Jesus’ family thinks He is mad

Jesus’ family thinks He is mad
Mark 3: 20 -34

I have often said and say here again, that one of the reasons for believing that the New Testament is a true and trustworthy document is that it records difficult and disadvantageous incidents in the lives of Jesus and his followers and later, in the early Church. If the New Testament was propaganda, it would not have been written as it was.

Here, Jesus has continued his preaching and healing ministry. He has been invited to another house, possibly similar to the one in which he healed the paralysed young man who had been let down through the roof. Again, the house is packed to overflowing. But before anything much can happen we are told “when his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind”. The Greek words 'par autou' mean literally ‘those from beside him - those of someone's household’. Scholars think it likely the meaning is Jesus’ relatives and particularly his immediate family; 'his mother and his brothers'. However, Roman Catholics believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary and do not accept that she went on to have further children after Jesus. New Testament references to Jesus’ brothers have led Protestants to accept that he did in fact have younger siblings. These are convincing.

    Matthew 1:24-25
• "Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn Son: and he called His name, Jesus!"
    Matthew 13:55
• "Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brothers, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?"
    Matthew 12:46
• "While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood without, desiring to speak with him."
    John 2:12
• "After this He went down to Capernaum, He, and His Mother, and His Brothers, and His disciples: and they continued there not many days."
    John 7:3-5
• "His brothers therefore said unto him, Leave, and go into Judea, so that your disciples also may see the works that you do.
• For there is no man does any thing in secret, and he himself seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.
• For neither did his brothers believe in him."
    Acts 1:14
• "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers"
    Galatians 1:19
• "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother."

The text says that they came to take charge of Him - as you would someone who was unhinged. They were not wearing white coats but they were sure that Jesus had lost His marbles. Why? Could they not recognise the healings as a sign of God’s presence in Jesus? Were they spiritually jealous of Him? Were they concerned that he was going to confront the fearsome Pharisees and Herodians again? It is possible that they were afraid of Jesus starting a riot. I think however that they simply did not understand the difference between Jesus as a son and brother and Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. Jesus’ own family had the hardest time accepting that He was different from them. They wanted to dissuade Him and stop Him. That shows how far they were from understanding God’s purposes. Throughout the centuries men and women who have decided to follow Jesus have suffered the same kinds of problems. Their own flesh and blood have often been against them. My own brother has never had the slightest understanding of my calling as Christian minister. He once described me as having delusions and he defined that as ‘firmly held but false belief’.

This part of Mark’s Gospel goes on to show even more hostility to Jesus as a channel of God’s healing power - this time by the Jerusalem cognoscenti and intelligentsia. They witnessed Jesus’ healing miracles but concluded that he was another of the fraudulent exorcists and fake healers who abounded in that culture at that time. We should not feel superior. Today there are plenty of these around in this country. Some are in West Lothian. Beelzebub in the Old Testament was the ‘Lord of Flies’ a pagan God whom Elijah prophesied against. This was a grievous insult to a pious Jew as Jesus was. The whole exorcism business was something for which these people had nothing but contempt. ‘A plague on both your houses’ was their attitude. ‘Evil doing evil’ was their conclusion.

Jesus answered these insults with His harshest ever words that have come down through the centuries and caused anxiety to many good Christians. Firstly he pointed out the false logic of his critics. How could He accomplish something good if He was an instrument of evil? He had to be better than the evil that possessed people sick in mind and body. His power had to be greater than that possessing them or else they would never be any better. He mocked their argument by asking why Satan would want to destroy his own authority by making someone well again? Satan is not in the healing, blessing business. Satan is the wrecker of lives, the destroyer of health, mental and physical.

Secondly, Jesus said this, “…whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin”. He said this because these people had witnessed something good and beautiful and ascribed it to the devil. For Jews, the Holy Spirit revealed God’s truth and enabled them to recognise that truth. It’s the same as the words, “I was blind but now I see”. But these Jews were not interested in that side of Judaism. In John 6:44 Jesus said of His Jewish detractors, “You are of your father, the devil”. Through generations of faithlessness, the Jewish leaders in Jesus' time had become separated from any kind of spiritual sensitivity or prayerful piety. Some might say that the present day leaders of the State of Israel are like that. Their spiritual hearts were hard and their spiritual minds were closed shut. Jesus did not impress them by His bearing, appearance, attitude, teaching or actions.

Why should this particular sin have no forgiveness? It is a sin which is not just about being human, greedy, adulterous, gossipy. etc. It is not even a sin such as murder. Its origins lie outside normal human consciousness. It is a willing participation in opposition to God. This is a Satanic sin. It is unredeemable.

Many Christians have thought that they may have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven. But - the fact that they are sensitive to that anxiety suggests that they have not done so. Many thoroughly nasty blasphemous men and women have become converted Christians. Murderers, druggies, cons, tarts - such have become Christians. But - they have responded to the Gospel of God’s love in Jesus Christ. They have co-operated with God’s saving, transforming power - they have not blasphemed it when they met it face to face. These Jews did that and hence they were unforgiven.

Let’s be clear about something, Jesus’ life was a struggle and a battle against misunderstanding, scepticism, opposition and cosmic evil. There was an intensity of burden about His life that no-one else has ever endured. He had a lot more people against Him than he ever had for Him. He was always outnumbered. And on Calvary all the collective forces of harm thought that they had defeated Him. And it certainly looked as they though they had. Until resurrection morning.

All this is going on - the Jews from Jerusalem were piling vituperative on Jesus and we are told, “Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived”. They couldn’t get in to see Jesus. They sent a message. Jesus was told, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you”. I bet everyone here can remember hearing something like that as an errant child staying out too late playing. “Hey Wullie - yer Maw’s oot here”. Jesus didn’t say, “Help ma Boab”. He asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and then He answered His own questions by looking at his spiritual family gathered around Him, His followers and friends and disciples. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”.

Elsewhere Jesus warned His disciples that Christians would have enemies within their own family circle and from their own flesh and blood. It has been true in many cases that opposition to a Christian’s life has been strongest within his or her own family. It has been true of ministerial families also. The wife has been uncommitted and the children have been uninterested. In the Old Testament, Job’s wife was against him and his children lived for their pleasure. But remember John and Charles Wesley, brothers indeed, whose lives were filled with joint and agreed Christian purpose. And we know that many Christian couples have served the Lord devotedly and harmoniously and have accomplished much for Jesus Christ in many places and at many times - Martin Luther and Coretta King, Billy and Ruth Graham, for example and Desmond and Leah Tutu.

As Christians we may be closer in sentiment, in mind and spirit to fellow Christians than to some of our own blood family. As Christians we belong to God’s greater family - the visible and invisible Church throughout the world and in heaven. Human ties can be strong but your relationship with God through Jesus Christ can be as strong and possibly stronger.

Jesus’ family thought he was mad. That’s all they could see. Someone once said of me “He is a nutcase”. I would not dispute that at a certain level but it is not the deepest or best description of my life. Paul was a fool for Christ. So was St Francis. So have many been and are on today’s world. Be a fool for Christ yourself and be blessed.

Robert Anderson 2017

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