This sermon was delivered on June 10 at Wallace UMC.
Ahead of His Time
The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke 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 his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
I’ve heard it often said that there’s a fine line between genius and madness; up close, it’s hard to tell the difference. Not only that, genius is never appreciated in its time. I have to admit, there’s some logic to that.
Vincent van Gogh is considered one of the greatest artists the modern world has ever known. His paintings are known throughout the world and renowned as some of the most incredibly beautiful and vibrant works of art in recent history. He was on the forefront of the impressionist movement, and his work is prized and often imitated by many artists today.
However, if you were to tell that to van Gogh himself, he would have laughed at you. You see, the tragedy of van Gogh was that he was a very troubled man. He was often misunderstood, and considered insane for his erratic and at times extreme behavior. He would sometimes become violent and lash out at people, often for very little reason. He more than likely had some kind of emotional disorder, like bipolar disorder or at the very least depression. People called him crazy, mad, insane, a drunk, and a lunatic. In the last year of his life, he was at his most productive, and most brilliant. His body of work at that time is unparalleled. And yet, he was never going to achieve any acclaim in his lifetime. Nobody would appreciate his work, and he would never hear an kind of critical acclaim. He sadly ended his own life, brilliant, talented, and utterly alone. This genius was far ahead of his time, and he would never know it. There’s a fine line between genius and madness; often it’s hard to tell the difference up close.
Nikola Tesla is considered today to be one of the most brilliant inventors of all time. Each and every one of you use his inventions every day, and I guarantee you that you don’t know it. Do any of you know what the alternating current is? Let me put it this way; have you ever plugged anything into a wall? Then you have used one of Nikola Tesla’s inventions. He invented the alternating current as an answer to the dominant form of electrical generation at the time, the direct current, made popular by none other than Thomas Edison. The truth of the matter is that Tesla’s invention was vastly superior to Edison’s in every way. It was cheaper. It worked better and more efficiently over longer distances, and could carry more power than ever imagined at the time.
However, there was a big difference between Edison and Tesla. Tesla was a genius, and invented way more stuff than Edison ever did. The problem is he made too many things too fast, faster than people could comprehend and understand, which frightened people. Here’s a fun fact: do you listen to radio? The idea of transmitting radio waves was pioneered by Tesla. Tesla also came up with the idea of radar, x-rays, hydroelectric power, neon lighting, the modern electric motor, and even wireless energy transmission. That’s right. He came up with all this, and nobody had a clue how it would be used. On top of all that, he was also very introverted, very odd, and had a hard time relating to people.
Edison, on the other hand, while not as smart as Tesla, had a really good Public Relations team, and knew how to sell his stuff to the right people. In the end, who did history name a genius? And who did history almost forget? Because he was ahead of his time, because he seemed a little off, because he was considered crazy, unlikeable, and just plain weird, Tesla was written off. More and more, people are recognizing his genius, but he will never know the impact he made on the world. There’s a fine line between genius and madness; up close they’re hard to tell apart.
Vincent van Gogh and Nikola Tesla. History deems them geniuses. Their contemporaries, the people they knew at the time, called them crazy. Are you seeing a pattern? Are you noticing what’s going on here? They were ahead of their time. They were operating on a different level than everyone else was, and they were called crazy for it. What may be closer to the truth is that they were perhaps more perceptive than everyone else, and everyone else just had a hard time understanding it because they appeared so broken. They appeared crazy. It wasn’t until afterwards that people realized what they had misunderstood. At the time, people just didn’t get it.
More often than not, people just don’t get it, do they. How many of you guys get something the first time it’s told to you? That’s what I thought. Neither do I, honestly. I need to be told, and told, and told again, until it finally sinks in. It’s like learning a new language; you’re not going to be perfect the first time you try to speak Spanish. It takes a long time to get the grammar, vocabulary, all that stuff. And it needs patience. Things need reinforcement, good reinforcement, for it to be understood, for things to last. Even then, though, I still may not get it, and you might not get it either.
The problem is that people, in general, don’t have patience. We don’t. I don’t have it. You don’t have it. People in Tesla’s day didn’t have it. People in Van Gogh’s day didn’t have it. And least of all, people in Jesus’ day didn’t have it. And, at times, it even feels like Jesus didn’t have it with the people.
Yes, Jesus. Our Lord and Savior. He got impatient with people. How else do you explain this passage? Let’s look at it again. Before all this, Jesus has been making a name for himself as a healer and person who casts out demons. You know, a normal profession. Mark makes a big deal out of Jesus the demon fighter, which is fairly unique in my opinion. It’s very apparent in the early chapters of Mark that Jesus’s behavior, while extraordinary, was winning in equal parts followers and enemies.
So the passage begins…where? At Jesus’s home. Yes, this early in the ministry, apparently Jesus was still at home, more than likely on the extended family’s house. Or perhaps at one of the disciples house, but really that doesn’t matter; what matters is, Jesus was at home base, trying to eat and probably relax. Except for one problem: the crowd followed him, and made enough ruckus that he couldn’t eat. Obviously, this made Jesus pretty upset, because it then says that his family had to restrain him because they were calling him either crazy or possessed. I’ll say that again, they had to restrain him! Jesus was lashing out! This is not normal behavior for the kind of guy we like to think is the Prince of Peace, now is it?
But think about what it was he was calling them out on. For one, he was upset because he had been doing good things, healing people, casting out demons, and preaching the good news to people, and what is he getting for it? He’s rejected! He’s called crazy! He’s called possessed! Not at all what he probably thought he was going to get, after doing the good things he did. He’s doing God’s work, and they’re saying the devil’s doing it. That’s a smack in the face if I ever heard it. It’s like someone telling a doctor that healing people is a waste of time—they’re just going to die anyways. It’s like telling someone who is compassionate that compassion won’t get you anywhere, or that it won’t make a difference, and you’re crazy for thinking that it would. It’s pessimism, and it’s astonishment and misunderstanding as to what’s really going on.
And so I think Jesus is justifiably upset! And so, here he goes pointing out the crowd’s faulty logic to them: “Do you realize that you aren’t making any sense people?! Why would Satan cast himself out? What purpose would that serve? If that’s what the devil is doing, then he’s in a sorry state of affairs. A house divided against itself won’t stand; it would fall over.”
“No, don’t you see what I’m doing? If you’re trying to overthrow a bad ruler, a strong and powerful tyrant, you’re not going to get anything done if you don’t tie him up first and take out the guards!”
So you see, Mark had a purpose for showing us why Jesus was doing all these exorcisms, why he was casting out demons. He was trying to overthrow an evil domain, and make way for the Kingdom of God! And the best way he knew how to do it was to go around tying up the most dangerous of the devil’s soldiers in the process of bringing about the kingdom of God. Think about it this way: have you ever tried to plant something in a field overrun with weeds? What do you need to do for anything good to grow out of it? Remove the weeds! That’s the idea! That’s why Jesus is casting out demons—he’s trying to level the playing field so his ministry can take root, so that salvation can actually work!
But what he says next… well, I’ll be honest with you. It scares me. This is one of the scariest things Jesus has probably ever said, and it really troubles me. He says “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, he has an unclean spirit.”
What is Jesus saying here? Is there really something that Jesus can’t forgive you for? Is there something that grace can’t cover? Why would Jesus say this? Well, I’ll tell you what I think Jesus is doing here. I think, and I may be wrong, but I think Jesus is just trying to emphasize how serious the problem is. I know some of you are probably wondering, what does it mean, to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? I think the answer is what these people are doing here: they’re mistaking the good work of God, the good work of the Holy Spirit, to an unholy spirit. It’s mistaking the good for the bad. Jesus here is, at least to me, trying to scare them straight with the seriousness of the issue, because Jesus’s entire ministry is at stake here in this problem.
If people mistake the good for the bad, and if they can’t tell the difference between God and the evil one, then Jesus is sending an ultimatum: get you’re act together. Don’t mistake good for bad, because when you do that, you are deceived. Your perception is all wrong. And that will ultimately lead you down the path to destruction. Think about it! If you can’t tell the difference between good and bad, that will ultimately cause even greater problems than just a misperception. If you think caring for people, and trying to make people better is evil, then you need to get your priorities straight. If you don’t think that blessed are the peacemakers, the merciful, the poor in spirit, then I have news for you: you need to figure out what’s really important, and see what Jesus is really doing. Because Jesus is trying to do something new. Not only that, he’s trying to make everything new, he’s trying to bring about the Kingdom of God, and if you can’t see the priorities of the Kingdom, if you can’t see that Jesus is telling us to be merciful, to do justice, to love kindness, to love our neighbor as ourselves, then you’re going to have problems. Serious ones.
But the sad fact is, people still misunderstood Jesus. People still thought he was crazy. That he was a liar. That he was possessed. That he was trying to start a war. That he was traitor. And that misperception of insanity that was actually genius, that misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit, is the small snowflake that turned into an avalanche that led Jesus to the Cross. There’s a fine line between genius and madness; up close, it’s hard to tell which is which.
What Jesus was doing, what Jesus was teaching seemed like madness to these people. The truth is, Jesus was just ahead of his time, and people couldn’t see it. So we go down through history, and we see some people who really get it, and some people who really don’t. We see people who try to bring about love, justice, mercy, and the kingdom of God… and we see people who think they know better than that, and want to do things their way. For every Van Gogh, there’s a critic who thinks he’s a failure. For every Tesla, there’s an Edison trying to drive him out of the business. And for every Jesus, there’s people who think he’s crazy, that he’s possessed, that he’s a liar, and mistake his good work for evil.
My brothers and sisters, I ask you now to see the big picture. Try and open your minds to the reality that Jesus was trying to bring about. Open your hearts to the good news, that love can conquer all, that truth shall set us free, and that we have been accepted into the family of God. Because if you do that, if you open your hearts to the will of God, to believe that Jesus is not a madman or a liar but a genius and a savior, you will become a brother or a sister of Jesus. Open your whole being to the Holy Spirit, and you may find yourself mistaken for being crazy. But you know what? You will know, by trusting in the words of Jesus, that you are not mad, but simply ahead of your time. Amen.