Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 10, 2012
Text: Mark 3:20-35
Beloved in the Lord, two very frightening realities in our Gospel lesson this morning. The first is that Satan is real, along with his demons, who together seek to do us great spiritual and physical harm, deceive us and mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. If possible, they want to drag us into hell with them. And then there is the second frightening reality, that there is such a thing as an unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit. “(W)hoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness,” says Jesus, “but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29; ESV). These two realities are related, for the devil would love nothing better than to get us to commit the sin against the Holy Spirit and condemn ourselves before God. Now, there are at least four ways to deal with these frightening realities in our text. One way would be to simply ignore them, as if they didn’t affect us. That is, sadly, the way we too often deal with these realities, and so leave ourselves open for the devil’s attacks. A second way would be to deny that these even are realities, which is precisely what the unbelieving world does as it rejects God’s holy Word and defines God according to it’s own image. This is idolatry. And unfortunately, many churches are jumping on the world’s bandwagon. A third way would be to allow these realities to scare us and lead us into hopelessness and despair. But then, that would be to give the devil precisely what he wants, would it not? But there is a fourth way to deal with these realities. That is to take Jesus at His Word, acknowledge these dangers as real, but take comfort and shelter in the great promises of God, that by the saving work of our Lord Jesus Satan is bound and cast out, and that the Holy Spirit keeps us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ by means of His gifts in Word and Sacrament. This is the God-pleasing way of dealing with these realities. Without denying or minimizing the very real danger they present, we rest secure in our loving and gracious Triune God.
Well, it’s not a nice thought, but Satan does exist, and he does have a great influence in this world. He’s even called the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) and “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) in the Holy Scriptures. He was created by God as a good angel, Lucifer by name, which means “Light Bearer,” but he rebelled against God. He and all the angels that followed him were cast out of heaven. Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18), and Jude writes that “the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day” (v. 6). We don’t know the precise nature of this rebellion against God, except to say that somehow Satan wanted to take upon Himself the authority that belongs to God, and the judgment is that Satan and those angels who followed him are confirmed in their wickedness and Godlessness, and those angels who remained with God were confirmed in their holiness so that they can never fall, just as we’ll be confirmed in holiness when we get to heaven. We won’t be able to sin. Now, Satan is the one who took the form of a serpent in Genesis 3 and tempted our first parents, Adam and Eve, to sin by eating the forbidden fruit. He hates God, and he hates God’s beloved creation, especially the humans that God has created to be in fellowship with Him. So Satan seeks to do us harm, and his ultimate aim is our damnation. It doesn’t do us any good to ignore it or deny it. It’s real. And it’s sobering. We have to be on the watch for his attacks. We must not be deceived by His lies. He’s crafty. He’s convincing. He’s very powerful (he’s an angel, remember). And he knows the Scriptures even better than we do. St. Paul warns us that often “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). He works best through things that appear to be “Christian.” He’s a deceiver. Beloved, on our own, we don’t stand a chance against him. And that’s why today’s Gospel is such good news for us.
We don’t need to lose hope. We don’t need to despair. Satan is powerful, but God is more powerful. Our God is the God of the devil. Jesus, true God and true man, has conquered the devil for us. Jesus has conquered the devil for us by submitting Himself to death and hell in our place and so taking death and hell captive. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Your sins are forgiven. You have eternal life. Satan has no claim on you. And he’s bound. Jesus Christ is the Stronger Man who enters Satan’s house and binds him up and plunders his goods. We’re the goods He plunders. Jesus takes us out of Satan’s house and into His own house, the Kingdom of God. And Satan? Finally, he’s cast out. God has prepared the Lake of Fire, the end times hell, not for unbelievers (though unbelievers, sadly, will go there) but for the devil and his evil angels (Matt. 25:41). That’s the end of the devil: Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, hell. But for you, heaven, the resurrection of the dead, eternal life with God in a new heaven and earth, on account of the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of your Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus was exercising His authority over demons in our text, casting them out of people who were physically possessed. Physical possession doesn’t happen as much here in the Western world, because the devil likes to convince us he doesn’t exist so that he can fly below our radar (though I understand physical possession is much more common in third world countries where the people are more attuned to the dark spiritual forces). Spiritual possession is another matter entirely. We’re all born in the spiritual possession of the devil, blind, dead, and enemies of God. But Jesus comes to release us, to plunder us, to take us for Himself. He not only shed His blood for us. He sends His Spirit to convert us by Baptism and His Word. At any rate, Jesus is casting out demons from the physically possessed in our text. His own family thinks He’s out of His mind. They’ve come to collect Him and take Him home. He’s embarrassing them. And the Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of Israel, what do they think? “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” they say, and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons” (Mark 3:22). They are saying He has an unclean spirit. And it is here that we encounter the sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin.
What is the unforgivable sin? It is to reject the Holy Spirit as an evil spirit against your better knowledge. Francis Pieper, one of our Missouri Synod fathers, defined it this way: “The sin against the Holy Ghost is committed when, after the Holy Ghost has convinced a person in his heart of the divine truth, that person nevertheless not only rejects the truth he is convinced of, but also blasphemes it,” calls it evil. The Pharisees were guilty of this. They knew better. They knew the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit. They knew that Jesus fulfilled the whole Old Testament. But they rejected Jesus and called His Holy Spirit an evil spirit. This is always a danger to us. Hearing the world’s seductive siren song and being deceived by the devil’s lies, we can turn against our better knowledge away from Jesus Christ and call the Word of the Holy Spirit evil. After all, the Word of God is not politically correct. You who stand for the sanctity of marriage as God defines it in His Word are homophobes and haters. You who defend the lives of the unborn hate women. It’s not popular to be a Christian. And we don’t even suffer intense persecution here in the United States, as the Christians do in other places. It would be easier to reject Christ and blaspheme His Spirit. The danger is real. We deny it at our own peril.
But God has promised to keep us by this same Holy Spirit through His Word and Supper, and through the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren, the fellowship of the Holy Church. By the way, if you’re worried you’ve committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, you haven’t. It is the nature of this sin not to care if you’ve committed it. But the consolation is that the Holy Spirit Himself sustains you in the faith. Remain in the Word. Receive the Supper often. Remember your Baptism constantly. Come to church. God will keep you. He will keep you from the attacks of the devil. He will keep you from this sin against the Holy Spirit. Because He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for you on the cross, is not about to let you go. You’re precious to Him. And as Paul says, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39). Not even Satan, that old wily foe, can separate you from God’s love. God is stronger than Satan. And Satan is bound, to be cast out. You’re safe in Jesus. And Jesus even calls you His family. “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’” (Mark 3:34-35). Dear brothers and sisters, when Satan bothers you, you tell him where he can go. Then make the sign of the cross and remember that you’re baptized into Christ, saying, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. I (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950) p. 573.