
Sometimes church can be a really busy place. We get moving on all sorts of things. New projects and old endeavors make up the flow of this fellowship from week to week. We move from confirmation classes, to VBS planning, to new Bible Studies. There is the rhythm to the church year, and all the volunteer hours that go into bringing it together take a great amount of effort and time. Often when things are moving at a full strength, we can become so preoccupied with the doing these tasks that we sort of forget why we are doing it in the first place.
Church becomes many different things for different people. Often it becomes a therapeutic endeavor, something we do to just hold it together. Perhaps it makes us feel good. It is a chance to get away from the hustle of daily life, or it is a time to catch up with likeminded people. Church can easily become a place we go to have old beliefs reaffirmed, a type of familiar country club where we reminisce about the old times and worry about the ways of the world today. We are concerned about the news and anxious about the actions of our government; here we find solace and a safe place away from it all.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a church being any or all of these things. In fact, I think a church will always be at least some of these things. It is simply what happens when people gather together, moved by something greater than each individual. Our faith has pulled us alongside one another, and so our gathering becomes something of a special joy and comfort. The problem, or at least the risk associated with this, is that we can forget the eternal consequences that lay behind all that we do. We begin to think that church is about preferences or comfort instead of a dividing work caught in a battle between heaven and hell. We start to see the enemy as the Baptists, Presbyterians, or Catholics instead of Satan himself.
Our Lord’s words and actions in Mark 3 remind us that there are eternal consequences to interactions with our Lord. The difference between heaven and hell, between eternal life and eternal condemnation is rooted firmly in the forgiveness of Christ. As our Lord continues to heal the sick and drive out demons, more and more people begin to come to Him. His popularity grows to such a degree that at one point His disciples worried that the rushing crowd might actually crush Him. Consequently, scribes come down from Jerusalem to try and end this popularity. They bring their accusations saying, “he is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” Now it is clear that they have certain objectives in mind when they make these accusations. The scribes aren’t really concerned for the well-being of the people, but of the downgrade to their own popularity. But even in their broken way, they see this as a battle between forces of good and evil.
Now Jesus’ response is simply logical and shows how absurd their accusation is. He says, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.” So look, Jesus says your accusation doesn’t make any sense. If Satan was to rise up against himself, if he was to cast out demons by the authority of the prince of demons, he would be working against himself and destroy his own house. If Satan is trying to gain victory, then this would seem to be a pretty stupid plan.
They are right that this work of our Lord is dealing with the demonic, it is a battle between good and evil, heaven and hell. There are eternal consequences at stake. In fact, He illustrates the truth of what is happening when He says somewhat cryptically, “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.” This is our Lord’s description of just what it is He has been doing. When He heals the sick and drives out demons, when He cleanses the broken and hurting and afflicted of the world, He is plundering the house of Satan. He is, as John the Baptist said, the stronger one who binds up the strong man.
This means that these scribes from Jerusalem are in a very dangerous position. After all, this isn’t about preferences or popularity but eternal life. They are lining themselves up against the one who can plunder Satan’s storehouse and deliver all those in bondage. So our Lord speaks a dire warning, “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.” The difference between heaven and hell is forgiveness. And the forgiveness of God is an inexhaustible gift. It is a cup pressed down and overflowing. It surpasses our understanding, our sense of justice, and our limits of patience. But if one rejects the work of the Spirit, if one stands against the very means of his salvation, then his salvation will not come. The sin that is not forgiven is the one that rejects forgiveness itself. To say that Jesus’ work is done by the spirit of the Devil, that is to be outside the only means by which salvation can come. For there is no other name under heaven by which men shall be saved.
This text brings before our eyes the eternal consequences of the faith. This isn’t about what sort of music you like in church, or the type of people you are comfortable around, or how the service is run. It’s about receiving the forgiveness of sin and proclaiming it to others. It’s about rejoicing that the Stronger One has plundered Satan’s storehouse when He called each of you by name. This cuts through everything else. It ought to be the one thing that informs and shapes all that we do together. From our confirmation classes, to VBS, to Bible studies, and BBQs this ought to be a place where the forgiveness of Christ is never stifled but shouted from the rooftops.
This is displayed with our Lord’s own family. Unlike the scribes, Jesus’ mother and brothers are concerned about him. In an attempt to get Him away from the crowd they even say that He is out of his mind. Then when He is sitting and teaching this crowd of followers, one of His disciples tells Him that His mother and brothers are outside seeking Him. He says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Looking about at those who sat around Him, those who attended to His words, those who followed Him; He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
The issue isn’t one of familial relationships. There are far greater consequences to what your Lord is doing, to what church is all about. We have all heard it said that blood is thicker than water. But here, our Lord reminds His church that water is thicker than blood. The water of Holy Baptism, the water that called you by name, the water through which you died and rose with our Lord himself, has redefined even what a family is. In the water you have been forgiven. In the water you have been snatched form the gates of hell.
And so this is who you are, the very children of God. You are the brothers and sisters of our Lord. You are forgiven and the consequence is eternal life itself.