Small Group Leader Study Guide
Date: May 19, 2019
Series: Son of God, Servant of Man: Gospel of Mark
Bible Text: Mark 3:20-35

This Week’s Printables:


Overview

Blasphemy is a serious charge. As we have already seen in our study of Mark, blasphemy was a sin punishable by death according to Jewish Law. No one would understand this more than the Scribes, the experts in the Jewish Law.

Yet, it is to this group of people Jesus issues a gravely serious warning: 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” (Mark 3:28-30).

This has become commonly known within the church as “the unpardonable sin.”

What are we to make of this unpardonable sin? Is it truly unpardonable? Can we stumble into this area of sin where there is no forgiveness and we are outside the reach of the gospel? Those are the questions we will wrestle with this coming week in our on going series from the Gospel of Mark.

Small Group Reminder

This week is the final week of our 2018-19 Small Group year. Our Small Group Ministry will begin our summer break starting May 25. We will resume small groups in the fall starting September 15.

Thank you to all of our leaders, co-leaders, and hosts who have led well this school year and shepherded your groups as we do life together.

Summary: What is the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? Can someone, even a Christian, commit the sin today? Discover what was—and is—really going on in this passage that deals with precisely these questions in this message by Pastor Todd from Mark 3:20-35.

Memory Verse for This Week

Mark 3:28-30 – 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.

Core Practice: Kindness/Goodness

Kindness/Goodness (1 Thessalonians 5:15): I choose to do the right things in my relationships with others.

Take Home Truth

Forgiveness and “familyness” are gifts from God through his Holy Spirit to which we should respond with humble obedience and submission lest we miss them due to willful and continued opposition to the power of the Holy Spirit.


Introduction

Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?

Make sure you ask this question this week. It gives people the opportunity to discuss questions or issues that come up beyond the written questions. People’s responses can often lead to one of the questions in the “Digging Deeper” section. Also, some weeks this question will result in a lot of discussion, other weeks, not so much.


Read the Text

Mark 3:20–35 (ESV)

20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

22 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.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 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.

28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Jesus’ Mother and Brothers

31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Outline of Text

The Critics of Jesus (3:20–30)

A. Criticism from his family (3:20–21): They fear that his zeal for God has affected his mind!
B. Criticism from his foes (3:22–30)

1. The accusation by the Jewish leaders (3:22) : They say he is casting out demons by Satan, the prince of demons.
2. The answer by the Savior (3:23–30)

a. His words of wisdom (3:23–27): “How can Satan cast out Satan?”
b. His words of warning (3:28–30): He warns his wicked enemies that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—which they are committing—is the unpardonable sin!

The Clarification of Jesus (3:31–35)

A. The desire of his earthly kin (3:31–32): Jesus’ family members want to see him!
B. The description of his eternal kin (3:33–35): Jesus explains all who do God’s will are part of his family![1]


Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions. Remember, if you are hearing from everyone in your group, chances are you won’t have time to discuss every question. You may start with one that catches your attention so you don’t run out of time. For example, it’s not odd to start with Question #6, then go to Question #5 and if you have time come back to Question #4.

What is the context of this week’s text?

Mark 3:7-35 form a complete unit in which the common theme is Jesus’ popularity and the multitudes of people following Him.

As we noted in last week’s study, however, the motivation of the crowds is more self-interest and self-focused rather than worship. They see Jesus as someone who can heal their hurts and pains rather than a Savior who can forgive their sins and save them from eternal damnation.

This week we continue to see this emphasis on the crowds as well as another confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders.

If we look at the text in its simplest form, we see how Mark has structured two stories to drive home the point. Here is the simple structure:

Jesus and His Family, Part 1 (3:20-21)

Jesus and the Scribes (3:22-30)

Jesus and His Family, Part 2 (3:31-35)

What is the problem Jesus’ family perceives because of His growing popularity?

As noted in verses 3:7-8, Jesus popularity has spread throughout the nation. Crowds are pressing against him at every turn. As Mark notes in 3:20, Jesus’ ministry is so consuming that He is unable to eat.

This concerns His family to the point that when they see Him, they think He has lost His mind (3:20).

In one respect, you can understand a mother’s concern for her son. If Jesus appears to not take care of Himself, this would concern her as a mother.

On the other hand, given the miraculous circumstances concerning the birth of Jesus and the clear identification of Him as the Messiah, it is perplexing why she would be concerned for His physical condition knowing that He is God in the flesh.

Mark doesn’t provide us any more insight into this Mother/Son contradiction except to let us know that his family arrived to “seize him” or take Him into custody with the idea of taking care of Him.

As Chuck Swindoll notes concerning this interesting scene between Jesus and His family,

It’s a curious fact that we are unable to see greatness in the people we know best yet are most impressed by people we know little or nothing about. Perhaps, like most inhabitants of Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, Jesus’ family members were unable to embrace Him as God and Savior after having known Him so long and so well as “Jesus the eldest brother.”

To be fair, Jesus’ movement had all the marks of a personality cult. He gathered around Himself the outcasts and disenfranchised. He challenged the accepted norms of religious and cultural tradition and called Himself the ultimate authority. He set up headquarters in Capernaum instead of Jerusalem. People were leaving their occupations to follow Him; some even sold all their possessions! From a distance, Jesus showed all the signs of a manic disorder. Unfortunately, His family was neither close enough to Jesus’ intentions nor discerning enough to know better.[2]

What do the Scribes accuse Jesus of in this confrontation?

Remember, the Scribes are part of the Jewish religious leaders. They were the legal experts in the Law. Mark tells us these Scribes came from Jerusalem, so we are seeing a continued escalation of the tensions between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. With his increasing fame comes increasing scrutiny now from the highest authorities in the land.

It’s clear that the miracles Jesus is performing are supernatural. No one can deny this. What is in question, however, is where His authority comes from? Jesus is claiming He is God and as God He has authority; the religious leaders have pivoted and are now suggesting that there is a much darker, evil side to Jesus’ authority—that it comes from Satan.

They accuse Jesus of drawing His power from Beelzebul (Beelzebub in KJV), of being possessed by Satan. “He hath Beelzebub, implying that Beelzebub hath Him, using Him as his agent. The expression points to something more than an alliance [but] to possession, and that on a grand scale.”[3]

This is actually a rather smart and deceptive move by the religious leaders. Unable to counter the miracles of Jesus and recognizing that His miracles are drawing more and more people to hear His teaching, the Scribes attribute His power to Satan thereby creating tremendous doubt in the minds of the people. No self-righteous Jew would want to knowingly and willingly be under the influence of Satan, and if Jesus is possessed by Satan, then they must avoid any contact with Him.

Ask yourself the question: would you seek healing from someone whom you suspect is possessed by the Devil and is using the power of evil to do what appears to be good?

This is not the only time Jesus is accused of being demon possessed:

  • “He has a demon and is mad. Why do you listen to Him?” (John 10:20)
  • “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48)
  • “We were not born of fornication.” (John 8:41)
  • “A glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34)
  • “You have a demon.” (John 7:20)

SIDE NOTE: Historians and political scientists have identified Five Stages of Persecution that a culture follows. These steps are identified as follows:

  1. Stereotype the target group.
  2. Vilify the target group for alleged crimes or misconduct.
  3. Marginalize the target group’s role in society.
  4. Criminalize the target group or its works.
  5. Persecute the target group outright.

If you keep these stages in mind as we study through Mark, you will see how the Jewish Religious Leaders followed these steps in their conflict with Jesus and how this carried over to the persecution of Christians in the book of Acts.

Unfortunately, I believe you are also seeing these steps followed today in America with Christians. I believe we are in Stage 3 of the process: marginalizing Christians in America. We have already stereotyped Christians (watch how the media portrays Christians and Christian leaders), and we have vilified Christians for their “hate speech” and racism, etc. We are currently seeing many attempts to marginalize Christians, especially within media, academia, and government. This also includes silencing Christians by removing their free speech protections, especially at the hands We are also seeing the early attempts to Criminalize aspects of Christianity. (Again using “hate speech” laws and in some cases forcing Christians to act against their religious beliefs. The best example is the Colorado baker who fought against the heavy-handed tactics of the Colorado Human Rights Commission.)

How will the persecution of Christians look in America? I believe we are already seeing increasing economic persecution of Christians in America. People are losing their jobs and being fired because of their Christian beliefs; businesses with a Christian ethos (e.g. Chick-fil-A) are being denied opportunities to operate in many cities because of their beliefs; many Christian ministries and Christian leaders are identified as “hate groups” by leftists organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Responding to the growing persecution of Christians in America, apologist Matt Slick observes,

Once the persecution has begun it will increase because the previous steps that support the persecution (labeling, marginalization, and attacks) have not been neutralized, thereby leaving the momentum of persecution to increase. The Christian’s response is two-fold: first pray, second become active.

If we don’t unify and stand up and defend ourselves, then our rights and privileges will continue to be removed and we will, like Pavlov’s dog, become conditioned to fearful inaction and increased persecution.

The Christians in America need to repent, confess their personal sins before God, seek the will of God, ask for his teaching from godly preachers, read the word with intensity, and expect to be used of God. After all, we are commanded to be doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves (James 1:22-25).

How would you respond if a respected authority figure declared a popular teacher or pastor to be “of the devil”?

This may not be as far from reality as you might assume. We live in a time when deception is on the rise and many who were once trusted teachers and pastors are now questionable at best and false teachers at worst.

It is important that Christians be able to discern truth from error and not simply rely on the voice of a pastor or teacher. I believe every Christian must live by what I call “The Code of the Bereans” which is found in Acts 17:11. This verse states, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

We live in a time when information is increasing exponentially. There is one final authority and that is the infallible Word of God. Every believer must learn to discern and to live according to the Code of the Bereans.

What logic does Jesus use to refute the accusation of the religious leaders?

Jesus uses two parables to refute the accusations of the religious leaders. These two illustrations contain one question, three “if” statements, and a conclusion:

How can Satan cast out Satan?

24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

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.

Using simple logic, Jesus identifies the enemy, Satan, and makes it clear that no strong man would attack his own house (in this case cast out demons). If he did so, his kingdom/house would fall.

Then Jesus describes what He is doing. The Bible Knowledge Commentary summarizes this well:

Satan is the strong man. His house is the realm of sin, sickness, demon possession, and death. His possessions are people who are enslaved by one or more of these things, and demons are his agents who carry out his diabolical activity. No one can enter his realm to carry off (diarpasai, “plunder”) his possessions unless he first binds the strong man (shows he is more powerful). Then he can rob (diarpasei, “plunder”) the realm, releasing the enslaved victims. At His temptation (cf. 1:12–13) and through His exorcisms Jesus demonstrated that He is the Stronger One, empowered by the Holy Spirit (cf. 3:29). His mission is to confront and overpower (not cooperate with) Satan and to deliver those enslaved by him.[4]

What is the point of Jesus’ grave warning to the religious leaders in Mark 3:28-30?

This passage from Mark is often referred to as “the unpardonable sin.” Looking at the religious leaders standing silently before him, Jesus states,

Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

This warning of a sin in which there is no forgiveness has caused much concern among believers and rightly so. Whenever we hear the words “whoever” and “never has forgiveness” and “guilty of an eternal sin” form Jesus, this should cause us to sit up and listen.

It is important to note that at this point Jesus is not yet condemning the religious leaders of being guilty of such a sin, but he issues them a stern warning. In other words, there is no need to warn someone who has already committed the sin in which there is no forgiveness.

How would you define “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit”?

In teaching through this passage over the years, I’ve learned that one of the root causes of people who fear or worry that they may have committed the unpardonable sin is a lack of clearly understanding what Jesus meant when he said, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit…”.

First, we must recognize that the Bible never uses the words “the unpardonable sin.” Those are man’s words used to interpret what the Bible calls “an eternal sin.”

There are three aspects to what the religious leaders we saying and doing that caused Jesus to issue this warning to them:

  1. It revealed a hardened heart that calls good evil. This is underscored by the use of the words “they were saying” in verses 22 and 30. The verb used is in the imperfect tense, which means “they were continually saying”. This wasn’t just a passing thought or under-their-breath comment, but a continual stream of accusations seeking to destroy Jesus’ reputation. As we discussed in our lesson from Mark 2:1-12, the religious leaders demonstrated repeatedly the hardness of their heart. This is another example.
  2. It revealed spiritual blindness that is willful and intentional. Remember, the accusation the Scribes made against Jesus was that He was possessed by Satan and was performing miracles through the power of Satan. The Scribes could not deny the miracles of Jesus and they were left speechless when they attempted to challenge Him on matters of the law. As a result, they had to pivot to smear His character. This reveals a continual, ongoing spiritual blindness.
  3. It involved a verbal declaration that is continual and unforgivable. Hopefully, you are picking up the keyword in these three aspects to the unpardonable sin. In this case, it involves a continual, ongoing confession or testimony of speaking against the Holy Spirit. If someone speaks against the Holy Spirit verbally and continually, with willful and malicious intent that reveals a hardened heart beyond the possibility of repentance, there is no forgiveness, and they are “guilty of an eternal sin.”

In summary, this is a good definition of the unpardonable sin:

The unpardonable sin is to knowingly, willingly, and persistently attribute to Satan the works of God done by and in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, who testifies to these truths in your heart. (1) It is a sin of full knowledge. (2) It is an ongoing disposition of the heart that resists the conviction of the Holy Spirit. (3) It is a verbal act that attributes the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan. (4) It is a willful rejection of God’s grace in Jesus. (5) It is rooted in unbelief. (6) It is a sin a Christian cannot commit. (7) It is a sin not committed by one who is concerned that he may have committed it.[5]

Can a Christian knowingly or unknowingly commit the unpardonable sin?

Hopefully, your understanding of what constitutes the unpardonable sin and what qualifies as “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” has put your mind at ease concerning the Christian’s ability to commit this sin.

Just to be sure,

  • We understand what the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is by first understanding what the ministry of the Holy Spirit is all about. Regarding the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8), and that He will testify of Me (John 15:26).
  • Therefore, when we persistently reject the work the Holy Spirit wants to do in us and when we have a continued, settled rejection of what He wants to tell us about Jesus, then we blaspheme the Holy Spirit.
  • The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven—not because it is a sin “too big” for God to forgive, but because it is an attitude of heart that cares nothing for God’s forgiveness. It never has forgiveness because it never wants forgiveness God’s way.
  • “These words were never intended to torment anxious souls honestly desiring to know Christ, but they stand out as a blazing beacon warning of the danger of persisting in the rejection of the Spirit’s testimony of Christ, until the seared conscience no longer responds to the gospel message.” (Ironside)

Becoming A House of Prayer

“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices; Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – Isaiah 56:7.

Prayer is an important part of being in a small group. Group prayer goes better when we follow three simple guidelines.

  • WE PRAY FOR ONE TOPIC AT A TIME – Anyone in the group is free to introduce a prayer request either before prayer begins or during the prayer time. Once a topic is introduced, the group focuses on that request alone. Once it’s covered, the group moves on to the next topic.
  • PRAY MORE THAN ONCE – Because the group is focusing on one topic at a time, each person is encouraged to pray several times during the prayer time for those topics they feel most led to pray about. No one is required to pray.
  • WE KEEP OUR PRAYERS SHORT AND SIMPLE – Group prayer goes better when members keep their prayers short and to the point. When someone prays for a long time, it’s hard for the other members to stay focused and long prayers tend to intimidate those who are just learning to pray out loud in a group. No one is required to pray out loud.

Study Notes

Mark 3:20-35

3:20-21 Home probably refers to Capernaum (1:29; 2:1). To this point Mark has not mentioned Jesus’ family, and after this extended section they are mentioned only in 6:3. After introducing them in 3:21, Mark picks them up again in verses 31-35. To restrain Him is the same verb used for “arrest” in 6:17; 12:12; 14:1,44. Mark hinted that Jesus’ family tried to do what the Jewish authorities sought to do. Neither Matthew nor Luke mention that Jesus’ family thought He was out of His mind (cp. Ps 69:8).

3:22 Between the introduction of Jesus’ family (v. 21) and discussing their actions (vv. 31-35), Mark placed an incident with the scribes (v. 22) and two parabolic sayings (vv. 23-26,27-30). The description of the scribes as those who had come down from Jerusalem indicates they were an official delegation (cp. 7:1). Said is an imperfect tense, indicating continuous action. What they were saying repeatedly was that He has Beelzebul in Him (see notes at Mt 12:24; Lk 11:14-15) and He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons (see note at Mt 9:34). The scribes and Pharisees did not deny Jesus’ power; instead, they attributed His power to Satan (Mk 1:13; cp. Mt 10:25; 12:24,27; Lk 11:15,18-19).

3:23-27 This is the first mention of parables in Mark, though Jesus had already used them (2:17,21-22). A parable is an analogy or comparison that includes proverbial sayings, allegories, or narrative. Jesus used parables to reject the scribes’ logic of 3:22. Neither a kingdom nor a house is strengthened by internal divisions. Attacks on Satan’s kingdom came not from within but from God’s kingdom. In Jesus’ reference to external attack on a strong man’ s house and tying him up, Satan was the strong man (v. 27; cp. Isa 49:24-26; Rev 20:1-3).

3:28-30 I assure you is a declaration of Jesus’ authority to declare truth. This is the first time it appears in Mark (Mark 8:12; 9:1,41; 10:15,29; 11:23; 13:30; 14:25,30). All sins that people commit, including blasphemies (see note at 2:6-7), can be forgiven—except whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. This person never has forgiveness, and is guilty of an eternal sin (a sin with eternal consequences). Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is attributing Jesus’ works to Satan, claiming that Jesus was empowered by evil.

3:31-35 This completes the account begun in verses 20-21. Mark did not name Jesus’ mother, His brothers, or His sisters (cp. 6:3). Possibly Joseph was dead by now. The phrases standing outside and sent word indicate there was no direct contact between Jesus and His family, only messages exchanged. Whoever signifies that being part of Jesus’ most significant family, His spiritual family, is a possibility for all people.


Footnotes:

[1] H. L. Willmington, The Outline Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), Mk 3:16–35.

[2] Swindoll, Charles R.. Insights on Mark (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 2) (pp. 97-98). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[3] Alexander Balmain Bruce, The Synoptic Gospels (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.), 361.

[4] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 117.

[5] Daniel L. Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition – Exalting Jesus in Mark, ed. David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, Tony Merida, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2014), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 79.