June 25, 2006
3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Pastor Tim Smith
20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, â€œHe is out of his mind.â€ 22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, â€œHe is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.â€ 23 So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: â€œHow can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong manâ€™s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. 28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.â€ 30 He said this because they were saying, â€œHe has an evil spirit.â€ (NIV)
If you’ve ever had a course in logic or rhetoric, you may have heard of something called a “straw man” argument. As the name implies, a Straw Man is an argument or point for discussion that looks real, but with very little effort can be pushed over and defeated.
Jesus faced a Straw Man argument in our text, and defeated it with three little parables. The argument went like this: Jesus was driving out demons by the Prince of demons. It was an easy argument to blast apart.
In the first parable, Jesus said: â€œIf a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.â€ The beginning of the end of any kingdom is when it begins to oppose itself. A two-party system of government is one thing, but a kingdom or a nation that actually fights itself is about to fall. Imagine if a ruler attacked his own army. It would mean the beginning of a civil war and the end of that nation.
In the same way, the devil can’t oppose his allies, the demons. The devil’s name in our text, Beelzebub, means “Lord of the Flies.” It’s a play on a name for an Old Testament idol in Philistia, Baalzebul, “Exalted Baal” or “Prince Baal.” Calling him “Baal of the Flies and Mosquitoes” was a joke that both Matthew and Mark let stand in their books. But the devil is no joke. The demons are all subject to the Devil, or Baalzebub. The demons resist God and God’s plan — and that’s in harmony with the devil’s goals. If a demon were to oppose the devil’s policy, he would be promoting God’s own will. And that can’t happen.
In the second parable, Jesus said: â€œIf a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.â€ Abraham Lincoln quoted this passage before the Civil War. A house — a family, let’s say — can’t operate and function when there is so much strife that part of the house is divided against another part. Teenage squabbling or a difference of opinion between a husband and wife is one thing, but when part of a house can’t live with another, that house can’t stand. It’s a tragedy, and it’s the result of sin — and the same would be true if the Devil started turning on his own evil angels.
I was at my desk this morning (yesterday morning) — finishing this sermon, in fact — when I noticed a fast running trickle of water shoot past my elbow from the direction of my fish tank. I tell you the truth, a fish tank with a hole in it is like a house divided against itself — it cannot stand. And my fish tank is no more (my three fish are temporarily in the custody of the MVL Science Department aquarium).
In the third parable, there’s a change. Jesus speaks from an unusual perspective. Jesus asks us to imagine what it would be like to be a robber trying to rob a house. This is a new angle on the question: How can Jesus drive out demons? If Jesus is truly going to be driving out demons and plundering the kingdom of the devil, he can’t do it with the devil’s permission. He would have to tie up the devil first â€” bind him â€” and then reclaim what may be in the devil’s house but in fact belongs to God. There is no way for Jesus to drive out demons using the power or name of the devil.
So what’s all this really about, anyway? After these three parables, Jesus introduces a conclusion that cuts right through to the heart of what’s being said. By saying that he was out of his mind, Jesusâ€™ family showed that they didn’t think he was doing the Lord’s work.
It’s pretty easy to point fingers at Jesusâ€™ family, isn’t it? They didn’t understand him, and we are truly his mother and sisters and brothers. But we say that Jesus is out of his mind by the things we say and do, too. When we make impossible demands on Jesus, we oppose him while trying to be on his team. When he was a young man, St. Augustine prayed “Lord, make me chaste — but not yet.” We can’t ask God to forgive us and ignore the secret sin we keep in our pocket. When we ask God to forgive us, we must let go of the sin in our lives. And when we ask him to help us fight against temptation, he is a loving God. He will help us. But we need to stop trying to play religion by half-measures. God rescued us already — we don’t, thankfully, have a choice in whether or not we are saved. We are. But if we keep hanging onto old sins, or keeping shopping for new ones, we are turning away from Jesus. The fingers that point at Jesusâ€™ family point at us.
But now we also turn to the teachers of the law, the Scribes. By claiming Jesus was himself demon-possessed, they were claiming that all Jesusâ€™ teaching, preaching, miracles — everything — was the product of the devil, and wasn’t from God at all.
They had heard the Gospel, and they said it wasn’t for them. They were saying that the Gospel isn’t the Gospel.
Jesus now brings up the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus says that someone guilty of this sin “will never be forgiven,” we also call this sin “the unpardonable sin.”
But be aware: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not simply unbelief. If that were true, the entire world would be guilty of it and no one could ever be saved, because there was a time in each of our lives when we were unbelievers and had not yet heard the Gospel. Nor is this unpardonable sin a sin that a person keeps stepping into for his whole lifetime, like an addiction or a persistent error. A person might struggle with gossip or a foul mouth or a hot temper or a sexual sin or gambling — for a lifetime, and still know that God forgives and that Jesus saves us from our sins.
There are basically four reactions to the Gospel:
( 1 ) The unbeliever’s reaction before he comes to faith, which is to say, “Jesus who?”
( 2 ) The believer’s reaction of faith: I love thee, Lord Jesus.
( 3 ) The believer’s slip into sin (like Peter in the Garden): “I don’t know him!”
( 4 ) The hardened former believer, now blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is what happens when a person who (1) has heard and taken the Gospel to heart, and known and trusted in God as our Savior, and yet (2) who has then rejected that Gospel message, turning Jesus out as a liar and a fraud. A person who rejects Christ after knowing Christ is sinning against the Holy Spirit — the person of the Trinity who placed that faith in his heart in the first place.
In simpler terms, rejecting the Gospel; rejecting being saved is the summary of this sin, and that tells us why is the unpardonable sin, because it refuses that very pardon. It’s like a patient on an operating table who fights and screams and struggles with his own surgeon. He is in grave danger of dying, because he is rejecting the healing being offered to him.
We cannot take one part of God and reject another. God is indivisible. His love and his grace and his patience and his kindness toward us are all part of who God is. We can’t take Jesus, for example, and not the Holy Spirit. And we can’t take God the Father and not Jesus Christ his Son. We cannot divide God anymore than we can divide God’s kingdom.
I don’t know about you, but my finger is getting sore from pointing back at myself as we examine our own sins today.
Let’s keep on putting our trust, and all of our trust, in Jesus. Jesus Christ took our original unbelief and he filled that gigantic void with himself. We love him for that. He has let us know about himself and his love for us. And Jesus took all of our criminal and petty sinfulness and he has swept it all aside, replacing the wreckage of our sinfulness with the peaceful bliss of his forgiveness. And Jesus has taken even our denials and rebellions and our pet sins, and he has covered over our guilt with his own blood. We can’t break up any of those facts.
We can’t take God’s judgment of sin by itself without receiving his forgiveness, too. God is indivisible. He has overcome the devil and rescued us. He has forgiven us. He gives us the peace of God…