The Unforgiveable Sin – Mark 3:20-30
Good morning! If you can grab a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. We are continuing in our sermon series on Mark, looking at Mark 3:20-30.
In our passage for this morning, Jesus is going to say that God will forgive you of any and all sins that you commit in your life—which is really good news for us, by the way—but that there is one sin that is possible for you to commit, and that if you commit this sin, you will not be forgiven.
This is going to be a very heavy sermon on a passage of Scripture that is often misunderstood and misapplied. But what I am expecting this passage of Scripture to do, the objective that I hope to reach, is to concern the comfortable and to comfort the concerned.
And because I want us to see that this is rooted in God’s Word and not man’s word, I want us to look at Mark 3, beginning in verse 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.’ 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.’”
Last week, we looked at how the crowds who were coming to Jesus were getting so bad at wanting Jesus for what He could do for them and not wanting Jesus for Jesus, that they didn’t even want to interact with Jesus, but just wanted to touch Jesus and receive healing for themselves.
And what we see Jesus do is He calls to Himself those whom He desired—the twelve men whom He would call apostles—who would become the foundation of the Church and His messengers in the world.
And we come to verse 20, and the crowd hasn’t left Jesus alone. They are still gathering around Jesus and His disciples, so that, now, “they could not even eat.”
Things have become so intense that scribes have come down from Jerusalem to investigate what’s going on. Jesus has so confounded the local religious leaders by what He’s said and done that the religious leaders from the Jewish capital of Jerusalem come to Jesus. But they aren’t there to submit themselves to Jesus’ authority or to receive healing from Jesus. No, they’re there to settle the matter on this Jesus.
You see, there were two possible conclusions for how Jesus was able do what He did: 1. Either Jesus is God and therefore it is in the power of God that Jesus is able to heal the sick and cast out demons, or 2. Jesus is demonic and therefore it is in the power of Satan that Jesus is able to do what He does.
There were only two possible sources of power behind this Jesus: divine or demonic. We’ve certainly seen from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel that Mark believes Jesus to be divine, but look at what the religious leaders from Jerusalem conclude about Jesus, in verse 22. They were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”
The religious leaders acknowledge that Jesus has power. Don’t miss this. They aren’t saying that there is no power here. They are keenly aware that Jesus has some kind of power to be able to heal the sick and cast out demons. But they incorrectly label the origin of Jesus’ power as demonic.
And the reason why they come to the conclusion they do is because to conclude otherwise would mean that Jesus is God. And instead of acknowledging the overwhelming evidence that Jesus is the Son of God, the religious leaders needed a more reasonable explanation for why Jesus could say what He said and do what He did, so they accuse Jesus of being possessed by Satan.
And Jesus gives two parables, two illustrations, to show that the accusations of the scribes are false:
1. First, if the Satanic sphere of power were internally divided, then it could not stand. Look at verse 23. Jesus says, “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.”
In other words, Jesus is saying, “If I were truly possessed by Satan, then why would I be casting demons out of people. If I were truly demonic, as you say that I am, then it would make no sense for me to do what I’m doing. A kingdom or a house that is divided against itself cannot stand.”
Parents, you know the importance of this. If Helena allowed the kids to do something that I did not allow, what would that say to our kids? It would say to them that we are not united, that we are not moving in the same direction, and that there is no real authority in the home.
In verse 26, Jesus says to them, “If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.” Satan is not going to fight against himself. Everything that Jesus had done up until this point would have undermined the kingdom of the demonic forces. Jesus is simply showing them the logical absurdity of their conclusion.
2. But then, Jesus continues with His second illustration, that Satan must be bound before his sphere of power can be challenged. Look at verse 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.”
What Jesus is saying here makes sense, right? If you want to go in and get the property of somebody, you have to overpower the guy. You’ve got to be stronger than he is to get his stuff.
But Jesus is alluding to something deeper here. According to Jesus, the strong man is Satan and the strong man’s goods are the people whom he and his demons have possessed.
Jesus is saying that no one can enter the strong man’s house—Satan’s house—and plunder his goods—those whom are under demonic oppression—unless he first binds the strong man. If you want to free people from their oppression to demonic forces, then you need to bind Satan and his demons to pull it off. In other words, Jesus is saying you need to be greater than Satan.
And you will notice that this is exactly what Jesus does. Jesus exposes the demons, casts them out, and rescues the people who had been oppressed. And do you know how Jesus is able to do that? Because He’s stronger than Satan. Jesus is showing that He has authority, not simply over the demonic forces, but over Satan himself.
The religious leaders are saying that Jesus is casting out Satan by the power of Satan, and that conclusion just doesn’t make sense because, by casting out demons, Jesus is showing Himself to be greater than Satan. And if Jesus has greater power than Satan, the only power left is the power that comes from God.
The religious leaders walked right into that one. And Jesus shows us what this power can accomplish. Look at verse 28. “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.”
You know, we can get so caught up with the next verse and what Jesus says about the unforgiveable sin, that we miss this verse and the glory of the gospel that is presented to us.
“All sins will be forgiven the children of man.” Like, I could end the sermon there and we could all go home, rejoicing, at the grace of God through Jesus Christ. But I just want to draw our attention to what Jesus is saying here, because it is truly good news for us, today.
That word “all” in the Greek means “all.” It’s all-encompassing. Jesus isn’t saying that only some of your sins will be forgiven, but that all your sins will be forgiven.
To illustrate this: Suppose you live to the ripe old age of 100 years old. If you sin once a day every day for 365 days a year for 100 years, you will have sinned 36,500 times in your life. That’s a lot of sin. I'm willing to guess it’s going to be more than that, in reality, but we’ll just go with that. One sin leads to judgment and you’ve sinned 36,500 times in your life. And Jesus is saying that all sins—all 36,500 of your sins—will be forgiven.
Now, suppose you put your trust in Jesus at the age of 21 years old. This does not mean that only your sins will between the ages of 0 and 21 will be forgiven, but that even your sins between 21 and 100 will be forgiven, as well. All of your sins—past, present and future—will be forgiven.
But it gets better. It’s not like God forgives sins and then brings them back up years later, like a bad marital argument. He forgives sins, never to bring them back up, again.
Psalm 103:11-12: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
God removes our sins from us. Isn’t that good news? Haven't you ever had people in your life, or maybe you were that person, who didn’t quite forgive. Sure, they maybe said, “I forgive you,” when you asked for forgiveness, but then they brought it up weeks or months or years later. Husbands, wives, you know what I’m talking about.
That’s not the forgiveness that Jesus is talking about here. Jesus is talking about a forgiveness of sins, whereby God removes them from our account and remembers them no more. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, it’s gone.
Turn over to Mark 14:26. We’ll cover this more closely when we get to this in our sermon series, but Jesus has just eaten the Passover with His disciples and has instituted the Lord’s Supper, and Jesus says to His disciples, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” And Peter says to Jesus, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus says to Peter, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”
Look a few verses later, at verse 66. Jesus has been betrayed by Judas Iscariot and, wouldn’t you know it, the disciples have scattered. And Peter tries to get close to where Jesus’ trial was taking place, but a servant girl notices Peter and says to him, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But Peter denies it. A little while later, the same servant girl says to Peter, again, in front of everyone, “This man is one of them.” But Peter denies it, again. And a little while later, a bunch of people now are saying that Peter is one of the disciples of Jesus. And in verse 71, it says that Peter “began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man of whom you speak.’” And immediately, the rooster crowed, and Peter remembered what Jesus told him, that he would deny Jesus three times. And it says that “he broke down and wept.”
Do you think there is forgiveness for Peter for the blasphemy he uttered? In John 21, Jesus appears to His disciples after His resurrection and has some alone time with Peter, where Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And Peter responds with, “You know that I love you.” And Jesus reinstates Peter in that moment. The answer is yes, there is forgiveness for Peter.
That’s the picture of forgiveness that Jesus is giving us. It’s the good news of the gospel that is available to all people, that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
It’s the greatest news you will ever hear in your life. And it’s right after this proclamation of the good news of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus gives us one of the strongest warnings He will ever give in Scripture.
Look at verse 29. Jesus continues, “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
Jesus is saying that there is one sin, that if we commit, God will not remove from us and will not remember no more. And we certainly struggle with this thought, right? Like, after hearing that God will forgive any and all sins of those who put their trust in Jesus, and whatever blasphemies they utter, it’s hard for us to hear that there is a sin that God will not forgive.
We sang a song earlier called There is a Fountain Filled with Blood. The first verse of the song goes like this: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains.”
This is a gospel hymn. It’s dear to us who believe in Jesus. We sing these words because they speak comfort to our wearied soul. When sin arises in our hearts, we run and we cling to the cross of Jesus Christ, for it is His shed blood on our behalf, His atoning sacrifice, that appeases the wrath of God against our sin.
We glory in the gospel and we hold fast to the passages of Scripture and the hymns that speak of our being forgiven of our sins.
And yet, we see in the pages of Scripture this warning of an unforgiveable sin, and it makes us uneasy. Jesus calls this eternal, unforgiveable sin: “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” But as I said earlier, the unforgiveable sin is often misunderstood and misapplied, so what I want to do, first, is I want to show us what the unforgiveable sin is not.
1. The unforgiveable sin is not blasphemy, in general. Turn to 1 Timothy 1. The apostle Paul is writing to Timothy, and in verse 12, we hear these words from the former persecutor of the Church of Jesus Christ. He says, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”
The apostle Paul admits that he was a blasphemer of Jesus Christ. And how we know that this is not the unforgiveable sin is what he writes, next. He says, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
2. So, firstly, the unforgiveable sin is not blasphemy, in general. Secondly, the unforgiveable sin is not suicide. This is a very popular belief, especially within the Roman Catholic Church. If you grew up within this tradition, you might be familiar with what are called mortal sins. These are sins that are premeditated and, if unconfessed to a priest, will result in the individual going to hell.
It is therefore impossible, within the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, to commit the mortal sin of suicide and receive forgiveness of your sin, since you will no longer have any such opportunity.
This past week, the associate pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California, Jarrid Wilson, committed suicide, leaving behind his wife and two sons. He was an advocate for mental health and was open about his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Before his death, he wrote, “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.”
Turn over to Hebrews 10. The writer of Hebrews is remarking at how much more sufficient the sacrifice of Jesus is than sacrifices offered in the Old Testament by the priest. In Hebrews 10:11, he writes, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
This lines up with what Jesus says in Mark 3:28 about forgiveness for all sins—past, present and future. Christ died, not only for the sins we committed yesterday, but also for the sins we will commit tomorrow. That’s the good news of the gospel. We don’t need to live in fear that we will die with some unconfessed sin in our lives. We can live with the hope that what Jesus did on the cross was sufficient for anything we would ever do, including suicide.
3. The unforgiveable sin is not blasphemy, in general, and it’s not suicide. Thirdly, the unforgiveable sin is not simply unbelief.
It’s true that if you die without having believed in Jesus, there is no second chance. There is no Purgatory. There is no gospel being preached in hell for people to repent and eventually go to heaven. If you don't believe in Jesus, if your faith is not rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you are not forgiven.
The sin of unbelief will not be forgiven, because you’ve chosen to not believe, that’s true. But the unforgiveable sin is more than that. Jesus is talking about a sin that is unforgiveable—that God will not forgive.
And so, here is what the unforgiveable sin, this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, is: It is a state of persistent and unrepentant resistance against the work of the Holy Spirit and His testimony of Jesus Christ.
What does that mean? It means that, for the person who hardens their heart against God, against the work of the Holy Spirit, and against the provision of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, there is no forgiveness. This is not just one sin; this is a lifelong rejection of the Holy Spirit’s work and witness of Jesus Christ.
So, what do we make of all of this? Charles Spurgeon tells this story in one of his sermons: “I remember in my early boyhood being at my grandfather’s house, and seeing there a venerable though not very ancient lady, who was dressed in black; and her mourning attire was just the emblem of her inner consciousness. She always looked sad: I never heard her say one joyful word all the time I knew her. It was whispered to me that she had committed the ‘unpardonable sin.’
“And I well recollect with what amazement I looked at her. Somehow I felt superstitiously inclined to pay reverence to such a person; and being, on one occasion, left in the room with her, she called me up to her and she said, ‘Ah, you may be happy, but I never can. Oh, I have committed the sin that is unto death; and do what I may, I know I am a lost soul, and there is no hope for me.’”
Christians often worry about the unforgiveable sin. We ask questions like, “Have I committed the unforgiveable sin?” “Could I commit the unforgiveable sin?” Could I commit the unforgiveable sin after becoming a Christian?” We are so concerned with the matter that it takes over our lives, like it did with this woman, and we don’t even know if we’ve necessarily committed or not.
And so, there are two takeaways that I want us to grab hold of, today:
1. If you are here this morning, and you are concerned that you have committed the unforgiveable sin or that you might unknowingly commit the unforgiveable sin in the future, this is good evidence that you haven't committed it or will commit it.
Martin Luther, in the first of his 95 theses, writes, "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."
Friend, as long as you continue to be drawn to repentance, there is hope for you. If you still mourn over your sin, then you are in a good place. There is no record in Scripture of anyone asking forgiveness of God and being denied it. As long as you continue to cherish that forgiveness, then you are not in danger.
2. But the flipside of that is, if you are here this morning, and you are sitting comfortably in your seat with no care or concern of the gravity of what we have looked at, this morning, if you do not feel the terror of the thought of being utterly forsaken by God because of persistence in sin, then I hope this makes you uncomfortable. This passage is a warning.
I came across this illustration: “It's like a bird who lands on a piece of carcass, and it's on an ice block and it's floating down the river. And the ice block is coming towards the falls but he's not concerned, because he looks at his wings and he says, ‘I’ll be able to fly away. When the time comes I’ll just flap my wings and up I’ll go,’ and he carries on eating. And when he comes to the falls, he puts his wings out, but his claws are frozen in the ice, and he cannot fly and he cannot get out, and it's too late.”
Friend, if you are here this morning, and you have resisted the Holy Spirit’s work and witness of Jesus Christ all of these years, if you have never put your trust in Jesus, because you have thought that you still have time or because you don’t believe that God will ever remove His grace from you, you should be concerned.
If there is anything that we should take away from this passage, it’s that sin is an infinite evil that needed an atonement of infinite value to deliver us from its consequences of an eternal hell for those who reject the remedy provided for their sins.
Oh, that we would know the depth of our sin and the perfect forgiveness of God, through Jesus Christ, that completely and finally removes our sins from us.
One of the things that kept us busy on our drive to Ontario and back was listening to the Chronicles of Narnia Radio Theatre. Focus on the Family does an amazing job of dramatizing the books. I had read all the books, years ago, except for The Last Battle, which is the last book in the series. I had never read that one, but I had the privilege of listening to it as we were driving home.
And to briefly sum up the book: There is an ape by the name of Shift and a donkey by the name of Puzzle, and they find this lion’s skin that Shift tricks Puzzle into putting on in order to impersonate Aslan, the true ruler of Narnia. And they give all of these bizarre orders in Aslan’s name, that the talking beasts obey but don’t understand, because it’s not what the real Aslan would ask of them.
And Shift goes so far as to say that Aslan was the same as Tash, which is the god of Calormen. This was a blasphemous thought. And Shift’s grave error brings about his downfall, as he encounters the real Tash who eats him.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day made the grave error of concluding that Jesus was demonic. The inference is that they committed the unforgiveable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and that they went to hell, persistently and unrepentantly resistant against the work of the Holy Spirit and His testimony of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is not demonic and His power is not from Satan, because Jesus is greater than Satan. He is God in human flesh, who came so that we might have forgiveness from all our sins.
That’s the good news of the gospel. Have we trusted in it, or are we trusting in our ability to fly away at the right time, only to have become too complacent and comfortable to do so?
Whether you are concerned or comfortable, run to Jesus today with your sin and He will forgive you. That’s the glory of the gospel. Let’s pray…