Week of April 14, 2019
The Point: God does not forgive those who reject Jesus and never seek His forgiveness.
Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit: Matthew 12:22-32.
 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.  And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”  But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”  Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.  And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.  But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.  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.  Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.  Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. [ESV]
“The Big Lie [12:22-37]. From the beginning, the forces of evil arrayed themselves against Jesus. Shortly after His birth, King Herod tried to kill the Christ child. Later, Satan tempted Jesus to sin before His ministry ever began. In Luke, Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth ends with some of his own townspeople trying to throw Him off a cliff. These early conflicts prepare for the final conflict, when Jewish and Roman leaders band together to murder Jesus. From their first meeting, the scribes and Pharisees are hostile toward Jesus. Conflict is virtually a constant feature of their meetings. At one level, the conflict is spiritual warfare. Jesus has invaded Satan’s domain and he will fight back, however he can. Jesus Performs a Divisive Miracle. The conflict between Jesus and the leaders started when Jesus healed a man who was in desperate condition. Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him . The man had so given himself to evil that a demon now controlled him. As a result, he could neither speak, to ask for help, nor see, to go and find it. But someone brought this helpless man to Jesus, and Jesus healed him without delay, so he could speak and see. Matthew does not focus on the miracle, but on the twofold response to it. First, all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” . That is, might this be the Messiah, the promised king and deliverer of Israel? His powerful deeds raise their hopes. The Pharisees countered with their big lie: It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons . They envied Jesus and they hated the way he ignored their laws. They judged Him a sinner, a lawbreaker. They could not deny His power, but they could deny that it came from God. Since there are only two supernatural powers, they were all too confident when they accused Him of casting out demons by the prince of demons. The charge is that Jesus’ miracle was nothing but a satanic trick, designed to delude the people. Watch carefully how Jesus replies. First, He refutes the charges. He dismantles them, at a logical level. He appeals to the mind and teaches everyone about the true source of His power. Second, He preaches to the Pharisees and other doubters. He appeals to the heart and the will and calls them to faith. We want to study both aspects of Jesus’ method. But first, notice that our passage subtly testifies to the reliability of the Gospels. Today, at a distance of centuries, skeptics doubt that Jesus had miraculous powers. In His own day, skeptics did not question that Jesus had miraculous power. Even His enemies conceded that. Rather they questioned the source of His power. But now, watch how first He refutes His enemies and then preaches to them. The Lie Refuted. Ordinary people often think of faith as that faculty that takes over when data and logic expire. They appeal to the concept of a “leap of faith.” But Jesus asks no one to take such a leap. The concept of a “leap of faith” originates from Western culture, not Scripture. Jesus asked the Pharisees, and He asks us, to apply the rules of logic to the question at hand. This is consistent with the testimony of Scripture, which calls the Christian faith “the truth” and “the teaching.” To be a Christian is to have a renewed mind [Eph. 4:23]. Therefore we follow Jesus’ logic. He says it is absurd to think that Satan would empower Jesus to heal the sick and to cast out demons. If he did, he would destroy his own empire. Follow Jesus’ logic, verse by verse. Matthew 12:25 says, Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. No kingdom, no city, no household, that is divided against itself will stand. A divided kingdom will fall to its foes, for its strength will be wasted as one faction fights another. No city or household that suffers internal division can withstand an attack from the outside. This principle applies to all of life. A united city government is a strong city government. A united corporation is a strong corporation. A united church is a strong church. A united family is a strong family. This principle applies in a limited way to the workplace, where leaders should seek as much unity as possible, even if they cannot expect every employee to share their faith. It applies to Christian parents, who should explain themselves to their children from an early age, when we make decisions, correct them, or praise them. As we share our heart and mind with our spouse or our children, we grow in unity. The need for unity explains why Christians should marry in the Lord [1 Cor. 7:39] – that is, someone who shares the faith. How can husband and wife stand together when one is committed to love and serve the Lord as the first principle of life, and the other, an agnostic perhaps, believes in nothing beyond the material world and therefore lives strictly for this world? Once two Christians marry, husband and wife should talk, pray, and think together, so their unity grows deep. If no kingdom that is divided against itself can stand, no household can either. In short, wise leaders invest themselves in the hearts and minds of their people. These are implications of Jesus’ teaching. But let us return to Jesus’ argument. In Matthew 12:25, Jesus declared His general hypothesis: no kingdom or city or household that is divided against itself can stand. In 12:26, He moves to the case at hand: “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” That is, if Satan uses Jesus to drive out his own demons, his kingdom attacks itself and will soon fall. The Bible says Satan is evil, not that he is stupid. He is not so stupid as to set his agents against one another. One of his demons afflicted the man who was mute and blind [12:22]. If Jesus broke the power of that demon, He cannot be in Satan’s service. If Jesus wages war with the agents of evil, he must do so by the power of God. In Matthew 12:27-28 Jesus asks us to consider another perspective on the matter. The Pharisees admit that some of their own people also cast out demons [12:27]. What does their experience teach? Surely they believe they are foes of Satan, not his allies. Jesus is just the same. Therefore, Jesus concludes, If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you [12:28]. If Jesus drives out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom, the power, the reign of God, has come. It has come in personal form, in Jesus, the Son of David, king and redeemer. Jesus closes His argument with an analogy. Suppose someone wants to plunder the house of a mighty man, not by stealth, but while he is at home. There is only one way: the plunderer must be stronger still, so he can overpower the strong man, strip him of his weapons, and tie him up. In Jesus’ words, 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 [12:29]. The analogy concedes that Satan and the powers of evil are strong. But Jesus is stronger still. Israelites have just seen the proof. They beheld the pitiful man – unable to see, so he could not travel for help; unable to speak, so he could not petition for help. Satan had captured this man, but Jesus set him free. The events lead to one conclusion: When Jesus enters this world with power, God enters the world with power. The process of restoration and renewal has begun. With this, the logical argument is complete, now the preaching begins. The Liars Challenged. Jesus has demonstrated that there is no middle ground. Either He is an imposter or He is the deliverer. Therefore, it is time to take sides, to decide. Jesus says, Whoever is not with me is against me [12:30]. It is the moment of decision. It is impossible simply to like Jesus. Jesus is a teacher, a prophet, and a wise man. But after the events of the day, no one can say He is merely a prophet or a teacher. The evidence is sufficient. On that day it was absurd to say, “I need a little more evidence, a little more time before I decide what I think of Jesus.” Jesus says people can no longer be spectators. Either a man is on His team, or he is on the other team. Inactivity is no option. If a woman does not decide for Him, she has decided against Him. We must discern precisely what this means today. If someone is just beginning to investigate the claims of Christ, this does not mean that he must decide at once today. Jesus had been at work for roughly a year in Galilee when He issued His challenge. The people had just seen great miracles when He issued His call to decision. It took time for the people to reach this point. Today, a seeker can take time to be sure he or she understands the claims of Christ and the evidence for Him. But some have taken their time, have investigated the claims, and still stand in the middle. They may think this is their secret. They may think they are the only one who comes to church or to a Bible study, week by week, attracted to Christ, yet still unable to commit to Jesus. We can say four things to the uncommitted. First, you are not the only one. Some people need time. It is good to consider the evidence with care. Second, however, you cannot stay on the fence indefinitely. For a season, yes; forever, no. As you hear the claims of Christ, you will either yield to their sweet persuasion or you will eventually close your ears and harden your heart. Third, you may have honest questions you need to resolve before you receive Jesus as Lord. The Lord gave you a mind and He expects you to use it. If you have a question, ask your Christian friends. If they cannot help you, contact a pastor or Christian leader. Every Christ-centered, Bible-believing church has people who are trained and willing to answer the questions of seekers. Finally, perhaps you want to come over to Christ, but you do not know how. Looking at our passage, someone could pray this way: “Lord, I have seen enough evidence that you are powerful and good, the Son of God and Savior. I admit that doubts and uncertainties remain and I will seek answers to them, over time. But this I know: I am for you, Jesus, not against you, I want to be on your side, now and always, amen.” You can pray that prayer whenever you are ready. After you do, you should also tell someone who can help you grow in your new commitment to Christ. But Jesus says you must take your stand. A Time of Grace and a Time of Decision. Jesus’ next comment offers grace to all who seek it. If anyone has slandered Christ or rejected Him for a season, He says, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people [12:31]. It matters not what a man once said about Jesus [12:32]. If he repents, God will forgive. On the other hand, Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven [12:31]. What is this sin that cannot be forgiven, traditionally called the unpardonable sin? The phrase sounds ominous and strange, so that it deserves careful consideration. The unpardonable sin cannot be an ordinary sin, nor can it simply be a repeated sin because repeated sins can be absolved. Some sins offend more than others. But galling sin and terrible sins such as slander, adultery, kidnapping, and murder can be forgiven. If a sinner sincerely repents and believes, the Lord will be gracious. So when Jesus says, Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven, we realize there must be something extraordinary about that sin. The Pharisees had not committed it when they blasphemed Jesus, but they came close enough that Jesus’ warning was in order. When the Pharisees said Jesus cast out demons by the power of Satan, it was blasphemy – a serious sin indeed [12:31-32]. Yet Jesus distinguished it from blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which cannot be forgiven. The distinction between blasphemy against Jesus (forgivable) and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (unforgivable) rests upon the work of the Holy Spirit. He convicts of sin and testifies that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior. Jesus says someone can reject Jesus, and God will forgive if he repents and believes. The key, it seems, is that the Pharisees did not know what they were doing [Luke 23:34]. Sins of ignorance, however severe, are pardonable. Remember, Paul blasphemed and persecuted the church, but God had mercy on him because he sinned in ignorance [1 Tim. 1:12-17]. Likewise, many Jews who participated in the crucifixion did not understand what they were doing, and eventually repented [Luke 23:34; Acts 2]. Blasphemy against the Spirit is the sober, clear-minded, deliberate rejection of Jesus – as a very agent of evil – despite full knowledge of His work and in the face of the Spirit’s full testimony to Him. This blasphemer has heard the gospel proclaimed with clarity and power. He has watched Christians live good lives. Yet he hates Jesus and Christianity and views it as wickedness and deceit. He hears, understands, and despises. We see why this sin is unpardonable: How can one turn to Christ and be saved, when he has seen all the evidence and rejected it as a terrible evil? It is not easy to commit this sin. Christians, kept by God’s power, cannot commit it. Unbelievers who fear this sin have not committed it. If they had, they would be smug and satisfied, not fearful. The Pharisees had not yet committed this sin, because they did not know enough. They had not seen the end of Jesus’ story – His death and resurrection. Perhaps some of the Pharisees committed this sin later on. But for now, Jesus warns them of the danger and bids them repent. The concept of the unpardonable sin is fearful, yet it contains a seed of hope. It teaches us that every other sin, however terrible, can be forgiven. Pastorally speaking, anyone who is worried about this sin is far short of it. Indeed, concern about the unpardonable sin may be a token of the Spirit’s working in the heart. Those who are guilty of the sin are so settled in their rejection of the faith that this verse will not alarm them. Whoever we are, whatever we have done, we can still find mercy, if we repent and believe, based on the evidence for Christ.” [Doriani, pp. 512-521].
Questions for Discussion:
- What were the two responses to this miracle? Why were the scribes and Pharisees continually hostile towards Jesus? What did the scribes and Pharisees accuse Jesus of in this passage? How does Jesus respond to their accusation? What logic does Jesus use? What are the implications of Jesus’ teaching for all of life?
- Why does Jesus say that the kingdom of God has come upon you? What evidence does He give for the presence of the kingdom?
- According to Jesus in verse 30, can there be a middle ground towards Him? Can people be neutral in their response towards Jesus? Are there three groups of people in the world: those who believe in Jesus, they who do very evil things, and the vast majority who are basically good but do not care about who Jesus is? Jesus teaches that there are only two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. If a person is not a follower of Jesus, then they are a follower of Satan. When you witness to an unbeliever, do you think of them as neutral towards Jesus or do you recognize that they are in rebellion against Jesus? How does this impact your witness to them?
- In this passage, Jesus teaches that there are kinds of sins that will be forgiven. What are they? But He also teaches that there is a sin that will not be forgiven. What sin is this? Why will this sin not be forgiven?
Matthew, vol. 1, Daniel Doriani, REC, P & R Publishing.
The Gospel of Matthew, R. T. France, Eerdmans.
The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.