Reading Time: 8 Minutes
The followers of Jesus never get tired of miracles. This is true today and was true when Matthew recorded the healing of a blind and mute man: “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?'” (Matthew 12.22-23).
Earlier, the crowd said, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel” (Matthew 9.33). With the healing of this man, they expanded their appreciation and wondered if Jesus was the Messiah.
Even though the crowd enjoyed the miracles, the religious authorities probably wished the miracles would cease. They said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (Matthew 12.24).
Something that is very common in power struggles is when all else fails, opponents begin to attack the character of the person they oppose. The religious authorities were not able to produce the same kinds of results as Jesus. They couldn’t match the wisdom of his teaching. All they had left in their arsenal was the attempt to tear down Jesus’ reputation.
Jesus knew what they were murmuring and 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 Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges” (Matthew 12.25-27).
Jesus matched their character assassination with biting logic. It made absolutely no sense for the prince of the demons to cast out demons, if he wanted his kingdom to remain in power. (Note, Beelzebul is another word for Satan.)
There were Jewish exorcists in Israel. If Jesus was condemned for driving out demons by the power of Satan, the other were condemned, too. The logic of the condemnation by the religious leaders simply didn’t hold up to close examination.
Jesus didn’t stop with a simple logical rebuttal of their attack. He explained what actually was happening. He said, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Matthew 12.28-29).
Jesus linked his actions of healing and deliverance to the presence of the kingdom of God. The effective reach of God’s power was present through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. The “strong man,” who oppressed and harassed humanity was bound, because a new order – the rule of God – was in effect.
Jesus ended his response to the character attack of the religious authorities with a very strong warning. He said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the 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” (Matthew 12.30–32).
Jesus made it clear to those standing nearby that there was no middle ground. People were either for him or against him. They could side with the religious leaders or side with Jesus followers.
Jesus, then, leveled his own criticism. He warned the religious leaders that they were opposing the activity of God. When they ascribed Jesus’ acts to those of Satan, they were in reality saying that the act of God’s Spirit was an act of Satan. The words of the leaders were such an outrage that their behavior could not be forgiven.
The Unpardonable Sin
There is a mountain of information to be absorbed in this short passage. Let’s begin with the question of the unpardonable sin? I have been asked by people for years if I think they have committed the unpardonable sin. Here’s what I say to them, “If you’re wondering if you have committed the unpardonable sin, you haven’t.”
The unpardonable sin has a specific reference in the Bible. If we ascribe the work of God to Satan, we are on dangerous ground. People who are deluded, suffering from a mental disorder, or consumed by some other serious issue may make such statement, in a troublesome moment. However, I think these statements can be forgiven.
What, then is the unpardonable sin? If a person never comes to God and asks for forgiveness, God is unable to forgive that person. The only unpardonable sin is to refuse to ask for forgiveness.
No Fence Sitting
Jesus’ warning about either being for him or against him should be taken seriously by us. James writes that “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1.8).
Jesus encountered double-minded, fence sitting people in his day. On Palm Sunday, the crowd cheered him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” A few days later, some of that crowd jeered him with shouts of “Crucify him!” The crowd was clearly unstable and unable to make a firm commitment to Jesus, because they were double-minded.
Let’s be sure to heed Jesus warning and the tragic example of the double-minded crowd in Jerusalem.
Kingdoms in Conflict
This passage is an excellent picture of two kingdoms in conflict. The religious authorities, who should have rejoiced over healing, deliverance and preaching rejected Jesus and the kingdom that was associated with him. The pig farmers in the Gadarenes wanted Jesus and his deliverance of demons to leave their region (Matthew 8.34). We have seen throughout Jesus’ life that governmental authorities wanted nothing to do with his kingdom.
The conflict between these two kingdoms is another strong warning for us. I have found a delicious marinade for chicken. Strips of chicken marinate in olive oil, lemon juice, and other spices for 24 hours. When they are cooked they don’t even taste like chicken, but something out of an Italian kitchen.
We marinate in a world that is dominated by the kind of self-interest that was present in the business, religious and political leaders who opposed Jesus. If we are not careful, we will end up looking more like them than a follower of Jesus.
We need to be saturated in the life of Jesus in order to resist the urges to conform to our world’s system. It should not surprise us that Jesus taught the church to baptize people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28.19). The word, baptize, literally means to “immerse.”
To resist being molded by the world’s system that opposes God’s kingdom we are to immerse people in the life of the Trinity and to teach people to observe all that Jesus taught (Matthew 28.20).
As we live our lives in cooperation with the effective reach of God’s power, we will get to experience the miracles that the followers of Jesus have experienced for centuries. I contend that living with Jesus is unbelievably more fun than being conformed to the oppressive powers of the world’s system.
Dear Jesus, thank you for giving us an opportunity to be a part of your kingdom. Thank you that we can be immersed in the life of the Trinity and that we can learn from you. Please help us to cooperate with you in every way today.