We have in this passage three parts, -- the outrageous official explanation of Christ and His works, the Lord's own solution of His miracles, and His relatives' well-meant attempt to secure Him, with His answer to it.
I. The scribes, like Christ's other critics, judged themselves in judging Him, and bore witness to the truths which they were eager to deny. Their explanation would be ludicrous, if it were not dreadful. Mark that it distinctly admits His miracles. It is not fashionable at present to attach much weight to the fact that none of Christ's enemies ever doubted these. Of course, the credence of men, in an age which believed in the possibility of the supernatural, is more easy, and their testimony less cogent, than that of a jury of twentieth-century scientific sceptics. But the expectation of miracle had been dead for centuries when Christ came; and at first, at all events, no anticipation that He would work them made it easier to believe that He did.
It would have been a sure way of exploding His pretensions, if the officials could have shown that His miracles were tricks. Not without weight is the attestation from the foe that 'this man casteth out demons.' The preposterous explanation that He cast out demons by Beelzebub, is the very last resort of hatred so deep that it will father an absurdity rather than accept the truth. It witnesses to the inefficiency of explanations of Him which omit the supernatural. The scribes recognised that here was a man who was in touch with the unseen. They fell back upon 'by Beelzebub,' and thereby admitted that humanity, without seeing something more at the back of it, never made such a man as Jesus.
It is very easy to solve an insoluble problem, if you begin by taking the insoluble elements out of it. That is how a great many modern attempts to account for Christianity go to work. Knock out the miracles, waive Christ's own claims as mistaken reports, declare His resurrection to be entirely unhistorical, and the remainder will be easily accounted for, and not worth accounting for. But the whole life of the Christ of the Gospels is adequately explained by no explanation which leaves out His coming forth from the Father, and His exercise of powers above those of humanity and 'nature.'
This explanation is an instance of the credulity of unbelief. It is more difficult to believe the explanation than the alternative which it is framed to escape. If like produces like, Christ cannot be explained by anything but the admission of His divine nature. Serpents' eggs do not hatch out into doves. The difficulties of faith are 'gnats' beside the 'camels' which unbelief has to swallow.
II. The true explanation of Christ's power over demoniacs. Jesus has no difficulty in putting aside the absurd theory that, in destroying the kingdom of evil, He was a servant of evil and its dark ruler. Common-sense says, If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself, and his kingdom cannot stand. An old play is entitled, 'The Devil is an Ass,' but he is not such an ass as to fight against himself. As the proverb has it, 'Hawks do not pick out hawks' eyes.'
It would carry us too far to deal at length with the declarations of our Lord here, which throw a dim light into the dark world of supernatural evil. His words are far too solemn and didactic to be taken as accommodations to popular prejudice, or as mere metaphor. Is it not strange that people will believe in spiritual communications, when they are vouched for by a newspaper editor, more readily than when Christ asserts their reality? Is it not strange that scientists, who find difficulty in the importance which Christianity attaches to man in the plan of the universe, and will not believe that all its starry orbs were built for him (which Christianity does not allege), should be incredulous of teachings which reveal a crowd of higher intelligences?
Jesus not only tests the futile explanation by common-sense, but goes on to suggest the true one. He accepts the belief that there is a 'prince of the demons.' He regards the souls of men who have not yielded themselves to God as His 'goods.' He declares that the lord of the house must be bound before his property can be taken from him. We cannot stay to enlarge on the solemn view of the condition of unredeemed men thus given. Let us not put it lightly away. But we must note how deep into the centre of Christ's work this teaching leads us. Translated into plain language it just means that Christ by incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and present work from the throne, has broken the power of evil in its central hold. He has crushed the serpent's head, his heel is firmly planted on it, and, though the reptile may still 'swinge the scaly horror of his folded tail,' it is but the dying flurries of the creature. He was manifested 'that He might destroy the works of the devil.'
No trace of indignation can be detected in Christ's answer to the hideous charge. But His patient heart overflows in pity for the reckless slanderers, and He warns them that they are coming near the edge of a precipice. Their malicious blindness is hurrying them towards a sin which hath never forgiveness. Blasphemy is, in form, injurious speaking, and in essence, it is scorn or malignant antagonism. The Holy Spirit is the divine agent in revealing God's heart and will. To blaspheme Him is 'the external symptom of a heart so radically and finally set against God that no power which God can consistently use will ever save it.' 'The sin, therefore, can only be the culmination of a long course of self-hardening and depraving.' It is unforgivable, because the soul which can recognise God's revelation of Himself in all His goodness and moral perfection, and be stirred only to hatred thereby, has reached a dreadful climax of hardness, and has ceased to be capable of being influenced by His beseeching. It has passed beyond the possibility of penitence and acceptance of forgiveness. The sin is unforgiven, because the sinner is fixed in impenitence, and his stiffened will cannot bow to receive pardon.
The true reason why that sin has never forgiveness is suggested by the accurate rendering, 'Is guilty of an eternal sin' (R.V.). Since the sin is eternal, the forgiveness is impossible. Practically hardened and permanent unbelief, conjoined with malicious hatred of the only means of forgiveness, is the unforgivable sin. Much torture of heart would have been saved if it had been observed that the Scripture expression is not sin, but blasphemy. Fear that it has been committed is proof positive that it has not; for, if it have been, there will be no relenting in enmity, nor any wish for deliverance.
But let not the terrible picture of the depths of impenitence to which a soul may fall, obscure the blessed universality of the declaration from Christ's lips which preludes it, and declares that all sin but the sin of not desiring pardon is pardoned. No matter how deep the stain, no matter how inveterate the habit, whosoever will can come and be sure of pardon.
III. The attempt of Christ's relatives to withdraw Him from publicity, and His reply to it. Verse 21 tells us that His kindred sent out to lay hold on Him; for they thought Him beside Himself. He was to be shielded from the crowd of followers, and from the plots of scribes, by being kept at home and treated as a harmless lunatic. Think of Jesus defended from the imputation of being in league with Beelzebub by the excuse that He was mad! This visit of His mother and brethren must be connected with their plan to lay hold on Him, in order to apprehend rightly Christ's answer. If they did not mean to use violence, why should they have tried to get Him away from the crowd of followers, by a message, when they could have reached Him as easily as it did? He knew the snare laid for Him, and puts it aside without shaming its contrivers. With a wonderful blending of dignity and tenderness, He turns from kinsmen who were not akin, to draw closer to Himself, and pour His love over, those who do the will of God.
The test of relationship with Jesus is obedience to His Father. Christ is not laying down the means of becoming His kinsmen, but the tokens that we are such. He is sometimes misunderstood as saying, 'Do God's will without My help, and ye will become My kindred.' What He really says is, 'If ye are My kindred, you will do God's will; and if you do, you will show that you are such.' So the statement that we become His kindred by faith does not conflict with this great saying. The two take hold of the Christian life at different points: the one deals with the means of its origination, the other with the tokens of its reality. Faith is the root of obedience, obedience is the blossom of faith. Jesus does not stand like a stranger till we have hammered out obedience to His Father, and then reward us by welcoming us as His brethren, but He answers our faith by giving us a life kindred with, because derived from, His own, and then we can obey.
It is active submission to God's will, not orthodox creed or devout emotion, which shows that we are His blood relations. By such obedience, we draw His love more and more to us. Though it is not the means of attaining to kinship with Him, it is the condition of receiving love-tokens from Him, and of increasing affinity with Him.
That relationship includes and surpasses all earthly ones. Each obedient man is, as it were, all three, -- mother, sister, and brother. Of course the enumeration had reference to the members of the waiting group, but the remarkable expression has deep truth in it. Christ's relation to the soul covers all various sweetnesses of earthly bonds, and is spoken of in terms of many of them. He is the bridegroom, the brother, the companion, and friend. All the scattered fragrances of these are united and surpassed in the transcendent and ineffable union of the soul with Jesus. Every lonely heart may find in Him what it most needs, and perhaps is bleeding away its life for the loss or want of. To many a weeping mother He has said, pointing to Himself, 'Woman, behold thy son'; to many an orphan He has whispered, revealing His own love, 'Son, behold thy mother.'
All earthly bonds are honoured most when they are woven into crowns for His head; all human love is then sweetest when it is as a tiny mirror in which the great Sun is reflected. Christ is husband, brother, sister, friend, lover, mother, and more than all which these sacred names designate, -- even Saviour and life. If His blood is in our veins, and His spirit is the spirit of our lives, we shall do the will of His and our Father in heaven.