Terrifying or Comforting?
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Good Christian Friends. In our Gospel reading today Jesus is either terrifying or comforting, depending on who you are. This is not that surprising since even today Jesus is the same.
In the category of terrifying, there are two ways Jesus is terrifying to people in today’s Gospel reading from Mark Chapter 3. First He is terrifying to His family because He’s embarrassing them. When Jesus went to His home town of Nazareth where He’d been raised as a child “the crowd gathered [around Him] again, so that [He and His disciples, who Jesus had hand-picked around the sea of Galilee] could not even eat. And when His family heard it, they went out to seize [Jesus], for they were saying, “He is out of His mind.” – If Jesus wanted to traipse around the sea of Galilee with a bunch of fishermen and zealots, tax collectors and other undesirables that was His business but to bring them to His Home town and go on about “the kingdom of God” and “repentance” in Nazareth? How embarrassing.
And what sorts of people did Jesus gather around Him? Who would have been in this crowd that gathered so closely around Him? Over and over again we hear that the crowds gathered around Jesus included tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes, the sick – even people with leprosy sought Jesus out. So Jesus comes back to town with twelve diamonds in the rough and suddenly a crowd of all the people, whose struggles are most plain to see, flock to Him. How mortifying for Jesus’ family, how they must have been embarrassed for Mary and Joseph. They had to get Jesus out of the middle of that circus and make some kind of excuse for Him, maybe if they said that Jesus was, “out of His mind,” that would work … and after things settled down, then Jesus could get back to being a carpenter and do respectable work. So there they were, Jesus’ family, mortified, humiliated in their own town, embarrassed, terrified.
Secondly Jesus is terrifying to the scribes who came down from Jerusalem. These men were like university professors, they were academics. Literate, professionals, teachers; They acted as lawyers and judges, they made copies of the Old Testament for use in Synagogues and in the Temple. They knew the law inside and out and were some of the brightest and best in Jerusalem. Our Gospel says that they came down from Jerusalem, The mileage from Jerusalem to Nazareth through Capernaum, avoiding Samaria, would be about 120 miles (193 km). Walking an average of 20 miles (32 km) a day that would take about six days. What got under their skin in such a bad way that they were driven and willing to walk six whole days, on foot, down to Nazareth just to shout at Jesus? You have to be very angry, very upset to commit to that kind of expenditure of time and energy. What was it that terrified them when it came to this Jesus? In their public face to the crowd they put forward a suspicion that Jesus had an unclean spirit, this was their accusation, but what does that really mean? What did it mean to them?
This man Jesus was connected to John the Baptizer who was a source of consternation to the parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees that the Scribes work alongside of. The Scribes then started to notice that this Jesus who was Baptized by John walks out of the wilderness after 40 days and starts to teach in the Synagogues, Word spreads amongst the Scribes that this Jesus casts out demons from the possessed, that He heals the sick, and that He forgives sins. All of these thing should not be happening by the hand of some carpenters son from Nazareth. Especially not the forgiveness of sins – that was mediated only by the Levitical priesthood at the Temple in Jerusalem, under the watchful eye of the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. What a Terrifying thought that forgiveness of sins could come from this man Jesus. They had to get Jesus out of the business of forgiving people, out of the middle of that circus of poor and undesirables, maybe if they said that Jesus “is possessed by Beelzebul,” and that “by the prince of demons He casts out the demons,” that that would work … that the people would abandon this Jesus and after things settled down, then everything would go back to normal. So there they were the Scribes scared, angry, and terrified because they couldn’t deny that Jesus was in fact healing the sick and casting out demons they could only deny (and call into question) by what means He was doing it.
This is a good spot to look at what Jesus says about all this, when He says, “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” Notice we have two groups. The first group finds forgiveness, the second doesn’t. In the context of our Gospel reading today the first group is Jesus’ family, the second group are the Scribes. His family directed their comments at Jesus alone, the Scribes are calling into question by what Spirit Jesus does what He does, so their attack is actually against the Holy Spirit.
With His family, the judgment that Jesus has gone out of His mind, “is blasphemy, an outrageous and demeaning thing to say about Him who is the Son of God, but it can and will be forgiven, because it is a false judgment that (“simply”) fails to recognize who Jesus truly is. Consider what Saint Paul says after the death and resurrection of Jesus, when in 1 Corinthians 9 he indicates that Jesus’ brothers were among those who finally believed. Clearly they repented of this misplaced, blasphemy and were forgiven.
With the Scribes, the danger is much greater, by contrast the Scribes contend, “that Jesus is in league with Satan, these opponents reject our Lord, but more, they assert that the work of God’s Spirit in [Jesus] is the work of Satan, work that must be opposed and ultimately destroyed.” Yet this same Jesus heals, casts out unclean spirits, and brings the Good News of God’s Grace, God’s undeserved gift of love and rescue. “Those who see such work as evil, as do the Scribes, ally themselves with the evil one and with him stand condemned.” This is what Jesus is driving at when He says, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
Here then is some Good News for you today: Anyone who at times, or even in the present time now, has had or has ideas and beliefs about Jesus that are unscriptural or wrong, there is forgiveness for them. Jesus forgave His family He will likewise forgive others, He will forgive you. If someone doesn’t have all their ducks in a row and they are in error forgiveness is for them. Outside the one true faith, the Christian faith, this is likewise true: Jesus’ forgiveness is for them as much as it is for anyone. True knowledge of Jesus (as both God and Man who died atoning for their sin and was risen to eternal life to ascend to the Father) is for them, and they are invited to hold to it, to confess it and to give up their past beliefs about Jesus in favor of what Scripture teaches.
Let’s close things off with the people to whom Jesus is a comfort. Mark’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus’ “mother [Mary] and His brothers came, and standing outside they sent to [Jesus] and called Him. And a crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to [Jesus], “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” [Jesus] answered them, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” And what is the will of God? The will of God is to live lives of repentance, desiring to be forgiven; to live better lives in honor of God and for the benefit of your neighbor. This new life in Christ Jesus as part of His eternal family is for everyone, but those who seem to appreciate it the most are the very ones who confess that they deserve it the least. Not every prostitute, or tax collector, not every sinner was willing to be gathered around Jesus but those who were honest about their sin were there. Just as you and I are all called to be honest about our sin. To those who are gathered around Jesus, to them Jesus was not a terror but a comfort, because they know He truly provides the peace that comes with forgiven sin, with the promise of eternal life, with the love that reaches out and heals: Compassion and kindness when the world is hard and unforgiving. At the foot of the cross, as Jesus bled and died, His mother the Virgin Mary was there, and she stood with Saint John: We hear how, “When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, [Jesus] said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then [Jesus] said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” His home was one in which those gathered around Jesus, were gathered around Jesus’ Word and around His Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion), around the confession and forgiveness of sin. This is the body of Christ, this is the family that is the Church and it is for everyone. It is true comfort in a world of discomfort, it is Christ Jesus for you, for everyone. Amen.
This message by Rev. Rev. Ted A. Giese is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project , You can read more at Mount Olive Lutheran Church