A TALE OF TWO FAMILIES
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 28, 2014
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
— Matthew 12:46-50, ESV
Most of you who know me also know my only son, Atticus. You may also know that Atticus is the world’s greatest dog, well-mannered to a tee, master of five languages. What you may not know is that Atticus grew up without a family. He was a gift from my sister and brother-in-law, who owned a family of Boston Terriers. Atticus was taken almost immediately from his mother, father, and sisters and grew up without them or any other access to any canine family. Yet, he turned out spectacular.
This does not work with people. People need people. We need to be part of a family, two families really. We need a family on earth, with parents and possibly siblings. And, we need a spiritual family, the family of God. One is important for a healthy, earthly life. One is essential for heavenly, eternal life. Yet the day often comes when we get caught between the two and must choose one over the other. This text at hand today from Matthew’s Gospel is a tale of trouble and truth between the two families of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Trouble with Jesus’ Earthly Family
Some of you will be surprised to learn about the trouble in Jesus’ family. His earthly step-father, Joseph, and mother, Mary, are considered to be saints. His earthly brothers, at least Jacob (James) and Judas (Jude), became Apostles. Though Joseph passed away before Jesus began His public ministry, we tend to think of this family as being perfect. But, they were far from it.
Matthew and Luke record this event at which Jesus was preaching, and Mark does also with a little background. Apparently, it was inside a synagogue occupied by Jesus, His twelve disciples, and a multitude of others, which probably included the scribes and Pharisees. All kinds of people were inside the synagogue, listening intently to the words that fell from the Word of God.
But where was Jesus’ immediate family? They stood outside, would not go in, and apparently did not care to hear anything Jesus had to say. In actuality, they demanded that Jesus come out to them. If you read the background in Mark 3:21, you learn they had come to take authority over Jesus and have him committed for a psychiatric evaluation. That’s right. According to the verse, His earthly family thought Jesus was “out of His mind.”
The trouble with Jesus’ earthly family is that they did not believe in Jesus, not at this point. They thought His messianic claims, at the time, were insane. They perhaps agreed with the Pharisees that the power He demonstrated was cultic or demonic power. They thought that instead of preaching the gospel in public, He should be locked away in private.
This is not to say that they did not believe in Him later (and in Mary’s mysterious case, even before), they would. This is not to say that Jesus was ever in any way dishonorable towards His parents or disingenuous with His brothers, He wasn’t. It is just to say that even the best family can turn a person away from following God, spreading the gospel, or otherwise doing earthly things for heavenly good.
When Jesus was forced to choose between His earthly family and His heavenly one, look at the one He chose.
The Truth about Jesus’ Heavenly Family
The truth about Jesus’ heavenly family is that they were His true family. He would always have a special bond with Mary and a special relationship with James, Jude, and His other half-siblings. And by grace through faith in their son and brother, they became believers, too.
But the most sacred and special relationship you can have on earth is with your Heavenly family on earth. In the best case scenario, your earthly family members are part of your Heavenly family, too. But in every case with a true child of God, your true Heavenly family consists of your Heavenly Father, your spiritual mother, and your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s get to know them, as Jesus describes them here.
Jesus called God “My Father.” If you are a Christian, you can call Him Father, too, even Abba, an affection term which essentially means Daddy. Without being in any way disrespectful to the memory of His earthly father, Joseph, Jesus asserted that His greatest allegiance was to His Heavenly Father, Almighty God.
God’s role as your Father is to be the ultimate lover of your soul and the absolute lord of your life. You will never love Him as much as He loves you, but you are to love Him with all of your heart, mind, and strength. You will never be smarter or wiser than Him, so you should trust and obey His word and His will for your life, always. Only those who come to the Father through the Son (ref. John 14:6, etc.) and only those who earnestly seek to do the Father’s will can be members of the Heavenly Family, with God the Father as the Head.
Jesus identified “My mother” in this text, too. Notice “mother” is singular. Notice where Jesus was standing and who He was pointing to when He used the word. Notice the word for synagogue and the word ecclesia are synonyms, used in the New Testament to denote an assembly of people called out and gathered together for the work and worship of God. Notice that the church is your mother, if you are a child of God.
It was the great saint Augustine who said that no one can rightly claim God as Father if they do not cling to the church as mother. A mother gives sanctuary to a child, nurses and nurtures to maturity, and celebrates every milestone of life. A church provides a sanctuary for worship, the word for salvation and discipline, and the sacraments to mark the spiritual passages and sabbaths of life. As a soldier is not one without an army, a football player is not one without a team, a husband is not one without a wife, so a child of God is not one without a mother church. And a mother church, of course, has babies.
A “brother” or “sister” in Christ, according to Christ, is “whoever does the will of My Father.” They come to the Father through Jesus the Son, for this is His will. They are baptized in and commune with the church, for this is His will. Jesus “stretched out His hand toward His disciples,” for true disciples follow the disciplines of God’s word, for this is God’s will.
My first years as a young Christian were spent in a fundamentalist church where everyone called everybody brother or sister. I didn’t like it, for it seemed a little backwards and country to me. I still don’t love it, jaded as I am from years of uncovering hypocrisy from some of the so-called brothers and sisters. But it is a divine truth. The relationships we share with fellow blood-bought Christians is deeper and stronger and more lasting than any relationship we can every share with a mere blood brother or sister. And we should treat one another and love one another with a higher degree than we love the members of our own earthly family. For, that’s what Jesus did.
When forced to go with His earthly family or stay with His heavenly family, Jesus loved them both, but abided with one. That’s the trouble, and the truth, with Jesus’ family.
The Trouble and Truth with Your Family
Allow me to make some application now to those of you with a family and a family. There will be trouble and truth with them both. Like Christ, you are to love them both, but ultimately serve only one.
Honor your earthly family at all costs, except the cost of following Christ. God, in His providence, gave you to them and them to you. Your best friendships, your most earnest prayers, your highest desires for people to come to Christ, should be spent on your earthly family. But know your best witness for Christ may come when you choose the concerns of Christ over the concerns of the family, as Jesus did in this passage of His life.
Your earthly family and your heavenly family on earth will disappoint you. The Father and the Son, along with the Spirit, are three-in-one Perfect. Your earthly parents may abandon one another and even turn their backs on you, as children of divorce have painfully learned. Your brothers and sisters may choose to live like heathens, like all men do who choose not to follow Christ. Your mother church, and the brothers and sisters who inhabit it, can be unfaithful and hypocritical at times. When this happens, and it will, show them the love, forgiveness, and patience that Jesus showed Mary, James and Jude, Peter and James and John, the other disciples, and especially you!
Remember that one day, you and your Heavenly family will be perfect in Heaven. But, you cannot join them, unless you prove on earth to be one who “does the will of my Father in Heaven.” Repent. Believe. Be baptized. Take communion. Publicly worship on the Lord’s Day. Study your Bible regularly. Witness for Christ. Give. Most of all, love. Love your earthly family now, love your heavenly family, forever, and by God’s grace may you never have to choose between the two.
WHAT GOD WANTS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 14, 2014
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”
— Matthew 12:38-42, ESV
My youngest daughter, Courtney Grace, is an excellent singer. She started very young, and I can remember her first solo, offered in front of family and friends at home. I would like to say it was a great hymn, like Isaac Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” or John Newton’s “Amazing Grace,” or even a contemporary Christian song like Twila Paris’ “My Lips Will Praise You.” To her credit, she has offered some wonderful hymns and songs in public worship. But the first piece I remember her singing in its entirety was at the age of three when she belted out all the words to Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants.”
It behoves every boy, within the confines of Christian decency and biblical morality, to find out what a girls wants; and, vice versa. Husbands should know what wives want, children should know what parents want, students should know what teachers want, business should know what customers want. Knowing what other people want can be a great key to success.
But there is a greater question that bears a greater answer that offers something greater than any earthly success. What does God want? This is a question that should permeate every area of our lives. And while we should take the time to ask and apply the answers to this question at every level, I want to take the text before us and answer the question on a very basic level. First, I want to talk about what God decidedly does not want. Then, I want to suggest the most vital things that God does want, indeed demands, if we are to have a right relationship with Him.
What God Does Not Want
Two groups of people approached the Lord Jesus Christ on this occasion. They were scribes and Pharisees, principle religious rulers of the day and the spokesmen for their generation of Israelites. It is tempting to say that these are the things God does not want, scribes and Pharisees, but that would be a little judgmental and unfair. Some of them later came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
But these two groups did bring at least two things to Jesus that God does not want: disrespect and demands. To understand this you must understand that the scribes and Pharisees who came to Jesus were outlandish hypocrites, who said one thing but meant another. They called Jesus “Teacher” in outward respect, but their track record had already proven they had nothing but disrespect for the Lord. They asked or wished something from Jesus, but a closer examination of the precise words they used indicate they were making a demand.
Woe to those who disrespect the Lord, for God does not want disrespect. The scribes and Pharisees were the poster children for the disrespect of God, in spite of the fact that they tried to appear so respectable. They covered themselves in religious clothing, words, and services, feigning respect for God, but their hypocrisy was the height of disrespect. The people did not seem to know they disrespected God, but God knew. Jesus called them, and the others they represented, evil and adulterous, or sinful and spiritually unfaithful. By the way, as disrespectful as it is to come to worship and Bible studies with a hypocritical life, it is equally disrespectful to hold to not being a hypocrite then not to come to worship the Lord at all. God does not want disrespect, of any kind.
Woe to those who demand things from God, as if He was a butler, an errand boy, or a one-trick pony. God gives demands, He does not receive them. God’s will shall be done, in heaven and earth, not man’ will. But these men, the scribes and Pharisees, literally told Jesus it was their will that He perform some kind of a miracle, right then, right there, right in front of them, for their pleasure. The same thing Christ replied to their disrespect applies to their demand. It was evil and adulterous. God does not take it kindly when we make demands upon Him, as if we were the masters and He was our servant.
Let me point out, as respectfully and delicately as I can, that this is the inherent problem with the modern-day “word of faith” movement, a philosophy of religion that dominates televangelism and many churches. This is why I call out charlatans like Joel O’Steen, Benny Hinn, and their ilk. Rather than preach the gospel of God’s grace that grants faith as God’s gift to make Jesus Lord and you His follower, they preach a fake gospel of prosperity that makes faith your credit card that gives you power to make God do what you ask Him to do. Like the scribes and Pharisees of old, the prosperity preachers represent an evil and adulterous generation.
We want to know what God wants. But we need to understand first what He does not want. God does not want man’s disrespect. God does not cater to man’s demands. Such things show selfishness and unfaithfulness, two other things that God does not want. But there are at least two things, the opposites of selfishness and unfaithfulness, that He does want.
What God Wants
The opposite of selfishness is repentance. The opposite of unfaithfulness is faith and the ensuing faithfulness that true faith brings. These are things that God wants. As our Lord turns the tables on these religious poker players, He gives two beautiful biblical illustrations of repentance and faith. The first is the sign of Jonah. The second is the queen of Sheba.
Jonah was a historical person and an Old Testament prophet (ref. 2 Kings 14:25) who had a whale of a tale to tell about his mission trip to Assyria (ref. the book of Jonah). Most evangelical Christians take his incredible story literally, since our faith and trust are in an omnipotent God who can do anything He pleases. Other Christians claim it is a made up story, and Old Testament parable if you will, that teaches about the God of second chances who loves all people of all races and countries, even ones we consider to be enemies. Either way, Jesus’ first point in using the story is to draw a parallel to His own death, burial, and resurrection, which is the heart of the gospel. The seeming contraction between Jonah’s three day and three night experience verses the traditional understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion occurring on a Friday and the resurrection on Sunday can be easily explained in one of two ways. Jews reckoned any part of a day as a whole, so from crucifixion to resurrection touched three days from Friday to Sunday. Another view is that Christ died in the year AD 30, on which the Jewish Passover would have fallen on a Friday, which means His crucifixion would have been on Thursday, followed by the special Sabbath on Friday, the regular Sabbath on Saturday, then that glorious Sunday. The point here is not to pick at the story of Jonah, nor parse the amount of time between Christ’s death and resurrection, but to picture the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a picture the scribes and Pharisees just could not see.
But if you can see the gospel in this scenario, you can also see what God wants when the gospel is preached. He wants what the scribes and Pharisees would not give. He wants what the men of Nineveh did give. God wants repentance. Repentance is a change of the mind, heart, and will. Repentance is a blow to the ego of the mind, a turning from sin in the heart, and a surrender of our will to God’s will. It does not disrespect God, but turns to Him in worship and obedience. It does not demand things from God, but sweetly submits to the leadership of God’s Spirit and the commandments of God’s word. Repentance is what God wants.
And, faith is what God wants. Faith is hearing and believing. The queen of Sheba, or the queen of the South as Jesus refers to her here, is another historical character from the Old Testament (ref. 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles). She had heard of the wisdom of Solomon, so she made a trip to Israel to hear him for herself. After hearing, she believed he was the wisest man on earth. Jesus is infinitely wiser, and the scribes and Pharisees heard Him in person, yet would not believe. God does not want unbelief. Faith is what God wants.
Faith comes by hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ and believing in God and the gospel. You must believe that God is, that God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that God has given an authoritative and reliable record of Himself in the Bible, and by His grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, you must believe that He forgives you of all sin and grants you eternal life. Spending now and eternity with you is what God wants, and faith gets you there.
How would you feel if Jonah, covered in slim, were here right now calling on you to turn your life over to the one true and living God? How would you feel if the queen of Sheba rolled in with her entourage and testified that God’s wisdom is the greatest on all the earth. Well, they are not here. But, one greater is here. He is here in the bread and the wine. He is here in the midst of the gathering of saints. He is here in the center of the gospel and the word of God. He is Jesus. He is God. So let us give Him what He wants. God wants repentance and faith.
A VERY PERSONAL PARABLE
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 7, 2014
“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. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
— Matthew 12:33-37, ESV
This passage is not usually counted among the parables presented in the New Testament Gospels. A parable is a fictional story with figurative meanings attached to a few people or things in order to make a profound, personal, and powerful point about the kingdom of God. Nobody, before or since, has spoken parables with the perfect touch of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus did not set out to sit down and tell them a good story here. He was involved in an ongoing debate with the Pharisees, which consumes most of this chapter in Matthew. And though these verses may not be considered a parable, our Lord did use parabolic language to take on some tough matters.
Jesus talked about trees, good and bad. He talked about fruit, which falls from every tree. He threw in a bunch of snakes for good measure. Then departing from figurative language, He fixed His sight on the sober reality of Judgment Day. And whether you are a tree, a fruit, a snake, or just a regular guy, this is a day that all must face.
Trees were a favorite parabolic picture of people for John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ, particularly in the context of Judgment Day. Both John and Jesus truthfully told that all trees, all people, will be harvested by God. Some of them will be used for building, some of them will be used for burning. True to form, all people are either building up the kingdom of God or they are just fodder for the final fire.
What makes the difference? Obviously, it has everything to do with how the tree is made and what kind of fruit the tree bears. We will examine the fruit in a moment, but for now let’s keep our focus on the trees. Who made the trees? God did, of course. Did God make some good and some bad? Does this passage teach the doctrine of double predestination, that a person is planted or born to go in an irreversible direction towards Heaven or Hell? Some say yes, even making an argument from Scripture. But I say no, and will try to connect the dots in this colorful text.
God has made all the trees, and in the beginning He made them good. Just look at the creation account in Genesis where, after making mankind, God said it was all good. But then, something poisoned the trees. Sin, symbolized by the serpent, made us all sinners, or in the words of Jesus, “A brood of vipers.” This terrible term does not apply just to the Pharisees, but to all sinners, all humans, all of the trees in the forest. Sin and depravity effects every human heart, rendering them, in the words of Jeremiah, deceitful and desperately wicked more than we know. Bad trees bear bad fruit, and left untended bares a bad and burning end.
But as the rest of this story goes, there is a subtle and complex change that takes place among some of the trees. Some of them somehow become good and bear good fruit. Some of them are justified, compared with the rest that are condemned. What happened? How did the good tree gone bad get made good again? It is called the gospel, which is what this passage, the Gospel of Matthew, the New Testament, and all the word of God is all about.
Through the gospel a tree is saved. The poison is taken out. The curse is reversed. By grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, a good tree gone bad is made good by God. And the clear difference, between a good tree and a bad tree, is the fruit.
Fruit is another word in the Bible that is fairly common and ripe with meaning. It is used literally and figuratively, and the figurative use is always like the literal. Fruit is produce. Specific fruit trees produce specific types of fruit, and so do people.
In this passage, the fruit people produce is generally called good and bad. When referring to fruit as general labor, fruit becomes overly generalized. All people produce all kinds of fruit, generally speaking, for even lost people can do good things and saved people can do bad things.
We can narrow the focus a little more when we understand there is often a parallel in Scripture, and I think it exists here, in good and godly. In the long run, lost people do not devote themselves to godly worship and works, but saved people do. Perhaps a person’s lifestyle and repetitive actions reveal their relationship with God, and this could serve as a proper inspection of fruit in many biblical passages.
But the context of this text refers to fruit in an even more specific sense. Fruit is words or speech. From the heart of the tree, fruit comes out of the mouth. Examining the words that come out of the mouth allows others to know what God already knows, namely what kind of tree it is we are looking at, whether it is good for building or bad for burning.
Words can hurt you, because they can hurt others. Words can help you, because they can bless others. And it seems to me that Jesus is saying that the words that come out of your mouth, and perhaps some that don’t, are indicators of your final destiny. So, let us become fruit inspectors and examine the two types of fruit coming from the two types of trees.
Good, godly, or redeemed people bring forth speech filled with words that are good, godly, and redemptive. Though a positive attitude alone cannot get you into Heaven, people bound for glory are mostly positive people. Knowing you are saved and forgiven and bound for Heaven should put you and for the most part keep you in a good mood, spouting forth good words. Christian people speak godly words, in prayer and praise and public and private worship, to God and to one another. And true believers truly want other people to believe, so they speak gospel words of witness so that other people might be saved and live in the good forest of God.
On the other hand, bad trees produce bad fruit that sounds evil and idle. Evil in this sense does not necessarily mean vile, although I do not look for many shock jocks and other assorted perverts to be in Heaven. Evil simply means ungodly. Atheistic claims, any humanistic manifesto that erases God from the equation, any false gospel from a false religion, any speech aimed at hurting or harming a human being created in the image of God, God’s name in vain, filthy talk, gossip and slander, and several other categories of words are rotten fruit thrown at people and thrown in the face of God.
And while evil describes rotten fruit thrown at God, idle is a word that speaks of the words that do not fall from the bad tree. These would include words of faith and repentance, words of worship and prayer, words of encouragement to a downtrodden soul, or words of gospel witness to a lost soul. If you cannot say such words, or bear bad fruit, then you must be a tree fit for the fire, not the kingdom of God.
While we can be fruit inspectors, none of us can take wear the robe of the Judge. That role belongs to God. For God alone can see what we cannot see, namely the heart, which produces the fruit that falls from the tree.
But this text is one of many that assures all mankind that there is a Judgment Day to come. It will be a day of justification, or salvation, for those who have received the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It will be a day of condemnation for everyone else. Perhaps we will stand before God with a giant tape recorder at His side, replaying every word we have ever spoken in our lives on earth. More likely, it will be just one look in God’s eyes that reveal to us He already knows every word, has judged them all collectively, and will accordingly send us to where we belong.
Where do you belong?
If you are a tree planted outside the kingdom of God, outside of the grace of God, absent of faith in God, nowhere near the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then know you are in great danger. If your speech is filled with filthy things, or if your conversations are consistently filled with all sorts of negative and hurtful words, or if your language lacks the language of God in worship and Bible study, then know you are in great danger. Most of these trees are planted in forests outside the visible church. Some have managed to grow wild within our pews. All of them will be cut and burned by God in the final day of judgment.
If you are a tree planted firmly within the kingdom of God, nourished by the generous Spirit of God and word of God, following closely the Son of God, for the glory of God, then you know you are planted in good ground. How do you know? By your words. Take note of your words this week, whether they be good or bad, godly or evil, interested in the things of God or indifferent. Know what kind of tree you are. Know what kind of fruit you bear. Know what kind of words you use, or fail to use. Then you can put yourself in the parable, know the spiritual truth, and find out in whose forest you will live in forever.
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 31, 2014
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.”
— Matthew 12:22-32, ESV
Christianity is faith-based, in contrast to all the other religions of the world, which are basically built on works. It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone that a person becomes a Christian. Most of the passages in the Gospels, indeed the entire word of God, promote belief in Jesus Christ. This passage, however, puts the spotlight not on belief, but on unbelief.
Unbelief is the passive or militant rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The majority of the world is unconcerned about and uncommitted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of them are outside of the community of the church, while some can be found inside just going through the motions. Others are very hostile to Christianity, usually due to a commitment to another religion or no religion at all. Atheists, I read somewhere, are the fastest growing group of dogmatic religious, or in their case non-religious, activists.
The events and dialogue described in this episode of Christ’s life highlight the horrors of unbelief. It shows the danger of non-commitment to Jesus Christ. And it reveals an invisible line that, when crossed in unbelief, puts a person in the place of no return.
The Undeniable Miracle
This story begins with a miracle, one of many performed by Jesus and recorded in the Gospels. All of Jesus’ miracles had one overarching purpose. It was not to sell healing handkerchiefs. It was not to take a big financial offering. It was not to expand His television network. Jesus did real miracles to promote real faith in His person and work; and, the person and work of Jesus Christ is otherwise known as the gospel. Christ genuinely cared about the body, but He cared even more about the soul.
In this case a demon had invaded the life of an unbelieving man and made him blind and mute. I say the man did not believe in God because there seems to be no case in Scripture where a demon possessed a person of faith. Jesus delivered this man from the devil no doubt to draw him to true faith in the true Son of God. The miracle was meant, as usual, to give onlookers the opportunity to put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It seemed like it was going to work. The man was healed, the people were amazed, and questions were asked that could only find secure answers in Jesus Christ. He is the Son of David, the Son of God, the promised Messiah, God come to earth. But before people could take a stand on belief, the unbelieving Pharisees jerked the rug out from under their feet with an ugly, unjust, unfair accusation.
The Unfair Accusation
I’ve learned a painful lesson as a pastor that some people are going to oppose you no matter what you say or do. Their minds are already made up because they are hypocrites hardened by unbelief. They cannot support you, and they actively work to turn others away from you, too.
That’s the way it was with the Pharisees and Jesus. It did not matter what He did, like perform a miracle, or what He said, like preach the gospel. They were against Him, and they tried to turn others against Him, too. It was an ungodly effort that would ultimately take God to the cross. Even evil and unbelief are redemptive tools in the hands of a sovereign God.
On this particular occasion, when people were pondering whether or not Jesus manifested the power of God, the Pharisees accused Him of having another kind of power altogether. They accused Him of being an agent of Beelzebul, the lord of garbage flies, which was a common reference to the devil himself. Jesus, they said, was a son of Satan, not the Son of God.
There was no doubt that Jesus was an extraordinary teacher with great power. But the Pharisee’s untrue accusation was meant to cast doubt on His teachings and miracles, on His person and work. From an earthly point of view it worked. Jesus has been compromised. He responded, however, with an uncompromising and eloquent defense of the gospel, the kingdom of God, and its logical and theological conclusions.
The Uncompromising Gospel
Jesus made an argument, a very understandable one in an ancient age of kingdoms and warfare. It could provide the answer to the age old question, “War, what is it good for?” Not much, but it does create unity. Citizens of kingdoms at war fight the enemy, not each other. And in the cosmic battle between God and Satan, an agent of Satan would not fight against him or cast out his soldiers. Therefore, the Pharisee’s false accusation was worse than false. Therefore, Jesus was conducting His ministry in the power of Almighty God. Therefore, the Son of God was using the Spirit of God to bring people into the kingdom of God. And if Jesus represents the kingdom of God, belief in Him as Lord and King is the only way to enter in.
Jesus made an offer. It was more powerful than any proverbial line in the sand. It was more dramatic than a Clint Eastwood cowboy movie. It was more consequential than any other offer to be considered in this present life. “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (vs. 30). Jesus announced in this message that the kingdom of God has arrived and He is the king. The kingdom of God is a present reality and a future realm. It has one requirement for entrance, faith. And faith in Jesus Christ is something you either have, or not. There is no middle ground. There is no neutrality in the gospel.
Jesus drew a line. It is eternally important to see this dividing line. On one side are active believers on the side of Christ. One cannot accept Jesus Christ and then passively refuse to worship and serve Him. There is no neutrality, passivity, on Christ’s side of the line. You are either all in, with Him, or you are against Him. On the side of unbelief there are two groups, one passive and one aggressive. But know that the ones who are indifferent and unconcerned about the gospel are just as bound for Hell as those who falsely accuse and militantly oppose Christ and Christians. It is just that the latter group, represented here by the Pharisees, are essentially already there, because they committed the unpardonable sin.
The Unpardonable Sin
One of the most common controversies in Christianity is the matter of unforgivable or unpardonable sin. Christ came to forgive sinners, so an unforgivable sin seems almost like an oxymoron. Don’t we often preach that there is no sin so big that God cannot forgive? Apparently, we were wrong.
Generally speaking, the only sin that is ultimately unforgivable is ultimate unbelief. If you die as a murderer, adulterer, liar, or a thief on a cross, but repent and believe in Jesus, you will be saved. However, if you die as an unbeliever, either ignorantly or passively or aggressively, there is no forgiveness, no remedy for such sin. Grace can only be received by faith, so lack of faith is the only ultimately unpardonable sin.
However, there is a specific sin, when committed in a specific moment, immediately and permanently consigns a person into an eternity of unbelief and condemnation. It is the unpardonable sin, and it was committed in this text by one or more Pharisees. Stated very plainly, it is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Blaspheme is a specific word which means to speak evil against someone or something holy. A politician may speak against her opponent, but she has not blasphemed. A frustrated football fan may speak against the coach, but he has not blasphemed. Blasphemy is more pointed and poisonous. You blaspheme someone when you say false and negative things about them in order to hurt them and make others feel negatively about them. Muslims get upset when they think their prophet or religion has been spoken against with evil or untrue statements. Christians should be upset when people badmouth or belittle our Lord Jesus Christ. But most blasphemy, Jesus said here, can be and will be forgiven by God through proper repentance and faith.
The unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is not blasphemy against God the Father, nor God the Son, but God the Holy Spirit. Why would God draw the line there?
First of all, people who blaspheme the Holy Spirit have a deep, learned understanding of God. Furthermore, they are aware of the claims that God has come to earth in the flesh, in the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ. I personally think that they would probably have to have seen Jesus in action, in person. Then, they would have to blaspheme the Holy Spirit by calling the source of Jesus’ power the unholy spirit, or the spirit of Satan. In the end, a line is crossed in militant unbelief, from which there is no return, no grace, no forgiveness.
The Pharisees present on this day in the life of Christ committed the unpardonable sin. They had a deep, intellectual knowledge of God. They witnessed in person the work of Jesus Christ. They spoke evil against the Holy Spirit in an effort to discredit Christ and turn people away from Him. They crossed a line you may not be able to cross, because they were there and you were not.
But you are here, today, along with eight billion other people on this planet. While I do not think it probable that you can commit the unpardonable sin, I know you can commit sin that is unpardonable. And, you do it everyday. Every one of us sins every single day. If those sins are not atoned for by grace alone, through faith alone, in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone, they will not be forgiven. The grace of the cross can only be applied with the gift of faith. Christians believe. Unbelievers, well, that name speaks for itself.
The opposite of faith is unbelief. Unbelief can be quiet, humane, generous, loving, helpful, all the while remaining indifferent to the cross of Christ. Unbelief can be aggressive, hostile, and seek to cause damage to Christians and the kingdom of God. Unbelief can be unpardonable on the spot, when blasphemy against the Holy Spirit occurs. But at the end of the day, all kinds of unbelief are absolute unbelief, and unbelief is the ultimate unpardonable sin.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org