Lunatic, Liar or Lord?

Original Date: 
Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mark 3:20-30 Lunatic, Liar, or Lord?

Quotes from Two Irishmen
Paul David Hewson is arguably the most famous rock star in the world. Only most people don’t know him by his given name. He’s more widely known as Bono, the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2.

I wouldn’t say that I was ever a huge fan of U2, but I did have a copy of their breakout album The Joshua Tree and I did get to see them play live at Cyclone Stadium in Ames when I was in college. Early in my career as a preacher I needed to read an announcement inviting people to an event at which Bono was going to appear via video and I called him “Bo-No”, like Sonny Bono of Sonny and Cher. I honestly didn’t know how to pronounce his name, and the younger members of the congregation gave me a very hard time about that. Which just goes to show that even though I was a young pastor, I was never very hip.

Anyway, Bono is perhaps as widely known these days for his humanitarian work and his efforts to relieve national debt in poor countries and fight AIDS as he is for his music. He is also known for—if not outright identifying as a Christian—being at least highly respectful of Jesus Christ.

In 2004 -2005 he did an extensive interview with a French music journalist named Michka Assayas that was turned into a book. At one point, Bono turns the conversation to Christianity and the idea that Christ was a sacrificial lamb who took our place on the cross. He says: "It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven." The journalist replied,

Such great hope is wonderful, even though it's close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world's great thinkers. But Son of God, isn't that farfetched?

Bono's answer is really quite remarkable. It’s rather a long quote, but I’m going to read it all. We’ll put a few of the highlights on the screen. The question he was asked, again, was: Isn't all that "Son of God" talk farfetched?

No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says:

No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you.

And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was, the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. . . . I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched. (Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas [Penguin Books, 2005], 227).

Now I’m not saying whether or not Bono is born again. I don’t know. I hope he is. And I’m not saying you should believe in Jesus because Bono does, or anything like that. The fact that somebody famous said this isn’t my point. But what I do want you to see is Bono’s argument.

He’s saying: “Anybody who said the kinds of things Jesus said had to be a nutcase, or a wicked con-man on the level of Charles Manson, or telling the truth. And since I don’t believe He was a liar—and I don’t believe the whole world could have been turned upside down by a crazy person—then maybe He really was the Son of God.”

Whether Bono realized it or not—and I’m guessing he knew—he was echoing the words of another Irishman, C.S. Lewis. Lewis—who is well-known as the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe—was perhaps the most influential Christian thinker of the 20th Century. And in one of his most well-known quotes, in a passage from the book Mere Christianity, Lewis said this:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity [Macmillan, 1952], 55–56)

This argument is often called the Trilemma—like a dilemma, only with three options instead of two. The idea is that when you look at Jesus, you really only have three options. They are usually alliterated as: He was a lunatic, He was a liar, or He is Lord. If you look at the evidence and you decide that Jesus wasn’t a crazy person, and He wasn’t a fake, then you do not have much choice but to accept that He was who He said He was: “Lord and God.”

And it was the Trilemma that came to mind as I read part of our text for today, because we see all three of those options applied to Jesus in the story. So I want to ask you today: who do you think Jesus is? Do you think He is a lunatic, a liar, or Lord?

He is out of His Mind
Let me remind you what we are doing. We are in a sermon series that is taking us through the gospel of Mark. My goal is to cover the entire book by Easter Sunday. That’s 16 chapters of the Bible in about 14 weeks. So I’m not going to be able to preach on every verse, or even every story, but I want to at least have every verse of Mark read in our worship services between now and Easter. So we are having different members of the congregation read our text each week—which is why Kyle read such a large amount of scripture just now.

Some weeks, I might try to comment on everything in the text. But other weeks I’m going to focus in on just one story or a just few verses. That is the case today. Even though Kyle read almost two full chapters, I want us to focus on Mark 3:20-30.

And we are going to start with the accusation that Jesus is a lunatic. Some people who knew Jesus thought He was crazy. Mark 3:20-21:

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.”

Now, the first thing to notice here is that it is Jesus’ family that is saying that He is out of His mind. It was those who were closest to Him, those who knew Him best, who believed that He was a lunatic.

I should say that some people might want to add a fourth option to the trilemma (I guess that would make it a quadralemma). The other option would be Legend.

There are some who say: “O.K. Jesus existed. He was a real person”—very few people would argue that He was entirely made up, but they’ll say—“Jesus existed, and He was a good teacher, but He never said some of these more radical things. He never claimed to be God. He never said that you have to believe in Him in order to get to heaven. That stuff was all made up later. His followers added that in after the fact. The historical Jesus”—and that’s what they call him, the historical Jesus—“never said those things. Jesus as we have him in the gospels is legend.”

That’s a real handy argument for people who don’t want to believe that Jesus is Lord. Say that we just can’t trust the accounts we have. The disciples were motivated to get people to believe in Jesus. They couldn’t handle the way he was so tragically and abruptly killed, they wanted to keep his teaching going, so they started making stuff up. So you don’t have to believe in Jesus, because you just can’t be sure which parts are legend and which parts are true.

But these verses right here punch all kinds of holes in that argument. Think about it: if you are trying to write a story that will get people to believe in a hero, if you want to set that hero up as the Messiah, then why in the world would you include a story in which those closest to Him—His own family—think He is nuts? Why put that in? If you are making stuff up anyway, why would you include something that makes Him look so bad?

This is one of the traits of the gospels. They are brutally honest about the people in the story. Throughout the gospel story people who are going to be very important in the early church—people like Peter and James and John—are going to come off looking very foolish and ignorant. Even Jesus’ own brother James—who is going to become the leader of the early church in Jerusalem—was presumably among the family members who were here trying to lead Jesus away to a quiet place. Why include that stuff unless it was the way it actually happened?

I don’t think we need to worry about the stories of Jesus being made up. The gospels just don’t bear the features of being legend. They have all the hallmarks of faithfully reporting things as they happened.

So now, let’s think about why Jesus’ family members might have thought He was out of His mind. Mark says that He has gathered such a large crowd that He isn’t even able to eat. It says when his family heard about this, they came to take charge of Him. So maybe He’s just working Himself so hard that they’re worried about His health. “He doesn’t even take the time to eat. He doesn’t even have the sense to stop for supper!”

But I’m guessing it is a bit deeper than that. Think about the things we read last week. Jesus has taken one of the most important practices in Israel—keeping the Sabbath—and said that you don’t have to keep it the way people have been keeping it for generations. For centuries! He even says He has authority over the Sabbath—He calls Himself the Lord of the Sabbath! Or, again, Jesus is saying that He can forgive people’s sins. He’s claiming a privilege God alone has.

So you can see why His family members might have been a little uncomfortable. Imagine you had a family member who went down to the corner of 4th and Grand and drew a huge crowd by claiming that you don’t have to pay your income taxes this year. Imagine your family member claiming to have the authority to forgive people’s tax debt. Imagine your family member implying that, in fact, they are the true President of the United States. Wouldn’t you want to sidle up next to that family member and gently lead them away? Wouldn’t you be interested in getting a psychiatric evaluation?

So you can see why Jesus’ family members were concerned. The things that Jesus was saying were revolutionary. They were things that people just didn’t say.

So, what about you? Do you think Jesus was loony? Do you think Jesus was delusional?

Well, how do we know? I think the best thing we can do is look at the things Jesus said. Look at the parables that Kyle read from chapter four, the parable of the sower. Does that sound like the incoherent ramblings of someone who is off His rocker? Does it sound like someone who has lost His grip on reality? Or does it sound like someone who has a pretty good grasp of how things are?

Or, again, to judge if Jesus’ claims were deluded, look at the evidence. He claimed to have the authority to forgive sins, and then He healed a paralyzed man. He talked like He was God, and then He did things only God could do—such as, as we’ll see, calming a storm and feeding five thousand people from a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. As the saying goes, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”

And then, there’s this: I mentioned earlier that Jesus’ own brother James later became the leader of the Jerusalem church. Presumably, he was one of those who wanted to quietly lead Jesus away on this day, but he obviously came around. He went from thinking that his older brother was out of His mind to thinking He was the Savior of the world.
If you spend time reading about Jesus. If you take the time to really listen to what He said and did, I think you’re going to have a hard time concluding that He is crazy.

He is Possessed
So if He isn’t a lunatic, what’s our next choice? Well, maybe He’s a liar. Maybe, instead of being mad, he’s just bad. Instead of deranged, maybe He’s demonized. Maybe He’s a fraud, a shyster, a con-man. That’s what the religious authorities thought. Verse 22:

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.”

These guys don’t like the way Jesus is gathering followers and challenging their authority; but they cannot deny the miracles or exorcisms they’ve seen Him doing. So they conclude that He must be bad. He must be a sorcerer. And it is by the power of Satan that He is doing these miraculous things.

The name they give to the devil here—Beelezebul--probably comes from an ancient name for a Canaanite god which means “lord of the high place.” But in the OT it sometimes gets spelled as “Baalzebub” which means “lord of the flies.” It’s a false god. A demon lord. (It reminds me of the Queen song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which includes a line that says “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me” which is really pretty creepy and disturbing.)

The teachers of the law can’t refute the things Jesus is doing, so they have to ascribe it to some dark place. Obviously, they see themselves as being on the side of God. They see their position as righteous, so the things Jesus is doing must be unrighteous.

In the same way, if we don’t believe Jesus is crazy, then we have to decide if He is honest. Is He a good person? Or is He deliberately misleading us? Is it all a big sham? If so, then--as C.S. Lewis says—that would make Him a Devil of Hell.

But Jesus answers this charge directly. Verses 23-27:

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.

Here’s the problem with the accusation that Jesus is evil: look at the things He is doing, do they strike you as evil? He is healing people of debilitating handicaps. He’s driving demons out of people who have been possessed and enslaved. He’s setting people free. Does that seem evil?

In fact, one of the themes of Mark is the battle between Jesus and the forces of Satan. More than the other gospels, Mark tells stories of Jesus encountering the demon possessed and driving out evil spirits. You can read the whole book of Mark as contest between Jesus and Beelzebub.

So the question you have to ask yourself—the question Jesus is asking—is if Jesus is in league with the devil, how come He spends so much time undoing the works of the devil? It doesn’t make sense. A house divided against itself will not stand. Why would Satan drive out Satan?

Then Jesus tells this wonderful little story: if you are going to rob a strong man’s house, you better first tie up that strong man or he’s going to knock you on the head. In this case, Satan is the strong man, and Jesus is the one who is stronger, who has gotten the upper hand on Satan, and who is now in the process of reclaiming all the goods—namely people—that Satan has stolen. Satan has stolen these lives, now Jesus is stealing them back!

The claim that Jesus is evil just manifestly does not work, since He is breaking down the strongholds of evil.

Then Jesus adds this, two verses that we should spend a moment or two on:

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.”

This verse has caused considerable consternation over the centuries. Jesus seems to be saying that there is an unforgivable sin, and many people have spent countless sleepless nights wondering if they have committed it. In fact, for the past decade or so there has been this thing called the “Blasphemy Challenge” floating around on the internet where outspoken atheists have recorded themselves saying all sorts of terrible things about the Holy Spirit as a way of saying that they are not afraid of the God that they do not believe in.

So, what is Jesus talking about here? It is good to remember the context. Jesus is talking to people who are attributing the good works that He is doing to Satan. So, not only are they rejecting Jesus, they are actually calling good evil. This is a deliberate, determined denial of the Holy Spirit.

And since one of the Holy Spirit’s roles is to prompt us to repentance when we sin, those who reject the Holy Spirit are those who will never repent of their sin. And thus they remain unforgiven.

What I really want you to pay attention to is verse 28. Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter.” When Jesus says “all” and “every” there He means “all” and “every.” Every sin that is repented of can be and will be forgiven. Even those kids on the internet who accept the blasphemy challenge can and will be forgiven if they open their hearts to the Holy Spirit and repent of what they have said. Those who are guilty of an eternal sin are those who never repent.

So, I’ll say it like this: if you are worried that you may have committed the unforgivable sin, then that right there is evidence that you haven’t. That means your heart is still open to the work of the Holy Spirit, and His promptings of repentance. As long as you care about what God thinks of your sin, that means God stands ready to forgive you.

But… and this is a big caution…that does not minimize the seriousness of what is happening here. If you are going to side with the teachers of the law, and you are going to conclude that Jesus is a liar, that He is a fake, that He is evil, that is a pretty big decision. Jesus says in no uncertain terms, that puts you on the wrong side of God.

He is Lord
So what does that leave? If Jesus isn’t lunatic and He isn’t a liar (and you are convinced that the gospels are not legends) then what is left? It must mean that Jesus is exactly who He says He is. That the things Jesus claims about Himself are true. That He is Lord.

Here’s how C.S. Lewis puts it, in the very next paragraph after he lays out the Trilemma:

We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.

If Jesus is Lord, then He has a claim on your life. If He is Lord, then He is in a position to call you to follow Him.

In the Parable of the Soils that Kyle read, Jesus talks about four kinds of human hearts. One kind is like the hard packed soil of the footpath. It refuses to listen to God at all. The second kind is like the shallow soil on the rock. Troubles and persecution drive this heart from God. The third kind is like the soil filled with weeds. The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth distract from God.

Of the four kinds of human hearts Jesus describes, only the fourth one is one we should desire to have. That’s the good soil. It describes the heart that recognizes that Jesus is Lord and listens to what He has the say. It’s the heart that responds to His call and bows before Him.

So, what about you? Who do you say Jesus is? What is your heart like?

Today is the day to recognize that Jesus is Lord. Today is the day to see that you can’t just say: “He was a good guy, an important world leader, but I just don’t think I need to listen to all that stuff about giving my life to Him.” Examine the options, decide what you think about Him. Was He crazy? Was He evil? Because if He wasn’t either of those things, then He is Lord.