His family thought He was out of His mind. The scribes thought He was possessed. We cannot know what the crowds thought, but we know they were increasing. By the time we get to today’s reading, the number of people seeking Jesus was big enough to crush Him (3:9-10) and persistent enough to keep Him from dinner (3:20). Questions and opinions about Him varied, but one thing was certain, Jesus was causing a major commotion. He could not be ignored.
It is well known that Jesus’ ministry in Mark goes from zero to sixty from the start. Immediately following his baptism and temptation, Jesus begins proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and teaching with authority. He gets to work healing the sick and casting out demons. He calls people to follow Him, and they respond by leaving everything—even family and professions—to join His cause... and that is all in the first chapter. The action escalates in chapter two. There Jesus starts forgiving sins, consorting with tax collectors and sinners, and challenging Sabbath regulations. Mark earns its reputation as a gospel of action.
But it is the reactions which take center stage in the gospel reading for this Sunday. Your sermon might explore one (or more) of these reactions, as well as Jesus’ response to them.
Let us start with the reaction of His family. Simply put, it was not positive. Verse 20 is the first time Mark mentions Jesus’ family (literally, “Those near to Him,” οἱ παρʼ αὐτοῦ). They thought He was out of His mind, so they tried to seize Him. Mark does not tell us they failed, but apparently, they did not succeed. In verse 31 His mother and brothers appeared again, this time summoning Him through the crowd. But He did not answer them. Instead, He taught the crowds by redefining His own family. “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Mark does not tell us how His biological family responded.
The reaction of the scribes (who had come down from Jerusalem) was more combative. They did not question Jesus’ healings or cast doubt on His exorcisms. Instead, they threw shade on the power by which He was doing them. “By the prince of demons, He casts out the demons,” they insisted. To this Jesus responded with several short parables. A house divided against itself cannot stand. A strong man’s house cannot be plundered unless he is bound. The message was clear. He was not possessed, but rather Lord over the prince of this world. He finished with the obvious conclusion that, so long as one rejects the Spirit by rejecting the one who healed and forgave, there would be no forgiveness.
*Jesus’ conclusion brings up the so-called, “Sin against the Holy Spirit.” Your hearers may wonder about it, so it might warrant a comment. But this does not need to overpower your sermon. Save the long answer for Bible class and keep in mind Augustine’s brief comment: “It is not that this was a blasphemy which under no circumstances could be forgiven, for even this shall be forgiven if right repentance follows it.” See his Sermons on New Testament Lessons 21.35.
The message was clear. He was not possessed, but rather Lord over the prince of this world.
Similar to Jesus’ interaction with His family, Mark does not tell us how the scribes responded.
Are you noticing a pattern? In both His interaction with His family and the scribes, we see four steps:
- Jesus does incredible things that cannot be denied.
- The reaction of those who should know better demonstrates their ignorance.
- Jesus rebukes them by teaching something about His identity and work.
- Mark leaves their subsequent response unmentioned.
Your sermon could take this text in several possible directions.
One option would be to explore Jesus’ redefinition of the family and proclaim the promise of adoption into the family of God. Jesus’ family did not consist of His biological mother and brothers and sisters. Neither does yours. Those who do the will of God (namely, believe in Jesus and live in His name) belong to Jesus’ family. In a culture that is comfortable redefining such things as marriage and family, you might do them one better. Help your hearers appreciate their true, baptismal family, while warning them against the possibility that our biological, nuclear families can become an impediment to a faithful ecclesiology (if you go this direction, you might read David Brooks thought-provoking article about the unintended problems with an over-emphasis on the nuclear family).
Another option would be to explore the scribes’ reaction to Jesus and His miracles. It is noteworthy that they did not dismiss or ignore Jesus’ works. Unlike some critics today, they did not call into question His healings or His exorcisms as instances of fake news. They granted Him supernatural power but accused Him of playing for the wrong team. If you take this approach, you might highlight Jesus’ parable about the strong man. Through His ministry, and ultimately through His resurrection, Jesus bound the strong man and demonstrated His authority over the most terrible powers in the universe.
A third option would be to return to the fourfold pattern I noted above. Notice how our experience today follows roughly this pattern:
- We have recently witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
- The inconsistency of our reaction suggests we remain sadly ignorant.
- Jesus continues to teach us about His identity and work.
- Our subsequent response remains to be seen.
If you take this approach, you will proclaim anew the promise of Jesus’ sovereign identity and gracious work. Then, you will call your hearers to respond with faithfulness and humble obedience.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 3:20-35.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 3:20-35.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 3:20-35.