Forgiven or Unforgivable: Matthew 12:22-37

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As we continue moving through Matthew’s gospel, we come to another miracle Jesus did that led into Jesus teaching and challenging those present. From one simple miracle, we find a powerful teaching that forces us over 2,000 years later to make a choice.

Let’s read what happened and discover what we can learn from this event. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 12, and we will read it from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 22, Matthew tells us that:

22 Some people brought to Jesus a man who was blind and could not talk because he had a demon in him. Jesus healed the man, and then he was able to talk and see. 23 The crowds were so amazed that they asked, “Could Jesus be the Son of David?”

24 When the Pharisees heard this, they said, “He forces out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons!”

25 Jesus knew what they were thinking, and he said to them:

Any kingdom where people fight each other will end up ruined. And a town or family that fights will soon destroy itself. 26 So if Satan fights against himself, how can his kingdom last? 27 If I use the power of Beelzebul to force out demons, whose power do your own followers use to force them out? Your followers are the ones who will judge you. 28 But when I force out demons by the power of God’s Spirit, it proves that God’s kingdom has already come to you. 29 How can anyone break into a strong man’s house and steal his things, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can take everything.

30 If you are not on my side, you are against me. If you don’t gather in the harvest with me, you scatter it. 31-32 I tell you that any sinful thing you do or say can be forgiven. Even if you speak against the Son of Man, you can be forgiven. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven, either in this life or in the life to come.

33 A good tree produces only good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. You can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces. 34 You are a bunch of evil snakes, so how can you say anything good? Your words show what is in your hearts. 35 Good people bring good things out of their hearts, but evil people bring evil things out of their hearts. 36 I promise you that on the day of judgment, everyone will have to account for every careless word they have spoken. 37 On that day they will be told that they are either innocent or guilty because of the things they have said.

In this passage, we find what is often referred to as the unpardonable sin, and we find a challenge for us that we will have to account for every careless word we have spoken. Unlike other passages where people are judged based on their actions, this passage challenges us with the truth that we are also judged innocent or guilty because of our words.

This passage is challenging on a number of levels and in a number of ways, but that shouldn’t stop us from digging in and seeing what we can learn.

At the start of this passage, when Jesus casts the demon out and heals the man, the people wonder out loud if Jesus could be the “Son of David”. This reference is clearly Messianic because the Jews believed at that time that the Messiah would be a descendant of David.

However, the Pharisees heard what they were saying and were quick to challenge this idea. They show their prejudice by not looking at what Jesus was doing, but by attributing Jesus’ good works to Satan.

This is where I am amazed at Jesus’ response. First, Jesus challenges the logic of the Pharisees. If Satan has somehow decided to fight himself, then he is his own worst enemy and his kingdom won’t last. Also, Jesus wasn’t the only one in the first century casting demons out of people. There were even Pharisees in other parts of the country who healed people in this way. Jesus challenges the logic of the Pharisees that some people used God’s power, but other people used Satan’s power. This doesn’t make much sense when brought to light.

Then Jesus gets even more challenging. Jesus polarizes the conversation by saying that either you are on His side, gathering in the harvest with Him, or you are against Him and scattering the harvest. There is no middle ground.

However, Jesus then promises forgiveness, but He does so in an interesting way. He tells those present in verses 31 and 32 that “any sinful thing you do or say can be forgiven. Even if you speak against the Son of Man, you can be forgiven. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven, either in this life or in the life to come.

We can be forgiven if we decide to come to Christ after being against Him. However, if we ally ourselves against the Holy Spirit, we will never be forgiven according to Jesus’ teaching. This is what is often known as the unpardonable sin. I’ve heard many different ideas regarding this verse over the years, but the biggest challenge I see included here relates to where we choose to place our focus.

For many of God’s people who are paying attention to the world’s events, we can see glimpses of how God is moving in the world today in order to bring everything towards a conclusion. This moving of God is another way of saying that we see evidence of His Holy Spirit moving in the world around us. When we see spiritual things happening and are openly skeptical about it, our skepticism pushes God away. If we continually push God further and further away, we have alienated our only hope of salvation.

Another way to say this is that by pushing the Holy Spirit out of our lives, we are also pushing away the only Source that can lead us to forgiveness and repentance. Speaking against the Holy Spirit pushes Him away and by pushing the Holy Spirit away, we reject God and His offer of Salvation. Salvation is found through believing in Jesus and placing our faith, hope, trust, and belief in Him. This can only be done when we ally ourselves with the Holy Spirit and let Him lead our lives and our focus. Without the Holy Spirit, we are lost in our sin and destined to pay the penalty for our rejection of God.

Jesus finishes off by challenging us to pay attention to the actions, words, and attitudes of those in the world around us. Someone who is good is going to produce positive things, while someone who is bad is going to produce negative things. “Good people bring good things out of their hearts, but evil people bring evil things out of their hearts.” (v. 35)

While life appears to be a lot more complicated than Jesus tells us in this passage, this truth is intuitively understood. When Jesus returns and the world is judged, our only hope is Jesus. While this passage doesn’t share how God can change people’s hearts, their minds, or their attitudes, when we let the Holy Spirit into our lives, we let God transform us into the people He created us to be. With the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will have placed our faith, hope, belief, and trust in Jesus.

If you are worried or concerned about having committed the unpardonable sin, let me put your mind at ease by saying that your worry or concern is the Holy Spirit trying to draw you into a relationship with God. Someone who commits the unpardonable sin is unlikely to ever care about committing it.

However, it is also worth noting that Jesus did not share this message to people who were on the fence about believing in Him or not. Jesus spoke this challenge to a group of Pharisees who were already prejudiced in their opposition of Jesus, and who were trying to tell others that the Holy Spirit’s power that Jesus used to heal and help others was really the power of Satan. If you haven’t told others that Jesus came from Satan and used Satan’s power to heal people, then you shouldn’t be concerned about breaking this unpardonable sin.

Instead, let right now be an opportunity to return to God if you are on the fence, ask Him for forgiveness for your past sins, and choose intentionally to step into a new life with Him!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus. If you are concerned about having sinned, take time right now to ask God for forgiveness. If God has been challenging you about a part of your life that He doesn’t like, choose to repent and to turn away from whatever that thing is. God wants the best for you, and sin is never a blessing.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Through prayer and study, discover what God wants to teach you from His Word and grow your personal relationship with God closer and stronger with every minute spent together.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or worry yourself away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 22: After healing a demon-possessed man, Jesus is challenged by a group of Pharisees over where He gets His power to heal and help people. You may be surprised at the strong language Jesus challenges this group of Pharisees with, and how this message is relevant for our lives today!

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