About 15 years ago, I was home alone with two little kids. They were both sound asleep in bed. I was playing World of Warcraft in peace. About 11 o’clock, I was startled out of my game by the strangest noise. I had never heard anything like it before. I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. It sounded like hissing in a foreign language. At first, I was more intrigued than scared. But as I started moving around trying to locate the origin, the late night and my aloneness settled over me. My heart started to pound. I froze in mid stride. The noise started to sound more and more demonic to my frightened imagination. I began to grit my teeth as I moved toward the bathroom where I thought the unnatural noise came from.
What was I going to do with a demon in the bathroom?! I cautiously prodded the door open and heard the noise again. But, now that I was close, I could make out words.
[whispered yell] “Mom, I need some toilet paper.”
Go on – whisper yell that sentence aloud and see if you don’t hear the voice of devils.
My little four-year-old had gotten up and was stuck on the toilet without any paper. Afraid to wake the baby, she had been trying to loudly whisper for help.
I thought my daughter was a demon! Hah! This story makes the whole family laugh to this day.
Sometimes, when we are confronted by something unexplainable, we default to fantastical explanations. Especially when we refuse to believe the alternative.
The teachers and leaders of Israel were confronted with this dilemma. How could they explain Jesus’ obvious power without submitting to his authority? Mark answers this in Mark 3:20-35 by sandwiching two stories together. I looked at the introductory story of Jesus’ family in another post. Instead of accepting that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus’ family explained his behavior as unhinged. He was crazy, they said. Their story and Jesus’ response to them book ends the story we are in today. In the meat of this “Markan sandwich,” verses 22-30, the scribes also deny that Jesus had heavenly authority as God’s Son. However, their explanation for his power is unconscionable. In fact, Jesus warns that it is unforgivable.
Let’s tackle what St. Augustine of Hippo called the most difficult passage in the Bible.
And the scribes from Jerusalem were saying, “He has Beelzebub.” Also, “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons.” (Mark 3:22)
When I was faced with that unexplainable noise years ago, I leapt to an illogical conclusion that I had a demon in my house. I was hilariously mistaken. These fellows are speaking with deadly intent. They deliberately insisted that Jesus acted in Satanic power instead of bending in humility to one who spoke the true words of God. They refused to repent. They were stubborn not from ignorance, but with blatant disregard and unswerving defiance of what their eyes showed them and their ears heard. They hardened their hearts in contempt.
In the Old Testament book of Exodus, we read of another ruler who exhibited this same defiance. Pharoah of Egypt had enslaved the Israelite people. He was told by God to let them go free. He refused. In a show of incredible and undeniable power, God gave Pharaoh ten signs that he meant business. But Pharaoh refused to relent. He stubbornly denied what his eyes, ears and heart witnessed. He continued to defy God. He deliberately turned away from the obvious truth. He hardened his heart.
The rulers of Israel in this passage are faced with a similar show of power by the presence of Jesus who performs miracles that only God can do. Instead of being curious and open to exploring the mystery of Jesus’ power, they harden their hearts, like Pharaoh.
Their accusation against Jesus is ridiculous.
Then, summoning them, [Jesus] began speaking to them in parables.
“How is Satan able to cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom is not able to stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan rose against himself, and was divided, he is not able to stand either, but he is coming to an end. Rather, no one who enters a strong man’s house can steal his goods unless he first ties the strong man up. Then, he will plunder his house.” (Mark 3:23-28)
Jesus reduces the scribe’s explanation to absurdity. The first three examples are repetitions of the same argument. In essence, it is impossible to succeed in an endeavor if you are fighting against your own forces. It would be like the Russian tanks in Ukraine turning and firing on other Russian tanks. The war would be doomed to fail. If Satan really had rebelled against himself, then he is doomed. He is over. If Jesus were an agent of Satan, his strategy of destroying demonic control over people would only bring Satanic failure.
Instead, Jesus’ exorcisms serve to shackle the power of the devil. Jesus’ parable of how to rob a body builder reveals his own strategy not for helping Satan to succeed, but to plunder those who belong to him. In John 8:44, Jesus says that the scribes and Pharisees belong to the devil, so perhaps he even has their salvation in mind in this parable. When Jesus casts a demon out of a person, he sets a captive of Satan free.
Perhaps this hope propels Jesus to go a step further in retort. Perhaps he hopes to plunder these men away from Satan, because he issues them a dire warning, which is the most difficult verse in the Bible.
Truly, I say to you, every person’s sins and slanders will be forgiven – however much they have slandered. But whoever slanders the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness. He is guilty of eternal sin.”
For they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:29-30)
The scribes are attributing the power of God to the devil. This is disastrous! “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil!” (Isaiah 5:20) When we turn the reality of moral consciousness upside down, we are entering the point of no return.
I live by a huge waterfall that drops 267 feet in Snoqualmie, WA. The river above the falls is enjoyed by many for kayaking, fishing and swimming. At one point in the river, a bit of a distance from the top of the falls, there is a park indicating a safe place to exit the water. As you go further down the river, approaching the falls, there is a huge sign indicating “Danger!” “Exit the water NOW.” “Falls ahead.”
Every year, those intent on ending their own lives in suicide, ignore that sign. They look away. They refuse to care. They have determined their course. Their hearts have already been hardened against the danger. They will not be saved. Honestly, they don’t want to be.
Jesus tells us that God will forgive everything that people do, however much they do them. Let’s just stop there for a minute. God will always forgive when we ask him to. No matter what. 1 John 1:9 assures us that if we confess, he will forgive.
Except this one thing.
If you slander the Holy Spirit, you have gone past the danger signs. You will go over those falls and nothing can save you.
Imagine if I had insisted in my belief that there was a demon in my bathroom years ago. What if I had stubbornly refused to accept the truth of what my eyes revealed? My daughter was on the toilet. What if I denied that I was wrong about the source of the weird sound? What if I insisted my daughter must be a demon, never wavering, never changing my mind? It would bring disaster and eventual calamity.
Jesus warns us that what we say about the Spirit of God in this life has eternal consequences. And I don’t think he would give a warning unless it could be heeded.
There is a point in a person’s defiance of God, that they will no longer have the ability to confess. Like Pharaoh, they will squeeze their heart into an eternal stone. People who stubbornly resist God’s loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, patient, faithful, gentle and good Spirit will forfeit the life that Spirit offers.
It really is the most difficult verse in the Bible.
Jesus warns us that what we say about the Spirit of God in this life has eternal consequences.Tweet