As we start a new season we will be addressing contemporary questions in the light of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth.
In recent decades the uncertainty of postmodernism has echoed throughout the West – in academia, the media, the school classroom and in the political arena. Because we are here by chance, we’re told, there is no God and no external objective truth. Your truth is just as valid as my truth. Increasingly political correctness, framed by our feelings, informs our decisions and relationships. For it’s all relative, of course.
Indeed, we’re told that anyone who expresses belief in a sovereign God, is too immature, too insecure, to enjoy the freedoms of the brave new order. It’s all relative, of course.
When we think about it, the talk of relativism, freedom, and maturity, reflects Adam and Eve’s attempts to throw off what they came to view as God’s constraints. And certainly, it’s much easier to go through life thinking we are part of a giant cosmic accident.
That said, let me explore three themes we find in the closing section of Mark, chapter 3. Mark focuses on two groups of people: Jesus’ family who thought that he was out of his mind; and some Jewish leaders from Jerusalem who said that Jesus exorcised demons because he himself was from Satan (3:20-22).
Unanswerable questions. Mark tells us that Jesus called the Jewish leaders over and raised some pointed questions: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand”. ‘What you’re saying is illogical,’ Jesus is saying. ‘If I am from Satan or from Beelzebub, and I am releasing people from his power, that’s mutiny.’ It would be like a political party imploding because of internal divisions. Jesus’ questions were unanswerable.
And Jesus presses his critics with a second theme: Undeniable power. In verse 27 we read: 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.
Many in Jesus’ day suffered from demon possession. Perhaps they had played with the occult and subsequently were possessed by a force far beyond their own power to overthrow. But Jesus’ coming revealed a superior power. It was like the beginning of spring in Narnia when the snow, brought about by the white witch, began to thaw. People could see for themselves that Jesus wielded a far greater power than the forces of evil. And the Jewish leaders could see it too.
In Mark chapter 3 we discern the reality of a cosmic power struggle. In comparing himself to the stronger man who has come to plunder the strong man’s house, Jesus is likening the force of evil to a medieval baron, locking men and women away from their true heritage. But with Jesus, someone stronger has come to plunder the strong man’s house. The powerbase of the evil one is under attack and the fortifications are crumbling. The exorcisms that Jesus carried out reveal his superior power.
Now it’s important to note that Christianity is not dualism with a conflict between equals, the power of good and the power of evil. The question is, ‘How then should we respond to this man who wields such divine authority?’ Will we simply echo the mantra: ‘It’s all relative of course’?
Unforgiveable sin is a third theme. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter;” Jesus said. “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin” (3:28-29).
Jesus’ words about the unforgiveable sin are amongst some of most misunderstood in the Bible. We need to remember that verse 28 precedes verse 29. In verse 28 we learn that Jesus holds out forgiveness for all our sins. This is amongst the most glorious and freeing promises in the whole of Scripture.
There are times when we all feel the weight of a serious thing we have done, and we wonder, ‘Can God really find it within himself to forgive me for this?’ There may be someone reading this who feels such a burden. Be assured, when we truly turn to Jesus in repentance and faith, our sins are wiped clean from God’s memory.
That said, a chilling warning follows: “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”.
Mark 1:10 tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism equipping him for his unique ministry. And throughout his ministry we see the continued work of the Spirit – not just in Jesus’ miracles but also in his teaching and preaching. Indeed, throughout the Bible we see the Spirit of God and the Word of God working together. To reject the ministry of God’s Word is to reject the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Now, Jesus is not condemning our questions and doubts. Professor Charles Cranfield wrote in his definitive commentary on Mark’s Gospel: ‘It is a matter of great importance pastorally that we can say with absolute confidence to anyone who is overwhelmed by the fear that he/she has committed this sin, that the fact that he/she is so troubled is itself a sure proof that he/she has not committed it’ (CEB Cranfield, Mark, p.142).
How sad it is when people reject the Holy Spirit’s work as the gospel is brought to them. It can happen when they observe the glory of the universe around us, and yet insist that it has all come together by chance; or when they follow politically correct stereotypes, refusing to accept the Bible as God’s special revelation.
We are not adrift in a sea of moral uncertainty. Right and wrong mean something. Good and bad, true and false, mean something, because Jesus is there to give these words meaning. “I am the truth,” he says in another place.
At the end of it all, the absolute nature of these fundamental values and truths will assert themselves over every single human life. We shall be placed against God’s plumbline, and that plumbline will be Jesus himself. Then we will discover how ridiculous is the cliche, ‘It’s all relative of course’.
© John G. Mason
A prayer. O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: do not leave us desolate, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore. Amen.