Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lent 3 Sermon Notes (modified)

 [Scripture quotations from ESV]

“He that is not with me is against me” +

In the 12th chapter of the Gospel according to St Matthew, the parallel passage to today's Gospel, the same accusation that Jesus works by an evil spirit ends with the same personal challenge “He who is not with me is against me ...” But then it is immediately followed by this:

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. 
Now this seems to say that this sin is different to and worse than the sin just mentioned before, being “against” Jesus. And so many Christians have greatly feared this mysterious sin, wondering whether even as Christ's followers they could commit it and lose all the hope given in Him. Yet the use of the word “therefore” at the beginning of these verses implies that the statement about the “unforgivable sin” is the natural consequence of the teaching about our response to Jesus, and its decisive nature. And Jesus makes clear elsewhere that rejecting or deliberately ignoring Him is enough to condemn. For example, in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, it is precisely our treatment of Jesus in the needy that determines our eternal destiny. And he constantly implicitly tells the Pharisees and others that their rejection of Him simply is rejection of God. Indeed, this is the message in the very next chapter of St Luke's Gospel (succeeding today's 11th). “He who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” Immediately after which we have Luke's record of Jesus' teaching on the unforgivable sin!

So, rather than seeing the unpardonable sin as being something separate or supplementary to rejecting Christ, or merely a particular spoken form of words about the Holy Spirit, we need to look more deeply at the context of Jesus' teaching. 
In John 8 we have yet another example of this principle. Again, Jesus is accused of acting under the influence of an evil spirit. And he responds in verse 49 with “I do not have a demon; but I honour my Father and you dishonour me … if anyone keeps my word he shall never see death”. His opponents reply, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus reply is worth reading in full [vv. 54-59]:

  Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
  But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.
  Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
  So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”
  Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
  So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. 

When Jesus says "I am" rather than "I was", it is not bad grammar, but a claim of eternity and divinity, as the name of God revealed to Moses was "I AM". Thus definitively to say no to Jesus truly revealed to us, is to definitively say no to the Father. It is to hate God.

Now, this whole discussion ended as it started. Earlier we had this: [vv. 21-25]

“I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”
  So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”
  He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.
  I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am [he] you will die in your sins.”
  So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning."

Clearly, having known Jesus, heard what he taught and seen what he did, necessitated a choice. And to then choose to say that Christ was demonic, an expression of evil, was in fact to meet God and his manifest goodness and call them evil. In other words, this deliberate, whole-hearted opposition to the Light was in itself the total embrace of the Darkness, and its verbal expression a sign of that final commitment to evil. That is why Jesus follows the “unpardonable sin” passage in Matthew with this:

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.
34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.

The unpardonable sin is therefore not a sin that can be committed by the one who has faith in Christ, nor just by an accidental mis-statement about the Holy Spirit or about a work of his unrecognised. It is an unreserved opposition to and rejection of Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God the Father and as the one infinitely filled with God the Holy Spirit [cp. John 3:34]. It is to turn away from God in Christ, not just to Jesus as a man. That is perhaps why He says that “whoever speaks a word [not “blasphemes”] against the Son of Man [not “the son of God”]” can be forgiven."
So, it is not that what we believe and say about Jesus is less important. No, once we have had a proper chance to know and respond to Him as He truly is, what we say and do is our response to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, the passage in question does not say that every other sin can be forgiven upon repentance, but that it “will” be forgiven. That “whoever” speaks against the Son of Man “will” be forgiven. It is almost as if Jesus is teaching that the Cross will annul absolutely all sin without exception, except for the ultimate sin of refusing the forgiveness and grace proceeding from Christ and Him crucified. For this is the sin that epitomises and retains all the others.

Another interesting fact about our Lord's statement on the unforgivable sin is that he stops short of saying that his accusers had in fact committed it and were permanently beyond salvation. In John 8 he does say they will die in their sins, but then later adds the qualification "unless you believe". Given that Jesus sometimes used hyperbole to shake up his listeners, and that someone like St Paul may have said many wicked things about Christians and their spiritual source before his conversion, we must be cautious in our practical application of this passage.

Let us then not live in servile fear of this sin or any other, nor look to God as if to a harsh and unrelenting judge. Instead, let us rejoice in the promise that through accepting and receiving Christ by grace, in prayer, word and sacrament, we possess the Triune God, and are eternally loved and kept by Him. +

1 comment:

Shane said...

Thank you so much for this post.
So, it means that if I ask for repentance it doesn't mean that I am already cleanse by the Lord?

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