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.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 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.
“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.”
Between the ages of 8 and 10, I really wrestled with having security in my salvation. I remember riding home with my family from a church event and asking Jesus into my heart for what felt like the 20th time. I had been taught that Jesus saved me based on His grace alone through faith in Him. But I did not feel that. Why? I still sinned, and at times I felt far from God. So, I thought I needed to get saved again and again.
In the Gospel, Jesus' agenda was twofold: preach good news to sinners, and dethrone (mercifully) those who felt they weren't in need of saving in hopes that they would be saved. Those who were sinners came to Jesus for healing, restoration, and salvation. Those who had no need of saving were blind and deaf to Jesus and did everything they could to quiet, confuse, and eventually crucify Him to maintain their religious status quo.
In Mark 3:22, Mark informs us that the Pharisees are spreading rumors about Jesus. These rumors may have been similar to the political ads we witnessed this Fall: Politicians thrashing their opponents with all the dirt they could dig up. Jesus is getting called out here. The Pharisees, in their feeble attempt to confuse and distract, call Jesus a demon possessed demon exorcist. Oops. By attempting to disguise and distract, they get themselves into a logical pickle. I imagine Jesus furrowing His brow, cocking His head to the side, and saying what He says in verses 23-24, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” If the text ended here, Jesus could have just dropped the mic and moved to the next town. But Jesus takes the discussion to the next level. His agenda is to dethrone His opponents, but He does it differently than we would. We just want to put people in their place, but Jesus actually has empathy and love for His enemies. His brilliant self-defense moves into a dire warning that gives us the infamous description of the unforgivable sin. By ascribing Satanic activity to Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees are committing blasphemy against God Himself, namely the Holy Spirit. Jesus tolerates the quibbling about how to interpret the law and how to observe the Sabbath, but He draws the line at spreading lies about what God is doing to save people.
Jesus is here to set people free from sin. He says in verse 26, "All sins will be forgiven the children of man…" And He means all sin. As Paul says in Romans 8:38-39, "nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus." So, is Jesus contradicting Himself in the next breath when He says, "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin?" Jesus is not talking about a sin that you can commit that will cause you to go from being saved to not being saved. This is what I needed to know as a child. Jesus is talking about why someone would not be saved at all. The only sin that makes a person unsavable is his or her unwillingness to be saved by Jesus – their wholehearted rejection of who Jesus is and what He does. As Eugene Peterson translates Mark 3:28-29 in The Message, "If you persist in your slanders against God's Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you're sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives."
Jesus' warning levels the playing field. All sin can and will be forgiven if you will repent and believe the Gospel. But if you do not repent and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then you are a blasphemer, as guilty as someone who calls Jesus Satan. The goal here is not to parse out when sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but to look to Jesus and to realize that He is not this God in the sky who says, "You better prove that you love Me." The criminal next to Jesus on His own cross cries, "We are receiving the due reward of our deeds, but this Man has done nothing wrong… Jesus, remember me when You are coming into Your kingdom." When Jesus hears this statement, does He respond by saying, "You have spent your whole life sinning and running from me. I don't accept you." No! He lovingly acknowledges this sinner's faith and responds, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise." The other criminal mocks Jesus by saying, "Save Yourself and us!" and Jesus leaves him in his rebellion. Jesus desires for all who are weary to come to Him no matter when or what. So come. Come and sing this hymn today:
O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be;
Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander—Lord, I feel it—prone to leave the God I love:
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.