Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sermon for 10 June 2012, Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5B)

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Mark 3:20-35
Idolatry and Blasphemy
Proper 5B, 10 June 2012
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

By the time we get to Mark chapter 3, Jesus has chosen his twelve disciples. The people crowd in on Him (and them) so closely that He can hardly get away to have a bite to eat. His own family thinks He is delusional. And the scribes from Jerusalem think Jesus is possessed by the devil. That’s what we face in today’s appointed Holy Gospel.
Who sticks with you when you are at your worst? Recently, I’ve had a chance to ponder that question personally. The Lord is always with you, even when you don’t “feel” He is. To be blunt about it, the Lord’s Word is true and His promises are true because He says so, no matter what your emotions, experience, reason, or the culture says to the contrary. In today’s text, the Father abides with His only-begotten Son.
God the Holy Spirit dwells within His Christians for the sake of Christ. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God in three persons and three persons in one God, united in purpose and love for you.
It does matter what one believes about God. The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” prohibits us from worshiping a fake, false, or imaginary god. The sub-commandment, “You shall not make for yourselves a carved image,” teaches us that the Lord our God is a jealous God, and prevents us from attempting to worship the one true God in a false way, with a fake name, or in ways we have imagined for ourselves.
Think of the accusations made against Jesus in our text: He’s the latest fad; He’s crazy; He’s of the Devil.
20 Then he [Jesus] 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.”
It’s bad enough that Jesus has the status of someone famous that everyone wants a piece of. They will abandon him when persecution comes as this summer’s parables will prove. They do not know the whole story of His suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. He is rejected by His own family now. Even the disciples themselves will struggle with what Jesus says about Himself. Today the disciples have to listen to what religious leaders have to say about their Rabbi.
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.”
Consider what the Jerusalem scribes are saying. They reject every association with Jesus. He is not one of them. By their words they excommunicate Jesus from the congregation, the church of Israel. They not only say He is not of God, but say He is devil-possessed.
I credit Paul Maier for a positive insight on these words by the Jerusalem scribes: they admit that Jesus has cast out demons. The Rev. Dr. Maier calls these Jewish scholars “hostile witnesses” in a court of law. 1) They admit Jesus has done and is doing miraculous things. 2) These scribes cannot deny that Jesus has healed the possessed, the paralyzed, and the leprous. 3) They admit Jesus has done and is doing miraculous things. What they won’t admit is that Jesus is of God, for if they admitted that, they would have to admit that He was right and that they were wrong.
Thus far in Mark Jesus has begun His ministry, proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel”. He healed the possessed, paralyzed, and leprous, and He has called His disciples. Now, with those disciples present, Jesus corrects the false idea of the scribes.
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.
Jesus tells the Jerusalem scribes (and His own disciples) that it makes no sense for Satan, Beelzebul, the prince of demons, the ruler of this world, to cast out himself. What would be the point? Even such a thing would not serve the purposes of the old evil foe. Satan’s authority is limited to only what God allows.
A house divided against itself—a kingdom divided against itself—cannot stand. Again, it makes no sense for the devil to cast out himself, for it would only lead to his defeat sooner.
Satan does try to divide houses and kingdoms and congregations against themselves because it suits His purpose of leading people away from Christ.
Satan tries to divide the Church of Christ against itself. That we confess one holy Christian and apostolic Church is a matter of faith, for we do not see one undivided Church here on earth. That one holy apostolic Church is something only the Lord Himself can see. Christ has promised that even the gates of hell will not prevail against it. There are no hypocrites in the one holy Church. The same cannot be said of individual Christian congregations. Our true unity as Christians across denominational, geographical, and political lines consists only in what Jesus has given in His word for us to believe, teach, and confess. All human ideas, interpretations, inventions, and deletions will pass away. Our common heritage, confession, and rule of practice is the Word alone, the content of the faith once delivered to the saints.
Satan tries to divide a church body against itself. I grieve when I hear of another sister congregation or brother pastor that has changed what they believe or practice. I groan when such doctrinal or practical change impacts us when we are perceived as unloving, ignorant, or old fashioned because our doctrine and practice have remained steadfast and faithful. If they changed from the historic belief and ways of the LCMS and we remained the same, why are we considered “strange?” Pray for unity in teaching and practice in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Pray for the new Synod koinonia project so we can build trust between pastors and pastors, congregations and congregations, within circuits and districts, and that Synod as a whole may walk together in what we say and what we do, united under Christ and His Word. 
Satan tries to divide a congregation against itself. Such divisions take many forms, but all have the same source: sin. Power struggles impact even Christian congregations. Differences of opinion cover the silliest of topics from a heavenly perspective. The famous “rumor mill” masquerades as harmless speculation but hurts feelings, destroys reputations, causes unnecessary division, and feeds the false notion that white lies are harmless. If you know something isn’t true or you can’t prove it, don’t repeat it. The only winner in a divided congregation is the devil himself. And he rejoices when there is frustration, resentment, or a breach of trust between a congregation and a pastor or a pastor and a congregation. And if the devil can get someone to believe a rumor about a human being, it’s not much of a stretch for him to get you to believe a lie about God Himself.
Satan tries to divide a family—a household—against itself. Primarily, he wants husbands and wives, parents and children, in-laws and “outlaws” to believe differently about Jesus, God, and salvation than what we are taught in the Bible. Satan especially tries to get people to doubt the Bible or even the existence of God. Satan elevates athletics or leisure to the status of a new idol, a false god. Find unity for your family in God’s Word. Husbands and wives are to be yoked together under Christ. Fathers are to raise their children in the fear and instruction of the Lord. We are given to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives and throughout all generations.
Satan tries to divide a person against himself or herself. Scripture speaks of the “double-minded man.” With Christ, faithful preachers always proclaim, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.”
Today Christ says, 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.”
(Adapted from TLSB) Verses 29–30 [are a] Famously difficult passage; it equates blasphemy of the Holy Spirit with the unpardonable sin—unyielding refusal to believe the Gospel and a rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work to create faith in Jesus. Guilt of this sin brings one into the everlasting condemnation and punishment established for Satan and his evil angels (cf Mt 25:41). See note, 1Jn 5:16.
Luther says: “He calls the sin against the Holy Spirit a mortal sin. All of this is tantamount to saying: ‘Whoever despairs in his sin or relies on good works sins against the Holy Spirit and against grace.’ Of course, I should intercede for such people and pray that they may be freed from that sin and be converted; but it is impossible that God be gracious to them so long as they are given to that sin, it is impossible that God’s grace be of greater effect in their hearts than that sin, as is true of other sins.… No, I must pray against that sin… That is an intolerable sin. All other sins which let grace triumph and reign are forgivable” (AE 19:48–49).
TLSB: 3:22–30 Those who refuse to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and acknowledge His works as manifestations of the Holy Spirit remain under the dominion of Satan. But Jesus has overcome Satan. Those baptized into Christ have received not only Him but also His promised Holy Spirit.
Lord, preserve us from the power of Satan. Remove any lingering doubts we might harbor, that we might be confident in the fact that You have bound him and rescued us from his dominion.
TLSB 3:31–35 Having answered the charges of His enemies, Jesus now directs attention to His family and their fears that He has lost His mind.
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.”
TLSB: 3:13–21 Even as Jesus seeks to expand His ministry by appointing and sending 12 apostles, His family comes and tries to make Him stop what He is doing. How ironic that those who think they know Jesus best are trying to stop Him from fulfilling His mission! Unfortunately, similar examples are still seen, as when lifelong Christians undermine sound mission strategies. But the Lord and His mission are not overcome by even this opposition. Jesus willingly faced death and conquered it for us. In Him is our hope of eternal life.
Lord, overcome our fear when we do not understand Your plans. Focus us instead on Your call to follow and Your gracious promise to lead.
TLSB: 3:32 Note the irony. People who barely know Jesus are seated next to Him, eagerly listening, while His family is outside, trying to get close enough to make Him stop. 3:33–35 Who are My mother and My brothers? To be clear, Jesus is not despising family ties and their importance (see note, Lk 2:51).Though earthly relations are crucial, one’s relationship to God and His family of faith are even more important, since they form an eternal communion. See note, Mt 10:37.  3:31–35 Loyalty to God takes precedence over loyalty to blood relations. This is still hard to hear today, as the temptation to put relationships with family and friends above God can be overwhelming. But the Lord wants us to have both relationships, and have them as healthy as they can be. He stands first in our lives because He placed Himself last, to humbly bear our sins and make us children of God.
Lord, thank You for the privilege of being included in Your eternal family. Keep us in this faith and life forever. [1]
Jesus’ difficult work in today’s text is to face his family, his disciples, the Jerusalem scribes, and us up to the truth. We have idols and often worship the true God in a false way. Sadly, we sometimes embrace falsehood. We attempt to find saviors outside of Christ and take pleasure in creation instead of take pleasure in the Creator. Such actions and false worship are idolatry and sin against God, even blasphemy.
In addition, and more importantly, Jesus claims you as part of His family, children of the same Heavenly Father, even as we pray with Him, “Our Father,” receive His gifts, and do the will of God by the power of God the Holy Spirit. We confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the one, true, Triune God. We believe, teach, and confess Jesus Christ, true God, true Man, and our eternal Savior. Amen.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Engelbrecht, E. A. (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible (1660–1661). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.