Pastor Scott L. Harris
August 29, 1993
The Unforgivable Sin
This morning we are going to be examining a pivotal passage in the book of Matthew. Matthew 12:22-32 not only marks an irreversible point in Jesus’ relationship with the Scribes and Pharisees, but it also marks a change in His presentation of Himself. Up to this time His major method of teaching the people was direct with illustrations to make the point. After the confrontation that is recorded in this passage, Jesus’ major method of teaching will be in parables. Why? Matthew 13:11-14 tells us specifically that it is so the truths of the kingdom can be revealed to those who belong to it, while at the same time those truths will be hidden from those that do not belong to the kingdom. A person can only understand the parables if they have the Holy Spirit.
The rejection of Jesus by the religious leaders of Israel marks a change in the offer that Jesus was presenting to the people. Up to this point, it has been “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It was a real offer of the kingdom of God to be established. From this point on it will still be “repent,” but the kingdom is now in their midst. The offer of the physical kingdom is gone, but the spiritual kingdom is present. This is a major theme of the parables of Matthew 13.
What precipitated such an event that would result in such a confrontation and then end with such far reaching results? Remember that we have been seeing the relationship between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees deteriorate for some time. Starting in Matthew 11, the strain in their relationship with one another declines at an even faster rate. They accused Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard and the friend of tax-gatherers and sinners (Matthew 11:19). They ignored the many miracles that Jesus did including healing every manner of disease and sickness, casting out demons, power over nature, and even raising people from the dead (Matthew 11:20-22). (See: The Critical & The Apathetic). They accused Him and His disciples of breaking the Sabbath when in fact all Jesus and His disciples had done was to follow the Mosaic Law and refused to follow their legalism (Matthew 12:1-8). They became so incensed when Jesus proclaimed that He was Lord of the Sabbath and healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (which was in direct violation of their legalistic rule that compassion could only extend on the Sabbath to keeping a person from getting worse) that they began to plot in conjunction with their arch foes, the Herodians, to find a way to kill Jesus (Mark 3:6; Matthew 12:14). (See: The Lord of the Sabbath).
As we saw two weeks ago as we looked at Matthew 12:15-21, Jesus came as a gentle servant of God the Father. In His deity, He is God Himself. In His humanity, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit which was the means by which His humanity was able to be in complete accord with His deity. He came to offer hope to all people – both Jew and Gentile. He came and proclaimed the truth of God’s kingdom, but He did not quarrel and shout in anger. He had compassion on sinful men including those most rejected by society, the battered reed and smoldering wick of verse 20, and offered them hope of redemption as well. (See: The Gentle Servant).
Jesus kept his priorities in order and did things according to God the Father’s plan for Him. He did not seek out confrontation with the religious leaders over their falsehood in order to put them down and gain their power. We find times when Jesus walked away from them because to argue with them would not serve the Kingdom of God (Matthew 12:15). We find instead that Jesus would simply proclaim the truth, sometimes in a very direct and powerful manner, and then let the truth do the work. When an escalation of the confrontation would serve the kingdom of God, Jesus was not shy to do so. Such is the case we find in this morning’s text.
Follow along as I read Matthew 12:22-24 which gives the setting of the confrontation. “Then there was brought to Him a demon-possessed man who was blind and dumb, and He healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed, and began to say, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can He?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”
Neither this text nor the parallel passage in Mark 3 tells us how much time had elapsed since Jesus had healed the man with the withered hand, just that it was sometime afterward. It could have been the same day or it could have been sometime afterward. In either case, the Pharisees and the Scribes (Mark 3 tells us that the Scribes were also present) descend into a pit of evil from which they can never get out.
Notice the situation that begins the confrontation. A man who is demon-possessed is brought to Jesus. That should not be considered too unusual since Jesus has already cast demons out of many people. This particular man has a demon induced case of blindness and dumbness. He could neither see nor speak. Jesus heals the man, which again should not have been very shocking since He had done so many times before, but the man who was previously blind and dumb begins to demonstrate before the multitudes that he can now talk and see. The people are amazed. Amazed is a strong word here meaning “to be totally astounded, beside oneself with amazement and wonder.” To use the vernacular, “they were knocked out of their senses” by what they saw and heard.
This astonishment led them to begin to wonder out loud about Jesus and they began to say to one another, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” The question being asked is so formed as to expect a modified negative answer, sort of like, “No, he is probably not the Son of David . . . and yet, who else could he be, to perform such a miracle?”
As we have mentioned before, the term, “Son of David,” is a messianic term (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89:3; Isaiah 9:6-7). This is the title the crowds later used of Jesus when they welcomed Him into Jerusalem as their Messiah and King. Their question here is wondering if Jesus is the Messiah. They recognized that such miracles as were being done by Jesus were signs of the Messiah. Part of the reason for the negative phrasing of the question rather than just openly asking, “Is this the Son of David?” is the fact that the Pharisees were present. The people were already aware of their antagonism towards Jesus. The Pharisees held much power and the people did not want to cross them. Better to state the question in a way that would not unnecessarily offend them. Yet we find that the Pharisees are alarmed by such a statement anyway. The people are wondering if Jesus is the Messiah.
The Pharisees hated Jesus for many reasons. Jesus does not honor them the way the common people do. Jesus does not follow their legalistic rules and rituals. Jesus teaches with authority things that are contrary to what they were teaching. But probably more than any other reason, the people were starting to follow Jesus instead of them. They made out like they were supremely concerned about the things of God, but for the most part it was a show before the people because what they really liked was the prestige and power that they had attained in the society.
The Pharisees attempt to persuade the people that Jesus was not the Son of David was not only a poor argument as we shall see in a few minutes, but it also sealed their doom because it reflected hearts that have totally rejected the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit. They had utterly and finally rejected all of God’s efforts to call them to repentance.
In Matthew 12:24 we find that when the Pharisees found out that the people were wondering if Jesus was Messiah because of His casting the demon out of the previously blind and dumb man they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of demons.” They attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. (Beelzebul is one of the names sometimes used for Satan. It arose out of Baal worship and means, “Lord of the flies”)
Now this claim that the Pharisees were making against Jesus that His power came from Satan rather than God was not said in front of Jesus. Matthew 12:25 starts off, “But knowing their thoughts He said to them . . .” Mark 3 tells us that Jesus called the Scribes to Himself. They were not willing to directly confront Jesus with their claim, but instead just whispered it among the people. But Jesus is God and He knew what they were thinking and doing. He calls them to account and demonstrates to them that their accusation was invalid because it was illogical, inconsistent, insurrectionary against God, and inane.
First, it was illogical. Matthew 12:25, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand.” Their argument was completely absurd. While Satan is the father of hatred and lies with the consequences of such evil having an effect on his rule including disorder, chaos, confusion, and inconsistency, Satan is also very intelligent. He is evil, but he is not stupid, and even he knows that his kingdom cannot stand if he fights against himself. Satan often disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) and in so doing may restrict a demon’s power over a possessed person in order to give the illusion of a cleansing. This kind of false exorcism has occurred throughout history and is even today practiced by various cults and false healers. Also, in the confusion and rebellion that by nature arises out of evil there may be demons that act on occasion inconsistently and in conflict with him and each other, but Satan does not cast out Satan and he is not divided against himself. That would be absurd and the devil is not stupid.
Second, their accusation was inconsistent with what was being practiced by their followers. Matthew 12:27, “And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges.” The reference to “sons” here refers to those who were their disciples or followers. “Son” was often used in such a manner as in the common Old Testament expression “sons of the prophets” (2 Kings 2:3; etc.). One example of such Jewish exorcists occurs in Acts 19. The Pharisees were inconsistent for they had no such dispute with their followers when they cast out demons. They immediately saw that as the work of God. That is why Jesus says that their “sons,” their followers, who have cast out demons, would be their judges.
If those “sons” agreed with the Pharisees and Scribes that Jesus was casting out demons by Beelzebul, then they were in fact doing the same. A condemnation of themselves and their teachers since they had given approval. If they agreed with Jesus that it was the work of God, then they condemned their teachers’ accusations as false. Either way, Jesus’ opponents were put to shame because of their inconsistency.
A third argument against the accusation against Jesus is that it was insurrectionary against God. Jesus says in Matthew 12:28, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” The Greek grammar of the “if” clause here is “if, as is actually the case,” or stated fully, “if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, and I do, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” The accusation of the Scribes and Pharisees was in direct opposition to what was actually taking place. It was, in fact, an insurrection against God. They were in rebellion against Him by claiming that the work of the Holy Spirit was the work of Satan. And as we shall see in a few minutes, this was a very serious thing to do.
There should have been no question whatsoever about the source of Jesus’ power. He had proclaimed it before and He had demonstrated beyond question in His many miracles which they were either aware of or had observed personally. These miracles were in direct opposition to sin and Satan. Jesus had healed every manner of disease and sickness; lepers were cleansed, the lame made to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak, and Jesus had even raised the dead. Jesus had power over the natural and the super-natural including calming the wind and seas, and casting out demons. Jesus also even had the authority to forgive sin. Jesus proclaimed the truth and refuted lies. All that Jesus ever did or said demonstrated He was from God and against sin and Satan. Yet these religious leaders were so filled with envy and hatred that they attributed all that Jesus did to Satan instead of God. Their accusations against Jesus were the statements of insurrectionists. They were in rebellion against God.
In Matthew 12:29, Jesus also shows that their accusation was inane – stupid if you will. “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.” All that Jesus had done before them, including the miracle that He had just performed in casting out the demon and making the blind and dumb man to see and talk, pointed out that He had authority over Satan and was not someone in subjection to Satan. The analogy given is simple. You cannot rob someone’s home when they are still free to stop you. You must first overpower them and tie them up, and then you can carry off their belongings. Jesus has shown by this case of the demonized man that He was more powerful than Satan, able to bind him and carry off what had formerly belonged to him.
Their accusation against Jesus was illogical, inconsistent, insurrectionary, and inane. It only proved that they were in rebellion against God. In Matthew 12:30, Jesus explains what it means to be against Him. “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”
If anything, this served as a warning to the people around as well as a definitive statement about the Scribes and Pharisees who were blaspheming against Him and the Holy Spirit. No one is in a neutral position with Jesus. They are either with Him or against Him. They are either helping Him or working against Him. No one will be able to stand before Him and say they were neutral – neither for or against.
There are only two kingdoms; that of God and that of Satan, and you are in one or the other. Either God is your master or Satan is your master. If you say you are your own master, then you only demonstrate your ignorance that Satan is your master. In Romans 6:16 Paul states it clearly, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaved for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” You are either slaves of sin or slaves of obedience to God. And the state of every person who is not a follower of Jesus Christ is a slave to sin. Paul stated that clearly in Ephesians 2:1-3. They are “. . . dead in trespasses and sin . . . [walking] according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience . . . lived in the lusts of [your] flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath.”
You either belong to God or to Satan. There is no in between. It is not enough to be just not actively against Christ. You may be a fine citizen and a nice person, but if you are not with Jesus then you are against Him. You are either working for Him or against Him. Which is it for you?
In Matthew 12:31, 32 Jesus pronounces the condemnation that these Scribes and Pharisees had brought upon themselves. “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the age to come.”
How serious is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Its seriousness becomes apparent when contrasted with the fact that every other sin and blasphemy can be forgiven. That is the great message of the gospel. Your sin can be forgiven. You can be restored to God. The bondage of sin you are in can be broken through Jesus Christ who paid the penalty of sin in your place and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within you so that you might live in righteousness. The Lord God is “good and ready to forgive, and abundant in loving kindness to all who call upon [Him“] (Psalm 86:5). That theme runs throughout all of Scripture.
No matter how severe the sin, God can forgive it. The worst possible sin we could imagine would be to kill God’s son, yet Jesus on the cross prayed for His executioners, “Father, forgiven them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). The degree of sin does not remove a person out of the realm of possibility of being forgiven, for even those that crucified Christ were offered forgiveness.
The volume of sin does not end the possibility of God’s merciful forgiveness. An old man who has lived a life of wickedness all his life is just as forgivable as a child who has done nothing more than the characteristic foolishness that children have.
The particular kind of sin also does not cancel God’s grace in extending the offer of forgiveness. In the Scriptures we have examples of every kind of sin being forgiven. David was not only an adulterer, but he was dishonest in his attempt to cover it up and ended up committing murder (2 Samuel 12), yet he was forgiven and called a man “after God’s own heart” (1 Kings 14:8); the many sins of the woman in Luke 7 were forgiven; the prodigal son’s riotous living was forgiven (Luke 15); Paul’s pre-conversion persecution of Christians was forgiven (Acts 9 & 22); 1 Corinthians 6 mentions those who were fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers – all were washed, sanctified, and justified through Jesus Christ. And when it comes to blasphemy against Jesus who could have been worse than Peter who knew the Lord so well, but yet denied Him with cursing (Matthew 26), and yet he too was forgiven.
There is great hope for all of us because of this wonderful truth. It means that you and I can be forgiven. Do you understand that? You and I can be forgiven if we repent and ask God to forgive, He will and He will change your life. But there is one thing that cannot be forgiven and that is this “blasphemy against the Spirit” (Matthew 12:31) or stated another way, “speaking a word against the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 12:32).
What is this great and grave sin, and why is it alone the unforgivable sin? Blasphemy as used here means “defiant irreverence.” It is speaking against what the Holy Spirit has done, which is exactly what the Scribes and Pharisees had done in accusing Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub. They attributed to Satan the work the Holy Spirit did through Jesus.
Why is this sin unforgivable? Because the Holy Spirit has done everything possible to bring the person to repentance and they have rejected His witness to them. Such was the case with all that Jesus had done before these Scribes and Pharisees. What more could be done than He had done?
This sin was not something that was done haphazardly, but it was something that was willful and deliberate. It reflected a heart that is hardened in sin, as were the Pharisees who were plotting to murder Jesus. The sin becomes unpardonable, because the person committing it is unwilling to tread the path that leads to pardon.
Occasionally I will have someone come to me very concerned because they think they have committed this sin and are therefore doomed for all eternity. The very fact that the person is concerned about it demonstrated the Holy Spirit’s working on their heart to convict them of sin and turn them to God. They come seeking forgiveness. A person in that condition has hope because more can be done to bring them to Christ.
I have heard it said that this sin cannot be done now. While I have to agree that no one can commit it in the same manner as the Scribes and Pharisees and then have it proclaimed as Jesus did to them, there is a danger that we should be aware of.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the result of a gradual progress in sin. First, the Holy Spirit is grieved (Ephesians 4:30), and if unrepented of that leads to resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51), which if persisted in develops into quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). This is how a person develops a seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2). Sin should always be taken seriously for its desire is to take over your life and lead you to eternal hell. The solution for sin is found in Psalm 95:7, 8, “TODAY, if you would hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts . . .”
If the Lord is speaking to your heart right now, then now is the time to deal with it. To put it off is to risk descent into a seared conscience that will no longer listen to the Holy Spirit. That is a very dangerous place to be. If the Spirit is working on your heart, bringing some sin to mind whether that be a sin of commission or omission, we are going to give you a chance to go before the Lord and ask His forgiveness. If you have never done that before, it is the first step to become a Christian. Let us pray.
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