Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘Blaspheming the Holy Spirit’ parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 12:22-32

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

22 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. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 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. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 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.

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Last week’s post looked at the preceding verses to this week’s reading. In Matthew 12:15-21, Jesus left the area where He had healed a man with a withered hand in the local synagogue and went to another place where He continued to heal people and make them whole again. Matthew cited and paraphrased Isaiah 42:1-3 to show the Jews — and us — that Jesus truly is the prophesied Messiah and Saviour.

Now someone brought to Him a man who was blind and mute because of demon possession (verse 22). Our Lord healed the man who could then see and speak.

This is both a physical and spiritual healing. Matthew Henry says:

A soul under Satan’s power, and led captive by him, is blind in the things of God, and dumb at the throne of grace sees nothing, and says nothing to the purpose. Satan blinds the eye of faith, and seals up the lips of prayer.

The people watching this were beside themselves with astonishment. Immediately they asked if He was the long-awaited Son of David (verse 23). John MacArthur analyses this verse for us:

The word there means ‘to be totally astounded.’ It is existemi, and it means to be beside yourself with astonishment; it isn’t just saying, “Well, isn’t that something.” It is losing it. In fact, one translator says that it means to be literally knocked out of your senses. Another one says it is to be out of your mind with amazement. To put it in Junior High talk, it is to be blown away. They just couldn’t handle it; it was an overwhelming thing.

Yet, they were trying to reconcile His humble appearance with His magnificent healing power (emphases mine):

… they are saying, “This can’t be the Messiah, can it?” It’s like an 80-percent no but a 20-percent yes. The ‘no’ comes from the fact that He didn’t fit their bill, their design, their preconception; but the 20-percent ‘yes’ comes from the fact that they couldn’t explain His power.

The Pharisees addressed them and alleged that our Lord was in league with Satan (verse 24). No Jew of the time was going to argue with these men considered to be the paragons of God’s people. And the Pharisees were so wrapped up in their own prestige that they were permanently hard of heart, so much so that they accused Him of getting His power from Beelzebul.

MacArthur explains the name:

That is the old word that originally was the name of a Philistine god, Beel comes from Baal. You’ve heard of worshiping Baal, and that is just the ancient pagan word for ‘lord.’ ‘Zebub’ or ‘zebul’ is best connected in translation to the word ‘flies.’ So we go all the way back to the lord of the flies, or the god of the flies.

The Ekronites worshiped the god of the flies, if you can imagine. It was a play on words, because there is another word ‘zebel’ which means ‘dung.’ So apparently, they even called Beelzebub ‘Beelzebel,’ which was a derisive thing, saying, “Your lord of the flies is nothing more than the lord of the dung.” It would be easy to do that play on words, because flies tend to hang around, well, you get the picture. So that is probably what they had in mind.

Through the centuries, this lord of the flies or lord of the dung title for this deity became a very common title for Satan. So to be the prince of demons or Beelzebub is simply using one of the titles of Satan. Jesus recognized this, because in verse 26, when He answers, He uses the word ‘Satan’ in response to their word ‘Beelzebub.’

Jesus pointed out the absurdity of that accusation (verses 25, 26), effectively asking how and why Satan could be working against his own demons, his servants.

Note that the Pharisees were not addressing our Lord. He was going to talk to them, however.

It is likely that the Pharisees were standing closer to the crowd than to Jesus, so He might not have been in earshot but, because He is omniscient, He knew what they had said.

Jesus went further, asking them how their sons were casting out demons (verse 27). Were they, too, in league with Beelzebul?

Or, He asked them, was He healing through the Spirit of God (verse 28)? If so, then the kingdom of God was present among them. Henry explains:

This casting out of devils was a certain token and indication of the approach and appearance of the kingdom of God (Matthew 12:28) … Other miracles that Christ wrought proved him sent of God, but this proved him sent of God to destroy the devil’s kingdom and his works. Now that great promise was evidently fulfilled, that the seed of the woman should break the serpent’s head, Genesis 3:15. “Therefore that glorious dispensation of the kingdom of God, which has been long expected, is now commenced slight it at your peril.” Note, [1.] The destruction of the devil’s power is wrought by the Spirit of God that Spirit who works to the obedience of faith, overthrows the interest of that spirit who works in the children of unbelief and disobedience. [2.] The casting out of devils is a certain introduction to the kingdom of God. If the devil’s interest in a soul be not only checked by custom or external restraints, but sunk and broken by the Spirit of God, as a Sanctifier, no doubt but the kingdom of God is come to that soul, the kingdom of grace, a blessed earnest of the kingdom of the glory.

Jesus expanded on that further by alluding to a break-in (verse 29). If someone is going to plunder the house of a strong man, he’d better be able to overpower that man and bind him first. Therefore, who is the only one strong enough to bind Satan? Jesus.

Henry analyses the verse:

The world, that sat in darkness, and lay in wickedness, was in Satan’s possession, and under his power, as a house in the possession and under the power of a strong man so is every unregenerate soul there Satan resides, there he rules. Now, (1.) The design of Christ’s gospel was to spoil the devil’s house, which, as a strong man, he kept in the world to turn the people from darkness to light, from sin to holiness, from this world to a better, from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18) to alter the property of souls. (2.) Pursuant to this design, he bound the strong man, when he cast out unclean spirits by his word: thus he wrested the sword out of the devil’s hand, that he might wrest the sceptre out of it

Then our Lord said that anyone who was not with Him was His enemy and that anyone who did not gather — spread His message — would scatter, or be lost (verse 30).

He went on to say (verses 31, 32) that many forms of blasphemy can be forgiven — including those against Himself as the humble Son of Man — once one repents but that against the Holy Spirit cannot be pardoned.

MacArthur says that this is because blaspheming the Holy Spirit is doing what the Pharisees have done: allying the Spirit with Satan.

MacArthur unpacks this for us:

He is saying, “You can speak a word against the Son of Man, and that would be forgiveable because you may speak against Him, seeing nothing more than the humanness.” In other words, your perception may not even allow you to be dealing with deity as a factor. And it is not His power on display, so you may be speaking against Him as Son of Man; you are condemning what you perceive in His humanness (even though you’re wrong), you can understand that you can do that without making a comment on His deity at all, because it is the Spirit who is working, not Him, technically.

Another thought is important here, and that is the fact that this is His humiliation. There is a sense in which He is in a mode of humiliation which invites that kind of criticism. In other words, you might say, “If that is the Second Person of the Trinity, I’m not impressed. I mean, He’s a carpenter from Nazareth.” You could speak a word against the human Jesus in His humiliation, that’s forgiveable; you may just not know the facts, who He really is. You may not have seen the evidence, and are just talking at the human level, without a perception of the divine. That’s what He’s saying.

Nevertheless, when you speak against the Holy Spirit, that will not be forgiven you, not in this time period or in the time period to follow, because when you begin to speak against the Spirit, then you are saying, “I recognize the supernatural, I see the supernatural, only I think it’s Hell, not Heaven.” For that, you won’t be forgiven.

Ultimately — and this is important to be able to explain to people, because these are not easy verses to understand:

If you’re looking on the human plane and that’s all you perceive and understand, you can be brought along to believe and understand. But if, when you have seen the supernatural and the ministry of the Spirit of God through Christ, and you conclude that it is of the Devil, you can’t be forgiven because now, you are speaking against the Spirit of God, the power of God, the energy of God, as made manifest through Christ. So, in a real sense, you’re speaking against His deity, His divine nature, and calling it satanic.

It is easier to understand this in the context of the Pharisees, prime examples of the condemned. They spent a lot of their time following our Lord around, witnessing His miracles and hearing His teaching. Yet, as we saw in Matthew 9:32-34 and in this passage, they accused Him of being in league with Satan. They denied the divine source of His power, the Holy Spirit, and — worse — called it satanic. That cannot be forgiven.

Henry explains:

This is such a strong hold of infidelity as a man can never be beaten out of, and is therefore unpardonable, because hereby repentance is hid from the sinner’s eyes.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit which began working through the Apostles starting on that day enabled them to spread the Gospel message, preach, teach and heal in Christ’s name. This is why Confirmation — a sacrament for Catholics, an ordinance for Protestant denominations — is so important. Unfortunately, it seems to be the last time many adolescents ever see the inside of a church. Families agree that once their children are confirmed, they do not have to attend Sunday services any more.

This is, I think, in part, because Confirmation classes are not what they used to be. They are rather watered down. Consequently, adolescents do not understand the nature and importance of the Holy Spirit. Another factor is parental. Mum and Dad have forgotten, or never understood, the Holy Spirit, either. Were their clergy to blame, too? Or was it that they drifted away from worship and the faith?

Those of us who have been confirmed or ‘born again in the Spirit’ would do well to consider how we are using the Holy Spirit’s gifts in our relationship with Christ Jesus and in our daily lives.

In closing, parallel verses for today’s passage are in Luke 12:8-10. It is a pity that neither of these was included in the three-year Lectionary for public worship.

Next time: Matthew 12:33-37

 

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