The Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2021
There is Only One Unforgivable Sin!
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Which is worse: Beating someone up with fists or beating someone down with words? Which is worse: Stealing something that belongs to someone else or cheating someone by overcharging them for something they want to buy? Which is worse: Pretending to care for someone so that they will do what you want them to do or manipulating a stranger to get what you want? Which is worse: Deceiving an elderly person into sending you money or infecting a company’s computer system with ransomware?
It is certainly not difficult for us to see or to hear about people who are doing some pretty awful things. We see it on the news and read about it on the Internet on a far too regular basis. Unfortunately, it’s also very easy for us to adopt an attitude which says, “At least they didn’t do this (you fill in the blank),” or, “At least they didn’t do it to me or to someone I love.”
As mortal sinful human beings it is very “natural” and very “easy” for us to put sin into different categories. We look at some sins and think that they are not really all that serious. It was “just a little white lie.” We look at other sins— especially the sins that someone has committed against us— and we think or say, “I will never forgive you!”
Our Gospel lesson for today places before us a number of different people committing a number of different sins— sins that we see people committing right down to this very day! The reason that I chose our Gospel lesson to serve as our sermon text is because it so clearly reminds us of a truth that we never want to lose sight of. That truth is this: There is Only One Unforgivable Sin!
Last Sunday Mark revealed to us that when the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples— and ultimately Jesus Himself— of sinning against the Sabbath Law, Jesus corrected the Pharisees by teaching them that, “The Sabbath was created for the sake of man, not man for the sake of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). At the beginning of Mark chapter three we read about Jesus healing a man “with a shriveled hand.” Since Jesus performed this miraculous healing on a Sabbath day, the Pharisees “went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” While the Pharisees and the Herodians were plotting how to kill Jesus large crowds of people were gathering from all over to hear Jesus teach God’s Word, to be healed of all kinds of diseases and to have Jesus drive out evil spirits.
All of that sets the stage for the opening verses of our text. Mark writes, “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
Every time I read these words my heart cringes. While Scripture very clearly reveals to us, “Even his own brothers did not believe in him” (John 7:1-5), I can’t help but wonder how Jesus’ own family got to the point where they concluded, “He is out of his mind.” Jesus’ half-siblings had watched Him as they grew up together in Mary and Joseph’s house. Mary and Joseph must have surely shared with the other children the message of the angel Gabriel. I can’t imagine Mary coming to the same conclusion as Jesus’ brothers. Was she there to protect her Son— as any mother would want to do? While there are more questions than answers, one thing is clear: When Jesus’ family heard about the huge crowds of people who were gathering around Jesus, when they heard about all the people who were coming to Jesus expecting to be healed, when they heard about the hostility that the religious leaders had toward Jesus, they began to have doubts— doubts about Jesus, doubts about Jesus’ message, doubts about Jesus’ mission. Somehow their doubts became so serious that they decided to go and “take charge of” Jesus. They wanted to bring Him home— even it meant doing this by force.
Is doubting Jesus, doubting His message and doubting His mission a sin? It most certainly is! Is doubt an unforgivable sin? No it is not!
Well, if doubt is not an unforgivable sin, what about denial? Mark goes on to tell us, “And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons!’” Notice how Jesus’ enemies bring in the “big guns.” These were not just any “teachers of the law.” These men “came down from Jerusalem”! Since no one could deny that Jesus had powers that went far beyond anything anyone had ever seen, these “teachers of the law” accused Jesus of being an agent of Satan!
Were they denying who Jesus is? Were they denying Jesus’ message? Were they denying Jesus’ mission? Was their denial a sin? It most certainly was! Is denial an unforgivable sin? No it is not!
In fact, Jesus Himself reveals to us that their denial was not an unforgivable sin by first showing the “teachers of the law” how foolish their premise was and then by calling them to repentance. Jesus points out the foolishness of their accusation when He says to them, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.”
It was ridiculous to even suggest that Satan would try to advance his kingdom by plundering his own allies, the demons. If Satan actually helped Jesus or anyone else to cast demons out of people, his kingdom would be divided, his house would fall, and his end would come.
After pointing out the absurdity of the accusation that the “teachers of the law” were leveling against Him, Jesus called these men to repentance. He did this by saying to them, “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.”
The reason Jesus was able to cast out demons is because Jesus is stronger than Satan! Every time Jesus cast a demon out of someone it was like He had “tied up” Satan and “robbed” him of one more soul. In essence Jesus was encouraging the “teachers of the law” to put aside their hostility, put aside their denial and take an objective look at what Jesus was doing. Jesus was able to do what He had been doing because He has the power to defeat Satan and render Satan powerless to resist. And while the final battle, the ultimate battle against Satan was still to come (Pointing to the cross), Jesus would most certainly be victorious!
Why is it so important for us to know that while doubting and even denying Jesus, His message and His mission is most certainly a sin— it is not the unforgivable sin? The reason is two-fold. First, there may have been times in our own life when we have sinned by doubting and/or denying Jesus, His message as it is revealed to us in the Bible or His mission to save us from our sins. Every time that happens Satan, the “roaring lion,” is quick to pounce on that sin and try to convince us that now there is no chance for us to be forgiven, there is no chance for us to make it home to heaven. That’s when we especially need to remember that neither the sin of doubt nor the sin of denial is an unforgivable sin. Through confession and repentance we are assured of that the Son of God willingly suffered and died on the cross (Pointing to the cross) to completely pay for those sins!
Secondly, we may know someone who is doubting and/or denying Jesus, His message and His mission. Are they sinning? Yes, they are. Can they be forgiven? Yes, they can! It is up to us to keep on sharing the Truth of Scripture with them. It is up to us to keep on pointing them to the cross and assuring them of what Jesus has done for them. It is up to us to keep them in our prayers and ask the Lord to bring them to faith in Jesus as their Savior.
Well then, since the sin of doubt is a forgivable sin and since the sin of denial is a forgivable sin, what is the one unforgivable sin? Jesus explains the answer to that question when He says in our text, “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin. He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’”
“Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is the one and only sin that will not be forgiven. What is this sin? The word which is translated here as “blasphemy” very literally means, “to speak against God,” “to slander God,” “to insult God.” Why is this sin “unforgivable”? Think it through. God the Holy Spirit only works through the Means of Grace— the message of the Gospel as it comes to us in Word and Sacraments. If someone continually “speaks against” God’s holy Word and Sacraments, if someone continually “slanders” God’s holy Word and Sacraments, if someone continually “insults” God’s holy Word and Sacraments, they are effectively cutting themselves off from the only tools that God the Holy Spirit uses to bring someone to repentance and assure them of forgiveness (Pointing to the cross). If someone takes away the only tools that the Holy Spirit uses to create and sustain faith in a person’s heart— then that person is committing the sin of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” Then they are guilty of an “eternal sin.”
Since this sin is as serious as it gets, let’s make sure we understand something very clearly. Anyone who is in any way concerned about whether or not they have committed the one unforgivable sin— has not committed it. If someone is guilty of “blaspheming against the Holy Spirit” they wouldn’t care. They wouldn’t be concerned about it for even a nanosecond.
Which is worse— this sin or that sin? Any amount of time that we spend on comparing one sin with another as though some sins are less offensive to God than others or as though our sins are not as bad as someone else’s sins is a waste of time. A far more productive use of our time is to stay focused on the cross (Pointing to the cross) so that we are always assured of what our God has done to save us from our sins and to make regular use of the precious Means of Grace that our God has given to us. Then, my friends, we will be assured that by God’s grace and by God’s power we will not become guilty of committing the one unforgivable sin.
To God be the glory!