Matthew 12:22-37: A Good Tree
February 5, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
This passage contains a teaching of Jesus that has troubled the consciences of many sensitive souls down through the years of Christian history. Have I committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, they wonder? Well, it is important, as always, to read these words in context in order to grasp what Jesus is saying, and not simply be scared (or repulsed or turned off or disappointed by) the most “bumper-sticker” worthy or most memorable aspect of these verses.
Jesus heals another man (12:22). The people are amazed—could this be the Son of David (12:23)? That is, they are wondering (finally) whether Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the King to come in David’s line. The Pharisees are unable and unwilling to accept such an idea, and being unable to deny the miracles that Jesus is doing, take the only course left open to them (if they are not to accept those miracles as some sort of sign of God’s favor), and that is to attribute them to the work of Satan (12:24).
Jesus’ reply is brilliant. First of all, he demolishes their logic. Why would Satan be fighting against Satan? Why would Satan cast out demons? In other words, “a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” (12:25). If, rather, someone is indeed to throw out a demon, he must first “bind the strong man” (12:29), that is, meaning that it is not possible to do so without defeating the demon, and to defeat the demon would be to go against the devil’s interests, and therefore it is impossible that Jesus is throwing our demons by the power of demons.
But from verse 30, Jesus then turns the heat the other direction, towards the Pharisees. The ultimate sin, Jesus says, is “blasphemy against the Spirit” (12:31); indeed, that sin cannot be forgiven. What can Jesus mean? Usually the answer is that if you think you have committed the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it is a sure sign that you have not. The only people who worry about such things are people with sensitive consciences towards God, and that by definition is not someone who is hardened against God. This is a very good answer, and it suffices to appropriately ease the concern of many people.
But to be strictly accurate, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not just to be a non-Christian, and therefore not really concerned about whether you are pleasing God or not; to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to act in such a way, as the Pharisees have just done, and speak in such a way, as the Pharisees have just done, that deliberately consciously and finally attributes to the work of God the work of the devil. It is to so harden yourself against God that you do not just refuse to follow him, but that you deliberately and forever determine that you will attribute to his work the work of the devil. This sin is unforgivable because it is the very opposite of asking for forgiveness; as is often said, the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the sin of not asking for forgiveness.
From verses 33 on, Jesus then generalizes this to a slightly one-step removed degree. How do you know whether someone is really following Jesus or not? By their fruit. A good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears bad fruit. We do not need to cut open the trunk of an apple tree to figure out whether it is an apple tree or not. We just need to taste its fruit. Similarly, someone who is following Jesus—while still a sinner, still failing, and still much in need of grace and forgiveness themselves—will bear the fruit of repentance, and faith in Jesus. These words, such as the words the Pharisees had uttered, and such as our confession of faith in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, matter; they reveal what is really going on inside.
Trust in Jesus, then. Close with him, and your heart, by his Spirit, will be transformed, so that your life and your words will give evidence to that transformation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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