If you have your bibles, I’d invite you to open with me to Matthew chapter 12 as we continue our study of this gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our comments on Matthew chapter 11, we noticed throughout that passage the theme of the majesty of Christ being repeatedly put before us in a series of events. And in our studies of Matthew chapter 12, we have noticed Matthew contrasting the character of Christ as seen in His actions, in His ministry, in His compassion, with the character of those who opposed Christ. And in so doing, Matthew is showing you that Christ is the one who is truly God. Christ is the one truly cares about the will of God, the law of God, not the Pharisees. And in the same time he manifests, he witnesses, he evidences our Lord's messiahship. And so let us hear from God's holy word beginning in Matthew chapter 12, verse 22.
“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.' And knowing their thoughts He said to them, ‘Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against Himself; how then shall His kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 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. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 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.'”
Thus ends this reading of God's holy and inspired word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts. Let's look to Him in prayer.
Our father, this is a hard passage. It's not simply hard because it is challenging to our understanding. It is hard because it talks of things that are so serious, so terrifying, that our souls tremble to even contemplate them. And yet we know this is Your word for Your people, for our edification, for our correction. And so by it You intend to admonish us and to lead us into all knowledge and righteousness. And so we pray that by Your Spirit, You would not only give us understanding, but that You would help us to embrace those things which we ought to embrace because of the teaching of this passage, and to shun those things about which this passage warns us. We ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.
As Matthew records here a great miracle, so also he records a terrible warning. For there is nothing more healing than the embrace of Christ. But so also there is nothing more damning than the rejection of Him. God Himself teaches us here that we ought to trust in Christ, that we ought to adore Him for His works, and that we ought to join Him in gathering souls in for the kingdom. And he warns us that to reject Christ is to cut ourselves off from the only source of hope in this life, or the one to come.
I. An amazing healing.
There are many things in this deep and profound passage about which we could occupy our time profitably, but I would like to point your attention to four things today that we learn in this passage. First of all, in verses 22 and 23 you will see an amazing healing, and you will see an amazing response from the crowd. There in those verses, we see that Christ’s deeds and doctrine show him to be the messiah. In that passage Matthew gives a testimony to us that Christ is indeed the Messiah. He shows us His messiahship by the deeds that He does. Christ is brought a man who is demon-possessed, and the physical manifestation of that demon-possession is that he is blind and speechless. Now we know that Christ makes a distinction. He does not say that all physical manifestations are the result of demon-possession, but in this case these physical manifestations are the result of the work of demonic activity. And the Lord Jesus Christ does a great sign in connection with that demon's possession of the man. He casts out the demon. The man is instantaneously healed. And the miracle again shows the heart of Jesus.
Matthew is once again showing you the compassion of Christ towards those who are not merely physically disabled, but those who are spiritually in the bondage of Satan. Christ loves them and has compassion for them,and longs for them to be freed from the conquest of Satan. We also see here the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in a test that He is sovereign, that He is the Son of God, that he is the Messiah, that He has the power to bind Satan, and to release those who are under the control of demons. And the crowd is absolutely astonished. The Lord Jesus has done miracles like this before even in the gospel of Matthew, but apparently the people who were witnessing this one had not seen Jesus do a miracle like this for they were amazed. William Hendrikssn uses this phrase, and he says, “This is a legitimate way to translate what the verse says about them, ‘they were knocked out of their senses.'” They were absolutely flabbergasted at what the Lord Jesus Christ had done. They had seen what this man had been going through. They had seen the power of the demons life. And suddenly he is instantaneously cured. And they tentatively begin to grasp what Jesus is claiming about Himself. And though they are in the presence of the Pharisees, and we'll see in just one more verse that they are in the presence of the Pharisees, and so they are afraid to say out loud, “This may be the Messiah. Surely this is the Messiah, the son of David.” Because they knew exactly what the Pharisees would say if they said that out loud. So they say, they ask a question, “Could this be the long awaited Messiah that we have been looking for?” They are not willing to state flat out that this is the Messiah, but they detect a connection between Jesus' teaching, and Jesus' compassion, and Jesus' power, and Jesus' deeds, and the fact that he is the messiah. And so they ask out loud, “could this be the long awaited messiah that we have been looking for?” They are not willing to state flat out that this is the messiah, but they detect a connection between Jesus' teaching, Jesus' compassion, Jesus' power and Jesus' deeds and the fact that he is the messiah. And so they ask out loud, “Could this be the long awaited Messiah?” The event itself was compelling enough to suggest that His actions were from God in that event. He was revealing the power and the person of His Son in that event. And even the crowd saw it, and it swung them to ask this question publicly.
In Christ’s power over the physical and the spiritual world, He shows Himself to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And it is for us as we deal with this passage today, to ask ourselves the question, “Have we accepted that truth about Him?” It is possible to go to church all one's life and never to truly have personally embraced that truth about Christ? Though we profess His name in baptism, though we profess His name in the Lord’s Supper, though we repeat the creed, it is possible to live life even in the context of the church, and not to have truly embraced the reality that Jesus is the only Savior, and he is the Son of God. Have you embraced that truth today?
And if you are a Christian, if you have embraced that truth, and you're living in that truth, let me ask you this question. Are you living in light of that truth? Are you taking that truth into consideration in the way that you live once you have embraced Him? Do you live in conscious awareness that it is the savior of the world, the Son of God, the messiah, who has saved you from your sins? Do you recognize and acknowledge and manifest His lordship in your life? Those are the questions that Matthew presses home to us in this passage today.
II. The Pharisees’ wicked response.
The second thing I would like you to see in this passage, and you will see it in verse 24, where we see the wicked and blasphemous response of the Pharisees to what Jesus had done. Jesus had done a great miracle. The crowds were amazed. The Pharisees are immediately mobilized in opposition of the Lord. And in that verse we see that Christ’s deeds only provoked the Pharisees to greater opposition. It was an amazing miracle, but the Pharisees just hated Him all the more for what He had done. Look at the word that we read in Matthew 12:24, “When the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.'”
Jesus’ enemies quickly respond. And apparently they do so, not directly to Christ, but either among themselves, or to the crowds. Their concern is to do damage control. They see the crowds being swayed by what Jesus has said and done, and they want to quickly attempt to put a spin on what Jesus has done. They do not dare challenge the healing. The healing was compelling. Everyone knew the man. Everyone saw Christ heal him, and the Pharisees did not dare say, “Oh, it didn't happen.” And so they attempted to attribute the source of Jesus' power to do the healing not to the Lord, but to the evil one himself. In fact, in the parallel passage in Mark, chapter 3, they go so far as to say that Beelzebul himself inhabited the soul of Christ. Elsewhere in Matthew they will come right out and say, “You are Beelzebul. You are Satan.” These Pharisees, though they see the compassion of Christ displayed toward the cruelly demon-possessed man, they assert that the power that Christ had used to free him from that demon was evil and was from the evil one. These Pharisees are the religious leaders of their day, and yet for all their pretensions to godliness and spirituality, they were fundamentally evil. “A generation of vipers,” Jesus will call them in a few verses.
Now we must not fail to see the wickedness inherent in the charge that these men had brought against Jesus. They have seen the truth and yet they call it evil. And you remember what Isaiah says about those who call good evil and evil good, “woe unto them.” That will be one of the great themes of this passage, by the way. These are people who have seen evil. They have seen good clearly, and yet they have called it “evil.” And note their self-deception. By their slandering Jesus, they prove about themselves what they were attempting to get the crowds to believe about Jesus. They wanted the crowds to think that Jesus was of Satan. And yet by their slander against the Lord Jesus and all of His compassion and power, they only proved that they themselves were under the control of the evil one.
We should not be surprised, friends, when we find the gospel obstinately opposed by those whose hearts are darkened today. If the Lord Jesus Christ can do miracles, and still people can resist the truth of His gospel because of the wickedness and hardness of their heart, we should not be surprised that when we bear witness to the gospel, there will be some who obstinately and defiantly oppose it. We must not think that if we could only just tell it a little bit better, or a little bit kinder, or if we could live just a little bit more consistently, it will wipe out all objections to the gospel. That's just not the case. Because the Lord Jesus tells us that there are people in the world whose hearts are so darkened that they will reject truth no matter how bright the light.
III. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees accusation.
There's a third thing we learn in this passage as we study, and you will see it in verses 25 through 29. Jesus gives a devastating rejoinder to the Pharisees. As the Pharisees accuse Him of being of the evil one and doing His works according to the power of Satan. The Lord Jesus replies in a detailed reply. We are told, by the way, in verse 25 that Jesus knew their thoughts. Now that could mean that Jesus knew the method of operation. He knew the general attitude of the Pharisees. But Matthew and Luke seem to be saying more than that. They seem to be saying that Jesus knew the inner heart attitude which lay behind their outward attacks on Him. He knew their hearts. John tells us that he knew all men. And this is what Matthew is reminding us here. He is aware of their thoughts and their heart attitudes. He knows the state of their heart as they oppose Him. And the state of their heart is simply reflected in the words that they have spoken out loud.
And His response to them has five parts. We won't study all of them today, but I would like to walk you through them because they are very important. The first part of His response you will see in verses 25 and 6. The first thing that He says is that their claim about Him is absurd. He says it is absurd to claim that I am casting out demons by the power of Satan. And He opposes, and He shows the absurdity by quoting a proverb, and then by asking a question. The proverb that He quotes is one that applies to all sorts of relationships – family relationships, national relationships – and it is, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
And then having quoted that proverb which simply means, of course, that when there is internal dissension a family, a relationship, a kingdom cannot be built up, it can only disintegrate, He asks a question. “Now, if that is true, then how could it be that Satan would be deliberately fighting against himself when His goal is to build up His kingdom?” And so He shows the patent absurdity of their particular charge. “You're saying that I’m casting out Satan’s minions by the power of Satan.” And He said, “That just doesn't make sense.”
But the second thing he says is in verse 27. He shows that their criticism is unfair, it is inconsistent. You see, the Pharisees had followers who claimed to cast out demons. Now the Lord Jesus doesn't get into a long argument about whether they actually did or didn't. The Lord Jesus knows that the Pharisees had followers in Israel who claimed to cast out demons. And He basically says this, “Why is it that when I cast out demons, you accuse Me of doing it by the power of Satan, but when your followers, the ones that you have taught in Hebrew school and seminary, why is it that when they do it, you say, “Oh, this is a mighty work of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.” It's bad when I do it, but when they do it, it’s acceptable. That's inconsistent. It's unfair criticism. And so He suggests this to them. He says, “If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out. For this reason they will be your judges.” In other words He says, “If your followers, your sons, if they judge that you are right about me, that I am casting out demons by the power of Satan, then that calls into question what they are doing. And if they judge that you are wrong about me, that I am not casting out demons by the power of Satan, then it calls in question your judgment about Me.” And so He shows that the sons, the followers of the Pharisees, whichever way they answer that question will undercut the criticism which the Pharisees have brought against him.
The third thing that He says in response you will see in verse 28. There in Matthew 12:28 He says, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” He shows that their criticism deliberately obscures the greatest work of the Holy Spirit in history. I want you to see what the Lord Jesus is saying loud and clear. The Holy Spirit had been at work under the old covenant. He had been there in the promises and prophets and types and forms. He had been there working in that era inspiring the prophets as they spoke the word of God to the people. He had done mighty works in the old covenant, but never before had there been a greater work of the Holy Spirit than the recreation of God's people and the expansion of God's kingdom. And the Lord Jesus is saying, “The spirit is at work in My ministry. And yet you ascribe that work of the spirit of God to demons.”
Let me try to put that for you graphically. It would be as if God spoke to the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai and said, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the house of slavery,” and then gave to them the Ten Commandments, and there were a group of Israelites stood at the base of the mountain who said, “You know, I don't think that was the voice of the Lord God of Israel. I think that was the voice of Satan.” The Lord Jesus is saying, “You have called the greatest work of the Spirit, a greater work than the giving of the Ten Commandments, the work of Satan.” And that reveals the stubbornness and the wickedness of your hearts. Jesus’ power over the demons was a manifestation of the fact that God's kingdom had come, that the Lord was coming with power.
Indeed the Lord Jesus goes on to say that you can't even cast out Satan until you've bound him. And so he is saying, “Every time you see Me cast out a demon, you know that I have first attacked Satan. I have bound him. I have restrained him, or I wouldn't be able to do that because Satan’s kingdom cannot be plundered until Satan is restrained.” And He is saying, “That's what I’m doing every time I cast out demons.” And He goes on to indicate that by His incarnation, by His victory over Satan in the wilderness, by His preaching, by His ministry, He was in the act of binding Satan. And yet they deliberately attribute that work to Satan himself.
IV. Jesus’ condemnation of their sin.
Fourthly, Jesus says that their sin is unpardonable. You will see in verses 31 and 32 He is saying that their actions reflect a reprobate heart. He charges that their sin is unpardonable. And finally in verses 33 through 37, He says that their words, the charges, the slanders that they have brought against Him are evidence of the wickedness of their hearts. And so the Lord Jesus responds to the Pharisees, these men who knew the law, of a sort,these men who practice and pervade the religion of the God of Israel, in a way, and yet were blind to a bright presentation of the truth of God. J.C. Ryle says, “The brighter the light, the greater the guilt of him who rejects it.The clearer a man's knowledge of the nature of the gospel, the greater his sin if he willfully refuses to repent and believe.” Jesus' deeds, Jesus' miracles, Jesus' preaching proved His message, proved His messiahship, proved His divinity, proved that He is the only Savior.
Now the question for us is, “Are we opposed to Him?” Or perhaps we should phrase it this way since we are gathered in a Christian church. “Are we apathetic towards Him? Is He at the periphery of our life and experience? Or have we embraced Him as Savior and Lord?” That is the question again that Matthew is pressing home to us.
And then finally we see in verses 30-32, Jesus issues a dire warning. It's all part of His same response to the Pharisees. And yet when you get to verses 30 and 31 and 32, it is as if Jesus is turning the focus of His response away from the Pharisees and to the crowds. He's still indirectly speaking to the Pharisees, but He seems to be addressing Himself directly to the crowd. Perhaps He is wanting to separate them from the effects, the bad spiritual effects, of the Pharisees that they might have on them. And in verses 30 through 32, Christ states the consequences of rejecting the gospel. Jesus has turned His comments now towards the crowd though the Pharisees are still His targets. And he says two things.
First in verse 30, He says that you must either be for Him or against Him. The Lord Jesus is saying there can be no middle ground. You must either be with Me, or you are against Me. There's no middle position because two kingdoms are at war. You can't pull for both sides at once. When you are at the football stadium or on the basketball court, and someone is switching hats between each possession, and pulling for one team and then pulling for the other, everybody in the crowd doesn't love that person. Everybody in the crowd hates that person. Because that person is not being loyal to one side. So also in this war, the war between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan, you cannot play in the middle. You cannot be on neither side. You are either on one side or the other. If we are with him, and Jesus means by “with him” an intimate association with Him, if we are with Him, if we are in fellowship with Him, if we are in saving relationship with Him, He says in this verse that we will gather with Him. That is, we will be involved in His mission to gather in the lost.
Isn't that an interesting statement about the importance of personal evangelism. If you are with Christ, you are involved in gathering in lost sheep. It's not like, well there's one class of Christians that are involved in that,and there's another class of Christians that is not involved in that.
Notice also, He says that if we are against Him, (and by the way you can be against Him either by being openly opposed or simply apathetic to His claims) if you are against Him, then you are actually contributing to the scattering of the sheep, which will make them even more vulnerable to the prey of Satan.
The second thing that Jesus says, you'll see in verses 31 and 32. He says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unpardonable. And again, His target is the particular sin of the Pharisees right here. Now this is a hard, hard issue. The unpardonable sin and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is one of those things that is very difficult to explain. If it were easy to explain, there wouldn't be so much confusion, and there wouldn't be so much wrestling with that issue. Some of the best commentators differ on what this means. But let me see if I can clarify this at least just a little. Blasphemy is a word that was used more broadly in Greek than we used it – or in the way we normally use it. When we say blasphemy, we usually mean someone who is reviling God directly, someone who is defiantly opposed to the Lord in speech and in attitude. In the Greek, blasphemy can be used forany kind of reviling language against either God or man. It can be used of any insolent language towards men. The Lord Jesus says in verse 31 that all those kinds of reviling, all those kinds of speech which tear down God or man, those things can be forgiven. But not blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. And by that he means a defiant, irreverence for the Holy Spirit's work manifest in speech. Sometimes people identify the unpardonable sin with not being repentant, if we want to give it one word. That is certainly part of the sin that Jesus is speaking about here. But he seems to be speaking more particularly about the defiant, irreverence in speech which the Pharisees have shown to this great work of the Holy Spirit.
Let's go back to our picture of Sinai. These people have seen the most powerful manifestation of God the Holy Spirit's grace in history. And their response to that light has been to say, “That is the work of Satan.” The Lord Jesus says, “The person who can say that, manifests a heart which is completely closed and opposed to God.” And of course, therefore, also without repentance. A heart which does not feel that that compelling truth of the gospel has anything to say to it. And this sin is unpardonable precisely because it reflects an intractable impenitence towards God, and a rejection of divine grace.
You can see this pictured in two very similar, at one level, events. The event of Peter’s denial of Christ, and the event of Judas' denial of Christ. At least at one level, those experiences are similar. Peter engaged in a serious action of the denial of our Lord on the night in which He was delivered up. Judas engaged in a serious action of denial of our Lord. Peter deserted the cause. Judas attacked the cause. Peter was later remorseful and repentant. Judas was later remorseful, but never repentant. Peter was temporarily disloyal to his Lord. Judas was permanently disloyal to his Lord. Peter was publicly restored by the grace of Christ. Judas murdered himself without ever having been reconciled with his Lord. Here we see the outworking of two hearts, both of which had engaged in serious sin, but one of which had been permanently hardened to the Lord.
Why does Jesus bring this subject up? Surely not to vex us, but for a very practical reason. In fact for several practical reasons. Jesus brings the subject of the unpardonable sin up first of all because he wants to identify the Pharisees as reprobates. He wants to say publicly, “I’m identifying these who speak in this way towards My ministry as those whose hearts are hardened toward God.”
Secondly, he said this because he wants to warn the crowds against the Pharisees. These Pharisees, though we may despise them and use their name somewhat as an oath in our day and time, these were respected religious leaders. And He wants to warn the crowds against their teaching.
Thirdly, he wants to indicate that these leaders were in fact, though they claimed to be God's men, they were in fact opposed to God.
Fourthly, he wants to stress the seriousness of opposition to the spirit's work of grace in building God's kingdom.
And fifthly, he wants to send out a permanent warning regarding impenitence, defiant impenitence and its eternal consequences. In this passage, Jesus again presses home to us the impossibility of neutrality in religion.One must either be for him and embrace him, or against him and reject him. J.C. Ryle has said, “Let us settle it in our minds that we shall never have peace and do good to others unless we are thoroughgoing and decided in our Christianity.”
Have we embraced him to the full? Have our desires become merged with the desire for His glory and for the advancement of His kingdom? That is the only place of safety and of blessing from the hardness of heart which condemns forever. Let us look to Him in prayer.