Springboarding off of the Apostle Paul’s life focus, clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Pastor Greg launched an “open-ended” message series on January 12th, 2020 – focusing on “Just Jesus.” He is walking us through the entire New Testament, pulling passages from the Old Testament for context, and keep us focused throughout the year on “Just Jesus.”
This is week 52, Matthew, part 50 in the series. Today’s message covers Matthew 12:1-37. Pastor Greg shares about Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees and He sets them straight about many things while performing miraculous healings in front of their very eyes. In addition, Pastor G also tells us what Jesus means when He refers to:
- The Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
- The Unpardonable Sin
- “Falling Away”
We’re starting chapter twelve in Matthew today. If you are ready to hear what God has put on my heart to tell you this morning, let me hear you say “Hit Me Wit’ It G! I’m ready!
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2 Now when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath!” ~ Matthew 12:1-3
What’s the problem? All they are doing is walking through a field, plucking off grain heads to snack on. How is that violating the rules of the Sabbath? Of course, keeping the Sabbath involved not doing any work and there were MANY add-on rules and guidelines set down by religious leaders over the years that were not included in God’s original instructions to rest from our labors on the Sabbath. They listed thirty-nine principal classes of work you had to avoid on the Sabbath.
So, technically, from the Pharisees’ point of view, plucking the heads of grain was harvesting and to eat the heads involved first rubbing off the husk or threshing the wheat. Hardly a massive labor event and not to be confused with harvesting a whole field but that’s how far they took it. How does Jesus respond? Look at verses 3-5. 3
3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions— 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5 Or have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath, and yet are innocent? ~ Matthew 12:3-5
King David, of course, was a great hero of the Jewish faith. If Jesus and His disciples were sinning by doing THIS, the Pharisees would have to admit that David was also sinning. David and his companions ate the bread of the presence from the tabernacle. That bread was intended only for the priests. Baked on Friday and left on the table for the Sabbath the next day. It stayed there all week until the following Sabbath. The leftovers were allowed to be eaten, only by the priests. The justification of the priest Ahimilech in giving this bread to David and his men was that they were hungry and this was the only food available at the time. Jesus responded that just as David and his men needed food so Jesus and His disciples were hungry and that in both instances human need took precedence over Sabbath regulations. Jesus points out in the same way, the priests in the Temple worked in performing sacrifices and other religious tasks, even on the Sabbath. Since they were doing the work of the Lord, they were counted innocent of violating the rule of no work on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, experts in the Law, would have no choice but to agree with this point. David, his men, and the Temple priests were all innocent of sin in these circumstances, therefore Jesus and His disciples were innocent as well. Jesus then points to His divinity.
6 But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. ~ Matthew 12:6
It’s as if Jesus is pointing with both fingers towards Himself. “But I say to you that something (ME) greater than the temple is here!” Obeying the sabbath is primarily about obeying God, honoring God, worshiping God. Here is Jesus, God in the flesh, standing among them, teaching them, doing miracles in their midst, and they are missing it! They are preaching God’s laws TO GOD HIMSELF! The Temple, the center of their religious life, is huge to them but Jesus says, something greater than even your temple is here! GOD is in your midst! Then Jesus points out the great flaw in the way the Pharisees emphasize the Law over grace. Some things are more important than the letter of the Law. The SPIRIT of the Law is paramount. Jesus says:
7 But if you had known what this means: ‘I desire compassion, rather than sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. ~ Matthew 12:7
Jesus has quoted Hosea 6:6 to them before in Matthew 9:13. He shares it again here. Through Hosea, God says:
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. ~ Hosea 6:6
God has made it clear throughout Scripture that empty keeping of religious traditions while not actually practicing compassion and mercy are empty, worthless acts to Him. True inner faith beats outward religious behavior every day! Jesus reaffirms that truth and then He says this:
8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” ~ Matthew 12:8
Just in case they haven’t gotten it yet, Jesus really makes a bold statement here. He uses that “Son of Man” title – again hearkening us back to Daniel’s vision about the Messiah coming in the clouds and then He uses a title for God – Lord of the Sabbath – and He EQUATES THEM. Essentially, He says “The Messiah is God” and it is clear He is claiming BOTH titles for Himself! It is a wonder they didn’t stone Him to death right then and there! Jesus isn’t done making this point about the Sabbath and how He is the Lord of it. He decides what IS and IS NOT lawful on the Sabbath. Look at verses 9 and 10.
9 Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might bring charges against Him. ~ Matthew 12:9-10
This is a great setup GOTCHA in the Pharisees eyes. Healing someone is WORK to them. If they can get Jesus to heal this man they will have Him. Maybe He can get by with eating some heads of grain, He’s got them there. BUT, if He actually falls for healing this guy on the Sabbath, they have Him dead to rights. How does Jesus respond?
11 But He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable then is a person than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” ~ Matthew 12:11-12
Of course, you aren’t going to let your sheep die in a pit just because it is the Sabbath. We can imagine a similar situation where a human loved one falls into a pit or gets trapped under a rock or a cart. You wouldn’t leave them to suffer if you could do anything about it right? Of course not. Since Jesus has the ability to ease the suffering of this man why would He not do so, Sabbath or not? Isn’t a human life worth as much as a sheep’s life?
13 Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. ~ Matthew 12:13
I LOVE this verse because it strikes me as something similar to what God commands me to do at times. Jesus commanded the man to do something IMPOSSIBLE in his current condition. “Stretch out your hand.” Instead of complaining “Uh, I CAN’T stretch out my hand Jesus. That’s my whole problem.” The man simply takes Jesus at His word, on faith, and does it. He finds that He is ABLE to stretch out His hand, ABLE to do the impossible at the Word of Jesus and He is healed. Hello Somebody! Any seemingly impossible problems facing you right now that you need to trust Jesus for the power to overcome? When He tells you to step forward in faith, don’t explain why it is impossible, just do it. Jesus gave both the command and the ability to fulfill His command to this man, the man trusted Him, put forth the effort and he was healed. YAY GOD?A giant YAY GOD moment to be sure! It was clear to most of the people there that Jesus had the power to back up His claims of being Messiah and God. How did the Pharisees respond? Amazement? Repentance? Worship? No.
14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him. 15 But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, 16 and warned them not to tell who He was. ~ Matthew 12:14-16
Sometimes Jesus steps away from the conflict. Now was not the time to get arrested. He was strategic in the way He dealt with the Pharisees. Like Muhammed Ali, He would “stick and move, stick and move.” Still, as Jesus leaves the area, multitudes are following Him and He is willing to continue to heal them all. Even though Jesus has openly made an obvious statement on this one occasion to the Pharisees about who He is as Son of Man/Messiah and Lord of the Sabbath/God, He doesn’t want everyone repeating it everywhere all the time just yet. His time to be arrested and crucified will come at its appointed time. If they start proclaiming that too soon it won’t fit His plan. Matthew, who is always very concerned with showing us how Jesus fulfilled EVERY Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah tells us this fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 42.
17 This happened so that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled: 18 “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul delights; I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel, nor cry out; Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. 20 A bent reed He will not break off, And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish, Until He leads justice to victory. 21 And in His name the Gentiles will hope.” ~ Matthew 12:17-21
Reeds were used for wind instruments. Wicks were used for lamps. Jesus can make use of anyone, heal anyone. Even a bent reed, Jesus can straighten out and play beautiful music through it. Even a dimly burning wick, Jesus can trim it and add oil to it and help it burn brightly again. Any of you ever feel like a bent reed or a dimly burning wick at times? While Jesus is currently being rejected by the Jewish leadership, He will become a light to the Gentiles for now, revealing Himself again to Israel in the future. Watch what happens next.
22 Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, This guy’s got the trifecta of problems. He’s blind, he’s mute and he’s possessed by a demon. and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23 All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” ~ Matthew 12:22-23
As we’ve said many times, Son of David is another title for the Messiah. The crowds are starting to wonder. Is Jesus the promised Messiah? The proof is starting to really pile up with all of these miracles and healings. Does this start to convince the Pharisees? How do the Pharisees respond? Amazement? Repentance? Worship? No.
24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” ~ Matthew 12:24
We talked about Beelzebul a few weeks ago didn’t we? Beelzebul, god of the flies on the dung heap. Not to be confused with Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! [A Beetlejuice slide from the movie comes on screen.] He’s behind me right now isn’t he? Instead of seeing these things as overwhelming proof that Jesus was the Messiah and welcoming Him and following Him, the Pharisees can spin any positive into a negative. Do you know anyone like that? Anyone who can spin any positive into a negative? They are like human minus signs? No elbowing the person next to you. The Pharisees say, “Well, sure! He kicked a demon out of a guy but that’s only because He is the ruler of the demons.” In other words, “We concede He has power but it is evil power.” How does Jesus respond?
25 And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? ~ Matthew 12:25-26
Jesus points out the fallacy of their argument. Why would the devil cast out another demon? Why would he fight against himself? That would be like a general shooting his own men. How is the work Jesus is doing, healing people, casting out demons, how is that, in any way, helping the work of the devil? Clearly, it is not. Their accusation makes no sense. Jesus points out a second problem with their theory.
27 If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. ~ Matthew 12:27
Some of the followers of the Pharisees claimed the power of exorcism as well. Were they also empowered by Beelzebul as well? Of course, the Pharisees wouldn’t say that. Jesus has them there. Jesus gives them the other option, the true option that they, thus far, haven’t been willing to admit.
28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. ~ Matthew 12:28-29
If you want to take something away from a strong person, you have to defeat the strong person first. Then you will be free to take whatever you want. Jesus indicates that’s what He is doing with the devil and the kingdom of the devil. He is binding demons with the power of the Spirit of God. Taking their power of human beings away from them. Setting people free from the strong man’s house prison. Then Jesus basically draws a line in the sand for the Pharisees.
30 He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. ~ Matthew 12:30
You are either on My side or you are not. It’s time to choose. If you aren’t FOR me, if you aren’t WITH me, then, by definition, you are AGAINST me and we are ENEMIES. What’s it going to be Pharisees? I am here to GATHER SOULS into the kingdom of God. If you are not gathering souls with Me you are scattering souls away from Me. That means you are working AGAINST me and that CANNOT stand. Look at verses 31 and 32.
31 “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. ~ Matthew 12:31-32
One of the most famous Scriptures of the New Testament. One of the most problematic and concerning. One of the most frequent questions I’ve ever received as a pastor. “What IS the unpardonable sin?” — “I’m afraid I have committed it.” — “How do I know I haven’t committed the unpardonable sin?” Fortunately, we have some significant context here to give us some insight. And C.I.E. (Context Is Everything)
Something that “switches” right for wrong and wrong for right. It calls what God disapproves, “right” and“exchanges the truth of God for a lie.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the one and only sin that shall not be forgiven Jesus says. In Mark’s account, Jesus says it this way:
28 “Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (and then Mark adds that Jesus said this BECAUSE) — 30 because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” ~ Mark 3:28-30
From Mark’s perspective, Jesus makes this statement in direct correlation to the Pharisees accusing Him of being possessed by a demon. One example of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is to call Him a demon. Another way to think of the “unpardonable sin” is to attribute the works of God to the devil. But there is MORE to it than that. I know of many people who did this very thing as unbelievers and yet I watched them truly repent and be transformed by God later in life to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. Just saying something awful about God, Father, Son OR Holy Spirit is NOT what Jesus is calling the unpardonable sin. Let’s think about the Pharisees situation to get a better perspective. The Pharisees were really in a historically unique situation. They were EXPERTS in the Law and the Prophets. They were experts in EVERY part of the Hebrew Faith of the Jewish people. They, above all others in Jesus’ time, should have IMMEDIATELY recognized the Messiah. They had the Holy Spirit present with them, stirring their hearts and convicting them AND they also had the Son of God Himself standing right in front of them. They had HEARD Him teach. They had WATCHED Him do incredible miracles. They had held personal CONVERSATIONS with Him. If anyone in the history of the world should have INSTANTLY recognized Jesus for who He was, it was the Pharisees. The PROOF was EVERYWHERE!
It seems pretty clear that they DID know who He was, yet they chose to oppose Him anyway. Hungry to maintain their own power and authority, full of pride, they intentionally attributed the obvious miraculous work of the Holy Spirit to the devil just to try to shut Jesus down. They HAD to know the truth. It was OBVIOUS! ESPECIALLY for experts in the Law and the Prophets. It reminds me of Elder Doug Campbell’s message earlier this year. The truth about Jesus was “The Elephant In the Room!” It was IMPOSSIBLE that the Pharisees did not see it! Jesus is declaring their willful, knowledgeable observance and subsequent rejection of the Holy Spirit in their midst, AND their blaspheming of the Holy Spirit, the one, unpardonable sin. The Holy Spirit has come into their lives and they have willfully REJECTED Him. That’s a PERMANENT decision. You can’t come back from that Jesus says. The author of Hebrews gives us our final piece of context.
4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. ~ Hebrews 6:4-6
This phrase, “impossible to renew them again to repentance” is a direct correlation to the idea of “the unpardonable sin.” Logically then, “blaspheming against the Holy Spirit” is the SAME as being a person “who has been enlightened, who has tasted of the heavenly gift, who has been a one-time partaker of the Holy Spirit, who has tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” and even with ALL THAT, they WILLFULLY CHOOSE to fall away from the faith. This is what Lucifer did. This is what the other fallen angels did. This is what the Pharisees did. They had personally encountered and spoken with the WORD of God made flesh, with the Holy Spirit made manifest, in the person of Jesus. Wouldn’t you LOVE to have that inside track of KNOWING JESUS? Still, even with all that, they willfully, pridefully, rejected Him and even falsely accused Him of being the devil. CRAZY?
Of course, this can still happen to believers today. Spirit-filled believers who have been enlightened, who have tasted the good work of God, tasted the heavenly gift, CAN STILL, and the Bible says, sadly, MANY WILL, still choose to REJECT, still choose to EJECT, the Holy Spirit from their life and turn again to a life opposed to God. God will never take His relationship away from us BUT we still have Free Will to abandon our relationship with Him at any time. To be clear, I KNOW this is controversial. This is why Methodists and Baptists have to have different churches. Right? We can’t agree about this kind of stuff. I’m not talking about simple backsliding or doubts or crises of faith. Everyone has those at times. The Apostle Paul had that at times. All that is forgiven. Jesus knows sometimes we’re just acting out like petulant teenagers, right? We just act like prodigal sons and daughters. What Jesus is describing here and what the author of Hebrews is describing here, is something PROFOUNDLY different. They are talking about a conscious choice to REJECT what you still KNOW to be TRUE. Right? Its not that you had a doubt or something. You know it’s true. You know God personally. But then you choose to walk away anyway AND to speak blasphemous, false words about Him. Jesus says in the end times:
10 At that time MANY will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 MANY false prophets will arise and will mislead MANY. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, MOST people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. ~ Matthew 24:10-13
We were talking with Al and Christine this week and we were talking about how Jesus refers to the NARROW way and FEW are those who find it. Right? Scripture is clear. Jesus says MANY will fall away. MANY one time believers will chose to blaspheme, to reject to eject the Holy Spirit from within them. MOST people! That will be the decision they make. Not everyone will endure to the end. And Jesus says this in MANY places in Scripture, including the book of Revelation. It is clear. Not everyone will endure to the end. MANY will fall away. MANY one-time believers will choose to blaspheme, to eject, to reject the Holy Spirit within them. Just like the Pharisees, who 100% knew better, but chose to reject the Spirit of God anyway. Jesus continues to lower a smackdown on the Pharisees.
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, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil 36 But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” ~ Matthew 12:33-37
This is a powerful and poetic challenge, not just to the Pharisees, but to all of us as well. Jesus tells us to be real, to be authentic, to not be a hypocrite. The Pharisees He is talking to here are like a BAD spiritual tree, bearing BAD spiritual fruit. They are EVIL men producing EVIL fruit and EVIL spiritual treasure, all while they are CLAIMING to be GOOD, PRETENDING to be GOOD, even fooling themselves at times. Jesus lets them know their words and thoughts and actions betray the truth about them to God. He reminds them even their CARELESS words, the one’s they don’t really think about, are still recorded by God. Judgment day will one day come for everyone and Jesus says our words and thoughts betray our true, inner self. That true, inner self, revealed by our words and thoughts and actions, will either bring justification or condemnation on judgment day. We all get that, know that, believe that.
The great danger is, we all tend to think “I’m not a hypocrite. I’m not a Pharisee.” But its soooo easy to delude ourselves. It’s soooo easy to make little careless slips in our thoughts, in our speech, in our actions. Drifting a little further and a little further and a little further from the narrow path without even realizing we are doing it until one day we might choose to fall away completely. Hard to believe? I’ve known a lot of “Churchians” in my life who would say with 100% confidence that they are Christians, but their words, and their deeds, the way they treat other people, reveal the truth about them. They are evil, they are bad trees, producing bad fruit, evil treasure. Are they religious? Definitely. Are they respected by the community? Sure. Do they look good on the outside while being completely rotten on the inside? Completely. They are Pharisees, hypocrites.
I’ve also watched many others over the years who started out as Christians, as believers, and then when the troubles of life pressed in on them, and they let their own pride or selfishness rise up inside of them again, they walked away from the faith. We have a friend who declared himself “God Free” on Facebook one day. I asked him what he meant by that. He said “I still believe God exists. I just no longer want anything to do with Him.” That broke my heart. I was devastated for him. I’m not saying he committed the unpardonable sin, only God can make that decision. I can’t make that call. I’m just saying that made me very scared for him. I pray for him all the time. Praying that was just a prodigal moment, just a doubt moment and not a blasphemy of the Spirit decision. Now, if you talked with them they will tell you “I USED TO BE a Christian, but not anymore.” As I said, Annette and I were visiting with Al and Christine Fararr this week and we were kind of lamenting together about several high profile pastors and high profile worship leaders who have walked away, they’ve fallen away, they’ve renounced their faith in Jesus, in the last decade or so. People who were really influential Christian leaders in our country. And just how devastated we were each time we hears about one of these people. Because they were people who had made a profound, positive impact on us and our faith. We think, “OH! That will NEVER happen to me. I am rock-solid in my faith. I am standing firm. No way will I ever fall away. That’s impossible. But even the Apostle Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 10:12.
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” ~ 1 Corinthians 10:12
We know from many places in Scripture some WILL fall away from the faith. We need to be every mindful, ever diligent, take heed, that we do not fall, even when we think we are standing firm. I think of times Annette and I are out hiking in Volcanoes National Park and some of the trails get a little close to the edge of the caldera. We don’t let our mind wander. We stick close to the trail. We take heed that we don’t step on a loose edge and fall in. When we come to a scenic lookout and they have a guardrail set up, we don’t cross the guard rail. We cling tightly to it as we peer out over the cliff so we don’t fall away from the path. If we want to be sure that we won’t fall away in our spiritual life, if we want to be sure we are still on the narrow path, there is only one way to be sure. Cling as tightly to Jesus as you can. Hold onto Jesus for life. As Steven Curtis Chapman puts it:
[PASTOR G SINGS] I have come to this ocean. And the waves of fear are starting to grow. The doubts and the questions are rising with the tide. So I’m clinging to, the one sure thing I know. And I will hold on, to the hand of my Savior. And I will hold on, with all my might. I will hold loosely, to things that are fleeting. And hold on to Jesus for life, I will hold on to Jesus for life, I will hold on to Jesus, I will hold on to Jesus, I will hold on to Jesus, for life.
~~~~~ LET’S PRAY ~~~~~