A Study of the Book of Mark - Bob Sawvelle

Family: the word should cause emotions of love and joy to permeate us. For many, this isn’t the case. Broken families seem to be the more consistent norm in society. Yet, God intended that family would be the building blocks to our relationship with Him and with others. Even the best earthly family, full of love and tenderness, isn’t perfect. Even Jesus experienced challenges within His earthy family relationships—as we shall read in today’s study of the gospel of Mark.

Today, we will be looking at Mark 3:20-21, 22-30, and 31-35. Mark is imbedding three stories into one section in order that each story may help interpret the other. In the first and third stories, Jesus is misunderstood by His own family. The second story involves a more serious accusation from the Jewish scribes.

Mark 3:20-21: Jesus is Misunderstood by His Own

Jesus has become famous throughout Israel and the surrounding region. They come home to the house of Peter and Andrew, and a multitude shows up–they can’t even eat!

Vs. 21 Then, “when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.” In ancient Jewish culture, as well as many non-Western cultures today, a person existed as part of the extended family. Any action by an individual was a reflection on the entire family—a breach of family honor would usually be met with severe discipline.

Most likely Jesus’ foster father Joseph is no longer alive (see Mk 3:31), and other family members have taken on the role as family oversight. Jesus is answerable to them! Unbelief leads to many wrong assumptions! “What are you doing Jesus?!”

They have heard all the stories, and the accusations. They probably set out from Nazareth, feeling obligated to “reel Him in” and stabilize things—even protect Him. From their perspective, Jesus should be back in Nazareth working as a carpenter.

Word was getting around that He was “out of His mind.” Meaning that the supernatural activity was a result of mental imbalance. In today’s American culture, we might say, “he is off his rocker!” Hmmm, think about this for a minute—the sick are healed, the demonized delivered, the poor fed—but Jesus is mentally unstable?

Paul describes this reality as well in 2 Cor. 5:13-14 CEB, “If we are crazy, it’s for God’s sake. If we are rational, it’s for your sake. The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all…The supernatural workings of God seem irrational and even insane to an unbelieving world.

In Mark 6:1-3, we will see how the entire town of Nazareth, like His family, could only see Him as a carpenter and couldn’t perceive the Spirit of God upon Him. John 7:5 records that “even His brothers did not believe in Him” (RSV). We like our carpenters to be normal people, not preaching the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and delivering the oppressed! After all, isn’t that the job of the trained Jewish Scribes and Pharisees?! Jesus suffered misunderstanding from those closest to Him, His family and even first century Jewish society.

Don’t be surprised when your radical commitment to Jesus, to follow Him unreservedly—going after the “greater works” of John 14:12—invites misunderstanding and even mockery from your family and those in the community. Family and society want a “tidy” Christianity!

Mark 3:22-30 Outrageous Accusations

Wedged between the two stories of family misunderstanding and accusation, is this horrible accusation that Jesus is casting out demons by the “prince of demons,” or Satan! (See John 10:20 for a similar accusation).

The Scribes from Jerusalem come, they carry greater authority than the Pharisees of Galilee. They are experts in the Mosaic Law, and the Scribes become the fiercest opponents of Jesus’ ministry. They cast judgement … Jesus is possessed!

Beelzebub is a name for Satan, probably derived from a title of the false god of the Canaanites, “Baal the Prince.” The first century reader, who knows Jesus as Messiah, would be shocked to hear of this accusation. And so are we today. Religion, apart from God’s Spirit, not only blinds people to truth, but perverts what is true—good becomes evil.

Jesus answers the two-fold charge, first that He is possessed by Satan, and second that He performs deliverance by demonic sorcery in reverse order.

First, the claim that Jesus is casting out demons by demonic power is disproved—it is illogical! “How can Satan drive out Satan?” In three parallel statements, Jesus likens Satan to the ruler of a kingdom or house—who would naturally act in self-interest.

What ruler would create a “revolt” against his own rule?! Internal strife or civil war in a kingdom creates chaos and leads to self-destruction. Jesus clearly points out that if Satan is making war on his own subordinates, his kingdom would collapse quickly—again, this is illogical and absurd.

Jesus then uses the analogy of a house being burglarized. Satan is compared to a strong man guarding his possessions—in this case, possessed human beings. People demonized can only be freed by first taking authority (binding) the strong man (Satan), then freed.

Finally, Jesus addresses the charge that He is possessed by Satan (Beelzebub). He prefaces the dialogue with, “Amen,” or so be it… take heed, in other words. Jesus affirms that all sins are forgivable, even all blasphemes (to insult or abuse the name of God) against God Himself.

To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, in the context of this passage, is to harden one’s heart so completely that one refuses to recognize the acts of God and even attributes to evil the good works done by Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit (see Mark 1:10; see Isa. 5:20).

The result: a person shuts the door to the Holy Spirit’s inner work of grace that leads to conversion. Jesus, John 3:17-18 CEB, “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

People, like the Scribes, who persist in willful blindness as to who Jesus is refusing to repent, thus close themselves to the mercy and forgiveness that God offers through Jesus.

Mark 3:31-35 Jesus’ True Family

Mark now resumes the story of his family who has come to seize Jesus. This time His mother and brothers are specifically mentioned (some ancient manuscripts include sisters). *Some Church fathers believed these to be cousins and children of Joseph.

There is a multitude sitting around Jesus, His family is outside calling Him, and the crowd lets Him know. Again, they are trying to protect the family reputation and Jesus.

This is the only time that Mary, the mother of Jesus appears on the scene, although she is mentioned by name in Mark 6:3. Mark doesn’t indicate that Mary thinks Jesus is out of his mind, but no doubt she is unsure at this point as to the scope and purpose of the mission of Jesus.

Jesus reply must have been shocking to the family and to the crowd.

In Mark’s narrative, it is the first indication of an important principal that Jesus will make clearer in the gospel narratives. Namely, all earthly ties, even family, take second place to the Kingdom of God (see Mark 10:29-30; Luke 9:61-62; 14:26).

In Jewish culture, family bonds were foremost and important, but Jesus is saying they are of lesser importance than Christian discipleship. Jesus looks at the multitude around Him, many devoted disciples, and says, “Here are My mother and My brothers.”

Jesus is elevating these disciples to an unexpected status—they are not merely His followers, but His family. Shocking then—and now. Jesus is establishing a new family, the family of God, whose members are those united around Jesus through love, obedience, and loyalty that is stronger than blood relationships (see John 1:12; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 2:19; Heb. 2:10-11).

Jesus was not rejecting His earthly family, but rather establishing a new understanding of family in God’s kingdom. Eventually Jesus’ brothers did accept this new basis for family, evidenced by their loyal commitment to Jesus and the early church (see Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19).

In Mark 3:35, Jesus gives a final directive regarding participation in God’s family.

Obedience. To do the will of God is, according to Jesus, is the primary condition for entrance into God’s family (see Matt. 7:21). Consider that Jesus only wanted to do those things that pleased the Father (see Mark 14:36; John 4:34; 8:29).

To “do God’s will,” one must first learn what it is, by sitting and listening to Jesus as the crowd is doing.

TODAY: But what about repentance, and accepting Christ as savior? Justification by faith and new birth? Isn’t that our entrance into God’s kingdom and family?

YES. But, to truly accept Jesus as savior means that you have decided to follow Jesus—no turning back. Willful blindness and disobedience prevent God’s grace to effect new birth. Surrender is required! Family is important, but loyalty to Jesus transcends family bonds.

Bob Sawvelle


For a more in-depth look at this topic, watch my sermon, A Study of the Book of Mark, Part 9 via Passion Church:

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