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Matthew 12:33-37

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Introduction

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

During our last time together we looked at what’s commonly referred to as the unforgivable sin, or more specifically, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And today it’s important for us to keep in mind that the text before today has been given to us within that context, that what Jesus says here isn’t disconnected from his confrontation with the Pharisees in the verses before. What Jesus says here is part of his response to the Pharisees in the previous verses.

Good Fruit vs. Bad Fruit

And again Jesus uses what we call a truism to make his point clear to his audience. He says there in verse 33,
What Jesus says here is part of his response to the Pharisees in the previous verses. And again he uses what we call a truism to make his point clear. He says there in verse 33,

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.

In other words, we all know that a good tree produces good fruit, and that if a tree produces bad fruit then we know that the tree is also bad. A good tree does not produce bad fruit and a bad tree does not produce good fruit. In the same way an apple tree doesn’t produce pears. If a tree produces pears then we know that the tree is a pear tree.
We see Jesus use this same analogy, in a similar fashion, at the end of his Sermon on the Mount when he says in chapter 7, starting in verse 15,
We see Jesus use this same analogy, in a similar fashion, at the end of his Sermon on the Mount when he says in chapter 7, starting in verse 15,

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

While his analogy is the same, his application is slightly different. In his Sermon on the Mount he connects the fruit of a tree primarily with a person’s actions, while in our text today Jesus connects the fruit of a tree with a person’s words, or with what they say. And he does this precisely because of the words that the Pharisees have spoken back in verse 24, when they accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.
And it’s because of their blasphemy that he says to them there in verse 34,

34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Brood of Vipers

Now we’ve seen this scathing language already employed by John the Baptist back in chapter 3 and we’ll see it again from Jesus in chapter 23, and each and every time it’s used to describe the religious leaders of Israel.
And because of the wickedness of their words, Jesus calls them a “brood of vipers”, or the offspring of poisonous snakes. John the Baptist has already employed this same language back in chapter 3, and Jesus will use it again in chapter 23.
One of the most dangerous creatures in the ancient world was a venomous snake. And even today vipers contribute to thousands of death per year. In India alone, more than 11,000 deaths are from poisonous snakes. In fact, a friend of mine, and to many of us here, who oversees a large Gospel outreach ministry in southern India has had to install large cement walls around their ministry compound to protect the children and staff members from cobras and other poisonous snakes.
are a large family group of snakes that include snakes many of us are familiar with such as rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads and water moccasins.
These type of venomous snakes, known as vipers, are usually born alive to their mothers in groups 12-50 at a time, and some species are more or less poisonous than others. We have several different types of vipers here in the United States that I’m sure many of us are familiar with including rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, and water moccasins. I can remember seeing a water moccasin on the bank of the creek that I grew up playing in, and as an avid hiker my mom somewhat regularly encounters rattlesnakes during the summer in Montana.
Vipers can be a dangerous variety of snake because of the venom that they are able to inject into their victims when they bite. They can open their mouths almost 180 degrees and use their retractable fangs as needles to inject that venom. And so what Jesus is doing here when he calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers he drawing on the imagery and these viper-like qualities to describe them. He’s telling us that these religious leaders are as dangerous as a brood of vipers, and their venom equally as deadly.
The Pharisees have openly blasphemed the Spirit of God, so Jesus says, “How can you speak good, when you are evil?” The answer is obvious, and the question is rhetorical. It’s only fitting that those who are evil would be incapable of speaking good things. As one theologian puts it, “They could not be expected to speak the truth, to applaud the good. They could speak only according to their nature. They could speak only those things that are consistent with what they are inside.” (RC Sproul, Matthew, p. 390)

Our hearts are connected to our mouths

Which gets at the second part of verse 34, “For out of the abundance (overflow) of the heart the mouth speaks.” In other words, what comes out of our mouths is representative of what’s in our hearts. If you’ve ever wanted a sober understanding of what’s in your heart just listen to what you say to others, or better yet the things you say when others aren’t around, or under your breath. Our words are a litmus test for our hearts.
Our hearts are who we are, it’s the seat of our emotions, of our desires, of our passions, and from it springs our thinking and our speaking. This is why Jesus says that, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” And so Jesus applies this principle to the Pharisees and Jesus’ conclusion is that they are evil.

We sin because we’re sinners

But this isn’t just an analogy that’s applicable to the Pharisees, it’s a principle that can be applied to all men everywhere. In fact, when applied, we’re all found to be evil, we’re all found to be ruled by sinful hearts. We’re not sinners because we sin, no, we sin because we’re sinners. There’s something wrong with our hearts, for we love sin, and we do not, by nature, love righteousness, we do not want God in our thinking. In fact, the Apostle Paul says this about the entire human race,

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

11  no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

13  “Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

14  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

15  “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16  in their paths are ruin and misery,

17  and the way of peace they have not known.”

18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

“None is righteous, no, not one;

11  no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

13  “Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

14  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

15  “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16  in their paths are ruin and misery,

17  and the way of peace they have not known.”

18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

11  no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

13  “Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

14  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

15  “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16  in their paths are ruin and misery,

17  and the way of peace they have not known.”

18  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This is God’s assessment of us, apart from his grace, this is who we are by nature. This is why Jesus came, this is why the Gospel is such good news, because without the good news of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone we have no chance on the day of judgement. Not one of is good, not one of us is righteous, all of us have turned aside and unless we embrace God’s son his holy and righteous wrath remains on us.
Now, notice there again in verses 13-14, did you see it?

13  “Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

13  “Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

14  “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

How do we know what’s inside the heart of man? Well, one way we know is by what comes out of his mouth. And the only way any good, truly, God glorifying good, will ever come out of our mouths is by possessing a new heart, a heart of faith. This is why the Apostle Paul also said that in , that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Good works that glorify God

Now, you may ask, how can that be? Both believers and unbelievers do “good” things all the time. And in one sense, yes, that is true. However, if we disconnect those “good things” from God, we merely feed our egos. Some of us even imagine ourselves working our way to Heaven. (Twitter, Randy Alcorn, 06/22/19) Listen to the Apostle Peter’s words in , “As each has received a gift, use it to serve on another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace … in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.”
What we see here is that all good works are ultimately intended to bring God glory, so when we divorce our good works from that ultimate purpose we strip them of their ultimate value, therefore they are as filthy rags before God. So rather than glorifying God in our good works we glorify ourselves, which makes these things sin, hence Paul’s words, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Works salvation

We cannot earn our way to heaven, we cannot be righteous enough, even though this is often the mantra of the unbelieving world, that somehow, one day, one’s “good works” might outweigh the bad. This is a very sad way to live, a very futile and burdensome way to live, and in many respects it’s what the Pharisees taught with their legalism, and sadly it’s how most modern day practicing Jews believe today. Salvation by works is not good news, for as the Psalmist says, “if you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” None of us could stand.
This is why Jesus is so important, he’s fully aware of our sinfulness, and he came to carry the sins of his people to the cross, to incur the holy and just wrath of God for those sins, that we might be justified before God, and that we might be clothed in his perfect righteousness. That’s the Gospel, that’s the good news.

The treasure of our hearts

Let’s continue with our text there in verses 35-37,

35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

Jesus is again hammering home this principle that what’s inside of a man determines what comes out of his mouth. This time Jesus describes what he calls the treasures of the human heart, or the things of which our hearts place great value, a treasure that directs the affections of one’s heart. Which is why good treasure brings forth good, while evil treasure brings forth evil. When we survey the Gospels we find that the Pharisees treasured many things, they treasured the praise of man, they treasured money, and they treasured power and control. And it was these things that directed their heart, and it was from a heart that loved these things that they saw Jesus as a threat, despite whether or not he was from God or not. We must remember the problem didn’t ultimately boil down to whether Jesus was manifestly from God, instead it boiled down to what they treasured. And we must remember that so it is with us also.

Examining ourselves

What this text is really meant to do is cause us to examine our own hearts, and to ask ourselves, “What is it that I treasure?”, “What is it that captures my heart?”, “Is my heart consumed with things other than Christ?”, “Do I profess Christ but go my own way?”, “Do I have treasure that’s of greater value and God’s Son?”. And if you have trouble answering those questions, then look no further than what comes out of your mouth, for what comes out of your mouth reveals the treasure of your heart.
How we answer those questions ultimately determines where we fit in verse 35.
This is a very important theological point that teaches us about ourselves, that teaches us about human nature. And this theological point is central to our understanding of the Gospel, or the good news. The Scriptures teach us
And what our hearts treasure matters, therefore what comes out of our mouth matters. Many professing Christians let the most vile things come out of their mouths, yet they remain unconcerned. However, this ought to concern us very much, because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Therefore, if there’s something vile coming out of our mouth then there’s a problem with our heart. And as we read there in verses 36 and 37 that,
Jesus makes this point and applies it to the Pharisees.

on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

What Jesus is saying is that a day of judgement is coming for the whole world, for both the living and the dead, and what comes out of your mouth will be evidence of the condition of your heart, therefore it will either condemn you as it did for the Pharisees or it will vindicate you. This isn’t to say, as Christians, that we’ll have perfect faith, or that vile things won’t proceed from our mouths but that there ought to be genuine, God pleasing, speech coming out of our mouths. There ought to be an ever-increasing evidence of God’s work in your heart and of your faith in Christ.
I encourage you, if you have not embraced Jesus in faith, do so now, for we do not know whether we will have tomorrow or not. He is a forgiving God, and all those who call upon him will be saved.

Prayer

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