Prepare to listen. Sit still, take a few deep breaths then pray: Lord God, open my ears and let me hear your words today. Amen.
Read Mark 3:28-30
28‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’--30for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
These are, perhaps, the most disturbing words Jesus spoke. Certainly, they’ve troubled many of us as we’ve wondered whether we may have unknowingly committed the unforgivable sin. A colleague used to say if you think you have, it means you haven’t! The person who commits this sin does so knowingly and deliberately, he said. However, I’m not so sure. It seems that Jesus was addressing these words to the Jerusalem scribes (v22), implying they had committed blasphemy against the Spirit by accusing Jesus (who was full of the Spirit, see Luke 4:1) of demon-possession and even of being satan (Beelzebul). I suspect they would have argued with Jesus, emphatically denying having committed blasphemy against the Spirit. So, what did Jesus mean and are you in danger?
Most people presume that Jesus referred to what we say, that is, using words that attribute to the satan the work of God’s Spirit. And there is much sense in this. Read the beginning of v30 again: ‘For they had said.’ It sounds like using words. However, this phrase is in the imperfect tense in Greek and could be translated they were saying. This wasn’t a one-off occasion, but more a settled attitude that came out in both word and deed. William Lane argues that it “implies repetition and a fixed attitude of mind” (The Gospel According to Mark, 1974, p. 146). Such a person sees a work that clearly is of God’s Spirit and refuses to acknowledge it, perhaps because, like the scribes, it takes influence away from them or because they refused to believe Jesus was from God; this is blasphemy and unforgiveable.
The stubborn attitude that refuses to acknowledge the Spirit’s work will be seen in a lifestyle, not merely in words. The parables before these words (vv23-27) are a hint that the scribes lived a life that wasn’t according to God’s design; one that failed to reflect God to the world. They were in control of the ‘house’ (which is the term Jesus used to refer to the temple) that was divided against itself because of the religious rulers. Jesus warns them that their attitude of holding onto power in God’s House, the temple, oppressing God’s people with their harsh interpretations of the Law, was blasphemy against the Spirit. Ched Myers writes, “To be captive to the way things are, to resist criticism and change, to brutally suppress efforts at humanization—is to be bypassed by the grace of God” (2015, p. 167).
Let me return to my colleague’s comment that if you fear you’ve committed this sin, you probably haven’t. There is truth in that. Those who fear committing blasphemy are those who believe in Jesus and desire to live his way, not their own. Those who commit the unpardonable sin don’t really care whether they have or haven’t. ‘Truly I tell’ is always a warning that Jesus is about to say something very serious. It’s not meant to frighten but to encourage us who follow Jesus to stay the course. It’s a warning to those who resist change and cruelly treat fellow humans and then claim to be Christian.
What encouragement do you see in this lesson today?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Jesus, guard me from a heart that resists change and rejects and oppresses humans created in your image. Show me the way to reflect you to the those I meet today and to treat all creation with dignity and respect. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world confident of Christ in you.