Scriptures

Mark 3

Introduction

‘Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shrivelled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.’ Mark 3:1-6

Read also Matthew 12:9-14 / Luke 6:6-11. As their hatred of Jesus mounted, His enemies searched for every possible chance to attack Him, but He kept evading their traps. On this occasion, a man with a withered hand was in the synagogue. Jesus asked His opponents’ opinion on whether or not to help the man, but they refused to reply.

Notice that Jesus askes the man ‘to stand up in front of everyone, Jesus wanted to really make a point to these teachers of the Law, He didn’t hide what He was doing. Jesus then told him to stretch his hand out.

Apparently, He neither touched him nor did any other physical thing, He merely asked the man to reach his hand out. When he did, it was healed. Jesus’ critics were furious and began plotting to assassinate Him.

To save a life or to kill!

In Mark 3:4 Jesus asked His opponents,

‘Should one save a life or kill on the Sabbath?’

They chose not to reply, which showed that they were not interested in truth, but only wanted to discredit Him. It is always easy to find fault, but it is much harder to give a positive recommendation.

Normally Christ healed men by laying His hands on them or performing some other physical sign. If He had accompanied the healing by physical action in this case, they would have attacked Him for doing medical work on the Sabbath, something contrary to their tradition.

This time, however, Jesus did nothing, He merely told the man to reach his hand out. Even Jesus’ enemies did not believe it wrong to stretch out your hand on the Sabbath.

Thus, He outsmarted His opponents and they were furious. When a man in an argument begins to get angry, it is a sure sign that he is losing. As it turned out, Jesus’ enemies are the ones who plotted to kill on the Sabbath, because He had done good. The Pharisees and the Herodians who actually were enemies of each other, joined forces to get rid of Jesus.

‘Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard about all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd, he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the impure spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he gave them strict orders not to tell others about him.’ Mark 3:7-12

After His confrontations with the Pharisees, Jesus withdrew from the multitudes who were yearning to be healed. They realised that Jesus had the power to heal, Matthew 9:21 / Matthew 14:36.

Demons caused those in whom they dwelt to fall down before Jesus and confess that He was the Son of God, Matthew 8:29 / Matthew 14:33. However, Jesus wouldn’t allow the demons to make Him known at this time in His ministry because it wasn’t yet time for a direct confrontation with the religious leaders concerning His Sonship.

Consider also that Jesus didn’t want one who was considered possessed in the community giving testimony to His deity. The demons’ proclamation at this time would surely have added power to the Pharisees’ blasphemous accusations that Jesus was from Beelzebul.

The spreading fame of Jesus

What was Jesus preaching?

‘The Gospel of God’

This wasn’t a Gospel about God, it was God’s own Gospel. God’s ‘good spel’ ‘good speech’ which means ‘good news’. The word gospel, comes to us from Anglo-Saxon. The popular notion of what constituted God’s good news was, very different from the Good News which Jesus came to preach.

See Paul’s statement on Acts 28:20 concerning his own preaching of the ‘Hope of Israel’. If he had been preaching what the Jewish leaders were teaching concerning the ‘Hope’, they would not have delivered him to the Romans. The traditional Jewish Hope and Expectation concerned a Messiah who would drive out the occupying army of Rome, re-establish the Kingdom of David and reign from David’s throne, which would again be set up in Jerusalem. In other words, they looked for a Military and Political deliverer.

For 400 years, since the time of Malachi, heaven had been silent. As a people who proudly called themselves

‘God’s people’,

they had been accustomed to the ministries of a long line of prophets which stretched back as far as Moses, with whom the true prophetic ministry had begun centuries earlier, and they had taken the prophets for granted, even though they ignored their messages.

Still, the daily prayer of every devout Jewish husband contained the request that he might have a son who would become the long-awaited Messiah, whilst the daily prayer of a Jewish wife was that she might become the mother of the Messiah.

Consequently, when John the Baptiser, emerged with startling suddenness, out of the wilderness looking like a reborn Elijah, and preaching the message of the Messiah’s coming, the news spread like wildfire, and then, when Jesus took up the message after John’s imprisonment in Galilee, as Mark reports, and as the last verse of the first chapter records,

‘they came to Him from every quarter’.

There is no doubt that, striking as the ministry of John must have been, the ministry of Jesus immediately had an even greater impact on those who came to hear Him, because, whilst both John and Jesus presented the same message, calling the people to repentance, the word of Jesus was endorsed by miracles, a fact on which the people remarked.

‘John did no miracles’ John 10:41

What was the Message? We have mentioned that it was ‘God’s Gospel’. Not a message about God but a message from God. It declared that

‘the time was fulfilled’.

The divine plan that was first announced in Genesis 3:15 and gradually revealed through succeeding centuries, was about to be brought to reality.

Though Jesus frequently tried to withdraw, people followed Him from everywhere. He continued teaching, healing and casting out demons. While neither the crowd nor the religious leaders seemed to have recognized His true identity, the demons confessed Jesus as the Son of God. He declined their testimony, however, since He did not want the recommendation of the Devil.

‘Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons. These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.’ Mark 3:13-19

Jesus needed to train apprentices to represent Him and preach the Gospel after His departure. He chose twelve of His followers for that job. The twelve He chose were an unlikely bunch: included were four fishermen, a tax collector, a revolutionary, Simon the ‘Zealot’, a sceptic, Thomas, and a traitor, Judas Iscariot. Jesus proved that He could work with and make something out of even the most unpromising material.

For a fuller account of the event recorded in this section of the chapter we need to turn to Luke 6:12ff, where we find the addition of very important facts. The major event recorded by Mark is ‘the choosing of the twelve’, and the listing of their names, and we may be excused for thinking that the brevity of Mark’s account is rather surprising, considering the importance of the occasion.

Mark 3:13 says that Jesus

‘went up to a mountain’,

but doesn’t mention that His purpose, which Luke reveals. was

‘to pray’.

He tells us, in Mark 6:12 that, before Jesus chose these twelve men, He spent the night alone on the mountain in prayer to God. Please note He wasn’t talking all night long! Effective prayer is a two-way street, it involves both speaking and listening.

The next day He called His disciples to Him and He revealed the names of the twelve men who were later to be called ‘Apostles’, and we cannot avoid thinking that the night spent in prayer had something to do with His choice.

Another thought provoking thought is that to some of them He gave new names. Simon, He named Peter in Greek ‘Petros’ which is masculine. It’s important to notice this, because Jesus later said,

‘Upon this ‘petra’, feminine, I will build My church’.

James and John were named ‘Boanerges’, ‘sons of thunder’, which may be a reference to some early stage in their lives when they were known to have had a reputation which they had already outgrown, or, which the Lord knew they would outgrow!

There was an occasion, as they travelled with Jesus, when the temper suggested by this name, flashed out. Travelling in Samaria, the anger of the two brothers showed when a Samaritan village wouldn’t give Jesus hospitality for the night, because he was Jew, they reacted angrily.

‘Lord, shall we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ Luke 9:54

The re-naming of these men reveals the fact that the Lord knows what we are and what we can become. I wonder if He has another name for each one of us and what that name might be?

These three men, Peter James and John, were the three who were closest to Jesus, whom Jesus took with Him on very special occasions

1. The house of Jairus, whose daughter He brought back to life.

2. His transfiguration,

3. The garden of Gethsemane.

The very fact that Jesus chose them, suggests that, although He was the Son of God, in His humanity, He felt the need for companionship and support. Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that there were several reasons why in Mark 3:14-15.

He chose these twelve,

1. To be with Him.

2. That He might send them out to preach.

3. To have the power to perform miracles of healing.

He ‘ordained’ them and gave them power and authority. There are several Greek words for ‘ordain’, so that it has several shades of meaning, ‘to appoint; to set in place; to point out; to indicate by pointing the finger.’

Note the difference between power and authority. It’s possible for a person to have ‘power’, but lack the ‘authority’ to use it. Jesus gave the men whom He chose power and the authority to exercise it.

‘Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.’ So, Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.’ Mark 3:20-30

While Jesus’ family thought, He had gone crazy, the Pharisees charged that He accomplished His work through the power of the devil. They were desperately seeking to discredit Him and diminish His influence.

Jesus’ devastating reply silenced them

1. He said that it would be unreasonable and even disastrous for the devil to begin attacking himself. Civil wars don’t produce strong kingdoms.

2. Christ explained that He had come to rob the strong man, the devil, taking from him the souls that had been under his control. Logically, He would need to disarm Satan to accomplish this goal, so expelling demons was a predictable facet of His strategy.

3. He warned of the serious consequences of hardening one’s heart to the point of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. These scribes were demonstrating a malicious and possibly fatal attitude toward the work of God.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

Mark 3:19 tells us that Jesus and His followers returned to the town and when this was known, the crowds came together again, and the situation was as bad as ever. Furthermore, the Scribes had arrived from Jerusalem, bent on discrediting Him, because He was becoming far too popular and influential for their liking!

They had come no doubt, because the local Pharisees had reported the growing popularity and influence of Jesus and urged that, something should be done about it. In fact, the Pharisees in Capernaum had formed an alliance with the Herodians, and were planning to kill Jesus.

Now, that in itself, shows how much they hated him. An alliance of Pharisees and Herodians was an unlikely and incredible as an alliance of Conservatives and Socialists today, considering the depth of the hatred the Pharisees and Herodians had for each other. The very fact that these two parties had even spoken to each other was amazing, because the Pharisees were the who kept strictly to the Law of Moses and whilst the Herodians were supporters of the
Romans.

Well, they had to be, considering the fact that the Romans had made Herod, their family head, King of the Jews and given him authority over Galilee. The line of attack adopted by the Jerusalem scribes is stated in verse 22. He is under the control of Beelzebub, and he casts out demons because He is in league with the Devil.

Now, although Mark does not record the account of the detail, both Mathew and Luke do! They tell us, in Matthew 12 and, Luke 11 of their Gospels, that Jesus had healed a man who was blind and dumb, but, instead of accepting the miracle for what it was and intended to be, namely, proof of identity, proof that He was their long-awaited Messiah, they deliberately tried to discredit Him by accusing Him of being in league with the Devil.

‘Beelzebub’ is one of the many names given to Satan and it is the Greek form of the name ‘Baal-zebub’ and it means

‘The Lord of Flies’.

Now, first of all, Jesus reasons with them. He is aware of the fact that the Scribes have been moving among the people trying to turn them against Him, seeking to discredit Him and undermine His influence, and he says,

‘How can Satan cast out Satan? You accept that the man was under the influence of Satan, so why would Satan want to heal him? Would not that mean that Satan is working against himself? Is it not true that a house divided against itself cannot stand?’

And, again,

‘It is not possible to take anything out of the house of a strong man, unless you first disable the strong man! You must first bind the strong men, and then you can take his possessions!’ ‘You know very well that your argument is false!’ Furthermore, ‘if I cast out demons with the help of Satan, by whose help do your sons claim to cast them out?’

But then, Jesus changes His tone, He issues a warning. Taking note of what Matthew and Luke also say about this incident, Jesus says to the Scribes,

‘You may blaspheme, say what you like, speak injuriously, or critically about Me.

You may misrepresent Me and you can be forgiven but you are in danger of eternal condemnation, when you blaspheme the Holy Spirit by Whom this man has been made well!

These religious leaders were sinning against the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, by whose power the man had been healed, when they deliberately refused to recognise that by means of this and all other miracles performed by Jesus, the Holy Spirit testified that Jesus is the Son of God.

In effect, these men were committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by declaring that the Spirit of Truth is a liar. He had not performed the miracle, but Satan had! And the miracle did not prove that Jesus is the Christ. The Holy Spirit was lying about that also.

‘And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ Matthew 12:31-32

Now I don’t need to tell you that these are some of the most serious words that ever came from the lips of Jesus Christ. In fact, the more you study this passage, the more terrible it reveals itself to be. It seems that Jesus is indicating a position into which if a man enters his case has become hopeless.

He says,

‘It is possible for us to adopt an attitude that makes it impossible for even God to forgive us.’

And for that very reason whenever we read this passage, either in the Gospel of Matthew or in the other Gospels, we ought to be very careful how we treat it.

There are 2 possibilities with this passage. There are 2 ways of dealing with it

1. There is the possibility of reading into the words, something that isn’t really there, and making it say something that even Jesus never meant them to say. And

2. It is possible to water it down so much, that you deprive them entirely of their meaning and their terribleness.

I think this subject is an interesting one. And I think it is interesting because some people may think that they have committed the unforgivable sin. And even if you don’t think that, at least it’s a curious subject. It’s mysterious and it’s strange and terrible and it’s fascinating. It’s also a subject, which has caused a great deal of confusion.

Consequently, a great many speculative theories have been put forward about it. Some of the theories have been so confused and so involved they haven’t helped anybody, they have only created further uncertainty and difficulty.

Surely it has to be possible to know what Jesus meant. I can’t believe God has allowed this passage to be put into His Word by the inspiration of the Spirit and He wants to keep us in the dark about it. Especially with such a serious matter as ‘the unforgivable sin’ is involved.

To understand the meaning of Jesus we’ve got to go back to the original setting. Here is a man who is demon possessed, and consequently because of that he is blind and dumb. And he is brought to Jesus and the man is miraculously cured by Jesus.

Now the people standing around are amazed at this demonstration of divine power and they say,

‘Could this be the Son of David?’ Matthew 12:23

They believe like Nicodemus that no man could do these miracles except if God is with him. But the Pharisees as usual tried to discredit Him. They say something that even before the words left their lips they must have known was not true. They say,

‘It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’ Matthew 12:24

In other words, they deliberately turned their back on the miracle, a miracle that ought to have convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, because remember that is what the miracles were designed to do. John 20:30-31.

And they say,

‘Now this man’s not the Son of God, and the power that He manifests isn’t God’s power either, He works miracles only because He is in league with the devil, the one who really performed that miracle was the devil himself.’ Matthew 12:24

Now this means they not only spoke against Jesus but they spoke against the Holy Spirit by whose power the miracle as performed. Now remember that Jesus said in Matthew 12:28,

‘If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God.’

So, Jesus claims that this was a demonstration of the Spirit’s power through Him. But they blind themselves to that and they not only insult Jesus but by doing that they speak wicked and insulting words against the Holy Spirit Himself.

Now you can see the sin by which these men were guilty. Jesus describes in Matthew 12:31-32 in 2 different ways. He calls it first of all,

‘Blasphemy against the Spirit’

in verse 31. Then in verse 32 He calls it,

‘Speaking against the Spirit’.

Now notice that Jesus didn’t regard this as an attack against Himself. Of course, they were making an attack on Jesus obviously, that was the whole idea in their minds. They spoke against Him when they made this wicked charge. Jesus interprets what they say as directly against the Holy Spirit and for once in His life, Jesus regarded the attitude of these men to be so terrible that He lowered Himself to reply to them.

Now very often when Jesus was attacked by these people, He just ignored the attack. As the Scriptures say in 1 Peter 2:23,

‘When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate.’

Jesus wasn’t concerned on the whole about defending Himself against attack. But on this occasion when the Holy Spirit was under attack, Jesus said,

‘Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ Matthew 12:32

Notice it is ‘A sin’ against the Holy Spirit. Notice I said, ‘A sin’ against the Holy Spirit, not ‘THE sin’ against the Holy Spirit. Because it is one sin, of many possible sins against the Spirit. And there is something else to notice too.

The passage doesn’t say that, ‘any sin or all sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.’ And it doesn’t teach us that there is only one sin against the Spirit. After all the New Testament tells us that there are several sins against the Holy Spirit, there are several ways in which we may sin against the Spirit of God.

Hebrews 10:29 we read of the sin of,

‘despising the Spirit of grace’.

Now that’s the sin that the Hebrew Christians were endanger of committing. Remember that the Hebrew letter was written to Jews who had been converted to Christianity but seemed to want to go back to the old Law. They seemed to have the idea that in becoming Christian they had perhaps sacrificed more than they had accepted.

They had a longing for some of the outdated, superseded ceremonies of the Law of Moses. Which really meant that they were looking back when the author had been looking forward. And the writer tells them, if you keep on looking back, there is only one end to that, you’re going to end up going back. And if that happens, if you go back after confessing Jesus, you are committing sin because you’re treating the Holy Spirit with disgrace, you’re affronting the Holy Spirit.

After all, He is the Spirit of grace. He brought you to the light. He led you to the blessings of Christ and to go back now, will be to insult Him. And every time a Christian turns their back on Jesus Christ and goes back into the world that person is committing the sin of,

‘despising the Spirit of grace.’

Again, in Acts 5, you have the sin committed by Ananias and Sapphira. In Acts 5:3+9 the sin is described in 2 ways. It’s described as,

‘lying to the Spirit and testing the Spirit’.

1. All these people try to deceive the apostles, particularly Peter by pretending that a part of the price they received from the sale of piece of land was all of the price. And Peter points out to them that their sin has really not been a sin against man at all. They have tested or tempted, or tried the Holy Spirit by lying to Him.

Now this sin of lying at this particular moment was certainly for these people,

‘a sin that leads to death’,

to use the expression John uses in 1 John 5:16. But that’s not necessarily the unforgivable sin. In fact, it’s not even described as the unforgivable sin.

Again in 1 Corinthians 6:19+20 and we discover that certain sins of impurity, certain sins of immorality in Christians are sins against the Holy Spirit. He says,

‘Do you not know that your body’.

He’s not talking about the church, the body of Christ. He’s talking about your physical body. He says,

‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your body.’

And as a Christian therefore he says that,

‘The Holy Spirit dwells in you’.

You receive the indwelling presence of the Spirit at your baptism. God’s given the Spirit to all them that obey Him, Peter says in Acts 5:32. His presence in your body marks you out as holy, sanctified, set apart for God. And therefore, as Christians we should be on our guard against any kind of conduct.

Any habit of personal life that is unclean or harmful or unhealthy to our moral or our mental or our physical health. The particular sin that is described in the passage of coarse is the sin of immorality. And such a sin says Paul is a sin against the Holy Spirit who lives within you and makes your body the temple of God, because He detests impurity.

Again, in Ephesians 4:30 there is another sin against the Holy Spirit mentioned.

‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.’

Now in this passage when you read the context you will discover that Paul is talking about the things that people say. The things that Christians can say, the way we use our tongue. He is saying,

‘Look, you have received the Holy Spirit as a token that God intends to redeem you outright one day, therefore watch your tongue, watch your language, watch the things you say, do not cause pain or sorrow but let your words give grace and not offence.’

And again, it relates to purity. Purity of speech and thought.

And then finally and there are others, but I am trying to demonstrate the various sins against the Holy Spirit that can be committed. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 Paul says,

‘Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.’ Or ‘Do not quench the Spirit.’

The Holy Spirit is in your life as a Christian. He’s there to prompt you to zeal and to enthusiasm. He’s there to show you how best to serve God. But when you refuse to act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit in your life. When you refuse to be led to greater service for Him. When you know what to do and you don’t do it. When you know how to be a greater use to God and you refuse to act, then you suffocate the voice of the Holy Spirit in your life.

To an extent that He loses His influence on you. And just as a fire can be put out by water, so you can restrain and dampen down and quench the Spirit of God. And ultimately, if you treat the Holy Spirit like this, He will leave your life. He won’t constantly try to struggle in your life at all, but He will leave you to yourself. And so the later end of you is worse than the beginning. Matthew 12:45 / 2 Peter 2:20.

Now all of these are sins that can be committed against the Holy Spirit. And something else notice. They are all sins that are committed by Christians. There’s not one of these that apply to the Non-Christian. They all relate to the believer’s attitude and relationship to the Spirit of God. But you’re not told that any one of these is the ‘unforgivable sin’.

Let’s be honest, if any one of these sins was an unforgivable sin, how many of us would be saved? How many of us as Christians who have not at one time or another committed one of the offences that I have just talked about? So, these aren’t the unforgivable sins.

Let’s look at the way that Jesus describes this particular sin. He calls it in Matthew 12:31-32,

‘Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’

Now blasphemy is ‘evil speaking’. In that sense, you can blaspheme anyone with evil words against them. But in the Bible sense, blasphemy means, ‘Evil speaking against deity’. It’s a very old sin. Leviticus 24, we find possibly the earliest mention of ‘blasphemy’ in the Bible. And that’s the time when Moses had received the Law from God and there is a man there. The son of an Israelite woman who has married an Egyptian, who has said to have blasphemed the name with a cursed.

Now blaspheming the name; is the name of God. And even it seems at that moment that this was such a terrible thing that even Moses was at a loss to know what to do. Nobody had ever behaved like this before certainly not among the people of God. And so, Moses goes to God and lays the matter before God and he asks God what to do.

In Leviticus 24:16 God says,

‘Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death.’

Now there is no misunderstanding the penalty of the sin. And throughout the Old Testament, whenever this particular sin of blasphemy against God was committed either by word of mouth or by attitude, this particular sentence was carried out; people were stoned to death for blasphemy.

They even did it during the times of Jesus. Jesus heals a paralysed man and He said,

‘Son your sins have been forgiven.’ Luke 5:20

And His enemies said in Luke 5:21,

‘This man speaks blasphemy.’

Another time, Jesus said,

‘I and my father are one’. John 10:30

And they picked up stones to stone Him. And they said,

‘For blasphemy because you being a man, are making yourself equal with God.’ John 10:33

And they were perfectly logical because there are many people today who don’t believe that Jesus Christ is God or that He is equal with God. They are much more stupid than the Jews at the time of Jesus because of all their hatred and opposition they raised against Him, they certainly understood the significance of His words. They recognised that Jesus was indeed claiming to be God. And in their eyes, that was blasphemy and they were ready to carry out the sentence of the Law.

Now not all blasphemy is unforgivable. Now Jesus said it, He said in Matthew 12:31,

‘Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men.’

And again, He says in Matthew 12:32,

‘Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.’

And He’s talking about blasphemy. We have an example of that, haven’t we? The apostle Paul, he says in 1 Timothy 1:13.

‘Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy’.

Now why? Because his blasphemy was against the name of Christ and not against the Holy Spirit. It is true when he attacked the Lord Jesus, he attacked the Holy Spirit too but in his heart. Even when his heart was full of hatred for the Christians, even when he opposed the name of Christ, Paul in a misguided way thought he was serving God. He loved God and he respected the Spirit of God, so he was not in his heart blaspheming the Holy Spirit but the name of Jesus and he received forgiveness.

Now there is theory that says that the unforgivable sin is the sin of

‘refusing to believe the Gospel and dying in sin’

And that’s the explanation that is often given as ‘the unforgivable sin’. They say that through the Gospel the Holy Spirit is pleading with men to accept Jesus as Saviour and when they refuse to accept that testimony, they are just like the Pharisees committing the sin of blasphemy, the unforgivable sin.

Well, if that were the case. If the unforgivable sin were the sin of refusing the Gospel of Christ and dying in sin, it couldn’t be committed before the Day of Pentecost, when the Gospel was first preached. And yet Jesus says to these Pharisees in Matthew 12:32,

‘Anyone who commits this sin will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’

Jesus isn’t saying that,

‘This sin has no forgiveness in this life and the life that is yet to come.’

Everyone knows that when we get to the Day of Judgment, forgiveness for any sin is past. So Jesus isn’t talking foolishness. He’s saying to the Pharisees.

‘Look anybody that commits this particular sin has no forgiveness, here and now, in the age in which you and I live, or in the age which is to come, when the Gospel will be preached.’

And again, when you think about. If the unforgivable sin is the sin of refusing the Gospel invitation, rejecting the Gospel. You only have to do that once to commit that unforgivable sin. And if we say that to commit this sin a man must refuse the Gospel and go on refusing it until the day that he dies. What’s so startlingly new about that idea?

And didn’t Jesus say much more plainly in John 8:24,

‘If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.’

Anybody knows that if people persistently refuse the Gospel time and time again and go on refusing it until they die their sins won’t be forgiven. But this isn’t ‘the unforgivable sin’ in the sense in which Jesus is talking about it here.

Remember that we are dealing with a sin against the Holy Spirit and not against Jesus. But the failure to obey the Gospel would be no more blasphemy against the Holy Spirit than it would be blasphemy against God or against Christ.

Because Romans 1:1 says,

‘The gospel is the gospel of God.’

Galatians 1:7 says,

‘It is the gospel of Christ.’

So, to refuse the Gospel, is as much a sin against God and against Christ as it is a sin against the Holy Spirit.

Now in Matthew 12:27-32 and again in Mark 3:23-29, the sin that Jesus is talking about is shown to be something directly and particularly against the Holy Spirit. It was by the Holy Spirit that that particular miracle was performed.

And the Pharisees had said,

‘He has an unclean Spirit.’ Mark 3:22 / Matthew 12:24

Now that’s how they thought about the Holy Spirit. ‘The Spirit of God was an evil Spirit’, they said.

Now you must have noticed that they didn’t deny that the miracle had been performed. If they could have disproved the miracle by showing that Jesus had some kind of trick and that He was a conjurer or a magician. They would have discredited Jesus, but they didn’t try to do that, they didn’t even suggest it.

If they had accused Jesus of fraud, they would have been speaking against Him, which wouldn’t have been the unforgivable sin as Jesus says. These men went beyond Jesus and they made direct attack on the Holy Spirit and what they actually did was to call the Holy Spirit a wicked Spirit, an unclean Spirit, the Spirit of the devil. In other words, it was a deliberate attack on the Spirit of Holiness.

Indeed, the very way that Jesus puts it shows that we’re not dealing an indifferent rejection of the message of the Spirit like we get in the world today when people refuse to become Christians. But with something aggressive, something deliberate, something active. And that’s what He means when He uses that expression,

‘speaking against the Holy Spirit.’

Remember that Stephen was accused of attacking God and Moses and the temple.

‘Attacking’

They said in Acts 6:11,

‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.’

In other words, they accused Stephen of launching an attack on God. And that’s exactly what these men were doing. They were launching an attack on the Holy Spirit. In fact, Stephen implies that the Jews were always doing that in Acts 7:51 he says,

‘You stiff-necked people, you always resist the Holy Spirit!’

In other words,

‘You always fight against the Holy Spirit, you are always in opposition to the Holy Spirit’.

So why is this particular sin unforgivable? And why should a sin be unforgivable? Is it because God will not forgive it? Surely that can’t be the answer.

Surely God hasn’t marked out one particular sin as being so hideous and wicked, so terrible and grievous that He says,

‘No’. ‘Murder, I’ll forgive that, lying, I’ll forgive that, immorality, I’ll even forgive that, blasphemy against Jesus, yes I’ll forgive that, I forgave Paul for doing that, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, No I draw the line there.’

Does God behave like that? Of course, not. That’s an impossible theory, to suggest that there is one sin that God will not forgive is utterly out of keep of all that you know about the character of God. Because time and time again God has shown us, pleading with men.

‘Repent then, why will you die.’

We are shown a God who’s deepest longing is for men to turn to God and be forgiven.

‘Come now let us reason together’, said the Lord. ‘Though your sins may be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, although they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’ Isaiah 1:18

‘God is not wiling that any should perish but that all come to repentance.’ 2 Peter 3:9

And we could go on. The next question usually asked concerning this sin is whether or not it is still possible to commit it today?

Opinions on this question certainly vary, and scholars seem to be divided in their positions. The evidence, however, seems to point toward the idea that this sin cannot be committed today.

1. The circumstances under which the sin is described cannot prevail today, due to the fact that the age of miracles has ceased, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12.

No one today will have the opportunity to witness Jesus performing miracles in person. 2 Corinthians 5:16.

2. There is no other mention of the sin in any Biblical passage written after the resurrection of Christ.

None of the inspired New Testament writers refers to the sin in any epistle or in the Book of Acts, and none offers warnings to new converts about avoiding the sin post-Pentecost.

In conclusion, ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit’ is the only ‘unforgivable sin’ mentioned in the Bible, and it is mentioned in the context of the Pharisees accusing Jesus of being possessed by the devil.

The context indicates that it was a specific sin, and not a series of forgivable sins, or an attitude of persistent unbelief. After the resurrection, no inspired writer mentions the sin, and no warnings against it were recorded.

There is no concrete evidence that it can be committed today. The fact that it’s not mentioned after the resurrection, lends itself to the idea that it cannot still be committed. In fact, the indication from passages such as 1 John 1:7+9 is that

‘all unrighteousness’

that a person could commit today can be forgiven by the blood of Jesus.

‘Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’ Mark 3:31-35

Jesus’ physical family didn’t understand Him. They came to try to talk to Him, perhaps to persuade Him to take a break. He refused to give them a private hearing, explaining that His family no longer had a special claim on His attention. Jesus’ true family consists of those who hear and do His will. This incident shows that Mary had no special influence or privilege; Jesus treats all of His obedient followers equally.

Summary

Jesus was continually under attack. He was criticized because He forgave sins, ate with sinners, didn’t fast, didn’t observe the religious establishment’s Sabbath doctrines, and cast out demons. He never cracked under the intense scrutiny and pressure.

Much to the contrary, He continually affirmed principles that are extremely important even for our service to Him:

1. The priority of forgiveness of sins over physical healing.

2. The importance of recognizing one’s spiritual sickness.

3. The fact that fasting is to be done only when it fits the circumstances.

4. The uselessness of religious traditions.

5. The critical danger of hardheartedly rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit.

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DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Joshua 1:9

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