Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Life of Christ 65

        We come today to one of the thorniest passages of Scripture in the entire Bible (Matthew 12.22-37). For years it baffled me, and it also apparently baffled the vast majority of Christians for every time I would ask a question about it I would get an hesitant answer, and very few answers matched. Go ahead, pick five Christians you know today and ask them, 'What is the unforgivable sin?' and see just what kind of hemming and hawing you get as a response. It wasn't until I began to study the life of Christ in depth that I understood it, but once I did it became a very precious passage instead of a very thorny one.
          A hinge is that on which something pivots, transitioning from one direction or place to another. Matthew 12 is, to me, the hinge on which the entire arc of the life of Christ pivots, and once you see that so much else that you see in His life begins to make sense. It is almost universally misunderstood, and rarely viewed as an important epoch in the life of Christ, but it is absolutely huge. In fact, if you continue to follow along with me as I blog through the life of Christ I will refer to this point again and again so I urge you to read carefully and thoughtfully.
          Jesus is with a crowd of people, and someone brings to Him an incredibly afflicted man. This man was physically blind, verbally challenged or mute, and on top of both of these, he was demon possessed. Jesus, driven by compassion, and in order to authenticate His claims, miraculously heals him. The reaction of the common people in the crowd is to begin to believe that He just might be their Messiah (Matthew 12.23).
          The Pharisees, who have obviously spent some time thinking about how precisely to combat Jesus, come up with an ingenious plan. They cannot deny the authenticity of Jesus' miracles, as they used to, so they cease trying. Instead, what they will do is to seek to convince the Jewish people that although the miracles in question were genuine they were actually an evidence of Jesus' evil and wickedness rather than an evidence of His messiahship. 'But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of devils' (Matthew 12.24).
          This is a clever idea because if it is believed there is then no miracle Jesus can do in order to get beyond it, for each miracle He does would only be a further proof that He was evil. Thus, in one masterstroke, all of His miraculous works, done for the past year and a half, and any future works, are all made null and void, and in fact, become a huge net minus in the argument on His side of the equation.
          J. W. Shepard explains it this way:

They regarded Jesus, as not only temporarily, but permanently, possessed by a demon, that is, as the constant vehicle of Satanic influence. And this demon was, according to them none other than Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. Thus, in their view, it was really Satan who acted in and through Him; and Jesus, instead of being recognized as the Son of God, was regarded as an incarnation of Satan; instead of being owned as the Messiah, was denounced and treated as the representative of the Kingdom of Darkness.

          Jesus' reaction to this is to explain that such a position is illogical at best. It was illogical because you don't fight yourself if you plan on winning (Matthew 12.25-26). It was also illogical because if it was true the Pharisees, who had their own exorcists, would have been just as guilty (Matthew 12.27).
          The reality was that everything came to bear at just this moment. Jesus had come to offer Himself to Israel as her King and Messiah. He sought to shepherd her, spiritually, along the paths of righteousness. In doing this, He presented a completely different vision for national Israel than the current one largely structured by the Pharisees' extra-biblical and vain traditions. This is why He was so revolutionary in His own day. For the past almost two years there has been a tug of war going on for Israel's soul, with Jesus on one end of the rope and the Pharisees on the other. The winner gets Israel and the loser gets rejected. Jesus knows this, and He knows that if He wins the argument He wins it all, humanly speaking and earthly speaking. 'But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you' (Matthew 12.28).
          This moment, this decision, by the common people of Israel, is absolutely monumental. How monumental? If they make the wrong decision it would be absolutely unforgivable. 'Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men' (Matthew 12.31). It was precisely because this was such an important decision that Jesus told them they needed to consider what they would say very, very carefully. 'But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned' (Matthew 12.36-37).
          What was their decision? Well, obviously, it was to side with the Pharisees as revealed by the rest of the story of Jesus' life. In other words, Israel corporately chose, right here in Matthew 12, to yield to the Pharisees' vision and call and to reject the claims of Jesus Christ. This decision would, of course, later be corporately ratified by the blood thirsty crowd in front of Pilate's palace as it chanted 'away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas' (Luke 23.18), but it was initially made right here in Matthew 12.
          The unforgivable sin was committed by the Israel of Jesus' generation when it rejected Christ and His works with the excuse the Pharisees provided, that Jesus did His works possessed by the devil rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit. And God didn't forgive that generation. He would later extract from them an human price of blood and destruction such as is still spoken of in awed tones amongst those who study it via the Roman Empire's destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and the corresponding dissolving of the nation of Israel for the following two millennia.
          Dwight Pentecost, who spent decades teaching the life of Christ in seminary, said it this way in his book on the subject:

Christ was warning that generation in Israel that if they rejected the Father’s testimony and the Spirit’s testimony to His person and His work, there was to be no further evidence that could be given. Their sins would stand unforgiven and result in temporal judgment on that generation. That judgment ultimately fell in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed. This sin, then, was not viewed as the sin of an individual but rather as the sin of the nation, and this sin brought that whole generation under divine judgment.

          Edersheim largely concurs, and places this story as the hinge pivot in the life of Christ:

We venture to assert that this accounts for the whole after-history up to the Cross…Once arrived at this conclusion, that the miracles which Christ did were due to the power of Satan, and that He was the representative of the Evil One, their course was rationally and morally chosen. To regard every fresh manifestation of Christ’s Power as only a fuller development of the power of Satan, and to oppose it with increasing determination and hostility, even to the Cross: such was henceforth the natural progress of this history.

          How does this change everything? Because this massively wrong decision on the part of Israel is unforgivable, and thus irrevocable, and because once they made it Jesus shifts the entire focus of His ministry. He begins, really for the first time, to emphasize to the Apostles His death and resurrection (Matthew 12.38-42). He also ceases to preach open sermons to the crowds, and instead hides truth in the guise of parables (Matthew 13.3). Following this commission of the unforgivable sin on the part of Israel, Jesus transitions His ministry from being one of miracles and sermons offering Himself to Israel and persuading them to accept Him toward a ministry of mentoring the Twelve and preparing the Church.
          Before this, He came to be Israel's Messiah; after this, He came to be humanity's sacrifice. Before this, He came to be Israel's King; after this, He came to suffer and die. Before this, He came to place the Jews on top; after this, He turned to the Church. Before this, He openly displayed His power; after this, He hid His purposes. Before this, His aim was national; after this, His aim encompassed the entire world. Before this, He looked for a crown; after this, He looked for a cross. Before this, He looked for a kingdom; after this, He looked for a tomb. Before this, He looked for a coronation; after this, He looked for a crucifixion.
          I find this story to be both heartbreaking and precious. It is heartbreaking when you think of Israel, and what she will soon suffer, and what she will suffer for millennia as a result. It is heartbreaking when you think of Jesus, of how wonderfully good He was, and how all that He said and did was so mindlessly and foolishly and hurtfully rejected. It is heartbreaking when you think of the Father, who millennia before had chosen Abraham, and entrusted his seed to form the national vessel designed solely to receive this messiah, only to see the people He had prepared reject that messiah.
          At the same time, it is precious, when you think of the atonement, and how mercy would be obtained for us at the cost of this very rejection. It is precious, for with such an evil rejection the way to God's larger plan was made plain, and the redemption of humanity was enabled. It is precious, for when the devil fought so hard and thought he had won so much, in actuality, he only sealed his own doom. It is precious, for without Calvary you and I would be on our way to hell, and without the rejection in Matthew 12 there would be no Calvary. It is precious, for with this awful, heartbreaking rejection, came the birth of the one thing that has means so much to you and I, and to the world, the Church.
          This corporate rejection of Christ, this unforgivable sin, could only be committed by the nation of Israel in Jesus' day, yet to every individual who has ever drawn breath since comes the same decision. The consequences of such an individual decision, in our day, are not as nationally important, but they are as personally important. The single most important question you will ever answer is, 'What think ye of Christ?'

          Your life swings on the hinge pivot of the answer, just as it did for the Israel of Jesus' day two thousand years ago.

If you would like to hear the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 36, 'Unforgivable'.

No comments:

Post a Comment