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Mar 17, 2024

Parable of the House Divided

Passage: Mark 3:20-35

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Gospel of Mark

Keywords: demons, unity, division, families, nations, divided, kingdoms, spiritual deliverance


Most foundational institutions like marriage, family, nations and cities can't survive divided. In this time of unprecedented division in our land, Jesus has some profound words of wisdom for anyone wanting to experience life to the full. Hint: it all revolves around our relationship with Him.


The Parable of the Divided House

Mark 3:20-35

March 17, 2024

Fellowship Question:  Share one thing you think makes for a united, happy family…or church. 

INTRO:  Did you ever have one of those siblings who was always wandering off? 

  • Story of David, age 7, getting lost at the Gettysburg Civil War reenactment on the 137th anniversary of that battle. Had the whole family searching for him. (Maybe that’s why he has an interest in Coast Guard Search and Rescue now!)

Sometimes families have to go searching for one another.  Today’s passage revolves around one of those experiences in Jesus’ family of origin.  His family is living about 30 miles (2 days) journey from where he is currently staying in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. They apparently had some direct news source about what he was doing that caused them enough concern to make the trip to have a ‘family intervention.’ 

            I’ve often wondered what it must have been like for Jesus’ half-siblings growing up under the shadow of “Mr. Perfect”… literally. We are told nothing about what those developmental years were like other than even perfect Jesus didn’t always fulfill his parent’s expectations, let alone his siblings.  (Just check out the story of his escapade in the Temple when he was 13!) Today’s text is certainly one of those experiences where Jesus’ actions did not match the expectations of his family. 

Mark 3:20-35

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”


            You’ll remember that last week we saw how Jesus had to continually exercise boundaries in his relationship with the crowds that were continually pressing in on his time and space.  The challenge of the crowd never ended with Jesus. 

Today’s story is no different.  In fact, the problem had become so challenging that his family was concerned that he was neglecting basic self-preservation.  They had apparently gotten word that this crowd thing had gotten so out of hand that he wasn’t eating properly.  So they decided to set some boundaries for him.  They make the 30-mile trip to take charge of a situation that, in their opinion, is clearly out of hand. 

            But it isn’t just the situation that is out of hand.  Jesus is ‘losing it’ according to their infallible familial perspective.  He’s quite literally “out of his mind”, they reason. 

APP:  This should serve as a cautionary tale.  Having grown up with the only sinless sibling ever to exist on the planet…and you and your brothers and sisters think he’s crazy…that ought to tell you something about your perspective!  Family are often the last people to really see things objectively about their family dynamics and dysfunctions.  We would be wise to be more gracious and less judgmental with one another when it comes to family.  As well as we think we know each other, our judgment calls can be way off the mark.

            So, this story begins by Mark letting us know that Jesus’ family, at this point in time, thought he was “losing it.”  This crowd thing was getting out of hand, so they agreed together that they needed to “take charge.”  The word means literally to “take hold of” or “take control of” someone or something. 

APP:  How many times do we think our perspective of a situation is the right one…and God’s is the wrong one?  We may not be so bold as to accuse God of losing His mind.  But we humans have a tendency to think that we understand what is going on far better than God does.  That position is liable to end up being rather embarrassing at best and more often downright sinful and self-defeating.

            Jesus’ family clearly did not recognize their brother/son as who he truly was—God in human flesh.  The curious part of this story is that we know even Mary, his mother, was part of this family intervention (see vss. 31-32).  Yet their perspective was amiss. 

APP:  Even when your kid is perfect, moms, it’s hard not to think they still need you to help run their lives a bit, right? I think there might be a message in her for moms of adult children. 

NOTE:  Let me just address this issue of Jesus’ siblings for a moment.  This story is bookended by their actions towards Jesus.  Some segments of the church teach that Jesus didn’t have half-siblings (because of their theology of the ”perpetual virginity” of Mary).  That is not a theology taught in the Scriptures.  Not only does Matthew 1:25 indicate that Mary and Joseph did experience sexual intimacy after Jesus was born, but this and numerous other passages refer to his family as having brothers and sisters. 

The term “brother” (adelphos) occurs almost 350 times in the N.T. and can mean anything from blood-related brothers/sisters to spiritual family.  But clearly the context here intends for us to understand they were his blood-family.  The contrast between his blood family of origin and his spiritual family is clearly made at the end of this passage.  Every biblical indication is that these were Jesus’ half-brothers and sisters along with his blood-mother.  (See Mark 6:3—“Mary’s son,” brothers are named [James, Joseph, Juda and Simon], “sisters here with us”.)  The fact that Jesus had other half-siblings in no way harms the biblical teaching on the virgin birth or the blessedness of his mother Mary.

But Mark now moves from the family snapshot of them thinking somewhat disparagingly of Jesus judgment to the teachers of the law thinking outright diabolically about him. There is a vast difference between thinking, “Something’s not right about that man,” to “That man is evil and demonically controlled.” Being misunderstood is quite different from being maligned. 

Jesus knew the difference too.  His family who simply misunderstood the situation were met with a very gentle education.  The religious leaders prior rejection of Jesus was now leading them to look for a way to destroy him (Mark 3:6)…and get the crowds to join them.  They were met with a stinging rebuke of what we’re about to see was very flawed logic. 

I don’t think Jesus was trying to argue the religious leaders out of their rejection of Him at this point.  God knows that few if any people are argued into heaven with powerful logical arguments.  People who are hell-bent on rejecting the presence of God in and over their lives will not usually be persuaded to abandon their rejection of God through logical reasoning.  Sin is supremely illogical which makes logic rather ineffective against it!

I think what Jesus was doing was using logic to protect those who were open to the evidence, open to where the facts would lead but also susceptible to influence and error by faulty logic.  God wants us to love Him with all our minds, not just our emotions, wills or actions.  So He at times gives us good, logical reasons why we should embrace Him and reject the arguments against Him.  (We’re going to see that at Easter in just a couple of weeks when it comes to the resurrection.) 

The difference Jesus is drawing here is between those who would eventually become his spiritual family and those who were determined not to believe in Him.  The same is true today.  The argument Jesus is about to make will make logical sense to anyone genuinely open to belief in Jesus even though they may not have put their faith in Him yet.  That may be some of you sitting here today.  You’re probably not here to pick a fight with the pastor.  Those folks usually don’t come to church.  They advocate for their disbelief on-line or in some other setting.  If you’re here today, even without having fully put your faith in Jesus (like his family at the time), you may just need to see a bit more of the reasonableness and love of Jesus in the face of the opposition.

So, what is the charge against Jesus?  Vs. 22—“He is possessed by Beelzebul!  By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” 

Beelzebub came from the name Ba’al-Zebub which literally meant “Lord of the flies,” not to be confused with the 1954 book/movie by that name…though the resulting chaos is common with both.  This title, Beelzebub, had become synonymous in Jesus’ day with Satan. 

So, the charge was, “Jesus is demonically inspired.  What he does is because Satan is working through him.  He’s a charlatan and a fraud.” 

As C.S. Lewis argues in Mere Christianity, that is certainly one of the options open to you if you reject that Jesus was who He claimed to be: God-in-human-flesh.  You’re remaining options are that b.) he was a fake, a charlatan and a fraud (which means he wasn’t a good person but actually an evil man), OR c.) he was a lunatic, either mentally or spiritually or both.  Liar…lunatic…or Lord.  The religious leaders chose the “liar” option.  “Jesus, you’re lying to us about who is animating your actions.  It’s not God.  You know it’s the Father of lies—Satan” 

So now let’s look at the simple logic Jesus uses to dismantle that assertion.  Then we can take a look at the implications the truth of what he says has for us.

Premise #1:  You cannot destroy yourself and survive.  Seems pretty obvious, no?  Jesus made the argument with a question in verses 23 & 26—“How can Satan drive out Satan?” “If Satan opposes himself…he cannot stand; his end has come.”  And clearly, Satan’s end had NOT come or there would not have been any other demonically afflicted people then or now. 

It’s like asking, “How can I drive out myself?”  Well, the only way I get rid of me in me is to commit suicide.  That is the ultimate self-destruction.  Because while I’m alive, where I go, there I am!  (Which is also the problem most people have when they think that a new spouse or a new church or a new job or a new city is the answer to the problem their having with their spouse, church, job or living situation.  “Where you go, there you are…still!  Too bad, so sad!”)

APP:  There is a sobering truth here.  Even Satan recognizes that he can’t war against himself and survive.  So, he doesn’t. It is only humans, in all creation, that seem to self-harm, self-deprecate, self-destroy.  We are often, as the saying goes, our own worst enemies.  We “beat ourselves up” over just about anything.  We criticize ourselves, speak against ourselves in our minds and sometimes words.  We say things to and about ourselves that God would never say or do towards us.  We are far too often a singular house of 1 that attacks itself. 

            God weeps.  Satan cheers.  Those who love us grieve.  We don’t feel or get better.  But too often we keep trying to drive ourselves out of our own habitation.  And taken to the extreme, we destroy ourselves with self-harming sins and some even take their own lives.

ILL:  How God spoke to me mowing the lawn one day.  I was so disappointed in myself.  I was rehearsing the ways I hated my weaknesses.  God just asked me a question:  John, do you feel that way towards your children when they aren’t perfect?  “Of course not, Lord.  They are just children.  I love them.  Their inadequacies and faults are so minor.  The times they disappoint are so few compared to all the joy they bring.”  God just whispered, “Am I not a better Father than you?  If you feel that way as an imperfect father towards your children, imagine how I feel towards you, my Son.” 

            I think God wants to say to some of us today, “Stop trying to destroy yourself.  Let me love you as the perfect father I am.  Don’t do to yourself what even Satan won’t do to himself.  Let Me bring wholeness, unity and complete harmony to your soul.  I can reconstruct what you may find so self-disappointing.  Let me do that for you.”   

Premise #2 (vs. 24):  Divided, self-waring kingdoms/countries /nations self-destruct.  “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”  Show me a nation that is in perpetual civil war and I’ll show you a self-destroyed country.  No nation or kingdom that fights itself for very long survives.  That fact is self-evident. 

ILL:  What is happening in Haiti right now. 

What has happened in Sudan/S. Sudan 40 of the past 57 years of independence have been in civil war: > 2 million killed in S. Sudan.  10 million displaced over the years.  Fighting started again last year.    

APP:  America—our most costly war was the Civil War (655,000).  We are hurtling towards a potentially as destructive civil destruction today.  We need to WORK hard to bridge this gulf that is producing self-destruction.  This is why I am investing time right now in having regular, steady, difficult conversations with people “on the other side”—politically, racially, theologically, geopolitically.  The only substitute for self-destruction is meaningful, respectful relationship with others in Christ who differ from us.  If God’s children don’t bridge this gap, it will tear us asunder. 

So, Jesus appealed to a political/military nation-state argument to show the absurdity of maintaining that what he was doing in casting out demons and healing people was the work of Satan. 

His last logical appeal:

Premise #3 (vs. 25):  Households that don’t work together will fall apart.  “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”  The Greek word for “house” here (oikos)is usually translated just that, “house.”  But it is also used of the notion of the residents or people who inhabit that house, i.e. the household.  In Jesus’ day that might just be Mom, Dad and the kids. But it could also include extended relatives living together as well as servants. 

This truth is also self-evident:  families either learn to work together or they fail.  Husbands and wives either work for each other and have good marriages or they work against each other and have lousy or no marriages.  When that happens, everyone suffers, especially the children. 

APP: I’ve been reading a book entitled, The Toxic War on Masculinity, subtitled “How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes” (by Nancy Pearcey).  Let me just tell you about one recent study about “Christian marriages.”  There has been a fair amount of press, some true, some not, about how abusive, damaging and destructive traditional Christian marriages can be to families.  The problem is, the critics are not doing a deep-dive into why the data seems to be conflicting.  Here’s the reality. 

            Social science empirical studies show that men who identify as theologically conservative Christians (believe in complementarian theology about marriage, male headship, etc.)divide into two distinct groups…and these groups diverge dramatically in results.  Those who attend church at least 3 times a month shatter the negative stereotypes.  They are more loving to their wives and more emotionally engaged wit their children than any other group in America.  They are the least likely to divorce, and they have the lowest levels of domestic abuse and violence. 

            However, nominally-committed Christian men have very different results.  (Nominals identify with a religious tradition but attend church sporadically if at all.)  These men, sadly, spend less time with their children, either in discipline or shared activities.  Their wives report significantly lower levels of happiness.  Their marriages are far less stable.  Whereas active evangelical men are 35 percent less likely to divorce than secular men, nominals are 20 percent more likely to divorce than secular men.  And nominals also report the highest rates of violence of any group (7.2%). 

            Men, you want a house united?  COME TO CHURCH every week!  You want a happy wife?  Come pray with your wife in church…and then go home and pray together.  It’s true:  couples that pray together stay together.  THE best thing we can do to reverse the epidemics of abuse, abandonment, divorce, poverty, sexual confusion and loss of faith is WORK TOGETHER in our families to cultivate unity at every level by cultivating intimacy with God every day and every week. 

            Jesus chose the individual, the nation and the family to point to in proving his point that he wouldn’t be doing what he was doing—healing disease and exorcising demons—if he was on Satan’s team.  We, God’s children, get to prove that we’re on God’s, not Satan’s team, by modeling to the world that we are not a person divided, not a nation divided and not homes divided.  And it goes without saying that such will happen only when Jesus Christ is at the center of our lives, our families, our churches and our national relationships. 


Now, having shown the error of his critic’s reasoning, Jesus now points to the truth of what he has been doing and, more importantly, who he is.

            In vs. 27, Jesus calls them to recognize WHAT he IS doing and WHO it is that is doing it:  “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man.  Then he can rob his house.”  

When Jesus delivered demon-possessed people from demonic oppression and possession, he was the “one” tying up the “strong man” (the demon or Satan himself) in the ‘house’ (or person).  In combat or wrestling or fighting, weak people don’t win.  The strong do.  Everyone knew that the existing religious leaders weren’t casting out demons; Jesus was.  Jesus chose something that had no apparent superior power to defeat it in his day and forced people to face the reality that what he was doing in delivering demoniacs was proof that HE was more powerful than Satan and his demons.

Now, human beings don’t have to be God to use his power to destroy demons.  But they at least have to have God’s blessing to use His power.  God doesn’t allow evil or evil people to hijack His power.  So if someone is going to take back someone from Satan’s grasp, he must be able to “first tie up the strong man.”  Which is precisely what Jesus is doing and claiming to do when he delivered people from demons.  Who is stronger than Satan?  Perhaps a few angels, though we’re not sure.  But one thing is for certain:  GOD is the only being in the spiritual realm that we know for certain is stronger than Satan. 

Do you see what Jesus is pressing them to?  “At the least, I am doing what I’m doing by the power and permission of God.  Or more likely, I’m doing what I’m doing because I AM GOD! 

And then He drops the hammer.  Vs. 28-- Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

            There is only one sin in Scripture that I know of that will never be washed away by the blood of Jesus:  rejection of the Son of God and His work on your behalf through the Holy Spirit.  If you want to look at what Jesus did to love sinners, to heal sinners, to teach sinners and to die for sinners and say, “No, that’s not God.  That’s not the God I want to serve and spend eternity with.  That’s not the God I want saving me or setting me free from the power of evil.  No, Jesus looks more like the devil to me than any God I want to bow to,” then you have rejected, just like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the only provision God has for setting you free from sin and Satan.  You’ve made your eternal choice:  I don’t want THAT God.  I’d rather be under the ‘strong man’s’ control.”  In essence, you are telling God, “NO, what the Holy Spirit has revealed of God in the life of Jesus is not God.  In fact, it might be Satan.”  And there is NO forgiveness for anyone who rejects God himself and embraces any other God but Jesus. 

APP:  I appeal to any of you listening to me today who have just been on the fence with Jesus…or you’ve been holding onto your excuses as to why you don’t need the only God stronger than the evil in your heart and in this world:  COME TO JESUS!  RECOGNIZE who HE is—God who offers to deliver you from sin and the eternally damaging effects of your sin.  Stop calling Jesus what He isn’t so you can avoid what he is:  GOD calling to you.  He does not force himself on you, but He does give you enough evidence of who He really is for you to believe. 

            Won’t you believe today?  Won’t you surrender your life to Him, confess your sin, call out for his mercy, and let Him rescue you from a life and an eternity of sin? 

            Call to faith:  no magic words, just your heart bare before God.  Ask for forgiveness.  Tell Him you put your trust in His death and resurrection for you.  Tell Him you want to be His disciple, His follower now and forever. 


Anyone who takes that step of faith into relationship with Jesus becomes, as Jesus will say in the next few verses, “my mother and my brothers.” Vs. 35--“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” 

What is God’s will? 

  • That you wouldn’t perish eternally but that you would come to repentance (2 Peter 2:9).
  • That you would be “set apart”, “sanctified” in Christ to be part of His holy family (1 Thess. 4:3).
  • That you believe in Jesus, the One God sent, so that believing you will enjoy life in Him forever (Jn. 6:29, 40)

Mark ends this section where he started—with the blood relatives of Jesus.  But he throws the net much wider.  To the simple statement, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you,” Jesus let’s every one of us know that His true relatives are those who hunger for Him.  His true brothers and sisters are those who long to sit in the circle of his company and drink from his teaching.  His true family are those who, hearing His call, answer with, “Here am I, Lord.  I want to do God’s will.” 

            If we’re not here today because we want to DO what God tells us to do, we’re wasting our time.  But if we’ve come here today to sit at Jesus’ feet, learn what He wants you to do and then GO and DO it, you’re probably in the family.  You’re more His brother and sister than his half-blood brothers and sisters were that day.  You’re more his “mom” than even Mary was in that moment when she was there to tell Jesus what he needed to do rather than listen to what she needed to do.  (Don’t misunderstand me.  I have the utmost respect for Mary.  But Jesus is making the clear point that obedience to Him connects you much deeper to him than genetic relationship to his biological family.)


  • Do you have a hunger to actually DO God’s will? That is great evidence that you are in Jesus’ family.  Jesus delights to call you His sister, his brother, his close relative.  Enjoy it!
  • You feeling the influence of “the strong man”, Satan, darkness, sin? You wanting Jesus to rescue you from his influence, his power?  Jesus delights to deliver.  He is the ONLY one stronger than Satan.  Lots of things may help deliver you from addictions or mental health issues or hang-ups and destructive habits.  But only Jesus can deliver us from every destructive power of Satan and every lie he uses to keep you captive.  Cry out to Jesus.  Speak the name of Jesus over wherever you see darkness pressing in—family, friends, this city, the streets, etc.