Escalating conflict and the unforgivable sin
Mark gets straight down to business. In 16 chapters, he doesn’t have a lot of column inches to build the tension!
To the Pharisees and even John’s disciples, following Jesus looked like an easier deal. The Pharisees had added to the once a year prescribed fast during the day of atonement, extra fasts every Monday and Thursday. So they raised some questions to test out Jesus’ attitude to the ceremonial law:
He has healed on the Sabbath 1:31
Later, the disciples don’t ceremonially wash before eating 7:2
And today they will pick and husk corn to eat on the Sabbath 2:23
There are two levels to Jesus’ answer on fasting. Superficially, who wants to fast in times of joyous fellowship. Fasting is for times of disaster, penitence and voluntary abandonment. More appropriate when Jesus has gone. The deeper answer is about the whole system of Jewish ceremony. The book of Acts will show that Christianity can’t be just a reformed Jewish sect – the new wine doesn’t fit well in the old wineskin.
The Pharisees catch the disciples working on the Sabbath – reaping some corn to husk and eat. It begs the question as to why the Pharisees had walked to the cornfields too (against the law!). Presumably it’s to catch Jesus and the disciples.
There’s a two-fold answer again. The law of need is greater than the ceremonial law as exampled by David and his greater faux pas of eating the ceremonial bread. The deeper answer is that the Pharisees have made the Sabbath an intolerable burden.
Jesus pushes the argument further by healing a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees cannot answer his question honestly and directly without abandoning their position. Jesus then appeals to the common sense of the common man!
Having been rejected by the “church” of Israel, Jesus picks the 12 disciples, to be the initial followers in His new Church.
Beelzebul and the unforgivable sin
Jesus’ family misunderstand His identity as the Son of God, thinking him mad and filled, or possessed, by Satan.
Later his brother James, at least, will understand and he becomes a pillar of the Jerusalem Church, nicknamed camel knees because he prays so much, and eventually is thrown off the temple roof, sparking a wave of persecution in the mid ’60s.
This incident leads to one of the most solemn pronouncements and warnings of the New Testament.
There is forgiveness for every sin except one. Three questions come to mind:
1) Is there really an unforgivable sin?
2) If so, what is it?
3) How then should we live?
The sweetest news, according to John Piper (and of course I agree!) is that God has forgiven you and remembers your sin no more. The worst news would be that God would never forgive you. Never means never to God (Matt 12:32 makes that pretty clear). So whoever blasphemes against the Spirit never has forgiveness, guilty of an eternal sin. What then is the unforgivable sin? The context is the scribes attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan.
Verse 28 tells us all blasphemies and sins can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit puts you beyond repentance. What is blasphemy against the Spirit and why is it worse than against the Father or the Son? It’s to do with the unique role the Spirit plays in salvation. The Father planned redemption and the Son brought it about by being executed and rising again. The Spirit is the one who opens our eyes, grants to us repentance and gives us the lavish blessings of God. If we reject or speak against the Father or Son, there is hope because the Spirit can still bring us to repentance. But if you so reject the Spirit, you put yourself beyond forgiveness. If you feel guilty and want to repent, you have not put yourself beyond the work of the Spirit and can be sure that you have not committed the unforgiveable sin.
So what to do we do?
Run from sin to Jesus
Repent and be forgiven – if you can repent, you are forgivable and forgiven!