The Unpardonable Sin: Bad News/Good News - Matthew 12:22-37
People will go to great lengths to hide or deflect what they do not want to admit.
They will call their flirting with someone other than their spouse harmless fun until it is too late and then they say, “but we are in love.”
A student may say the dog ate my homework
Someone says, “I forgot” (when in truth, they just didn’t want to do it)
They tell you they are not addicted and can stop at any time.
“They didn’t know they were speeding”
“You make me so angry” (when you actually are choosing to respond in anger)
“It wasn’t my fault” even though you surely have some blame
It is common practice in politics and even regarding some of the social issues of today to take part in what is called “the Big Lie”. It means you state something as true (even though it is not) and you say it again and again until people have heard it so many times that they believe it must be true.
This is what the Pharisees and the Teachers of the law were doing with Jesus. They were embarrassed and backed into a corner by His very public miracles so they said He must be doing them by the power of Satan.
This is not the first tine these leaders explained the power of Jesus this way. If you look back at Matthew 9:34 you see that they had already been propagating this big lie. In our text this morning Jesus confronts them.
22 Then a demon-possessed man, who was blind and couldn’t speak, was brought to Jesus. He healed the man so that he could both speak and see. 23 The crowd was amazed and asked, “Could it be that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah?”
24 But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.”
25 Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26 And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive. 27 And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. 28 But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. 29 For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.
Confronting the Charges
Jesus encountered a demon-possessed man who was kept from speaking or seeing by the demon. Demons steal and destroy life. When Jesus cast out the demon, the man was then able to both see and talk. I’d love to know what it was that he said when he got his voice back.
I have other unanswered questions: “How did Jesus (or Matthew, for that matter) know that this was a case of demon-possession?” There were other times when demonic voices were heard or there were screams from the demons. Is that what happened here? “Did the man remember anything from his time of possession?” Was he aware he had been possessed? What is that like? None of those details are recorded for this account.
What IS recorded is the response of the people. They witnessed what they knew instinctively, was a supernatural act. They were able to put two and two together and concluded that Jesus just might be the Messiah they had been waiting for.
The Jewish leaders sensed their influence and authority slipping away and shifting toward Jesus. They needed an alternate explanation for what happened. They chose to paint Jesus as an agent of Satan! (Unfortunately, we too sometimes recklessly question whether or not Satan is involved with someone doing something we don’t understand. One of the things we learn in this passage is not to be quick or reckless with our charges.) Jesus responded to the charge with three arguments.
The charge doesn’t make sense. Jesus could have started by saying, “How stupid do you think Satan is?” To cast out his own agents would be like taking care of your hunger by cannibalizing yourself! Jesus compares it to a family feud that destroys the family. Or a community that plans to grow by tearing each other apart. Neither the family nor the community is going to survive.
If Satan tries to grow His kingdom by casting out his own demons, he will be doing God’s work for Him! Such tactics would eventually wipe out Satan’s forces.
The criticism by extension condemns them. In logic this is called reductio ad absurdum, which means you take an argument or statement to its logical (and absurd) conclusion. It is apparent that there must have been some Pharisees and Sadducees who also were casting out demons. One would guess the leaders took great pride in pointing to this power. Jesus said, if I am working by the power of Satan . . . then they must also be working by Satan’s power.
If Jesus then is not working by the power of Satan, it means He is working by the power of God (there are only two powers). If He is working by God’s power, it means the Kingdom of Heaven is now upon them. (And they are wrong in turning away from it). The Pharisees were left in a bad spot. They would have to either admit that their co-workers were doing the work of the Devil, or they would have to conclude that the Kingdom of God was upon them but they refused it! Checkmate!
Satan is a formidable foe. There is one more argument. Jesus refers to Satan figuratively as “the strong man”. Satan is powerful. He is the leader of the demonic forces. The only one strong enough to subdue Satan would be one who was stronger and greater than he was. Jesus was claiming to be that strong man.
Some Sober Truths
30 “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.
31 “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.
You are either for Christ or Against Him. Jesus says if you are not a follower of Christ you are an opponent. There is no such thing as an indifferent person. A “nominal believer” (one who is a follower in name only) is the same things as an unbeliever. Anyone who does not embrace and follow Christ will be treated as an “enemy combatant”.
This has sobering implications for us. The politically correct posture today is to remain “neutral” on all things Christian. People say, “I support your belief to believe what you want. I am going to stay neutral.” It sounds noble and impartial but Jesus says it is NOT. To refuse to stand with Christ is to take a position with the enemy. This means you have to pick a side. Straddling the fence is choosing against Christ.
There is a sin that is unpardonable. Jesus said you can slander Him and (upon repentance) be forgiven, but to slander the Holy Spirit has great ramifications. Before we talk about what this sin is, please pay attention to what Jesus says: this is the sin that CANNOT be forgiven. In other words, to commit this sin will keep you outside of the grace of God forever.
So, now we are interested in the nature of this sin. It appears that it is something more than simply saying negative things about the Holy Spirit. If blasphemy against the Son can be forgiven, there must be another dimension of blasphemy that takes place with the Holy Spirit. It is something the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law seem to have been doing.
I believe the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is when you clearly see the work of God and refuse to embrace it. It is to dismiss the work of God’s Spirit. The Bible says you cannot be saved unless the Holy Spirit enlightens you (I like to say, “until the Holy Spirit turns on the light”) to turn away the Holy Spirit is to cut off the means of salvation. This is a person who has developed a hard heart. It is impossible for them to be saved.
It is inevitable that some will be concerned that they may have committed the unpardonable sin. The simple response to this is that if you are concerned about it, you haven’t committed it! So, even if you have spurned the Lord all your life and then suddenly you desire to embrace Him as Lord and Savior, you may do so, because your heart obviously has not turned fully away from the Spirit.
Don’t miss something that is very important to see. If this is the unpardonable sin . . . the implication is that every other sin is pardonable!
If you had an abortion
If you abused someone
If you got a divorce, live together outside of marriage, have same sex attractions, or have been sexually unfaithful.
If you have committed a crime
If you have been the cause of conflict or even split churches
If you took part in hastening someone’s death
If you have been part of another religion
If you persecuted Christians (think Paul)
The forgiveness that you and I depend on . . . is available to everyone who will believe. Every other sin CAN and will be forgiven if you turn to Christ as Savior and King.
David Platt writes,
These sobering verses leave us with two unforgettable reminders. First, we must avoid labeling anyone as guilty of the unforgivable sin. The reality is, in all our hearts, there was a time when we spurned the work of the Spirit. All of us were at one time opposed to Christ and His Spirit in some sense; yet God patiently pursued us. Jesus knew the thoughts of these Pharisees (v. 25) in a way that we do not, so we should be slow to make pronouncements on someone's spiritual condition. We trust that God alone knows a person's heart. Who are we to say that a person has committed willful unbelief, persistent rebellion, and final denial of the Spirit's invitation to repent? Because God has not enabled us to see perfectly into a person's heart, and because His mercy is so lavish, we work and we pray with a constant hope that God will soften even the hardest of hearts, that He will save even the most prideful of sinners. (3109, Platt)
Let me tentatively suggest one more thing. If the Lord is willing to forgive any sin but the sin of determined unbelief, who are we to refuse to forgive each other? In fact, when we refuse to forgive we are in some sense suggesting that the sin against us is of greater hurt and significance than our sin against Him!
Let’s say a judge in the Circuit Court declared a person guilty of a crime. The person convicted continues to appeal the case until the Supreme Court declares that person innocent of all charges.
Let’s say the person comes home and they are immediately arrested for the same crime. This person immediately points out that they have been exonerated. The Judge replies, “I don’t care what the Supreme Court says. We feel the court made a mistake and you should be punished so we are going to punish you.”
What has happened? This judge has put himself above the authority of the Supreme Court. It is an act of tyranny. That judge will face swift and immediate consequences for his actions.
Here is the point: when we refuse to forgive those whom God has forgiven, we are doing what this lower court did. We are placing ourselves above the authority of God. That is blasphemy!
I’m not saying forgiveness does not take time. I’m not saying hurts do not need to be addressed. I think those who are forgiven by the grace of God should do whatever is in their power to be reconciled with those whom they hurt (even after God has forgiven them).
My point is that when the Lord forgives someone (and that happens only when a person repents and turns to the Lord for forgiveness and new life), we, as His people, must forgive them too. We are no longer enemies, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
What we do reveals what we really believe.
“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. 34 You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. 36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”
Jesus said the Pharisees were showing their true character and heart by what they were doing and saying. He uses an illustration that would have connected with His audience. He said, “if a tree is rotten, the fruit of that tree will also be unfit to eat. Consequently, if the fruit was good it indicates the tree is healthy.
The actions of the Pharisees and the Sadducees told the truth about their hearts. Their words and their actions revealed that they were spiritually dead. They claimed to be devoted to the Lord but their actions showed they were devoted to themselves.
Jesus takes this one step further when He says,
36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37 The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”
It is not only our actions, but also our words which reveal the true nature of our heart. R.C. Sproul writes,
Notice that Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” We have a tendency to connect the mouth more to the brain than to the heart. We think that our words reflect the thoughts in our minds. But Jesus said that the driving force behind the words that we use is not the intellect but the heart, the very core of our being. There is a lot of discussion about “core values” in the culture wars today. If we trace the etymology of the word core, we find that its ultimate meaning is “heart.” When Jesus spoke of the heart, He was speaking about the very center of our existence, that place within us where our true nature is to be found. So, words are not as unimportant as we often seem to think they are. Instead, they are some of the very best “fruits” that indicate what we are like on the inside. (Sproul, Matthew)
If you want to know the state of your own soul, it would be wise for you to listen to the way you talk. Are your words, hateful, angry, and destructive? Are you always looking to pick a fight? Do you magnify the faults of others while at the same time minimizing or justifying your own? Do you say you believe but deny the Lord in the things that you do? Do you make promises and declare vows to the Lord and then not follow through?
And what do the actions of your life tell you and the Lord about the state of your faith?
Do you say you trust Him but refuse to do what he says?
Do you talk about love while acting with vile hatred toward someone else?
Do you claim forgiveness but refuse to forgive?
Do you tear down other believers simply because they don’t see things the same way you do?
Do you make pronouncements about others without giving them a chance?
Do you create conflict or do you work to bring people together?
We all tend to feel we can make these judgments about others. But that is what the Pharisees were doing. They were making judgments about the heart of Jesus. The Lord told them, and He tells us, that we would be wise to look at our own hearts and lives.
It is easy to pretend to be something that you are not. The trouble is the truth will come out. It will come out in your words and in your actions. Much of the time it will reveal itself in a time of anger or conflict. These are the times when the wickedness inside of us cannot be hidden.
Take a good look at your own heart. You may not like what you see. But there is good news: If you run to the Lord and ask Him to forgive you and make you new, He will do so. And as you follow Him, you will discover that His grace and mercy will set you free from the demons in your life as well.