Study in Mark’s Gospel. Presentation 10. Jesus Under Pressure Chap 3v20-35. Presentation 10. Introduction.
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In the construction industry a variety of structural materials are tested to destruction. I have seen 4” concrete cubes disintegrate. The purpose of such tests is to measure the strength of the material, and discover the
pressure it is capable of bearing this is important for the safety
of the building. You may have seen on the news ,large housing
blocks collapse because the concrete was substandard.
However, it is not only building materials that are put under
pressure. It happens to people and it certainly happened
in the life of Jesus. There is much we can learn
from our text which describes Jesus put into
the crushing machine of misrepresentation
and misunderstanding - pressures which
constantly confront us.
The religious establishment saw their hold upon the people slacken as a result of Jesus’ ministry, which was marked by power and authority. It exposed their spiritual poverty and impotence. They were too proud to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from him.
So what did they do? They could not compete with him, so they began a smear campaign designed to discredit and misrepresent him. They began by questioning the source of Jesus’ power, “This man can only do these things because he is possessed
by the devil” v22 . They could not deny the remarkable things that Jesus did and so they attempted to undermine his ministry by accusing him of being in league with the devil.
Jesus’ response to the slander exposes the spuriousness of their logic. How could Satan drive out Satan? Even a child is able to deduce that a kingdom that is at war with itself has within it the seeds of its own destruction.
A classic example is that of the vast kingdom of Alexander the Great. It was torn into three after
his death. It became a shadow of its former self.
It was ripe for take-over and the Romans were
glad to oblige. No kingdom at war with itself can stand and if Satan was, as the religious leaders
were suggesting, opposing himself then 'his end had come' v26
Jesus did not respond to slander with slander. Rather he turned it into a teaching opportunity. Jesus did not, like some modern scholars, argue that Satan was not real. He did not dismiss the idea that men and women are prisoners of the dehumanising influence of evil in their lives. In v27 Satan is described as a formidable jailer who has taken men and women prisoner.
How were they to escape the sphere of his captivity and be reunited with their rightful owner? Someone must break into the prison house of the strong man, overcome him and takes possession of the captives.
The implication is clear – this was Jesus’ mission
which would reach its fulfilment upon the cross.
The liberating nature of Christ’s redemptive death captured the imagination of Wesley and found expression in the word’s of his famous hymn:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke the dungeons flamed with light;
My chains fell off my heart was free,
I rose went forth and followed thee.
Far from being in league with the devil Jesus’
ministry would deliver men from his power and influence.
There follows a sobering warning in v28-29... Jacob could be forgiven his cheating, David his adultery, Peter his denial, Saul his persecution. Indeed, there is no sin that places man beyond forgiveness no matter how grievous, except one, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. But what is that? Mark says Jesus spoke in this way 'because they were saying, 'He has an evil spirit ' v30.
In other words, they were closing their minds to the wholesome, transforming activity of God in men's lives and calling it 'evil'. When a person stubbornly and progressively hardens their heart in this way they
become immune to the influence of the Spirit and
end up treating Jesus as the ultimate evil. Such
people are incapable of finding repentance and
so remain unforgiven. The sin is unpardonable
mainly because they're unwilling to tread the
path that leads to pardon.
Do you see what Jesus has done? He’s applied his own pressure; the pressure of responsibility to be open to the transforming influence of the Holy Spirit.
A pastoral application needs to be made. Over the years many distressed people have asked, 'Do you think I have committed the unforgivable sin?’ Some have been driven to near distraction by that fearful thought. It is nearly always safe to assume that those who are anxious about having committed this sin have not in fact done so. For this sin is regularly accompanied by complete indifference towards it, they are past feeling and past caring where they stand in relation to Christ.
It is one thing to feel undermined by those who identify themselves as our enemies but it is another thing when the source is our family and friends. Mark quite purposefully holds these two together. The misrepresentation of the religious leaders and the misunderstanding of Jesus’ family in v31. Jesus family thought that he was ‘out of his mind’.
Did they think he was mad to act as he did, mad to stir up the religious establishment, mad to give himself so unreservedly to so many people, mad to mix with those who belonged to the sewer of society, mad to work in conditions where he had little time to eat or relax, no physical security, no roof over his head, no salary?
Jesus’ family came to take him home! Perhaps they would try and find him a good psychiatrist!Isn't it strange that family and friends often think in terms of psychological aberration when someone shows a passionate zeal for God.
Let men risk their lives climbing inaccessible mountains in the Himalayas or, sail across the Atlantic in a bathtub and their family speak s of their courage and fortitude, but let them show a fraction of that zeal for God and they are considered mad.
The following is from William Wilberforce's biography;
“After his conversion away from home, Wilberforce's mother heard alarming rumours that he was mad. But on meeting him his cheerfulness, his consideration and the absence of quick temper surprised her. When he did arrive home, a family friend Mrs Sykes remarked, "If this is madness I hope that he will bite us all.”
The charge of madness has been made against Christians down the centuries. Paul was told ‘much learning has made you mad’ Acts 26v24. Both Whitefield and Wesley were described as 'crack brained fanatics'. When the charge of madness is levelled against us because of our commitment to Christ, we are in good company.
Imagine what it must have cost Jesus to have been misunderstood by his family in this way? They thought him deranged and could not understand his commitment to God. Today, young Christians are often hurt when their family misunderstands their commitment to God. The very people they want to share in their joy, seem so opposed to their discipleship. Let them rise early to go fishing or jogging and that's O.K. but let them rise early to read God's word and pray and they are ‘disturbing the whole household’. Once we begin to show a zeal for God that outstrips our fellows we should not be surprised to find a growing sense of loneliness in this world. Isaiah describes the Messiah as saying;
‘I have trodden the winepress alone’ Isa.63v3.
Jesus’ response to his family's request that he go home with them must have caused a sharp intake of breath, "Who are my mother and brothers but those who do the will of God". Does that seem harsh and unfeeling? Surely, his family only had his best interests at heart. Jesus was sensitive to family bonds but he also realised that natural ties are not the only bonds of importance. Jesus is teaching, that family bonds do not have priority over our loyalty to God, his work and his family. Jesus is in effect asking, 'Is your relationship to me natural or spiritual? Does it depend upon an 'accident' of birth and upbringing or upon your knowledge of who I am and your personal commitment to me?'
Jesus was concerned for the spiritual welfare of his family. The fact that they feared for his sanity indicates that, at this stage, they had little spiritual insight into what he was doing. Jesus wanted them to think seriously about who he was and what their relationship to him was going to be. He wanted not just natural bonds but spiritual bonds.
Clearly both Mary and Jesus’ brothers benefited from this mild rebuke for later in the N.T. we read of their faith in him.
Jesus also provided the crowd with an insight into the costliness of discipleship. In calling them to put God first ,even before their own families, he was not asking of them a higher standard than he had set for himself. Jesus’ family and home were precious to him but in response to the mission God had given him he had left those precious things and refused to allow them to come between him and his obedience to his Father.
Whoever, does God's will is Jesus’ ‘brother and sister and mother.’ These words come as a real encouragement to all who are prepared to follow him. What greater privilege than to be owned by Jesus as a part of his family. The pressures of misrepresentation, misunderstanding and the costliness of commitment are diminished as we recognise that believers are called members of Jesus’ family.
Taking up our cross and following Jesus includes experiencing something of the pressures that he experienced. We will be misrepresented and misunderstood. How will we cope with the pressure? Pressure from those outside who seek to slander our reputation. Pressure from family who would like us to dilute our commitment to Christ. If you are a disciple of Jesus then whatever pressure you experience you have;
A faithful High Priest who is able to sympathise and intercede for you.
An indwelling Spirit to empower and strengthen you
The encouragement of Jesus words, 'whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother'.