The Explanation of the Parable of the Soils – Mark 4:10-20 (pt. 1)

In these verses we see the two requirements for entering the Kingdom of God.

I. We must completely depend upon the sovereign grace of God in order to enter the Kingdom of God. (vv. 10-12)

At some point between verse 9 and verse 10, Jesus apparently dismissed the crowds because Mark tells us in v. 10 that Jesus found himself alone-that is without the large crowd being there.  This probably did not occur immediately after Jesus told the parable of the soils.  Most likely Jesus found himself alone after He told all the parables of Mark 4.  It wouldn’t make any sense for him to dismiss the crowds, and then start teaching again later.  Furthermore, when Jesus was approached after His teaching is was about the parables plural, not just this one parable.  But if this is the case, then why did Mark record this for us here?  Mark put this verse here because it is a model example of Jesus’ parables.  If we understand why Jesus told this parable, and what this parable means then we will be able to understand the rest of Jesus’ parables.  So, Mark is providing Jesus’ explanation to us here, even though it didn’t happen until the end of the day, to help us understand all of the parables.  This is beneficial because we need all the help that we can get, and we are not alone.

After being dismissed the crowds weren’t all that interested in sticking around.  If Jesus was going be on a boat telling these “riddle-like” parables instead of healing and casting out demons they weren’t all that interested in Him any more.  They weren’t sure what these parables meant, and they weren’t interested in figuring it out.   However, there was a small group of people that stayed around to learn more about what Jesus was teaching.  Mark tells us that “those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.”  These individuals, even though they didn’t completely understand the parables, knew that Jesus was teaching an important message about the kingdom of God.  This is why they stuck around to ask Jesus about these parables.

This small group of people included Jesus’ twelve disciples, but it was not limited to the twelve disciples.  This was a group of people larger than just the twelve, but much smaller than the crowds who had listened to Jesus on that day.  There is no way of knowing for certain who was a part of this group, but it seems likely that some of the same people who had been in the house with Jesus early on that day (3:32-35) were with Jesus again that evening.  There is no way to confirm this, but at the very least we can definitively say that at the very least the same kind of people stuck around with Jesus that evening (i.e. those who did the will of God).

This small group wanted more information from Jesus.  They wanted to understand the spiritual principles that Jesus was teaching in these parables.  That is why this group came to Jesus to ask him about these parables.  Matthew 13:10 helps us to fill out the details when it tells us that one of the things that they asked was why Jesus taught in parables.  This is a great question.  Why did Jesus chose to teach these spiritual principles in parables when he could have just come right out and plainly taught them?  The answer that Jesus provides for the disciples is very important, and it reveals to us that the first requirement for entering the kingdom of God is that we must completely depend upon the sovereign grace of God.  Look at what Jesus says: “to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

In these verses Jesus makes it very clear that those who understand the spiritual truth of parables do so because God has given them understanding, and those who don’t understand do not because God has not revealed it to them.  In other words, it all depends upon of the sovereign grace of God.  God gives the ability to understand, and He veils the truth out of judgment.  These are hard things for our minds to comprehend, so let’s take a closer look at exactly what Jesus is saying.

First, let’s look at how God gives understanding.  At the beginning of verse 11 Jesus tells us that the secret (or mystery) of the kingdom of God had been given to this group of people.  So what does this mean?  Well, it is important to note that “in the New Testament [a mystery] denotes not something mysterious and inscrutable but something formerly hidden which cannot be known by man apart from divine revelation.”[1] So this secret is not something mysterious that only Sherlock Holmes is able to figure out.  Instead, this secret was something new that had not yet been revealed by God.  Additionally, it had to do with the Kingdom of God.  So what was this secret?  Well, Romans 16:25-27 explains it pretty well:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith- to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The secret is that Jesus is the Savior who was prophesied of in the OT, who came to save men, and make them fruitful members of the kingdom.  Or to put it another way, the secret of the Kingdom is that Jesus is the King of the Kingdom.

This is obviously an important truth, but it is not the main point that Jesus making here in verse 11.  Jesus’ main point is that the only way that a person can understand this secret and accept Jesus is if it has been given by God.  God is the only One who can enable a person to understand the secret of the Kingdom.  In fact, God’s enablement was the only reason why this small group of people stuck around after the crowds had left.  Apart from the sovereign grace of God this small group of people would have been no different than the rest of the crowd.  In Ephesians 1:3-14 (esp. v. 8 ) the apostle Paul makes it clear that this is true for us as well.  Apart from the sovereign grace of God we would have never accepted Jesus.  This is why Jesus said in John 6:65 “that no one can come to me unless it is granted from the Father.”  This is the same point that Jesus is making here in Mark 4:11. The only reason that this group came to Jesus was because it had been granted by the Father.  But this is not all that Jesus said.

In addition to giving understanding, Jesus tells us that God also hardens some so that they cannot believe.  This is what Jesus meant when He said: “but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”  Here Jesus is getting right to the point.  Jesus spoke in parables so that the truth about the Kingdom would only be understandable to those who had been given the secret, and hidden from everyone else.  Jesus quotes from Isa 6:9-10 to make this point clear.

In the book of Isaiah God was using the prophet to judge the people who had rejected Him.  God told Isaiah that he would preach but no one would listen; here Jesus is saying the same thing.  He used parables so that those who had rejected him could not understand the true meaning of his teaching.  Only those who had been enabled by God would be able to understand these parables.  To everyone else these parables were more like riddles.

Jesus had clearly proclaimed the message of the Gospel, and the masses had rejected it.  As a result, Jesus intentionally veiled the message of the Gospel.  Jesus spoke in parables to hide the true nature of his message from those who had rejected Him.  He did this for three primary reasons:

1.      Judgment – Because of their sin Jesus condemned them so that they could not be forgiven.  He purposely hid the truth from them. cf. Rom 1:18-25; Jer 5:21-29.

“Those who receive truth and act upon it receive more. Those who reject truth will ultimately lose the bit they have. The parables were full of truth, but for truth-rejecting people, they were inscrutable.  This principle is paralleled in other areas of life. Physically, if we fail to exercise a muscle, we will one day lose its use. It is the same with our intellectual powers. If we fail to use them, there will come a time when we will not be able to summon their full power. God confronts us with his truth, but if we do not positively respond to it, we will lose it. What a solemn reality for those who sit under the teaching of God’s Word week after week and do not respond to it. The writer to the Hebrews must have had these matters in mind when he said: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left” (Hebrews 10:26). If we repeatedly hear God’s Word and refuse to respond time and time again, there will come a time when we become so hardened that we not only will not, but cannot respond.”[2]

2.      Mercy – Rom 9:1-23 explains that the judgment unbelievers receive reveals the glory of the salvation that true believers have received.  We must not forget that God has every right to do this.

3.      Sift out impostors – Jesus was veiling His message to judge those who had rejected His plain teaching.  At the same time, however, these parables revealed the truth about the kingdom to those who followed Jesus. Just as the same seed produced different results in the parable, so too the parables produced two different results.  These parables sifted out the true followers of Jesus from the imposters.  They revealed who was really a part of the kingdom and who was on the outside.  Imagine how difficult it would be to distinguish between true believers and false believers if Jesus had not done this.

From these verses it is clear that entrance into the Kingdom of God depends completely upon God’s sovereign grace.  There is nothing that we can do to earn our way in.  If we want to be a part of God’s kingdom then we must completely depend on the sovereign grace of God. This sounds a lot easier than it really is.  We are prideful, and deep down inside of us we don’t like to admit that our salvation depends upon the sovereign grace of God.  But the fact remains that we are totally unable to God on our own.  In 1 Cor 1:26-31 the apostle Paul explains this very thing, and he even describes what our response should be:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

What are you boasting in?  Are you depending upon the grace of God completely?  If not, then you cannot be a part of the kingdom of God.  Because the first requirement for entrance into the kingdom is that we must completely depend upon the sovereign grace of God.


[1] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenvile, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 109.

[2]R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus, Servant and Savior, Preaching the Word (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1989), 105.

Notes from Mark 4:1-9

There are so many details in this parable that I thought that it might be helpful to post some notes on it for you to use as you study through the passage.

-Jesus, through the pen of Mark, has provided some help for us on this issue.  In Mark 3:20-35 we learned that in order to receive the benefits of the work of Christ we must accept Jesus on his terms rather than on our terms.  In that passage Mark gave us three terms which we must submit to in order to truly accept Jesus and receive the benefits He has accomplished.  First, our affection for Jesus must be informed by the truth (vv.20-21). Second, our knowledge of Jesus must recognize His authority (vv. 22-30). Finally, our relationship with Jesus must result in obedience (vv. 31-35).

-In Mark 4 Jesus will continue with a similar theme.  Except in this passage Jesus will add an extra wrinkle into His teaching.  Here Jesus will begin to speak more about the Kingdom of God.  In chapter three it was about having the right kind of relationship with Jesus, but now in chapter four it will be about getting into the kingdom of God.  This is will be a very important theme for the rest of Jesus ministry.

-Since it is such an important theme we need to understand what the bible is talking about when it speaks of the kingdom of God.

–  We could say that there are two aspects of the kingdom of God; there is the “already” and the “not yet.” Or, you could call it the universal kingdom and spiritual kingdom.

–  The universal kingdom already exists in its complete form.  This kingdom describes the way that God rules over all creation.  Psalm 29:10 puts it this way, “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.”  Everyone is a part of this kingdom; there is no requirement for being a part of this kingdom.  Some of the authority for ruling this kingdom has been delegated to human beings (i.e. Adam, government officials, etc.).

–  The spiritual kingdom has not been completely fulfilled.  This is the Kingdom that Jesus is speaking about here in this passage.  This kingdom has only been initiated and it awaiting it final fulfillment at the return of Christ.  At that time Christ will rule over his people directly. This kingdom cannot be completely realized until God has called all of His sheep around the world (including Israel). It has been initiated already because many have been saved, but it will not be complete until all of God’s elect have been saved.  It is at that time that Christ will return and his sheep will have fellowship with their shepherd. During this time Christ will sit on a literal throne and visibly reign as king for one thousand years (Zechariah 14:9-16; Revelation 20:1-7; & 22:5).  Then, after that, He will reign over the new heavens and the new earth for all of creation.

– The question that we are dealing with in Mark 4:1-20 is, how does one get into this kingdom?

What we will see as we look at 4:1-20 is that:

This passage further defines who has a saving relationship with Jesus, and who does not.  It teaches that those whom God has enabled and those who accept the word are the ones who will enter the kingdom of God.  This means that are two requirements for entering the Kingdom of God.  First, we must completely depend upon the sovereign grace of God. Second, we must completely accept the word of God.

-The scene picks up in v.1.  Mark tells us, “Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.”

-Here we find Jesus teaching by the Sea of Galilee again, this time the crowds were just as big as ever.  In fact, the crowds on this day were massive. Jesus was forced to use a boat as a pulpit, and safe place for him to teach (cf. 3:9).  Some have stipulated that the crowds on this day were largest up to this point in Jesus’ ministry (On this day Jesus had to use the boat; he didn’t have to use in the boat in 3:9).

Matthew 13:1 helps us to fill out some of the details by explaining that this was on the same day as Jesus’ confrontation with the scribes (3:20-35).  It was probably later in the afternoon that Jesus went back out by the shore of the Sea of Galilee to minister.  Most of the people who had been with Jesus earlier in the day were probably still with Him by the sea.

–  Apparently the smear campaign of the scribes was having little to no effect on Jesus’ popularity (at least not yet).  He continued to draw massive crowds, and He continued to use these opportunities to teach His message.  This day was no different.

-Mark tells us that Jesus sat on the boat to teach which was His normal posture for formal teaching (13:3; Mt. 5:1; Lk 4:20).  The crowds remained close on the shore as Jesus began His teaching.  Can you imagine this scene?  Jesus and all of his disciples were sitting on the boat while the crowds listened intently on the shore.  This was such an amazing scene that some have tried to figure out exactly where on the Sea of Galilee this could have occurred.

–  “Exactly where Jesus taught cannot be said for sure, but a possible location is a natural amphitheater situated halfway between Capernaum and Tabgha to the south where the land slopes gently down to a lovely bay. Israeli scientists have verified that the ‘Bay of Parables’ can transmit a human voice effortlessly to several thousand people on shore.”[1]

-In v. 2 Mark tells us that Jesus “was teaching them many things in parables….”

–  Mark adds this because it marked a new phase in Jesus teaching ministry.  Up to this point Jesus had taught a pretty straight forward message: “repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

– Jesus began to widen the scope of His teaching ministry by teaching on the Kingdom of God.  This is when He began to consistently use these parables.

–  The Gospels record approximately 60 parables.

–  Simply put, a parable is an analogy or metaphor used to teach a message.  You have probably heard the phrase “an earthly story to illustrate and heavenly meaning.”  This phrase is somewhat helpful, but it does not give justice to the full definition of a parable.

–   For the 1st century Jew the term parable would have had a very liquid definition with a close connection to the Hebrew mashal.

–   Definitions for parable would have included: ethical principles, proverbs, oracles, riddles, short stories, short pithy sayings, as well as what we might think of as a parable (the earthly story…).

–  It might be helpful to think of a parable as a vivid and memorable way of indirectly teaching a truth.

–  In the case of Jesus, “Christ’s parables always teach some moral and spiritual truth by illustrations drawn from familiar occurrences in human experience.”[2]

-Mark does not just tell us that Jesus was teaching in parables.  Mark gives us an example of the kind of parables that Jesus used.  He begins in v. 3 with a strong command to hear, or listen to, what this parable is teaching.  He then begins the parable itself by drawing our attention to a sower.

–   This scene would have been very familiar to the crowds.  The surrounding area was very fertile, and used extensively for farming.  In fact, the farms would have been so close that the crowds may have even been able to see a sower just like this one off in the distance.

–  The focus, however, is not really on the sower.

-The focus of this parable is really on the seed, and where the seed lands.  The seed is sown and it falls on four different types of soil:

1.        The Path v.4

–          Fields were sectioned off with paths, or road, amongst the field (cf. 2:23).

–          The ground here would have been beaten down, and impossible to penetrate.

–          The farmer would sow right up to the edge of the path to make the best use of his land.

–          The seed just sat there on the path; it was a prime target for every farmer’s worst nightmare–hungry birds.  This is why scarecrows were invented.

2.        The Rocky Ground vv. 5-6

–          The rocky ground is not areas of the field filled with pebbles and rocks.  It describes areas of the field with thin layers of soil that cover a hard limestone rock just below the surface.

–          At first, this seed fared a little bit better than the seed that fell on the path.  Quickly this seed sprouted out of the ground, and it looked as if it would grow into a healthy plant.  However, in spite of how good things looked on the outside there were some serious problems with this plant.

–          Because there was no depth of soil this growing seed did not have an adequate root system.  Consequently, when heat from the sun became intense it was unable to survive.  It simply could not draw sufficient moisture or nutrients out the ground.

–          Even though this seed looked more promising it failed just like the last seed.

3.        The Thorns v. 7

–          The third type of soil that this seed fell upon was the thorny soil.

–          Farmers in Jesus’ day would often times burn their fields after the harvest to kill off any unwanted weeds.  This was effective because they could take care of large areas of land in a short period of time.  However, it didn’t always kill all of the weeds.  Sometimes the roots of the weeds would survive underground.  This is what Jesus is talking about here.  This thorny soil wasn’t full of thorn bushes (the sower wouldn’t have sown it there it that had been the case).  It was full of “thorny roots.”

–          As this seed began to grow the thorns, or weeds, grew with it.  And, as anyone who has ever worked in a garden knows, the weeds overpowered the good plant.

–          In this case, the weeds literally choked out the good plant.  The weeds stole the water and nutrients from the soil, and probably stole needed sunlight from the good plant by shading it from the sun.

–          In the end this seed produced no grain whatsoever.

–          “There has thus been a progression in the three failed seeds, which is probably intended to be noticed in drawing out the symbolism: the first never started, the second started but died, the third survived but could not produce grain. But in the end none is of any value to the farmer, since he is looking for grain, not mere survival.”[3]

4.        Good Soil v. 8

–          The fourth, and final, type of soil that the seed fell upon was the good soil.

–          This seed fell right where it was supposed to fall.  The soil here was rich, and full of moisture and nutrients.  It was the perfect place for seed to grow.

–          Up to this point the seed has failed to produce any grain, but this is not because something is wrong with the seed.  It was the soil’s fault that the seed did not grow.  But now, the seed has fallen on good soil.  Here it grows and increases.  You can almost picture it popping out of the ground and sprouting up right in front of us.  It is healthy and strong, and most importantly it produces grain.

–          Jesus tells us that this seed had an unbelievable yield!  To have a yield of 10 fold would have been a great year for a farmer.  30, 60, and 100 fold was unheard of.  This demonstrates just how powerful this seed is when it falls on the right soil.

-As Jesus finishes this parable He adds one final exhortation.  He says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

–          This final exhortation serves as a warning.  This parable contains eternal truth that is necessary for being a part of God’s Kingdom.  Those who reject this message will be excluded from the Kingdom.  In fact, persistent rejection of this message will result in the same kind of eternal sin that we read about in 3:29.

–          This is a message with eternal significance, and whoever has the ears to hear the spiritual principle of this parable must listen.  We must hear was this truth is and accept.  We must submit to Jesus’ teaching in order to have a relationship with Him, and be a part of the Kingdom of God.

-The question is, what is the spiritual truth of this parable?  Furthermore, why did Jesus use a parable to communicate such an important spiritual message?  These are good questions, and in vv. 10-20 Jesus provides the answers to these questions.  In these verses we see the two requirements for entering the Kingdom of God.  We will look at these requirements later this week.


[1]James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002), 126.

[2] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenvile, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 106.

[3]R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002), 191.

Running for God instead of from God

In this week’s Boston Marathon Ryan Hall, an American Marathoner, finished in 3rd place.  His time of 2:09:40 was just a minute off the winning time.  This was interesting to me because earlier this year I had the opportunity to run in a 15k race that Hall also participated in (of course he beat the rest of the field by over a mile, and he beat me by… let’s not go there).  It was also interesting because Hall is a professing Christian.  In fact, Baptist Press did an interesting little piece on the race HERE.  Here is an excerpt:

Hall, of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., says running is more than just a competition, but is a way he can glorify God.

“My faith shapes everything I do,” Hall said in a Baptist Press interview prior to the Olympics. “God calls us to do everything we do with all our heart unto Him, and that’s what I try to do with my running. I am constantly trying to work on my heart. Trying to get it in the right place. I try and not be competitive with other runners. I just want to be all that God created me to be and do what I am doing to my very best.”


Paper Pastors, a real problem for Real Pastors

Today at TeamPyro Dan Phillips has written a post that addresses what I view to be a big problem in the church today.  Here is a large excerpt:

But others do attend a church — physically. They come in, they sit down. They sing, they may give financially. They may look at you, Pastor, as you preach.

But you know their heart belongs to another.

Their real pastor isn’t you. It’s Dave Hunt. Or it’s John Piper. Or it’s John MacArthur, or Ligon Duncan, or Mark Dever, or David Cloud, or Joel Osteen. Or it’s Charles Spurgeon, or D. M. Lloyd-Jones, or J. C. Ryle. Or Calvin, or Luther, or Bahnsen, or de Mar, or R. B. Thieme, or J. Vernon McGee.

And they’re such better pastors than you are! You know they are!

Why?

Well, paper pastors are never in a bad mood. They’re never cranky, or sleepy or sick. (Especially the dead ones.)

They’ve never just had someone else pull their guts out with a rusty fork, and then had to turn and listen graciously to your complaint about the translation they preach from, or argue about a Greek word you can’t even pronounce. They don’t have a family who loses the time you use. They never half-listen, never have an appointment that cuts short their time. Their office hours are your office hours. They’re available 24/7, and everywhere, at your whim, and you always have their undivided attention.

What’s more is they always have all the answers! They can tell you with complete confidence and masterful eloquence. They never stammer, guess, nor search their memory. And they can prove it — whatever they’re saying! With footnotes!

And these paper pastors maintain the perfect distance. If you don’t want to hear something, they don’t press it — or you can instantly shut them up, snap! They never ask you to do something uncomfortable and follow up on you. They never persistently probe an area of sin, in you, in person, eyeball to eyeball… nor will they. Church discipline will not be a threat with them. Ever.

Because they don’t know you from Adam.

Yet how many pastors know that there are people in their flocks, thinking, “John Piper would never say it that way. Dave Hunt says that what he just preached is heresy. John MacArthur isn’t like that. Mahaney says that… Mohler says that… Lloyd-Jones said….”

Based on my very brief experience, this seems to be a growing problem in the church today.  The internet, while providing wonderful tools to Christians all over the world, also allows people to become “experts” on every area of the church.  Thus, every time your local pastor gets up to preach, in the minds of some people, he is competing with preachers like MacArthur, Piper, etc.  This is a problem for at least a couple of reasons.  First, as Phillips aptly points out, these men are not the pastors that God has placed over you.  Do not forget that.  God has divinely ordained to place local leadership over you.  These are the men that have to answer for your souls! They are the ones praying for you, and investing their lives in you.  They are the ones that you are responsible to submit to.

Second, this kind of attitude detracts from worship.  When you show up on Sunday morning comparing one pastor to another, you are not there to worship.  The Sunday morning service is a time for communion with God, and the sermon is the Church’s corporate opportunity to hear from God.  This communion, or worship, is not something that can be reduplicated through a podcast.  When a local community of believers hears from God, together, they then have the opportunity to live out what they have heard together.  As helpful as podcasts, blog posts, and Christian literature can be, they cannot reduplicate this kind of worship.

I have a lot of thoughts on this issue, but no time today to say more.  Thus, I will let you read all of Phillip’s article and formulate your own thoughts.

Mark 3:20-35 – The Real Identity of Jesus (pt. 3)

Part 1
Part 2

Mark 3:20-35

Then he 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 had said, “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! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

II. Our knowledge of Jesus must recognize His true authority. (vv. 22-30)

This second term that we must submit to in order to receive the benefits of the work of Christ is that our knowledge of Jesus must recognize His true authority.  In other words, it is not enough to just know facts about Jesus.  We must be willing to recognize that He is Lord, and that His authority comes from God.  Mark reveals this principle to us through another negative example.  In v. 22 we learn that there were some “scribes who came down from Jerusalem” and arrived in Capernaum.  These Scribes, and Cranfield notes, “would have greater prestige and authority than the provincial scribes”[1] with whom Jesus previously had conflict with.  These scribes from Jerusalem had certainly heard about Jesus, and His increasing popularity.  Thus, it is safe to assume that they came from Jerusalem as official representatives of Judaism to deal with Jesus.

One would think that these higly trained scribes of the law would have come to Jesus and compared His claims with the claims of Scripture.  However, we have no record of them doing this.  In fact, from what Mark tells us their mission was more of a smear campaign than anything else.  Mark tells us that these scribes “were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.'”  This was not just a one time statement.  This was their official position, and their intent was to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people.

What is interesting about the scribes’ explanation of Jesus’ ministry is that they did not deny that He cast out demons.  They couldn’t deny, especially to the large crowds that had gathered and seen Jesus cast out demons with their own eyes.  Thus, they focused their energy on explaining away the work of Jesus.  They did this by questioning the source of Jesus’ power.  The claim of the scribes was that Jesus cast out demons with the power of Beelzebul and by the prince of demons.  We are not positive exactly where the title Beelzebul comes from, but it is clear that the scribes used it and “the prince of demons” to refer to Satan.  In other words, the scribes wanted to cast Jesus as an agent of Satan rather than God.

What is so sobering about this is that these men knew what the OT taught, they heard the message of Jesus in person, they saw his miraculous power first hand, and yet they still refused to accept Him.  They had all the facts right in front of them, and yet they were not willing to recognize Jesus’ authority.  Instead they lied about him, and this refusal to accept him meant that they could not benefit from his work.  This is what Jesus reveals in vv. 23-30.

First, Jesus deals with the validity of the scribes claim.  Mark tells us that Jesus “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.'”  The point of this parable is simple.  Strength depends on unity.  This is true for a large organization, like a kingdom, as well as a small organization like a household.  Thus, it would not make any sense for Satan to try and further His domain by casting out His own agents.  In fact, if he were to do this he would be finished.  He wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.

With this parable Jesus quickly dispels the lies of the scribes, but he doesn’t stop there.  Jesus goes on to demonstrate that He was not an agent of Satan, but rather an agent of God.  Jesus in explains in v. 27, “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.”  In this explanation Satan is the strong man, and goods are the people under demonic control.  Jesus’ point is that He would not have been able to cast out the demons unless He had already bound up Satan.  This point is emphasized even further in Matthew 12:28.  There we see that it was not a matter a kingdom divided, but rather of two kingdoms colliding.  Jesus came into the world as the son of God with all the authority of the Father, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus’ authority over Satan proved this.  The Scribes would not be able to argue with this because the logic is airtight, and they had already admitted that He had authority over demons.

Unfortunately the scribes failed to recognize the true authority of Jesus.  Their hearts were stemming with pride, and they bowed their knees to the idol of significance.  They had all the fact about Jesus, but because of their prideful hearts they failed to accept Him on His terms.  Because of this failure to recognize Jesus’ true authority vv. 28-30 tell us that these scribes missed out on the benefits of being in Jesus.

These are difficult verses, but here are some thoughts that may help you to determine what they mean:

-Here Jesus begins by explaining the benefits of being of His work

-“Truly” adds emphasis.  It is like Jesus is saying “listen here”

-Jesus explains the greatest benefit that his work has accomplished for us: forgiveness.

Titus 2:14

-“all sins” = all different kinds of sins

-to emphasize even further how amazing this forgiveness is, Jesus adds that blasphemies will also be forgiven.  This is extremely significant because the OT punishment for blasphemy was death.

-Truly this is an amazing benefit that Christ has accomplished.  Surely you have heard someone say that their sins were too great to be forgiven, but here Jesus teaches us that this just isn’t true.  In fact, all kinds of sins can be forgiven because of what He has accomplished.

-However, in v. 29 Jesus makes it clear that not everyone will benefit from the work of Jesus.  In fact, Jesus excludes on specific group from even the possibility of benefitting from His work. read v. 29

-This verse has been interpreted in many different ways.

-There are numerous Christians who have worried over whether or not they have committed this unpardonable sin.

-This is no small matter: Isa 63:10.  Not only are we not benefitting from the work of Jesus, but we are the enemy of God.

-The question is, what is this eternal sin?

-What it is NOT:

-It is not some formulaic expression that includes the word Spirit.  It had something to do with what the scribes were saying about Jesus, and they never mentioned anything about the H.S.

-It is not something that could be done accidently.  The scribes were intentionally dragging Jesus’ name through the mud.

-What it IS:

-A key in understanding this sin is found in Mark’s editorial note in v. 30.  Here we confirm that Jesus added this exclusion because of the scribes.  He does not necessarily say that they were guilty of this sin, but at the very least they were in danger of committing it.  So, this eternal sin has something to do with the sin of these scribes.

-So what were the scribes doing?  They had all the facts about Jesus’ ministry, but they claimed that his authority came from Satan instead of God.  They were blaspheming the H.S. by failing to recognize the power of Jesus’ ministry.  What is so ironic about this is the fact that it was the H.S. that helped Jesus to overcome Satan in the wilderness (Mk 1:12-13).

– This blasphemy could not be forgiven because it was directly related to who Jesus is.  This blasphemy revealed that the scribes did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  Because of their failure to recognize the truth they could never receive forgiveness.

Mt 12:30 helps us understand what this sin is even further.

This blasphemy against the H.S. is a failure to recognize the divine authority behind Jesus’ ministry, and it reveals that you are “against Jesus.”

-The scribes recognized all the facts about Jesus, but they failed to properly interpret those facts.  Their own pride did not allow them to see what was right in front of them.  If they would have blasphemed Jesus and claimed that He didn’t really cast out those demons then maybe they would have had a chance later.  But because they had the facts about Jesus and still refused to recognize the authority of Jesus they had no chance of forgiveness.  Not because Jesus wouldn’t help them, but because they continued to harden their hearts against him.

-This eternal sin is not some saying that you may or may not be guilty of.  As one commentator put it, “it is the perversion in the heart which chooses to call light darkness and darkness light.  It is conintuing rejection of the witness of the Holy Spirit.” (Hughes, Mark, pg. 92)

-This is a stark reminder for us because just like these scribes we can have all the facts about Jesus down pat.  We can even live an outwardly religious life.  Yet never accept the true Jesus.

Romans 10:9-10 makes it clear that we must recognize Jesus’ authority in order to receive the benefits of his work.


[1] Cranfield, The Gospel According to St. Mark, 135.

Mark 3:20-35 – The Real Identity of Jesus (pt. 2)

Part 1

Mark 3:20-35

Then he 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 had said, “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! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

I. Our affection for Jesus must be informed by the truth. (vv.20-21)

This first term that we must submit to in order to receive the benefits of the work of Christ is that our affections for Jesus must be informed by the truth.  In other words, it is not enough to simply care for Jesus.  We must be willing to accept the truth about Jesus-that is what He says about Himself.  We see this in vv. 20-21.

Mark begins here by highlighting again the ceaseless activity of Jesus.  Mark tells us that, he went home, and crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.”  We cannot be certain that what home Jesus returned to.  However, it seems quite clear that Mark is referring to the home of Simon and Andrew since this is the only house that Mark has mentioned up to this point, and it was the home base for Jesus’ Galilean ministry.

Once Jesus and his disciple arrived back home the word spread quickly, and massive crowds formed almost immediately.  In fact, Mark tells us that the crowds were so oppressive that “they could not even eat.”  The people just kept coming from all throughout the region in waves to see Jesus.  Apparently, the word about Jesus’ ministry made it all the way back to His home town of Nazareth.  In v. 21 Mark tells us that “his family heard it….”  There are a couple of interpretive issues with this verse.

First, it is not absolutely clear who Mark is referring to here.  The Greek phrase that is translated as “his family” literally means “those beside him.”  There are some who say that Mark is referring to Jesus’ disciples here.  However, the disciples were already with Jesus and so it would not make much sense for them to hear about what he was doing, nor would it make any sense for them to go out to get him.  Plus, if they thought that Jesus was crazy then they would have just stopped following Him.  Thus, the interpretation that Mark is referring to Jesus’ disciples just does not seem to fit.  The other option is that this phrase is referring to Jesus’ family.  This interpretation has much fewer problems.  In fact, “there is evidence especially in papyri for the phrase being used to mean a person’s ‘kinsmen’ or ‘household’….”[1] Additionally, in v. 31 Marks brings up Jesus’ family again.  With all of this in mind we can be quite certain that Mark is referring to Jesus’ family.  However, up to this point Mark has not told us anything about Jesus family.  To learn more about Jesus’ family we have to jump forward to Mark 6:3. There we learn who His family was.  Then in John 7:5 we learn that his family did not believe in Him during his earthly ministry (although they did accept Him after His resurrection).

The other interpretive difficulty in this passage is trying figure out what it was that the family heard.  Mark doesn’t tell us specifically.  He simply says that they “heard it.”  Certainly they had heard reports about his popularity, but maybe they had also heard that he was not eating.  They could have even heard that the Pharisees were trying to kill Jesus (3:6).  We are just not sure what they heard, but whatever it was they were not pleased with it.  Mark tells us that when they heard the report about Jesus “they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.'”  Literally they wanted to take Jesus into custody because they thought He had gone crazy.

At this point it would be easy to be very hard on Jesus’ family.  They clearly did not know the truth about Jesus, and they may have even been embarrassed by his actions.  At the same time, however, it seems as if Jesus’ family still cared for Him deeply.  It would have been easy for them to disown Him and stay as far away from Him as possible.  This would have been an effective way to avoid any embarrassment, or condemnation from the religious leaders.  But this is not what they did.  Jesus’ family left their home and went up to Capernaum in order to get involved in Jesus’ life.  The best illustration for what Jesus’ family is doing here is a family kidnapping a teenager back from a cult and deprogramming him.  In their minds, Jesus’ family was trying to help Jesus.

Notice that neither Jesus nor Mark provide any condemnation or explanation for the family’s actions, however it is clear that the uniformed affection of Jesus’ family was a deficient response to Jesus. The problem was that their affection for Jesus was not rooted in the truth about Jesus.  The implications of this for our lives are startling.  This means that we can have affection for Jesus, and even show him a certain amount of devotion without ever truly accepting Him.  Unfortunately this is an all too common occurrence in the church today. There are countless individuals who proclaim their love for Christ, but do not even know who the real Jesus is.  A great example of this is the individual who comes to church and confesses Christ, but becomes embarrassed when you mention the exclusivity of Christ.

In order to accept Jesus on His terms and receive the full benefits of His work our affection for Him must be informed by the truth.


[1]R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002), 166.