But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Lent 3 – 2024

There is no video for this sermon.

Lent 3 – Mark 3:20-35

Please listen with me to a reading from the third chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel, beginning at the 20th verse. This is a parallel text to today’s appointed Gospel from St. Luke.

Then [Jesus] went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house. Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

So far our text.

We usually do not look to Satan and his demonic hosts for an example that Christians should follow. But in today’s text, there is a sense – a limited sense – in which we might do this.

With reference to our Lord’s casting out of unclean spirits, together with the other miracles he had been performing, some Jewish scribes asserted that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul,” and that it was “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” Christ responded in this way:

“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand.”

Jesus expected his detractors to recognize that Satan was smart enough and sly enough to understand the need – for himself and for his minions – to stay “on task” in their self-appointed mission of opposing God, and of snatching away from God as many deluded human souls as they could.

Jesus expected the scribes to see that even the devil would not deliberately work at cross-purposes to these goals; and that the devil, as the prince of this fallen world, would not allow the fallen angels who followed him to do so, either.

Those evil beings are joined together in a common purpose, and in a united effort. They cooperate in fulfilling their evil designs.

They are not a kingdom, or a house, that is divided against itself. Satan is their diabolical master. They obey him, as he coordinates their efforts.

Now, the unity in purpose, and dedication to a common cause, that is evident in this supernatural demonic association, stands in marked contrast to the divisions and tensions that often exist in the human associations to which we belong: not only in our civil society, but also and most painfully in our families, and in our churches.

As far as the institution of the family is concerned, the kind of suspicions, disagreements, and uncharitable opinions that are reflected in Jesus’ family – as we get a glimpse of them in today’s text – can often be seen in our families.

We are told that when Jesus came back to his home after a preaching tour around the region, and when great crowds began to gather around him here too, his family “went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

There could be no true harmony or peace in a family where one of its members was inaccurately thought to be insane, and was improperly treated as an insane person. In such a divided family, there would be no unity in purpose and affection.

And there are many other kinds of conflict that can cause disunity in a family.

In our families, where we would hope to experience contentment and happiness, we are often afflicted instead by turmoil and stress: when those whom we love betray us, disrespect us, ignore us, or disappoint us; or when we, in our sinfulness, betray, ignore, disrespect, and disappoint them.

When a family becomes dysfunctional because of such frictions and hostilities, it thereby becomes a house divided against itself. If these family relationships are not repaired and restored, that family will not be able to stand. It will fall.

And it can be just as bad, or worse, in a Christian congregation.

On one occasion, as recorded by St. Matthew, Jesus told his disciples: “You have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” Jesus, of course, is that one teacher in his church, and he teaches his people through the Holy Scriptures.

But how often do his professed followers truly listen to him, and learn from him, as they should?

Churches are often torn apart by the pride and presumption of the clergy, or of the laity, or of both. Churches are often poisoned by uncharitable attitudes and impatience among their members and ministers.

Factions oppose each other in selfish and uncaring ways. The voice of Christ in the church is ignored, and the true mission of the church is forgotten.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit no longer reign. The unholy trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil now reign.

When this happens, if those divisions are not repaired, these congregations cannot stand. They, too, will fall.

In today’s text from St. Mark, Jesus does show us, and give us, a way of healing and restoration: for broken families, and for broken congregations. It is the way of repentance and faith, and the way of divine forgiveness.

Jesus speaks very harshly against those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit, out of a hardened heart that attributes the workings of God’s Spirit to Satan. But there are also those who, in their human ignorance and weakness, may say wicked and foolish things regarding Jesus, and his words and deeds; and who themselves may do wicked and foolish things.

For them, this way of repentance and faith, and of forgiveness, is always open. Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.”

At least some of the members of the Ben-Joseph family of Nazareth had blasphemed against the Son of God in human flesh – that is, against their brother Jesus – when they told people that they thought he was “out of his mind.” Saying that God’s Son is crazy is, in itself, the sin of blasphemy – even if this sin was committed in ignorance.

But this sin will be forgiven them. This sin was forgiven them.

St. Paul tells us that Jesus made a special appearance to his brother James, after his resurrection. In the grace of Christ’s victory over death – for the sake of all humanity, and for the sake of the members of his own family – the criticisms, the uncharitable judgments, and the blasphemies, were forgiven.

The harmony, and unity of purpose, of Jesus’ family, was restored by the gospel. And Jesus’ brothers never again thought that he was out of his mind.

But in time, the unbelievers around Jesus’ brothers no doubt thought that they were out of their minds, for believing now that their brother Jesus was actually much more than their brother; and for being willing to die for the sake of proclaiming, that by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, all people can have life and hope, and the forgiveness of their sins.

James, the most prominent of Jesus’ brothers – who had become the chief pastor or chief rabbi of the first Christian congregation in Jerusalem – was martyred in that city precisely for this reason, in the year 62 A.D.

Whatever pain and stress may be burdening your family now – and causing division within it – your family, too, can be healed by the resurrected Christ: who is here with you, in your struggles, and in your fears, to forgive you and to comfort you. He is alive, and he is the bestower of life on all who look to him.

Jesus, from the right hand of God the Father, declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He can make all things new in your family: as the members of your family together trust in him, together receive his forgiveness, and together rediscover his love.

And this is what Jesus can and will do for a troubled and hurting congregation as well.

I am not aware of any serious problems of this nature in our congregation. But if such problems do ever develop in the future, or if it seems as if they might develop, I hope and pray that we will remember that we have one Teacher, and that we are all brothers.

In the New Testament, the church and its fellowship are often described in terms of a family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ: adopted as children of God our heavenly Father, through the Spirit of his only begotten Son Jesus, who dwells within us.

And when we, as a Christian family, gather together in Christ’s name around the ministry of Word and Sacrament, we gather to be instructed in what God’s will for us is, and to allow our wills to be transformed and reshaped according to his will.

Jesus says in today’s text: “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” And what is the will of God for us? In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says:

“This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians:

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

St. Peter, in his First Epistle, adds this:

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.”

And St. John, in his First Epistle, gives us this final thought:

“The world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

None of this can be done in our human strength, of course. “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” as St. Paul teaches us in his Epistle to the Philippians. But God does work.

God was at work in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. God is at work in the means of grace, offering and giving to you his pardon and peace, whenever the message of his Son’s atoning sacrifice is proclaimed and applied, in sermon and in Supper.

God is at work in you – in your heart and mind – giving you the faith by which you receive this message, and receive him.

And God is at work in you and through you, making your faith fruitful: in relationships with fellow Christians that are characterized by harmony and unity of purpose; by a mutual commitment to the authority, doctrine, and calling of God; and by a mutual living out – among ourselves – of the compassion and kindness of God.

Jesus is not ashamed to claim us as his family – as his own beloved brothers and sisters: even though we are still weak in our faith toward him; and even though we do often falter in our love toward one another. Yet even in our weakness, Jesus looks at us, and loves us, through the lens of his justifying grace.

St. Mark tells us today that as Jesus looked about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

So too does Jesus look about at those who are seated around him here – around his Word and Sacrament, through which he is present among us in this place. And he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers!”

Jesus looks at you. Jesus sees you according to what his gospel has made you to be: washed clean by his blood, and covered with the garment of his righteousness. And Jesus says to you: “You are my brother, and my sister.”

The presence and promise of Christ truly can, and does, set us free from our conflicts and controversies, our striving and antagonism, our callousness and indifference. Jesus puts his people on a different path, and on a better path.

Through the gospel, and through the healing and restoring power of his Word, we are not a kingdom that is divided against itself. Through the gospel, and through the truth and clarity of his Word, we are not a house that is falling.

We are not divided, All one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, One in charity.

And we implore you, almighty God, that of your mercy you would strengthen us: in faith toward you, and in fervent love toward one another, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.