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What is your verdict?

A. W. Tozer once wrote,
A real Christian is an odd number, anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen; talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see; expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another; empties himself in order to be full; admits he is wrong so he can be declared right; goes down in order to get up; is strongest when he is weakest; richest when he is poorest and happiest when he feels the worst. He dies so he can live; forsakes in order to have; gives away so he can keep; sees the invisible; hears the inaudible; and knows that which passeth knowledge.
Believing in and following Jesus Christ does seem a little crazy, depending upon what angle you are looking at it from. However, we can be of good cheer. If others have thought us crazy for following Christ, we can know that they thought our Master crazy too. That is one thing we see in our passage for today from Mark 3:20-35. Listen for God’s word to you….

Then he [Jesus] went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “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 his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

This is one of those passages in the Gospel of Mark that I believe really begs the question: What are we to make of Jesus Christ? The first thing we see here is The Verdict of Jesus’ Family on that question.

The verdict of Jesus’ family was: he is out of his mind. Why did they think like this? Why did his own family think Jesus was crazy?

I can think of a few possible reasons. First, Jesus had left home and, as the eldest son, he presumably left the family business in Nazareth as well. Why would any person give up a secure family business to become a wandering preacher? The world looks at people like this and thinks they are crazy. There is no doubt about it.

Second, Jesus was on his way to a head-on collision with the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus was doing and saying things that, traditionally, only Yahweh got to do and say in the Hebrew Scriptures. This amounted to blasphemy in the eyes of the Pharisees. Furthermore, Jesus was drawing enthusiastic crowds. This made the religious leaders nervous because Jesus was drawing attention and power away from them and the entire Temple system. Thus, Jesus’ family may have thought, “He is crazy for pitting his life against our leaders. He will never win.”

Third, Jesus had started a new society of his own, and what a strange society it was! He was hanging out with fishermen, tax collectors, fanatic nationalists, and all sorts of undesirables. Why would any sensible person do this? These were not the kind of people any normal leader would want as his followers. If Jesus wanted to be the leader of a new kind of kingdom, it seemed he was going about it in the wrong way.

Fourth, as we see in this passage, Jesus was drawing so many crowds that he could hardly lead a normal life anymore. He and his disciples did not even have enough leisure to eat at this point. Jesus’ family may have thought, “He’s crazy for whipping up these crowds; they’re going to kill him in the end.”

By his actions, Jesus made it clear he was throwing away three things that most people consider very important. He was throwing away security. He gave up a job and position in society that was secure. Most normal people just do not take these kinds of financial risks.

Jesus was throwing away safety. Most people are more concerned with making safe decisions than they are with following God. Jesus was not like that. He knew what his Father in heaven had called him to do and he did it. However, by doing what his Father in heaven wanted him to do he was throwing away safety. By performing healing and exorcisms, he was drawing crowds to himself. Those crowds might, at any moment, overwhelm and crush him. What he was doing was certainly not safe.

Jesus was also throwing away concern about what others thought of him. H. G. Wells once said, “The voice of our neighbors is often louder than the voice of God.” It was not so for Jesus. He did not care what others thought. He did not even care what his family thought of him, so long as he did the will of his Father in heaven.

John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, spent time in prison for his faith. While there, he realized, “My imprisonment might end on the gallows.” He did not like the thought of being hanged. Who would? Then came a day when Bunyan became ashamed of being afraid….

Methought I was ashamed to die with a pale face and tottering knees for such a cause as this…. Wherefore, thought I, I am for going on and venturing my eternal state with Christ whether I have comfort here or no; if God doth not come in, thought I, I will leap off the ladder even blindfold into eternity, sink or swim, come heaven, come hell; Lord Jesus, if thou wilt catch me, do: if not, I will venture for thy name.

That was exactly what Jesus was willing to do. He was willing to venture all for the cause of his Father in heaven, and for the salvation of human beings. If he was willing to do that for us, then what is our response to him?

A second thing we see in this passage is The Verdict of the Teachers. They thought, or at least they said, that Jesus was demon-possessed. They said not that he was possessed by any ordinary demon, but by the Prince of demons, Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies, Satan himself.

The Jewish leaders did not question that Jesus had cast demons out of people. They knew and believed that he had. Their problem was not the one so common in our day: that of believing that Satan and his demons are a fiction. They believed in the reality of demons and of Satan in particular. They knew Jesus had cast demons out of people. They had probably seen him do it. However, what the teachers of the law were saying was that Jesus was able to cast out the little demons because he was possessed by the big demon, Satan himself.

Jesus answered their argument very simply and directly. He told them that this was impossible. “If I am driving out little demons by the power of Satan, then Satan is divided against himself, and his kingdom will not stand.” Jesus was essentially saying, “Satan would not do such a thing. He is not that dumb.” Then Jesus gave another illustration. “If you want to rob the house of a powerful man, first you have to go into that house and tie up that strong man; then you can carry away all his goods. Satan is like that powerful man. If Satan’s house is being plundered it is because I have tied him up and I am carrying away his goods.” In other words, Satan would not rob his own house. Again, he is not that stupid.

Next, Jesus made a very hard statement, about the unforgivable sin. This is something that many people over the past two thousand years have had difficulty understanding. Some people ask, “What is the unforgivable sin?” Others say, “I’m afraid I may have committed the unpardonable sin.” Well, if you are concerned that you have, then you have not. Anyone who had committed the unforgivable sin would not be worried about it.

The unforgivable sin that Jesus talks about here is the sin that the teachers of the law were committing by saying that Jesus was demon-possessed. Jesus knew that the Holy Spirit was working through him, casting out demons. The unforgivable sin that the teachers of the law committed was to say that the work of the Holy Spirit in casting out demons was really the work of the devil.

The reason why this sin is unforgivable is that the person who begins to say that white is black, and the work of the Holy Spirit is the work of Satan, has so hardened their heart to the truth that they have blocked the channel by which forgiveness can come to them. William Barclay puts it this way….

There is only one condition of forgiveness and that is penitence. So long as a man sees loveliness in Christ, so long as he hates his sin even if he cannot leave it, even if he is in the mud and the mire, he can still be forgiven. But if a man, by repeated refusals of God’s guidance, has lost the ability to recognize goodness when he sees it, if he has got his moral values inverted until evil to him is good and good to him is evil, then even when he is confronted by Jesus, he is conscious of no sin; he cannot repent and therefore he can never be forgiven. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit.

What is your verdict about Jesus? What do you make of him? Do you think he was crazy, or demon-possessed? This leads to another question: who did Jesus think he was?

Tom Wright, one of the foremost New Testament scholars in the world today, answers that question this way:

I do not think Jesus “knew he was God” in the same sense that one knows one is hungry or thirsty, tall or short. It was not a mathematical knowledge, like knowing that two and two make four; nor was it straightforwardly observational knowledge, like knowing that there is a bird on the fence outside my room because I can see and hear it. It was more like the knowledge that I have that I am loved by my family and closest friends; like the knowledge that I have that sunrise over the sea is awesome and beautiful; like the knowledge of the musician not only of what the composer intended but of how precisely to perform the piece in exactly that way—a knowledge most securely possessed, of course, when the performer is also the composer. It was, in short, the knowledge that characterizes vocation. As I have put it elsewhere: “As part of his human vocation, grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to Scripture only YHWH himself could do and be.[1]

If this, indeed, was the way that Jesus thought about himself and his vocation, was he crazy for thinking so? The problem with thinking Jesus was crazy is that his recorded teachings do not appear to be the product of a mind that had delusions of grandeur. His teaching is recognized the world over as some of the greatest moral teaching of all time.

Well then, was Jesus lying to others about his identity, acting in a deceitful manner? If so, then what he was doing was truly diabolical. Yet, how could that be? How could a deceiver cast out the greatest deceiver of all: Satan? That does not make sense to me.

The other verdict some people come up with is that Jesus was a legend. However, there are problems with this conclusion. It takes many generations for legends to develop. The accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were all written down within a generation after his death. There were still people walking around who could have refuted the fact of his resurrection if it had been a hoax. Furthermore, why would the people who first proclaimed his bodily resurrection make up something like that at the cost of their own lives? Why would they make up such a colossal lie, put false claims on the lips of Jesus, and then lay down their lives for those claims? Again, this option, like the others, simply does not make sense to me.

Thus we are left with only one option that does make sense: the idea that Jesus was, in fact, the incarnation of God, just as John’s Gospel states rather forthrightly and the other Gospels suggest more indirectly.

One thing is certain, everyone who seriously reads the Gospels cannot avoid this question: Who is Jesus? Jesus forces us to decide. He is the ultimate fork in the road.

You may say, “Well, I cannot decide so I will simply remain agnostic.” However, as someone once said, “Not to decide is to decide.”

As we weigh our decision, we must also weigh the consequences. What do we have to lose as we decide for or against Jesus as the Son of God?

It was this consideration that pushed an agnostic named Sheldon Vanauken over the brink. After seriously weighing the evidence for the truth of Christianity, he suddenly realized one day that he could not go back. Here is what he said about his decision:

In my easy-going theism, I had regarded Christianity as a sort of fairy tale; and I had neither accepted nor rejected Jesus, since I had never, in fact, encountered him. Now I had. The position was not, as I had been comfortably thinking all these months, merely a question of whether I was to accept the Messiah or not. It was a question of whether I was to accept Him—or reject. My God! There was a gap behind me, too. Perhaps the leap to acceptance was a horrifying gamble—but what of the leap to rejection? There might be no certainty that Christ was God—but, by God, there was no certainty that He was not. If I were to accept, I might and probably would face the thought through the years: ‘Perhaps, after all, it’s a lie; I’ve been had!’ But if I were to reject, I would certainly face the haunting, terrible thought: ‘Perhaps it’s true—and I have rejected my God!

This was not to be borne. I could not reject Jesus. There was only one thing to do, once I had seen the gap behind me. I turned away from it and flung myself over the gap towards Jesus.[2]

[1] Wright, N. T., The Challenge of Jesus, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999, pp. 121-122.
[2] Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1980, pp. 98-99.


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