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The Unpardonable Sin

June 9, 2024|The Unpardonable Sin|Mark 3:22-30

JD Cutler

Click here for the sermon audio

This morning as we continue looking at the gospel of Mark, we come to a difficult passage. Difficult because it has often been misunderstood, difficult because it challenges some of our ideas, and difficult because it can cause anxiety and fear in our hearts. 

RC Sproul, a great theologian and pastor puts this passage in his teaching series, the hard sayings of Jesus. 

John MacArthur reminds us to treat this as a very serious passage that we should take to heart. 

The subject of this passage is what is often referred to as the unpardonable sin. The unforgivable sin. 

Which if you have been in or around the church for any length of time at all, should immediately cause you pause. 

Don't we preach forgiveness of sins?

And yet, in this passage we find Jesus saying there is a sin that someone can commit that means they will never have forgiveness, but are guilty of an eternal sin.

As we begin, I must say that I am concerned, even within our own church, that there is misunderstanding about this unforgivable sin. Over the last 2,000 years people have ascribed a whole list of sins to this category, largely ignoring the Biblical context that is plainly in view here. 

Some have said it is murder. The intentional and malicious taking of a human life. Some have said that it is adultery because of the heinous and damaging nature of that sin. Others have said that it is suicide, the taking of one’s own life. 

Logically, two of the three of these ideas are easily challenged. David, Israel’s great king, committed two of these and received forgiveness upon his repentance, so they cannot be what Jesus had in mind here. Which leaves us with just one. Which I know can be a sensitive subject, so let me assure you that we will only say what is absolutely necessary to rightly deal with this idea of the unpardonable sin. 

I find in this passage, Jesus using simple logic to dispute the religious leaders and so let’s follow his lead and logically think through this. 

What is suicide? Self-murder. So at the very least, as we have already established, we know murder is forgivable. But, you say, they do not have an opportunity to repent and therefore it is unforgivable. That, by the way, is the view that some take, especially in the Catholic church. Well meaning Protestant Christians can carry this idea over without understanding their theological reasons behind it. 

Let’s say you sin against your brother or sister and tell a lie and you are immediately struck by lightning and die. Would you therefore go to hell because you died with unconfessed sin? You had yet to repent of that particular sin? 

Of course not, what a scary way to live, never knowing if you were secure in your salvation. 

And yet, outside of the severity of the sin, is there any difference in dying with the unconfessed and unrepentant sin of lying and than dying with the unconfessed and unrepentant sin of murder. 

Let’s say a Christian has a moment of weakness, or loses the battle with mental health and makes a split second decision that ends their life. Is it sin? Yes. Do they have the opportunity to repent of it? No. If they are a born-again regenerate believer, do they therefore go to hell? Of course not. 

Jesus cleanses us from the guilt of our sins, past, present and future. We are wholly secure in him. If he is the author and finisher of our faith, if salvation is by him, through him, and for him, I cannot imagine there is anything I can do to remove myself from his hand. This will become more clear as we study the passage, but I wanted to address this issue upfront and immediately so that we can clear our preconceived ideas and simply ask, what is the unpardonable sin? And then let our Lord answer it, clearly and definitively. 

If He(Jesus) is the author and finisher of our faith, if salvation is by Him, through Him, and for Him, I cannot imagine there is anything I can do to remove myself from his hand.

We find within our passage this morning one of two things will be produced within us as we examine Jesus’ words here, either comfort or fear. It is my prayer that all that are the Lord’s will experience comfort by a serious examination of this passage. 

Open your Bibles to Mark chapter 3 at verse 22. Jesus, as he often did, had drawn a large crowd. So many and so fervent their desire to be healed, to see Jesus, to bring their loved ones to him, Mark says Mark 3:20 (ESV) 20 Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.

Many were being healed, made whole by Jesus. 

In the parallel recording of this encounter we find in verse 22 and on in Mark, Luke records a particular healing of a demon-oppressed mute man that came to Jesus and Jesus set him free and he began to speak. 

This is the context for our passage this morning. Let’s pick up in verse 22. 

Mark 3:22-30 (ESV) 22 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.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 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.

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

Let us take each portion of this encounter and deal with it this morning. It begins with…

The charge against Jesus. 

This charge of course is the bookends of our text this morning. It begins with a record of what the scribes were saying ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul’ and ends with a commentary by Mark for context ‘for they were saying he has an unclean spirit’. 

Let us look at the nature of the charge, the occasion of the charge, and the reason for the charge. 

The nature- They accused Jesus of being possessed by a demon or by the devil himself, depending on how we understand their charge. 

The nature of their accusation is that Jesus is opposed to the Hebrew God of Jehovah, and that his power comes from the wicked one.

The tense of the greek word saying is in the imperfect tense indicating this was an ongoing, repeated action. They kept on saying.

This is not a singular accusation, but an ongoing one. For instance we find almost verbatim the same words in Matthew 9.

Matthew 9:32-34 (ESV) 32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”

This was what the religious leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees had decided amongst themselves, that this man named Jesus was not from God or empowered by God but rather was in league with Satan, either indirectly or directly. 

Beelzebul is a play on words with the word Beelzebub, a false God in the Old Testament whose name comes from Baal- and Zebub- meaning Lord of the fly. Beelzebul is an aramaic parody that is literally translated Lord of the dung, or dung-God. 

I mean, you can’t make this stuff up! 

It had become the name that the Jews ascribed to Satan, the prince of the evil spirits.

The nature of their accusation is that Jesus is opposed to the Hebrew God of Jehovah, and that his power comes from the wicked one.

The occasion- The occasion of the charge, as we have seen, is rooted in the healing ministry of Jesus both in terms of physical ailments and demonic oppression. The interesting thing to note is that, inadvertently, their accusation is evidence of the validity of Jesus’ miracle working. They do not deny that he has power to heal the sick and free the demon possessed. They do not accuse him of faking his miracles, of being a huckster or a trickster. Indeed, they can’t, they see evidence that people are legitimately being freed of demonic influence, not because they fall to the ground and shake uncontrollably, not because they vomit of demons, which by the way is the way that modern day so called deliverance ministries show as evidence, but that he restores them to absolute health. The blind see, the lame walk, the mute speak. They cannot argue that Jesus does not have power over evil or unclean spirits, so all they can do is question the source of his power. So why contribute it to Satan instead of God?

The reason- Twice we see why they did this. In Matthew 9, And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” and in Matthew 12 22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

The people saw the miracles, miracles they understood to be a part of the Kingdom of God, part of his promise to set Israel free and they began to think, maybe this is the Son of David, maybe this is the Messiah we have been waiting for. 

For someone acting so far outside the rules of the Pharisees and Sadducees, for someone who repeatedly challenged their traditions and broke their rules, they could not have this kind of thinking among the people. They would lose their influence, and ultimately may catch the attention of Rome which would lead to difficulties for them. 

So it goes, if his miracles are persuading people that he is from God, and we cannot argue the miracles, we must attribute them to evil. So they say, he is possessed, he has an unclean spirit, this is how he is casting out demons. 

So what does Jesus do in light of this charge? He engages them head on. Mark says he called them to him. Matthew says, knowing their thoughts, he said. 

Whether it was divine knowledge of what they were saying, or he had simply heard the accusations and divinely knew what was in their hearts, either way he calls them to himself and deals with their charge. Let’s look together at…

The rebuttal by Jesus.

In his encounters with the religious leaders, Jesus often appeals to scripture in his confrontations, but here he uses logic by illustration and analogies, summed up by Mark as parables. The word there means ‘a placing of one thing by the side of another, a juxtaposition’ used literally it could mean ‘as of ships in battle’ but metaphorically in the gospels it is the setting of ideas side by side. 

Jesus often used this teaching method. It can be a comparison, an example, or as often Jesus uses it, an earthly story designed to illuminate or illustrate a heavenly reality. 

He begins with a question that gets to the heart of their words. 

Vs 23- How can Satan cast out Satan?

In what way can Satan cast out Satan? In essence, he starts with their premise. 

If it is by Satan that I cast out Satan, how does that work?

Then he uses a commonly understood axiom. A self evident truth that everyone understands. He says, if you think about it, if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not endure. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 

If a king and his council have two different, competing plans and ideals for the kingdom, that kingdom cannot stand. 

If you want to get practical in our day, we see the evidence of this within our own government. We have seen in recent years our governing bodies grind to a halt because they are divided against one another. 

A husband and wife who have competing and different ideals and plans for their family, that family will not thrive, but will fall. 

This church, over its almost 90 years has experienced the truth of this axiom from time to time. Competing visions, plans, ideals leads to a church split.

Jesus doesn’t deny that Satan has a kingdom. That he has been given a certain amount of control when Adam rejected God’s rule and reign and through disobedience removed himself from God’s kingdom. He is called in the scriptures the prince of the power of the air. What he does say is, if in fact, what you see is Satan warring against himself, then you know his kingdom cannot stand. Indeed if Satan has risen up against himself he himself cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 

This is not to say, as John Calvin points out that Satan cannot pretend to war against himself. In summary he says we may see subtle methods employed that seem to be discord within his kingdom, but only in order to entrap the minds of men by superstitions. 

I think Calvin is saying that we are rightly suspicious of spiritual warfare in our world today that in its effects does not set people free but enslaves them to ideologies that are untrue, or ministries that drain individual’s bank accounts so the person can secure spiritual freedom. We can rightly suspect deliverance ministries that blame all sin on demonic activity and calls for no personal holiness, acknowledgement of sin, or a call to repentance. 

Calvin goes on to say, But no suspicion of this nature fell on Christ; for he cast out devils in such a manner, as to restore to God the men in whom they dwelt sound and whole. Whenever Satan enters into a collusion with himself, he pretends to be vanquished, and yet it is himself that triumphs. But Christ attacked Satan in open combat, threw him down, and left him nothing remaining. He did not lay him low in one respect, that he might give him greater stability in another, but stripped him completely of all his armor. Christ therefore reasons justly, that there is no community of interest between him and Satan, because that father of cunning keeps one object in view — the preservation of his kingdom.

...we are rightly suspicious of spiritual warfare in our world today that in its effects does not set people free but enslaves them to ideologies that are untrue, or ministries that drain individual’s bank accounts so the person can secure spiritual freedom. We can rightly suspect deliverance ministries that blame all sin on demonic activity and calls for no personal holiness, acknowledgement of sin, or a call to repentance. 

The men and women Jesus freed did not need to come back again and again to be healed, his power was wholly different. He actually delivered people, physically and spiritually from the influences of the demonic. 

After essentially saying ‘What you are saying doesn’t make any sense’ Jesus offers a different understanding. Let’s look at…

The reality of Jesus. 

He now turns from the absurdity of their argument to illustrating what his ministry actually is and means. 

Vs 27-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.

In Matthew, we find that he prefaces this illustration by pointing out the reality of his ministry. 

Matthew 12:28-29 (ESV) 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.

Don’t miss what Jesus says here. You have a choice to make, if it is not by Satan that I cast out demons, and that is actually absurd, then it can only mean that it is by God’s power, His Spirit, to use a common Hebrew expression, his finger. And if it is by God’s power then his kingdom has come, like John the Baptist proclaimed, like I have been proclaiming. You’re continued rejection of me and my message is in reality a rejection of the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus uses another easily understood illustration to drive home his point. 

If someone wants to take goods from a strong man within his own house, he must first deal with the strong man. Luke records Jesus’s words similarly but more fully. 

21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; 22 but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. 

His point is the same in both encounters, if someone is going to go against a strong man and take what is his, he must prove himself to be stronger. 

Let’s follow Jesus’ logic. I understand what you are saying. You see in my ministry demons being cast out, people being made whole and you rightly assume that this takes supernatural power. You wrongly assume that it is Satan working against Satan. What you are failing to see is that this is not a battle of equals, but of a superior strong man invading Satan’s kingdom taking what he desires. 

Jesus is claiming to be the strong man that can not only defeat Satan, but take what he has. 

What a picture of the kingdom of God invading the kingdom of the world! When Jesus encountered Satan’s rule and reign in individuals he always defeated him. There was no contest. In sickness, in possession, even going as far as defeating Satan’s two largest weapons, sin and death. 

Jesus is claiming to be the strong man that can, not only defeat Satan, but take what he has. 

The reality is that in Jesus the kingdom of God had come, a kingdom whose power had the ability to destroy the bonds of sin and death, rob Satan of his power, and free the sons and daughters of God. We see this in Jesus’ ministry, we see this in his apostle’s ministries, and we still see it today. 

Jesus, by his death, burial, and resurrection has conquered, sin, death, and hell. He is now free to take to himself anyone and everyone he so desires. This is the reality of the incarnation.  

Having explained to them the implications of what they have seen and heard and witnessed, that indeed it was not the power of Satan but the power of God among them, that the kingdom was breaking forth in power against the evil one, rescuing men and women from its power, Jesus offers a warning. Let’s look at…

The warning by Jesus. 

Jesus begins his warning in an unusual way. Truly, I say to you. Truly is the same word that we have transliterated from the Greek into English and is used every time someone here says ‘Amen’. 

If you have been in churches at all, except the really quiet ones. You may hear someone in the congregation say ‘Amen’ after a song we sing or after the preacher says something. 

But what does it mean?

In the synagogues and later in the Christian assemblies, when a scripture was read, a prayer was offered, or after a discourse on what had been read was offered, the others who had heard what was read or said would say Amen, signifying the substance of what had been said was their own. 

For instance, when I pray in the assembly, it is not a private prayer. When anyone prays in the assembly, it is corporate in nature. That person is representing the assembled congregation in communicating to our Father in Heaven. However, you are not passive participants, you should see yourself as actively participating. What I am saying is our prayer, what I am asking is our petitions, what I am praising God for is our praise. One way to signify that or to remind yourself of that is to say Amen after the prayer. 

Another way we use Amen is after scripture is read, which again is not a private devotion but a corporate one. Someone is reading it aloud and by doing so they represent all of us as reading it. When we say Amen after it has been read, we are affirming that we believe it is the inspired, infallible word of God, that it is true and good and right. It is a declaration of belief and unity with the body. 

You might say Amen after the pastor articulates a certain truth of God in his sermon or teaching time. In this way, you are saying, I agree pastor, let it be so pastor, or that is my desire too. Preaching may feel like a private act by the pastor, but it is never that. It is a corporate activity, where you are charged to listen not just for your benefit, but to ensure that what the preacher is saying is Biblical and true. You, the congregation of regenerate, born-again believers are given the authority in scripture to judge the content of preaching. When you say Amen, you are corporately offering your agreement to what the Pastor says. 

All of the Lord’s day gathering of the church is corporate in nature. This is why you can’t simply skip church, that is a misunderstanding of what the church is, when you are not here by reasons that are not legitimate, you are making the decision to neglect your responsibility as the church to be the church. 

All that to say, the word Amen is a wonderful way for you to participate in the gathering. But as we see with Jesus, that is not the only way that he used it. 

He would sometimes start with the word Amen. In doing so he was essentially saying, what I am about to say is true and right and good, even if you don’t think so. He is able to do this, because he is not only the source of truth, but truth itself, which is why the word is translated as truly here. What follows is absolutely true, regardless of how we feel about it, Jesus is not offering an interpretation or suggestion, but truth itself. What does he say?


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

What you may not see at first is that this is a gracious warning. I agree with some of the commentators that I read, Jesus is not saying that they have committed this unpardonable sin, but he is drawing a clear line in the sand and warning them that they are closer than they think they are. 

He is saying, in your ignorance, you are blaspheming me, which he says, can be forgiven, but you are really close to knowing enough that what you are going to be doing is blaspheming the Holy Spirit and for that and from that there is no hope left for you. 

So now that we have the context of the warning we ask, What is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit?

Before we get there, I want to show you something that is beautifully within Jesus’ words. 

Remember that Jesus is saying what is in the context of Truly, I say to you. 

It is absolutely true, all sins will be forgiven the children of man. 

Since we do not believe in universalism, we do not understand what he is saying that all men will be forgiven all sins regardless. What he is saying, in the context of this conversation, is that all manner of sins can be forgiven the children of man. 

Think about that for a minute. 

There is not a sin that you could have done that you cannot be forgiven for. 

There is not a sin that your neighbor could have done that they cannot be forgiven for. 

Think about the implications of this in our proclamation of the gospel, both here on Sundays and in your day to day conversations with lost people in your life. You can, with certainty, assure them that their past sins are forgivable in Christ Jesus. 

Even if they were a murderer? Yes. Sexual sin? Yes. Little sins? Big sins? Yes and yes. There is forgiveness in Christ Jesus. 

Jesus says there is only one sin that is unforgivable. 

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s start with, what is blasphemy? It is a sin of speech, or possibly the pen, but either way it is something said.

Being something said, we know from Jesus elsewhere, that it finds its root in the heart, but it is expressed through words. 

To blaspheme is to intentionally say something evil of another. 

In that understanding, we can immediately see they were blaspheming Jesus. In Matthew Jesus says something interesting. 

 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven,

Jesus makes a distinction in his earthly ministry that I don’t think we can make today, but nevertheless, he says, you can still be forgiven for what you have spoken against me, but if you continue on this path and speak against the Holy Spirit you will not be forgiven. This is consistent with what we find Jesus saying from the cross at the end of his earthly ministry. Father forgive them, they know not what they do. 

Sproul says, “Notice the difference between this warning and Jesus’ statement from the cross. When He looked at those who delivered Him into the hands of the Romans—the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin—He looked out against this group who blasphemed and mocked Him, and He said, “Father, forgive them.””

They had not yet crossed that line, but if they continued resisting the kingdom of God by calling good evil then they ultimately would. 

So what does it mean to speak evil against the Holy Spirit?  

Let’s look at what the author of Hebrews says. 

Hebrews 10:26-29 (ESV) 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

To blaspheme is by nature to say something is true that you know not to be true. According to Hebrews the warning here is for those who have had enough illumination to know that Jesus Christ is the way of salvation, that he is the one and only son of God, and that forgiveness is possible through him, to have tasted the beauty of the truth and then spit it out, reject it, and say the exact opposite about him. 

The Pharisees and Sadducees should have known from their studies that Christ was the Messiah. They saw the miracles, they heard the truth, and ultimately rejected it. The only unforgivable sin, according to Jesus, is the thoughtful, willful, rejection of the truth that the Holy Spirit testifies of, that Jesus is God. God will give you over to that and there will be no forgiveness of your sin and indeed cannot be. 

Here is the good news, if you are worried that you might have committed this sin as a believer, you can be assured that you have not. You would not care at all if you had committed this willful, informed, and decisive sin. 

If you are not a believer, if you are sitting here today and you are not sure if you believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, that he is the only source for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God, know that you can be forgiven of your sin and made right with God. 

But if God is illuminating your mind through his Word and Spirit and you dismiss Jesus, you are in danger of eternal damnation. If you reject his offer of salvation through Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing that remains for you but as Hebrews says, a fearful expectation of judgment. 

Here is the good news, if you are worried that you might have committed this sin as a believer, you can be assured that you have not.

If Christ is who he said he is, and we have overwhelming evidence that he is, then what he said is true. I’d like to close our time out this morning by sharing a famous quote from C.S.Lewis.

He says, “When Jesus claimed to be Lord, there were only three options: either He is Lord, or He is a lunatic, or He is a liar pulling off a very, very grand scheme of deception.” Those are the options.

The sheer evidence of his miraculous power shows that he is no lunatic. The Pharisees and Sadducees accused him of being a liar, which we see by his dismantling of their argument that he is not. 

That just leaves one option. He is who he says he is. 

And that is encouraging news friends, because if he is who he says he is, then what he says is true and forgiveness of sins is possible in his name, no matter your sins. We, as a church can confidently say, you can be forgiven of your sins if you come to Christ in faith, trusting that he can not only save you from your sins, but completely and radically change you in the new birth and set you on a path that leads to everlasting life. May this always be the message that this church proclaims. 

Let us pray. 

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