Meeting His Acquaintances: Who Are Jesus's People?

Sermon Passage: Mark 3:7–35 | Preached to Sovereign Grace | 05/23/2021

By Peder Kling

Today's Question: Who Are Jesus’s People?

Throughout our study in Mark, we have been pressed to ask the question, “who is Jesus of Nazareth?”. Mark opens his gospel with a very clear answer to that question—“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He’s the Christ—(the Messiah), and he’s the uniquely appointed Son of God whom God promised would bring an eternal kingdom of peace and justice to the world. When Jesus began his ministry, he brought just that message—that “gospel”, as chapter 1 verse 14 tells us. “Jesus came… proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel!”. 

 

His message concerning the king and the kingdom was central to everything he did. He even says in verse 38 of chapter 1, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out”. He came out to speak words—to announce the good news that God’s kingdom had arrived with him.  

 

Still, Jesus knew that proof is in the pudding, and talk is cheap. Its easy say the kingdom is here, it’s another thing to prove it. It’s an easy thing to say “your sins are forgiven by God”, it’s another thing to prove it. So, Jesus came with outstanding miracles to validate his message, and to demonstrate the curse-dispelling power of his kingdom. He wasn’t focused on dismantling worldly authorities and kingdoms, here—not yet. At this point, he was focused on our misery and sin—sicknesses, diseases, demonic oppression, and our guilt before God. “‘Be clean’, and immediately the leprosy left him” (1:42). “Son, your sins are forgiven” (2:5). Jesus came with what Paul calls a kingdom of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). That was the message in all of his preaching.

 

And in all this, the question keeps pressing upon everyone around Jesus, and everyone who would ever read Marks’ gospel—who is this Jesus of Nazareth? Where is he getting this authority from, and what is he seeking to accomplish with it? Are his words really true?

 

It would not take long for people to take sides on the matter of Jesus’s identity—especially as Jesus would start poking at sensitive issues. Over the last few weeks in particular, when we considered chapter 2 verse 1 through chapter 3 verse 6, we saw Jesus poke at a number of social and religious norms of the day. He presumed authority to forgive sins; he hung out with the sort of people who would actually make you unclean if you associate with them (e.g., tax collectors); he even feasted with them when a real rabbi would be characterized by fasting; and last week, we saw that he broke the sabbath customs of the day. All these matters would lead certain people like the Pharisees to oppose Jesus at all costs. In each of these controversies, Jesus was making a clear statement about himself. He was saying all these matters were about him—he has authority to forgive as only God forgives. Fasting and feasting is all about him. Or, as we saw last week, he claimed that the Sabbath was all about him—“the Son of Man has authority even over the Sabbath” (2:28). And with that—the Pharisees reached their wits end. Chapter 3 verse 6 tells us that after all this, “the Pharisees … immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him”. Meanwhile, the crowds were flocking to him for healing. It would not take long for a number of opinions to form concerning his identity.

 

Today, Mark’s gospel compels us to take a close look at a number of those groups whom Jesus encountered. Instead of asking the question, “who is Jesus”, today’s passage presses us to ask, “who are Jesus’s people?”. Who does Jesus associate with, and who does he distance himself from? The way this passage is set up really presses us to ask that question—it uses what many call a “literary sandwich” in order to catch our attention.

Our First "Mark Sandwich"

Look at our passage for a moment, and you’ll see what I mean. In verse 7–12, you see references to crowds (including the demons in the crowds). Verses 13–19 we  learn about Jesus’s disciples, and verse 20 goes back to a reference to the crowds overwhelming Jesus “so they could not even eat”. So there, you see something of a sandwich—the crowds with demons, the disciples, and the crowds again. 

 

But, then there’s another sandwich. Verse 21 makes the first reference to Jesus’s family—they said “he is out of his mind!”. He’s gone loony. Then in verses 22–30, Jesus interacts with the pharisees with very sharp and concerning words that we will consider in a moment. And finally, we go back to another interaction with Jesus’s family, where Jesus makes a stunning statement about his family. 

 

So, two literary sandwiches in this passage—crowds-disciples-crowds, and family-pharisees-family. These are what some people call a “Mark sandwich”—this sort of thing is all over Mark’s gospel. Here, it is drawing attention to who Jesus interacts with—who he receives as his own, and whom he doesn’t. In this, we learn something new about the man Jesus. You can learn a lot about a man by considering the kinds of people who hate him, and who love him.
 

Six Groups of People Who Tell Us About Jesus

So, let’s go there. There are six groups of people here. Jesus rejects four of them, and he receives two of them. He rejects the crowds, the unclean spirits (the demons), his family, and the scribes—Jesus resists each of these groups in a unique way, because each group has a unique misunderstanding of who Jesus is. So, we’re going to unpack those misunderstandings—and when we do, we will learn something wonderful about Jesus.

 

Then, we’ll take a close look at the people Jesus receives—his disciples, and his spiritual family “who does the will of God” (verse 35). And again, in this, we will learn something awesome about Jesus’s person and ministry.

 

So first, who did Jesus reject, and why?

 

1. Jesus Rejects the Crowds Who Used Jesus

First, let’s consider the crowds who were following Jesus. What were they after? Who did they think Jesus was? 

 

It truly is a mixed breed—that’s how crowds work. Perhaps you can think of some of the riots that have been at work in our nation over the years—some people are out on the streets for one reason, and other people are in the streets for another reason. But when it really comes down to it, there’s always a majority consensus that is driving the crowd into a particular action or direction. Were some of the people in the crowd actualy interested in Jesus’s gospel message concerning the kingdom? Absolutely–and, Jesus did not reject them. That’s very clear in the last two verses of our passage. He has “a crowd”—not “a great crowd” like in verse 7 by the way. “A crowd” gathered at his feet simply to listen to him. These are the folks to whom he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!”. 

 

But this kind of person isn’t the majority. Verses 7–12 give us a summary statement concerning Jesus’ ministry up to this point. Look at verses 7–8. We are told, “a great crowd followed [him], from Galilee and Judea 8 and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon.” In other words—from everywhere. People traveled great distances to be in this crowd. Why? Keep reading. “When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him”. Notice that it doesn’t say anything about what Jesus was saying — they didn’t give a lick about Jesus or his kingdom. He was healing people in miraculous ways, and that’s all that mattered. In fact, I fear it is hard to get a good understanding of just how many miracles Jesus was performing, here. Verse 10 says “he healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed around to touch him”. Can you imagine that? Every sick person in Israel stampeding Jesus to get healed—it was a cesspool of uncleanness. It was a ceremonial disaster in terms of the OT laws. To touch a diseased person like this would make you unclean—it must have driven the Pharisees nuts. But, Jesus was making them clean whenever he touched them. It’s an astounding picture of Jesus’s power and authority over the curse and the OT laws, if you think about it. 

 

So in all this, the crowd would often lose control and stampede Jesus simply that they might touch him for healing and cleansing. They likely thought of him as some kind of orb that if you touch it, you’ll miraculously be healed. It really was dangerous for Jesus. This is why Jesus told his disciples to have a boat ready, so he could escape the crowds when things got dangerous!

 

So what’s the mistake, here, in their regard for Jesus? Why was Jesus suspicious of the crowd? He was of suspicious of them. John’s gospel tells us that “he did not entrust himself to them”. Why? “Because he knew all people… he knew what was in man”. There’s a grim picture of humanity for you. He wasn’t ultimately afraid of getting trampled. The problem was them. He didn’t entrust himself to them because he knew they were back-stabbing, evil people. By nature, that’s what people are—especially toward the Christ, God’s son. They only think of themselves and their own lusts and desires. They thought Jesus was all about them and their desires—they wouldn’t take time to listen to him. In fact, if you jump ahead to Mark chapter 8, even after all of Jesus’s ministry and teaching concerning the kingdom of God, we see the disciple’s interpretation of the crowds’ regard for Jesus. Jesus asks them, “who do people say I am”—after all this teaching and ministry? You’d’ think they’d answer, “well, some think you’re the Christ”. Nope. “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” Was Jesus a bad teacher—was he not clear enough? Not at all. If you keep reading, especially in Matthew’s account of this event, you will read these words—" 15 ‘But who do you say I am?’ 16  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”If God does not reveal Jesus to you, then you will never know who he is. 

 

Let’s make sure we see ourselves in this story. The crowds still exist with their self-serving understanding of Jesus. The crowds didn’t want Jesus for who he was, but for how he could meet their selfish desires. Do many of us not do the same today—in subtle and not-so-subtle ways? Do you want the whole Christ—with all his calls to repentance and faith? Do you want all his commands, and do you regard his ways as life-giving to the soul? Or, do you resist him, and box him out of a particular area of your life? Do you make a habit of going to him in prayer only when you need something—do you only pray for yourself and your needs? Or are you inclined to express gratitude and adoration to him, and to pray for his people and his work around the world? Is going to church primarily a self-help, therapeutic exercise for you, or is it a matter of worshipping, honoring, and obeying the Lord? Are you hesitant to confess and turn from a particular sin, or do you presume upon Jesus’s forgiveness as you coddle it? 

 

The Christian faith, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, is all about the beauty and precious worth of knowing Christ as Savior and Lord. “This is eternal life, to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”. Die to yourself, and live to Christ by faith, lest Jesus sees in you the same unbelief he saw in the crowds. The rewards will far exceed the momentary healings which Jesus gave these crowds in demonstration of his power and glory.

 

So, the crowds remind us that Jesus rejects those who turn to him for their own selfish reason. They treated Jesus as a genie, not as Savior and Lord. What about the demons that were among the crowds?

 

2. Jesus Rejects Demons Who Tried to Overcome the Messiah

In verse 11 of our passage, we are told that some of the people in the crowds were possessed by unclean spirits—again, the crowds were a religious, unclean disaster. Nothing Jesus couldn’t handle, by the way.

 

Now obviously, Jesus rejected the demons—he certainly didn’t entrust himself to them. But, notice that it is through the lips of these demons that we hear the first true confession of Jesus’s identity in Mark’s gospel. Verse 11, “whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God’.” The Greek grammar behind this statement makes it clear that this was not a seldom occasion. This was the standard, common response any demon had when it encountered Christ. 

 

Now, what’s going on here, that the demons would fall down like this and confess Jesus to the Christ? Are they falling down in worship at his feet? I don’t think so. To be honest, I think there are two reasons at play, here. For one thing, they were crying out in despair and fear. They knew he was the promised Messiah, and they knew they were subject to his every word. So, they cry out in fear before his feet, and acknowledge his name. You might think of James 2:19 where we are told, “even demons believe—and shutter!”. They can’t help but shutter and tremble with fear before him!

 

But if I’m going to be honest—a large part of me wants to give demons greater credit than that. Do you not think that, even in their fear, they might try to subtly get an upper hand on Jesus? Satan, with his minions, is characterized by being a crafty schemer against the Lord and his anointed. So with this, R. C. Sproul argues that the demons are actually trying to gain an upper hand on Jesus by naming him publicly. Sproul reminds us that throughout the Bible, revealing an adversary’s name was a demonstration of power over your adversary—or, revealing your own name to an adversary was an act of submission. An example might be when Jacob wrestled with the angel. After the wrestling match, Jacob demanded to know the angel’s name, and the angel refused. Or, you could think of the actual act of naming someone throughout the Bible—Adam and Eve’s task to name every animal was a task of authority over the animals. Jesus gave new names to many of his disciples with a similar sentiment. 

 

So, the demons were regularly trying to expose Jesus’s true identity to the masses, as Jesus was trying to keep his real identity hushed for a time. They thought they might strong-arm Jesus into defeat through this. 

 

What was their error—their misunderstanding concerning Jesus’s person and work? Honestly, I’m not sure they had a false understanding about who Jesus was. It seems clear they knew their doom was sure. But, their attitude toward Jesus is something we can be warned about. They knew his power, and they knew he was going to destroy them. But, they still retaliated with high hand. The devil still made empty attempts to oppose Jesus. Many people do the same thing with Christ’s conviction upon their hearts. When Christ convicts you of your sin, you have the freedom that demons didn’t. You can repent and trust in his forgiveness. But—that does involve humility and a death to yourself. It may involve exposing a sin that will reap worldly consequences—you might lose your job. You might lose someone’s trust. But let me ask you this—is fighting Christ’s spirit of conviction worth it, especially when he’s offering you forgiveness and eternal blessings with him? Don’t fight a battle with Christ which you cannot win. It’s quite literally demonic, and it will lead to your destruction. Thankfully—and I know this by experience—Christ has a way of hounding your conscience with guilt and fear in those circumstances until you give in. And—while you may experience a moment of worldly loss—you will reap immediate relief, joy, fellowship, and hope. Christ does not leave his own in their sin. He will fight you, for he has claimed you, he will win. He is the good shepherd.

 

So, the demons feared Jesus, and even in that fear they fought hopelessly to gain an upper hand on him. Now, what other groups does Jesus reject in this passage, that we might learn from their mistakes?

 

3. Jesus Rejects His Family Who Thought He Was Loony

How about Jesus’s family. Verse 21 tells us that when they saw Jesus at work with the crowds, they “went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘he is out of his mind’”. He’s hit the loony-bin. Verses 31–32 demonstrate the same kind of situation.

 

What’s going on in this 1st century family feud? At the surface, Jesus’s family was ashamed of Jesus. He was making a mockery of their family name—and, he was doing some dangerous things. So, they called him crazy. It’s an easy out. 

 

But what’s happening at a deeper level? Quite simply, they didn’t know Jesus who Jesus really was. You might think, “well Mary, his revered mother—she should have known better after that whole virgin birth and angelic host stuff before he was born”. Maybe—but, she’s listed in the group in verse 31. She may have understood he was the Messiah—but just like everyone else who had suspicion, you must wonder if she fully understood what that meant. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. The birth narratives are all focused on Jesus’s royalty and kingdom, not his humility and ministry to the outcasts in society. “Mary did you know?”. If she and all of Jesus’s family had, I imagine they would not have been so ashamed.

 

Are you ever ashamed of our Lord—and if so, why? The best answer I can give for being ashamed of Christ is that you don’t have a full assurance and conviction of who Jesus is in all his glory, power, goodness, and love toward you. Think of Paul’s words in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe”. Paul knew that with unwavering certainty—so, he was never ashamed. Press on to know the Lord in all his glory and goodness, and you’re shame will be turned to boldness and strength, with God-honoring conviction that the Lord is pleased to use.

 

So, we’ve seen that Jesus was suspicious of the crowds, and he rebuked the demons. His own family publicly spoke against him—even lying about him, claiming that he was crazy. They were ashamed and embarrassed.

 

4. Jesus Rejects the Scribes who Thought Him a Possessed Liar

Now, the last group that Jesus resists in this passage are the scribes (the religious elite of the day). These are the men whom Jesus reserved the greatest rebuke for. The crowds—Jesus had compassion and interceded for, even as he was hanging on the cross. “Jesus, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. The demons were simply told to be quiet. His family would be restored to him over time.

 

But Jesus had no time for the pharisees. Why? They opposed him in the worst possible way you can oppose Jesus. Verse 22 tells us that the Scribes publicly accused Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul”, and “by the prince of demons he casts out demons!”. In other words, they accused Jesus of being an ordinary man who had a demon problem. 

 

Jesus gives two responses to this. First, he demonstrates how ridiculous it would be for the devil to oppose his own kingdom by casting out his own demons. You don’t fight your own army—friendly fire is not a good battle tactic. 

 

But then, Jesus’s second response to this accusation is an outright condemnation. Verse 28—

 

28   “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29but 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’”

 

The unpardonable sin. This is one that has terrified many Christians. But, I want to point out what Jesus says first, before he talks about that one, unforgivable sin. Verse 28—“all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter”. Isn’t that an astounding statement? This is talking about blaspheming God’s name, here. I know so many people that, if you say anything bad about them at all, they’ll completely lose their minds. But we’re talking about God, here. Every breath that is taken without a sense of gratitude toward him is a blasphemy against him—yet, he is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love toward those who fear him. Does that give you any assurance that there’s hope for you? Have you blasphemed the most holy and all-consuming God one way or another, to curse him in anger—perhaps in a moment of frustration? “Forget you, God! You’re the reason my life is aweful!” There’s forgiveness, even when you blaspheme that name. Jesus said this, anticipating his blood would be shed for those sins so that forgiveness would be possible by faith.

 

But, what is the unpardonable sin? The end of verse 29 gives us a hint. In the Pharisee’s situation, blaspheming the Holy Spirit meant calling him a demon—saying that Jesus was filled with demons rather than the Holy Spirit of God. It was to deny Christ and his Spirit with a hard heart, and hatred toward Jesus that refused to acknowledge him as savior and lord. Today, people aren’t generally saying that Jesus was a crazy, demon-possessed man. But, they are denying him with the same hard heart that the Pharisees had. They’ll say he never existed, or that he was simply a good teacher, or that he was a prophet (muslims). The simply remedy to the unpardonable sin is belief—trusting in who Jesus said he was, and receiving his gracious and life-giving ministry by faith.

 

So, those are four groups who misunderstood Jesus’s person and work. I pray we would learn from their misunderstanding, and press on to know the whole Christ in all his glory—that we would not pursue Christ for our own selfish gain like the crowds; that we would not foolishly fight Jesus like the demons; that we would not be ashamed of Jesus like his family; that we would not outright deny Jesus like the scribes. 

 

Who Then Does Jesus Recieve?

Now, who did Jesus receive as his own in this passage? Two groups of people, here. 

 

First, Jesus received his disciples as his own. They were motley and mangy crew by worldly standards. Our passage names all twelve of them, and some have found it quite encouraging to study each disciple for a little biographical sketch of each. But I’ll save you the time and get to the point—they were nobodies. Fishermen on the one hand, but then Jesus even hand-picked a tax collector and a zealot. Now, if you know your Roman and Jewish history of the time, you’ll be quick to know that it’s suicidal to your effort if you put a tax collector and a zealot on the same team. Tax collectors were Jewish scum—complete traitors of Israel. You’d lose your membership in the synagogue, you’d be designated ceremonially unclean—there’s no way to love your nation and your Jewish God while still being a tax collector. 

 

On the other hand, a zealot would keep a dagger on his hip to kill any Roman soldier he could. He was mercilessly loyal to Israel, and fought for her freedom from Rome.

 

So—a tax collector and a zealot on the same team, and throw some fishermen into the mix. I’ll note—it’s after this, once this crew is formed and Jesus shows up publicly with them that Jesus’s family says “he’s out of his mind”. Can you blame them?

 

Why these men? Why does Jesus ever choose one person over the other, to be his disciple? The qualifications in our passage really simple. Verse 13, “he called to himself those [individuals] whom he desired, and they came with him”. That’s it. And I have news for you—that’s all we ever get in our Bibles when we are asking the “why me and not him?” question. “Why doesn’t God save us all?” Or, “why doesn’t God give my brother an undeniable revelation, that he might believe? It was clear to me!” The answer, Biblically, is always tossed up to God’s providential will—his desire which we simply cannot fully understand. When God spoke to Israel regarding his love for them in Deuteronomy 7:7–8, he simply says, in effect (paraphrased)—“I didn’t love you because you’re great, but simply because I loved you”. Because I desired you. 

 

There should be a great comfort to our souls in this. You don’t have to get God to love you, or to like you. “We love because he first loved us”—it’s that simple. He desired us, called us, and—praise God—we respond to his call. Romans 8 gets to the real meat in all this,

 

30 those whom he predestined [according to his will] he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31   What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

 

What an awesome blessing. This is all true because God willed it, not because we earned it. The glory goes to God, and we get the benefits. 

 

And, he didn’t simply will it to be. He accomplished it. He went to the cross to take all our sin, and to raise to new life on our behalf. When we die with him by faith—forsaking our sin and this world—we will also live with him in his righteousness and glory. He desires it, he calls us, we answer, praise god.

 

He Receives a Second Group

Now, there’s a second group who Jesus describes as his own in this passage. When Jesus was told in verse 32 that his family was seeking him, we are told that he had a “crowd sitting around him”. They were sitting—not standing and pressing against him for healing. They were sitting, listening to his teaching. There’s a breath of fresh air for you, isn’t it? So at this point, Jesus clarifies the sort of people he regards to be family. Verse 34, “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.’” 

 

What is God’s will for you, but to listen to him? Hear his word of forgiveness in Christ and receive it for a clear conscience and fellowship with him—for peace, joy, comfort, and love. Hear his instruction, and obey his ways for life and wisdom and blessing. Hear his ministry of help and comfort through the Holy Spirit. This is all just short-hand for faith, isn’t it? Romans 10:17, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. Oh, if we would just peel our ears and eyes away from the distractions of this world for a few seconds longer every day, we might find ourselves settled content in God’s will that much more. And, for those who walk by faith, Jesus is pleased to call you brother and sister—family. 

 

Conclusion

So, who are Jesus’s people—the folks he associated with? They are the people whom he desired and called to himself to listen to his word and do his will by faith. The disciples had a long way to go—they would even reject Christ as he hung on the cross. But, he desired them with all their baggage, and he did not let them go. Be comforted in his sovereign love and care. And, be warned by the groups of people who Jesus rejected in this passage. Their root problem was that they all misunderstood who Jesus was, and approached him with anything but faith. The crowds were self-seeking; the demons fought with Jesus; his family was ashamed of him, the pharisees outright rejected him. The antidote to all these problems? Listen to him—read his word, pursue him and be satisfied in his sovereign love for you as you receive him by faith.