The Unforgivable Sin (& how to avoid it)

My compadres over at ThinkTheology are currently writing a blog series entitled “Follow Me,” working their way through the Gospel According to St. Mark.

And—wouldn’t you know it?—by the luck of draw (or so they tell me), I was asked to comment on Mark 3:20-30. You know, the passage introducing us to the thorny question about the “unforgivable sin.”

This is a fascinating piece of Scripture. People have been wrestling for years over what blasphemy against the Spirit means, and whether or not Joe Average or Jane Anybody, followers of Jesus, might have accidentally committed it.

Charlatans have wielded this section of Scripture like a war club, (ab)using it to threaten anyone who might dare to question the outlandish things they are teaching and doing.

As always, contextnot just the surrounding verses but the whole of Marks gospelprovides more than enough clues as to (a) what Jesus meant, and (b) to whom He was speaking.

At the beginning of this passage, there are two groups of people upset with Jesus: His own family and the teachers of the law.” His family is mentioned first, but it is not until the next passage in the ThinkTheology series (Mark 3:31-35) where they take center stage and Jesus speaks to their concerns. Todays section of Scripture deals with the second group of the offended: the teachers of the law (we could also call them the Legalistic Lecturers, if alliteration appeals to you).

The background context to this chapter:
(a) Jesus healed a man during the Sabbath, which resulted in the teachers of the law blowing their religious gaskets (they were already looking for reasons to discredit Jesus anyway).
(b) Jesus had developed a tendency toward healing people and casting out impure spirits (demons) which inspired many people to put their faith in Him.
And to make matters even worse (from the viewpoint of the legalists), 
(c) Jesus had just commissioned His disciples to preach, heal, and cast out demons as well. (Oh no!you can almost hear the echoes of the Legalistic Lecturers face-palming themselves into unconsciousnessnow its going to spread even further).
Of course, Jesus had been doing the same things since the beginning of His public ministry: preaching about the Kingdom (Mark 1:14-15), healing the sick (Mark 1:32-34), and casting out demons (Mark 1:21-28). And the Legalistic Lecturers had been hounding Jesus ever since He healed a paralytic and (gasp!) forgave his sins (Mark 2:2-7). They didnt like His teaching, or that the crowds were following after Him. They were constantly on the lookout for any way to entrap or discredit Jesus.
Note: Their hearts were completely hardened against Jesus. They would use whatever means necessary to stop Him. To say they were obsessed with His downfall would be an understatement of, shall we say . . . biblical proportions.
And so they concocted the accusation that Jesus ministry was empowered by Satan himself. Strategically, they chose to use the name Beelzebul, because it would remind people of Baal, the #1 idol which had historically plagued the Israelites in the Old Testament.
This was not an off-the-cuff slip of the tongue by the Legalistic Lecturers. This was a cleverly worded denunciation of Jesus miracles by claiming He was possessed by the same evil spirits as Israels enemies (some translations substitute Beelzebul with Satan, but the intent is the same).
Jesus then calls the teachers of the law over for a private chat, and gives them a Lecture of His own. He points out their ridiculous lack of logic in suggesting Satan would intentionally undermine himself. (They were clearly grasping at straws by this point.)

Jesus also drops a not-so-subtle hint: it would take Someone much stronger than Satan to overcome him and plunder his house (take his goods). Jesus miracles of healing and casting out demonsin this chapter aloneserved as clear examples of how Satans house was already being plundered, even before the Cross.

And finally, Jesus calls them on the carpet re: their campaign to discredit Him. They were playing with fire, and not just figuratively. For them to reject Jesus as the Messiah was bad enough, although the consequences were limited to themselves. Trying to dissuade others from following Jesus by accusing Him of being demonically-empowered was inexcusable in the extreme, and punishable eternally.

So, to cut to the chase about whether or not Joe Average or Jane Anybodysincerely trying to follow Jesusmight accidentally commit the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, allow me to suggest the following checklist, based on todays passage:
  1. If you see people coming to faith in Jesus, and
  2. This causes you to become inexplicably enraged, and
  3. You obsessively spend most of your waking hours trying to find or invent ways to discredit Jesus, because
  4. Youve decided its blasphemous for Jesus to forgive the sins of others, and therefore
  5. You work tirelessly to convince people who are interested in Jesus that Hes actually working for Beelzebub, or Satan, or possibly Emperor Palpatine, then
  6. You might be guilty of the unforgivable sin.
Otherwise, just keep following Jesus.

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