Sermon: Lunatic, Liar, or Lord? (Mark 3:20-35)

Text: Mark 3:20-35
Second Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 5B
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Have you ever met someone who only wanted to say Jesus was a good person, a great moral teacher but not Lord? Many are willing to heap lots of praise on Jesus. Everyone wants Jesus on their side. They are eager only to say good things about Jesus. You don’t generally hear people say bad things about him. Yet, few are willing to accept Jesus as God in the flesh. What is the problem with this logic?  C. S. Lewis is of great help here. Lewis was confident that this is one option that is not possible. You might be familiar with the name C. S. Lewis. Lewis, a close friend of J. R. R. Tolkien, was a British writer and lay theologian. He taught English literature at Oxford and Cambridge. You may have read his Chronicles of Narnia series or seen one of the movies. He’s also well known for defending the Christian faith, especially in his book “Mere Christianity.” 

Lewis says that when it comes to Jesus, there are only three possibilities. Either Jesus is telling lies, or he is crazy, or he is telling the truth. Now, these same three options are here in our Gospel reading from Mark 3. In verse 21, Jesus’ family was saying, “He’s out of his mind.” In verse 22, the scribes, the religious leaders, say, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” Thus, they call Him a liar who claims to be from God but is from Satan. So, those are the options: Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or telling the truth. You must choose one. Which will it be? 

Is Jesus a Lunatic?

Let’s look at the first option. Is Jesus a lunatic? It’s a possibility. Suppose someone was going around who legitimately thought they were God. In that case, we’d make sure that they received help from trained professionals. The scene in our Gospel reading opens with Jesus entering a house. As Jesus enters, a crowd presses around and seeps inside, watching as he casts out demons. Jesus’ family arrives, and they intend to seize him. Those who know him best want to take him away. Jesus’ family members have determined that he is not in his right mind. It seems they have no other way of understanding what he has been saying and doing since John went to be baptized. They’re sure that he will get himself killed because he’s creating a crowd so large that he can’t even eat! And so, they decide that the best thing to do is to take him home for his own protection. They resolved to do this by force, if necessary.

What did the family think of Jesus? They certainly did not believe in Him. They didn’t think He was just a good teacher, nor just a spiritual mentor, nor some wise moral teacher. They thought He was absolutely out of His mind. And they went to seize Him because He had lost His senses. Yet, the New Testament is written to make it clear that Jesus is not crazy. Lunatics don’t heal sick people. They don’t cast out demons, and they certainly don’t raise dead people. Lunatics don’t speak the way Jesus spoke or think the way he thought. Crazy people can’t do the things that he did.   

Is Jesus a Liar?

The second option before us is: could Jesus be a liar? The scribes that came from Jerusalem were theological heavyweights. They represented the authority and theological wisdom of the temple establishment. We should understand those scribes’ credentials as impeccable.  

They went a step further than Jesus’ family. They recognised that Jesus must be drawing on great power to perform exorcisms. They knew that calling him crazy would not work. So, they claimed that he was lying about the real source of his power: he was actually in league with the devil. Why did they claim this? Jesus wasn’t the type of Messiah they wanted. Jesus did not behave according to their expectations. He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners, he dared to claim to forgive sins on behalf of God, and he even called them out for their hypocrisy. So the scribes commit the greatest blasphemy of all; they told the crowd that Jesus is lying. They say that Jesus is an agent of the devil, not of God. 

The scribes’ charges give us a good illustration of what Jesus means when he later mentions the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Those scribes have dismissed even the possibility that God was at work in Jesus. Instead, they write it all off as a satanic deception. All around them, people are being set free from their demons. People are experiencing forgiveness and renewed spiritual life. People’s dignity is acknowledged. Jesus promises that he will forgive all sins! And yet, the scribes scoff and denounce all of this as a bunch of lies. Their minds are hardened and calcified to the point that they refuse to acknowledge the truth even though they have seen the works of God up close in Jesus himself. 

Is Jesus a Telling the Truth?

So, we come to the third option: what if Jesus was telling the truth? Jesus responded to the suggestion of the teachers of the law. A king can only rule a kingdom through his ministers who carry out his will. Jesus says that the idea of Satan undoing his own work is ridiculous. If Satan is opposing his own troops, he has already lost the battle: his kingdom is split down the middle. If what’s going on here is by the devil’s power, then Satan has a civil war on his hands. If Satan wants to get more and more control over people, he’s unlikely to give Jesus power to set lots of them free. 

In the form of a parable, Jesus makes clear the scope of what he is doing in freeing the demon-possessed. Jesus is coming to plunder Satan’s household and bring about his end, not by division from within but by stealth and force from the outside. Satan is indeed a strong man, but Jesus is the Stronger One. Would anyone let a robber take their stuff if they could stop the robber? Suppose you wanted to rob the house of some great big bruiser of a guy, a man with bulging biceps and rippling muscles. Only a fool would try to steal from a guy like that without somehow taking him out of the picture, perhaps by tying him up. Only then could you go into his house and carry off his prize possessions. First, you must win the victory over Satan; then, you can plunder his possessions. 

Jesus claims that he can cast out demons, and he does so because he has defeated Satan and rendered him powerless to resist. Jesus was already doing this by his preaching and his miracles. But the final battle was at Calvary’s cross. The devil thought he had succeeded in destroying Jesus by crucifying him. But the crucifixion of Jesus was not a defeat, but it was the victory of God. Satan was powerless to stop Jesus from plundering his kingdom. Jesus’ death on the cross has defeated the devil, and his resurrection from the dead gives you the proof. 

Jesus is claiming to be the Lord, your Lord. This “means that he has redeemed and released you from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all misfortune” (LC II.27). “He has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature. He has purchased and freed you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death” (SC II.4). “And he did all this so that he might become your Lord” (LC II.31). That’s what Jesus taught and claimed. 

You don’t have the option to call Jesus a good teacher or as a great moral example, or a righteous man, and then reject Jesus’ claim to be Lord. You’ve got to pick one of those three categories. He’s claiming to be Lord and God and Saviour. Jesus is either lying, he’s crazy, or he’s telling the truth. And if he’s telling the truth, that means that he is the very Son of God, who has defeated the devil. It means that he has delivered you from the Devil in Holy Baptism. It means that Christ continues to keep you safe from the devil in his family, the Church.

 If Jesus is telling the truth, then…

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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