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