Sermon Notes + Quotes:
Well, we study through books of the Bible here at The Village Chapel and today is no different. If you’d like a paper copy, raise your hand and someone will hand deliver it to you. We’re going to continue our study of the gospel of Matthew this morning and we’re calling that The King and His Kingdom. We’re going to be in the back half of chapter 12 and I’m entitling our message, “No Neutral Ground”.
C.S. Lewis once said,
“Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern. There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” A buddy of mine used to put it another way. He said, “If anything matters, everything matters.”
I think that’s spot on. I think things matter to God because He created you and me. He created all of this. And because of Adam and Eve’s sin, sin now has a counterclaim on everything as far as the curse is found. But God has a plan to deal with this condition, doesn’t He? A couple of my favorite verses. Colossians chapter one, verse 19 and 20. “For in him Jesus, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through Him to reconcile back to Himself God all things.” There’s that wonderful three-letter word. “All things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” That’s how God is going to meet that condition.
If you look at our headlines, boy, there’s just not much neutral ground anywhere these days is there? There’s an awful lot of animosity and ranker and division that seems like it just continues to grow in the news, in politics, on social media. Ironically, I think Scripture tends to agree with this idea of no neutral ground because, from one end of the Bible to the other, we’re presented with binary choices. In Genesis, we’re given day and night. We’re created man and woman. In Deuteronomy, Moses says, “I have set before you life and death.” Life and death. “Choose life so that you and your offspring may live.” And Joshua says to the people, “Choose you this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we’ll serve the Lord.” And fast forwarding to our passage in Matthew today, that continues. Jesus gives us another binary choice here because he says, “If you’re not for me, you’re against me.”
If you remember these recurring themes. We have some recurring themes in Matthew. There were carryovers from chapter 11. If you remember the beginning of chapter 11, John the Baptist had all of these honest doubts. We had the theme of honest doubt versus willful unbelief. And that’s carried over and modified a bit today. We’re going to see belief and allegiance versus unbelief and resistance. And then, thankfully, we’re also going to see the gentle offer and invitation of Jesus in this chapter. Our passage today has five short pericopes. We have a little sermon prep meeting every week. Jim, Tommy, myself, and Ryan Motta. We discuss the passage coming up and talk through it and pray over it. We kind of all agreed this week that this could have been divided up into five sermons.
Five Pericopes of Matthew 12:22-50:
- Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (v.22-32)
- A tree is known by its fruit (v. 33-37)
- The sign of Jonah (v. 38-42)
- Return of an unclean spirit (v. 43-45)
- Jesus’ mother and brothers (v. 46-50)
So, we’ve got a task ahead of us, but we’re up for the challenge, I think. It’s going to be good. I know it seems like it’s a little bit of a patchwork, right? Blasphemy against the holy spirit, a tree is known by its fruit, the sign of Jonah, return of an unclean spirit, Jesus’ mother and brothers. It seems like it’s a little bit of a patchwork, but hang with me and there are some threads that go all through that and we’ll tie those threads together at the end. So, let’s pray, church, and then we can read our text.
Lord, we come to You this morning eager to worship You. Eager to hear from You. Open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, and minds to Your word and Your spirit. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
If you’ll remember from our passage last week, Jesus is facing greater and greater opposition from the Pharisees. At first, they wanted to discredit Him. Now they’re wanting to destroy Him. They continue to feel threatened by His ministry and Jesus continues to do and say things that just make their heads want to explode. As Jim said at the end of his sermon last week, at the end of this passage, Jesus is so gentle with our brokenness. Many of us find ourselves like that bruised reed that’s almost broken. We’re like that wick that has almost been snuffed out. And yet Jesus, we find, is most tender when we’re most vulnerable. We’re going to see that continue at the beginning of our passage today. He’s being that gentle with this demon-oppressed man that I’m going to call Fred.
Read with me about Fred in verse 22 here. “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 Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”
We don’t know if Fred was blind and mute from birth or not, but we do know that, at this moment, when Jesus delivers him, he could neither speak nor see. I can speculate that the first face he saw when his eyes were open, was that of Jesus. And man. This is speculation, but I can speculate that the first thing he said was, “Thank you, Jesus,” because he can talk now.
We see two responses to this healing, right? We see the response of the crowds who are amazed. They’re astonished. They’re putting together… They’re connecting the dots between Old Testament prophecy and what they’re seeing going on in front of him. They’re saying, “Can this man be the son of David?” And then contrast that with the Pharisees, who are so dismissive and they’re immediately attributing this healing to Jesus using the power of Satan to cast out demons. Notice that they don’t argue that a deliverance has happened that the man has been healed, because that’s just too obvious. That really happened right in front of them. Instead, they’re seeking to dismiss Jesus’ authority and power by claiming that he’s using the power of Satan to cast demons out.
Let’s read verse 25. “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus 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 Beelzebub, 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.'”
By the way, Jesus is not quoting Abe Lincoln here when He says a house divided against itself cannot stand. Abe Lincoln did quote Jesus. He used that in a speech in 1858, but it wasn’t the other way around.
The Pharisees are using terrible theology and horrible logic here and Jesus points this out. It’s almost like he’s saying, okay, I’m going to speak very slowly and I’m going to use very small words so you guys can really follow me here. If Satan casts out Satan, how will his kingdom stand? Duh! I mean, it’s terrible logic. And then he says, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebub, how do your sons, your disciples, cast demons out?” Silence. And then he finishes this logic lesson by saying, “But if I cast demons out by the spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” And he might as well be saying, fellas, you’re looking right at him.
Well, then he continues in verse 29. He says, “Or how can someone enter a strongman’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strongman. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”
Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots is famous for using this exact strategy to win a whole gob of football games. Because his first thing he does when he’s playing another team; he identifies their strongest asset and then he goes about finding a way to neutralize that asset. That’s just what he does. And if he’s successful in neutralizing that other team’s strongest asset, most of the time, he’s going to win the game. Helps that he had Tom Brady for all those years, but he is well known for that. That’s what Jesus is doing here. He’s calling correctly, Satan, the strongman of the house and he is going in to bind Satan and take back what is rightfully his. Colossians 1:19-20. Jesus is telling the Pharisees exactly what his mission is, which we read about in 1 John 3:8. The reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. Amen to that. And I love that. Jesus has come to plunder the house of the evil one and to rescue and redeem us.
Verse 30. Here’s that binary choice: “Whoever is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, okay, fellas, no neutral ground. Make your choice. “Therefore, I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, people, but the blasphemy against the Holy 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.”
Man, that is one of the hardest and most sobering verses in the Bible, isn’t it? What in the world is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? I’m going to talk about this later. I’m not sidestepping that, but Jesus here is also warning the Pharisees. Grace is coming as a warning because He’s warning them that, man, they are perilously close to the edge in what they’re saying.
Then he moves on to the next pericope. Verse 33. “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?”
Jesus is really the Pharisees to account here. He knows that they consider themselves extremely righteous followers of the law, keepers of the law, and yet he also knows that they’re secretly plotting his murder. Do you get the irony here? Verse 34B. “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Whew. Conviction. Oh, that we would have an invisible tape recorder that we would forget about, so we didn’t alter what we said, but a tape recorder that would record both our speech and even our thoughts over a 24-hour span. I just think it would be really revealed to us the condition of our hearts by our language. By our tone. By the way we act and respond with others.
Starting at verse 35. “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.”
No neutral ground. Tomatoes don’t grow on peach trees. Peaches don’t grow on almond trees. Almonds don’t grow on apple trees. The tree is known by the fruit it produces, right? And out of the mouth comes the abundance of what is in our heart. Jesus finishes this pericope by saying we’re all going to give account for our words one day. By this, he’s not saying it’s the words that matter. It’s the condition of your heart that matters. It’s not what you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer. It’s the condition of your heart. But still. Yikes! Friends, were going to give an account one day for all our words.
Okay, verse 38. This is moving on to the next pericope. “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.'”
You’ve got to wonder. After Jesus has been so strong with them, why are they not melting into a puddle of repentance at this point instead of saying, “We want to see a sign! We want to see a sign!” And Jesus might have said, okay, you want to sign? What about Fred? You know, just a few minutes ago, he was blind and mute. And man, now, the guy won’t shut up. He’s running up and down the street, praising God for the blue color of the sky and the green grass. Isn’t that enough of a sign? Or what about Jairus’ daughter who was dead and is now alive? And what about the sign from heaven at the day of my baptism? When the Holy Spirit came down and alighted on my head and you heard the audible voice of God saying, “This is my beloved son in whom I’m well pleased?” That’s a sign. Friends, the signs for God are everywhere. The heavens declare the glory of God. What matters is the condition of our heart. Are we living in a posture of belief or unbelief?
Read with me at verse 39 because Jesus answered them when they asked for another sign. And He says, “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.” Jesus is telling the disciples here, man, the sign that God is really going to lay out there for you is my death, my burial, and my resurrection three days later. You just don’t get it yet.
And then He tells them more about Jonah and Nineveh. Nineveh was a capital city of Assyria known for its wickedness. God calls Jonah the prophet and says, “Bro, I want you to go preach the truth, the good news, to the people of Nineveh because I want them to repent.” Man, Jews hated Ninevites. We know the story. Jonah says nope and he gets on a ship going the other way. Well, storms come up and they finally figure out it’s Jonah’s fault. They toss him overboard. He gets swallowed by the whale. He’s in the belly of the whale three days and nights. And then, bam, the whale spits him up on the beach at Nineveh. He walks out the water, preaches to the Ninevites, and lo and behold, they repent, and they believe. Jesus is saying, man, those pagan, wicked Ninevites. They believed when Jonah the prophet preached to them. And you unbelieving unfaithful generation. Someone greater than Jonah is here.
And then He finishes off this pericope by talking about the queen of Sheba, who came from the ends of the earth to listen to King Solomon’s wisdom. He says she’s going to judge this unbelieving generation because she came to hear Solomon preach and there is one greater and wiser than Solomon here. Jesus is making some very strong claims about Himself in this chapter. He’s saying He’s greater than the temple. He’s the Lord of the Sabbath. And now, He’s saying he’s greater than the prophet Jonah. Greater than the king Solomon. He’s putting all these three things together and He’s pointing people and saying, look at prophecy. This is being fulfilled in Me. In the offices of prophet, priest, and king. You’re looking right at Him.
Then, we move on to the next pericope. Verse 43. “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then, it says I will return to my house from which I came. And when it comes, it finds a house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with its seven other spirits more evil than itself and they enter and dwell there and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
The idea here, which I’ll talk about more in a little bit, it’s not just that we’re to turn away from our sin, but we are to turn towards something. We’re not made to exist in a vacuum. Just like any good trainer will tell, if you want to improve your diet and get in better shape, you don’t just stop eating the M&Ms. Because if that’s all you do, you’re going to end up eating the M&Ms again later. Trust me, this is true. My wife knows this is true. You must turn away from the M&Ms and turn towards something else. If you want to get in better shape, it’s not just about getting up off the couch because, if you don’t have something to head towards, you’re going to go back on the couch. I know this.
So, Matthew closes out this section like this. Verse 46. “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 towards 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.'” The issue here is that it’s not necessarily a focus on the family conflict with Jesus’ family, but what He’s doing. He’s giving a statement on what it really means to be a disciple. And that, if you’re a disciple of Jesus, boy, you’re as close as physical flesh and blood. You are part of His family.
Well, I feel like we’ve just sprayed with a fire hose. That’s a lot of stuff, isn’t it? Well, I’d like to tie these three pericopes together with some. These five pericopes with three threads. The first thread is this.
- Our hearts were never designed to be empty.
We are not designed to be empty. We don’t exist in a vacuum. Frederick Dale Bruner in his commentary on Matthews says this.
“The warning of the return of the unclean spirits is pictorial commentary on Jesus’ earlier warning against neutralism. Neutrality towards Jesus is an empty house. Unmoved belief in Jesus is a merely swept but unoccupied home. Mere interest in Jesus with no commitment to him is a house in danger of haunting.”
That’s such a good picture. You were designed for fullness. We’re designed for relationship. God intends to be full of relationship. With him, with ourselves, with creation. We’re designed for worship.
So, the question is what do we worship? What are we filled with? As this Bob Dylan song says, “You’re going to have to serve somebody. It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re going to have to serve somebody.” The gospel according to Bob. And it is the truth.
We have a saying at our house. When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging. That’s what I’m getting at here. When we repent, we quit digging. We turn away from sin, but we turn towards the Lord who fills us and completes us because that’s what we’re designed for. Jesus said in John 10: 10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Jesus is inviting us to fullness.
I want to ask all of us, myself included, this morning, how’s your heart? Is it full? Is it as full as it can be? Or is your house haunted with empty room echoes of some other times of when your relationship with Christ was so close and yet you’re walking around the empty room right now, yearning for something to be filled again? I want to encourage you. If your heart seems empty, give your heart to Jesus and He will fill it with abundant life. It may be giving your heart to Him the first time. Oh, that’s such a glorious thing. Or you might be realizing, man, some of those things that I thought I left at the feet of Jesus, I have picked back up and I need to sweep my house out again. Giving our hearts to Jesus, it’s an everyday act of love and reverence. And that leads us to our second little thread from these pericopes.
- Reverence for God leads to understanding of God
The disposition and posture of our hearts influences our knowledge and understanding of the holy one. John Stott says this:
“The ultimate issue in relation to Jesus Christ is not one of semantics, the meaning of words, but of homage, the attitude of the heart. Not whether our tongue can subscribe to an orthodox formulation of the person of Jesus, but whether our knee has bowed before his majesty. Besides, reverence always precedes understanding. We shall know him only if we are willing to obey him.”
Do we want to know God? Do you want to know God? Sometimes we do experience true and honest doubt, but like Michael Green says, “Sometimes underneath intellectual doubt is a heart that does not want to know the answer.” Sometimes we’re just like the Pharisees. We mask a rebellious heart under intellectual skepticism. Do we want to know him?
A.W. Tozer says, “The unbelieving mind would not be convinced by any proof and the worshiping heart needs none.” Whew. What’s the posture of our heart? Isn’t that just where the Pharisees were? They were so convinced that they were right, and Jesus was wrong that they kept asking for sign after sign when no sign would convince them. Contrast that with our man Fred, who was just healed and delivered, and he can now see and sing to his heart’s content and he’s praising hallelujah for the Messiah that’s in flesh and blood right in front of him. And he needs no further proof.
Augustine said this, “I believe in order to know.” Faith involves more than just the intellect and human reason. We don’t elevate human reason and rationalism as the ultimate place to go for truth. Rationalism falls short because, if God is indeed transcendent, if he is indeed infinite, if he is beyond our understanding to grasp, we’re not going to find Him on our own. It’s not possible. We need revelation. If God is a creator of all snails, which He is, we don’t find God in the snails, but we find evidence of God’s master craftsmanship and handiwork in the snail. God reveals Himself to us through the way he has created and crafted the snail. And understand me. I am not speaking out against math or science or biology or astronomy or any of that. Just the opposite. Man, I’m so grateful that God has revealed Himself to us through nature, through His written word, through His son Jesus. I am so grateful for intellect and curiosity and the ability to learn and how to discover through all these branches of science how fearfully and wonderfully made we are. I’m so grateful for the brains that can build a telescope and build a spaceship to take it a million miles out into space so we can see more and more and more pictures of God’s glory and His creation. Beyond observation is reverence, and reverence leads to understanding, which brings me to our last thread.
Boy, I cannot begin to answer every question about what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? What is the unpardonable sin? But, man, here’s what I do know, and this is glorious.
- Our repentance is met by God’s forgiveness
That’s a slam dunk against the unpardonable sin right there. Our repentance is met by God’s forgiveness. This isn’t a slide, but Martin Luther once said, “All of life is repentance.” Can I get an amen from the husbands? It’s like the washing instructions. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s the same thing. When you’re in a hole, quit digging. Humble yourself. Repent. Turn to God. Be met by His forgiveness, which leads to flourishing. Repeat as needed. That is the plan. I think most of us vastly underestimate the love of God. I included. I think we vastly underestimate His heart towards us. His desire that all men would turn and repent. God’s capacity to forgive far outweighs our capacity to sin. God capacity to forgive far outweighs our capacity to sin. We cannot out-sin God’s love. The only way we can escape God’s love is to refuse it. I’m going to say that again. The only way we can escape God’s love is to refuse it.
Here’s a quote from C.S. Lewis from The Great Divorce, which (small public service announcement) we just started that in Tom Yarborough’s Wednesday morning men’s group. We would Like to invite you guys to join us. It’s such a great book. C.S. Lewis says,
“There’s only two kinds of people. Those who say, ‘They will be done to God,’ or those to whom God in the end say, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice, it wouldn’t be hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.”
Tim Keller says something very similar in The Reason for God. “All God does in the end with people is to give them what they most want, including freedom from himself. What could be more fair than that?” Jesus was so stern in His warning to the Pharisees because they were so close to blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They were ascribing evil to that which comes from God. And yet the apostle Paul… He was a Pharisee. A Pharisee of Pharisees, he called himself. And yet he was met on the road by Jesus. He repented, believed, was fully forgiven.
So, what is this unforgivable sin then? This may come as a shock, but the identifiers that we give ourselves and each other, they’re not unforgivable sins. Being gay or trans is not an unforgivable sin. Committing suicide is not an unforgivable sin. Voting for Trump, or voting for Biden, for that matter… Those are not unforgivable sins no matter what our politics and our divisions tell us. There is no magic word or deed that you commit that is an unforgivable sin. Michael Green, who I read something from him earlier… He says this in The Bible Speaks Today commentary. “That is not at all the situation of most of those who come to pastors fearing that they have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. Those who fear they have committed it cannot have committed it. For those who sin against the light, against the Holy Spirit, deliberately ascribe to evil what they know comes from God.” Check this out. “And it is unforgivable not because God will not forgive, but because those who practice such deliberate self-deception cannot bring themselves to the requisite repentance.” Repentance is the key.
Pastor Jim uses this analogy that, if you’re a thousand steps from God, he’s just waiting for you to take that one step and, boy, he is going to come rushing to meet you. Grace meets us right where we are, but grace does not leave us where we are. For any of us that ask the question, can God forgive me? Have I committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? How do I know I’m saved? Rest assured that, if you’re even remotely asking that question, this is probably not your problem. The point is… It’s not what you’ve ever done, what you might do today, what you might do next week. The point is humble yourself. Repent. Come. Come to Jesus and he’s going to sort out all of the rest once you give your life to Jesus. He’s going to sort it all out.
I’d like to close with these two verses. From Matthew 11, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And John 6:37. This is so good. “Whoever comes to me, I will never cast out.”
So, friends, come to Jesus. Amen. Let’s pray. Jesus, we come to You. Thank You for promising us that if we just turn and come to You that You will receive us. You will forgive us. You will change us. You will remake us. You will hold us fast. And You won’t turn us away. Thank You, Jesus. In Your name, we pray. Amen.