When it comes to Jesus, no one can remain neutral. We will eventually submit to Him gladly in faith, or else we will become increasingly cold and even hostile to Him. In this sermon on Matthew 12, David Platt points us to the identity of Christ and to the different responses that people had to Him, including the unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. We are not only warned against rejecting the Spirit’s testimony to Christ, but also we are invited to take Him as our Savior and King.
If you have a Bible, and I hope you do, I invite you to open with me to Matthew 12. We have a lot of ground to cover today, so let me jump right in from the start. My goal, my aim, my desire for you this morning is that in the next few minutes, you will see a fuller, greater, more complete, more glorious picture of Jesus than you have right now, and that in seeing Him more completely, more fully, right where you are sitting you will be humbled and overwhelmed and blown away at the thought of worshiping at the table with Him.
My prayer is that many of you will be reminded of, and some of you will be introduced for the first time to the greatness of King Jesus, and that you will have your hearts humbled by Him today, not hardened by Him, which is how most people in the First Century responded to Jesus. It’s how we naturally, in our hearts, respond to Jesus. As we’re about to see, most of the people who saw Jesus in the flesh, particularly religious people, were hard in their hearts toward Him. In the passage we’re about to read, they begin plotting to kill Him. In their hearts, they were against Jesus.
And this is really the ultimate question for every single person in all the universe: Are you with Jesus or are you against Jesus? Are you with Jesus or are you against Jesus? Is your heart humbled by Him or is your heart hard toward Him? And I pray that this morning, your heart will be humbled by Him, and lifted with affection toward Him – that you/we will be overwhelmed in a few moments to feast at the table in worship of Him.
Six More Portraits of Jesus …
So last week, we saw four portraits of Jesus in Matthew 11. These two chapters really go together in many ways, much like Matthew 8 and 9. We saw that He is the promised Messiah, the authoritative Judge, the sovereign Son, and the gracious Master. So now let’s add six more portraits of Jesus. This week in Matthew 12, Matthew is showing us Jesus from different angles. Then we’ll put them all together – 10 portraits – and we will worship Him.
So six more portraits of Jesus in Matthew 12
The first one is He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Matthew 12:1–14 says,
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
What in these fourteen verses incited murder in the minds of the Pharisees? Jesus’ disciples picked up grain to eat on the Sabbath, and then, on that same day, Jesus healed a man’s hand. What in this story necessitates murder? Well, let’s get into the mind of the Pharisees. Remember, these are religious students, teachers, defenders of God’s law who sought to apply that law in every single detail of life, to the point where they believed that in obeying the Law you earned the favor, even the righteousness of God. In this way, they were legalists.
And we’ve talked about what this means before. Legalism involves working in our own power according to our own rules to earn God’s favor. It is thinking that if we can do certain things, good things, we can be righteous before God. And lest we quickly disconnect ourselves from the Pharisees here, I want to remind us that we are all in this room born with a legalistic heart. You were born with a heart that thinks there is something we can do to merit our way to God. It’s the foundation of all the religions of the world – people bowing down in worship, paying homage to Hindu gods, at Sikh temples, in Muslim mosques following religious rules and regulations. And if we’re not careful, it becomes our foundation, where we begin to think that if we pray enough, if we study the Bible enough, if we avoid certain sins, if we come to worship, if we help other people, if we go overseas in missions, if we do these things, we will become more acceptable to God. And that’s what the Pharisees had done; they had taken the law of God, and not only had they used it as a basis for righteousness before God, but they had added all kinds of other rules and regulations in addition to the law.
So follow this: As legalists, the Pharisees added to the requirements of the law. For example, the law said you couldn’t travel on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:29), but then that begged the question, “What is considered traveling? Can you travel around your house? Can you travel to someone else’s house? If you travel beyond someone else’s house, how far can you go?” And the Pharisees answered that question by saying, “You can travel 3,000 feet from your house. That’s a permittable Sabbath day’s journey. Unless, of course, you have some food that is within 3,000 feet of your house, and if that’s the case, then that food is an extension of your house, and so you can journey another 3,000 feet.” So that’s how far you could travel, and if you went any further than that, it was sin.
Another example is the law said you could not carry a load on the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17). But what constitutes a load? Are your clothes a load? And the Pharisees said not if your clothes are worn, but only if you are carrying them are they considered a load. So it would be okay to wear a jacket on the Sabbath, but it would be sin to carry a jacket. John MacArthur describes the absurdity of it all in specific ways. He writes:
“Tailors did not carry a needle with them on the Sabbath for fear they might be tempted to mend a garment and thereby perform work. Nothing could be bought or sold, and clothing could not be dyed or washed. A letter could not be dispatched, even if by the hand of a Gentile. No fire could be lit or extinguished-including fire for a lamp-although a fire already lit could be used within certain limits. For that reason, some orthodox Jews today use automatic timers to turn on lights in their homes well before the Sabbath begins. Otherwise they might forget to turn them on in time and have to spend the night in the dark. Baths could not be taken for fear some of the water might spill onto the floor and “wash” it. Chairs could not be moved because dragging them might make a furrow in the ground, and a woman was not to look in a mirror lest she see a gray hair and be tempted to pull it out.”
And then he observes, “According to those hair-splitting regulations, a Jew could not pull off even a handful of grain to eat on the Sabbath unless he was starving.” So you see, all of this was exactly what Jesus had addressed at the end of Matthew 11, when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, all you who have had the law heaped upon you, thinking that you are righteous or not based upon all of these rules and regulations.”
They had added to the requirements of the law, and they had ignored the exceptions to the law. Jesus tells the story of David in the Old Testament entering into the tabernacle and eating a piece of bread with his men on the Sabbath, which was something reserved only for the priests to do. This leads to him noting how the priests are able to work on the Sabbath without dishonoring God. The rules that the Pharisees were making would not even stand up with precedent in the Old Testament that they were seeking to defend.
They were adding to the requirements of the law, ignoring the exceptions to the law, and in it all, they missed the heart of the law. The last episode on the Sabbath involved a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees believed—and enforced—a rule that it was only lawful to heal someone on the Sabbath if that person’s life was in danger, and that was not the case here. So they asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal this man on the Sabbath?” And you can almost imagine the intensity of this scene as Jesus looked them in the eye and said, “If you had a sheep and it fell into a pit, wouldn’t you save it? Aren’t people more valuable than sheep? It is lawful to do good, to show mercy, on the Sabbath.” There stood the man with a withered hand, and Jesus touched him and healed him. And immediately, the Pharisees went out and began conspiring to kill Him. An amazing picture as those most devoted to the law now turned completely against the One who gave the law in the first place.
And this is what infuriated them most: As Lord, Jesus was telling the Pharisees that He is greater than the tabernacle, greater than King David. Exceptions were made for him, so surely they would be made for the Messiah King who had come in the line of King David. And just as David and his men could eat in the house of God, so it is okay for Jesus’ disciples to eat in the presence of God.
For Jesus is not only greater than the tabernacle; He is greater than the temple. Just as the temple represented the dwelling place of God, Jesus says, the One who represents God’s dwelling place in an even greater way is here. And just as there were clear exceptions for working on the Sabbath in the presence of God, so it is permissible to work on the Sabbath in the presence of the Christ. Don’t miss it: Jesus is making clear that as Lord of the Sabbath, He is God. He is the presence of God in the flesh, and as God, He has the right, the authority to determine Sabbath regulations for His disciples in greater ways than David had the right to eat in the tabernacle or priests had the right to work on the Sabbath, and in ways that it was absolutely right for Jesus to show mercy to a man on that day.
And don’t miss the implication here: In making this claim to be Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus was saying to legalistic Pharisees, “The way to become right before God is not through following certain rules and regulations. The way to become right before God is through faith in me.”
And it’s the same message to every single person in this room this morning: You cannot become right before God by following certain laws; you can only become right before God by trusting Jesus as Lord. He is the Lord of the Sabbath.
He is the Servant of God and sinners.
Second, He is the Servant of God and sinners. So notice the contrast here between the Pharisees ignoring the needs of men and plotting to kill the Messiah with this portrait of Jesus in Matthew 12:15–21.
Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
It’s the longest quotation of the Old Testament in the book of Matthew, and where’s it from? Isaiah, one of Matthew’s favorite books. Specifically, it is from Isaiah 42:1–3, which is Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah as a suffering servant. Knowing that the Pharisees were plotting to kill Him, Jesus doesn’t try to fight against them. Instead, He withdraws, and even amidst healing hurting people, He tries to keep a low profile.
He is the Servant of God: Jesus is loved by the Father and filled with the Spirit. He alone is pleasing before the Father. And He alone perfectly embodies the Spirit. He is the servant of God, and He is the servant of sinners: Jesus is hope for the hurting. I love this description: “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone in the streets hear His voice.” This is a picture of Jesus’ refusal to fight or shout against the Pharisees. No, He is a meek and gentle Savior who “will not break a bruised reed and will not quench a smoldering wick.” What great imagery! Here is the One who is Lord of the Sabbath, with authority over the Law, the promised King to come, and He comes to people who are bruised and battered, whose flame is flickering out.
Do you ever feel like that? Some of you feel like that this morning. You are spiritually broken, bruised by sin and all its effects, unable to stand up under it. Some of you feel like spiritually your lamp has gone out, or at the very least, your light is burning low. Like a smoldering wick, spiritual life in you feels faint, at best. Oh, I have good news for you. Jesus is your servant, and He comes to you, in the depth of your sin and struggle, and He does not crush you. Nor does He quench the ever-so-faint flame that is within you. He does not say, “Away with you.” Richard Sibbes, Puritan pastor who wrote a classic on this text, said, “Are you bruised? Be of good comfort, he calls you. Conceal not your wounds, open all before him and…go to Christ….There is more mercy in [Him] than sin in [you].” Did you hear that? There is more mercy in Christ than sin in you. Oh, hear that! There is more mercy in Christ than sin in you. He heals the hurting. He blesses the brokenhearted who trust in Him. One preacher said, “You are never beyond healing unless you are beyond humbling.” Humble yourself before the Servant of God and sinners, and He will lift you up.
He is the Power of God.
See Jesus: He is the Lord of the Sabbath, the Servant of God and sinners, and third, He is the power of God. Let’s pick it up in Matthew 12:22–27.
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. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 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. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
Now let’s stop there, and then we’ll go step-by-step, verse-by-verse through the rest of this part of the chapter. Jesus heals a demon-oppressed blind, mute man, and the crowds respond, saying, “Could this be the Son of David?” I.e., “Is this really the Messiah?” This is a question that, of course, enraged the Pharisees, causing them to make an outlandish accusation: “It is only by Beelzebub, or the devil, the prince of demons, that Jesus casts out demons.”
Now let’s think about this unreasonable accusation that Jesus addresses on two primary levels. First, He says, it is illogical. Why would the devil want demons cast out? Why would the devil send demons to torment a person, and then send someone else to deliver that person from torment? That would be like casting himself out, destroying his own work. “A kingdom divided against itself can’t stand,” Jesus says. That’s illogical.
And it is inconsistent. “You have sons,” Jesus says, referring to the Pharisees’ followers, “who cast out demons.” And we know from Matthew 7 that people who were not followers of Jesus would cast out demons. And we see seven sons of Sceva doing that in the book of Acts. And Jesus says, “You approve of what they do. So are your followers Satanic, as well? And if so, what does that make you?”
So Jesus points out how unreasonable their accusation is in order to bring them to some undeniable conclusions. First and foremost, if this is not by the power of Satan, then this is by the power of God. Verse 28: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” If Jesus is not casting out demons by the power of the devil, which would be both illogical and inconsistent, then there’s only one other possibility: He is casting out demons by the Spirit of God, which means that the kingdom of God is here. More specifically, the King is here.
Second undeniable conclusion: The One who is stronger than Satan is here. Verse 29: “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.” What a picture! Jesus says, “If you’re robbing a house, you don’t get help from the homeowner. You tie up the homeowner, and then you plunder his house. That’s what I’m doing,” Jesus says! “I am binding the strong man,” i.e., Satan, the devil, “and I am plundering his house, the domain where he has temporary rule, because I am stronger than him.” Everything we are reading in the book of Matthew is making that clear. Jesus is healing people of diseases, He is delivering people from demons, He is raising people from the dead, He is forgiving people of sins — all of these things are shouting one reality: One who is stronger than the devil is here!
Jesus is manifesting a kingdom, and as the King, neutrality toward Him is impossible. Verse 30: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” In other words, Jesus says to the Pharisees and by implication to us, “You are either with me or against me. They and you and I must all make up our minds: Either Jesus is evil and we oppose Him pridefully, or He is good, and we follow Him wholeheartedly. There is no middle ground.
This then leads to Jesus’ teaching on the unforgiveable sin. This is likely one of the most misinterpreted and misunderstood passages in all of the Bible. Verses 31–32, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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.” All right, those are pretty serious words.
So what do they mean? Well, let’s start by reminding ourselves that we need to look at these verses in light of the overall biblical context, and then in light of this specific biblical context. Let’s start with the broader of the two. We know in Scripture that God is a forgiving God. That reality is all over the Old Testament and the New Testament. It’s what Matthew quoted earlier from Exodus 34, that God revealed His glory as “the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” This is the God who forgave Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, King David, and on and on and on in the Old Testament. God forgave His people for all sorts of heinous, rebellious sins. And we see the same in the New Testament from tax-collectors and sinners like Matthew, to anti-Christian terrorists like Paul, God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, forgiving sin. So we know that in all of Scripture.
Now specifically, when we come to this passage in Matthew 12, Jesus is speaking to Pharisees who are showing themselves to be completely opposed to Jesus. These are men who are saying that everything Jesus does is not through the power of the Spirit, but through the power of Satan. This helps us to understand why Jesus even uses the term blasphemy here instead of just general sin. To blaspheme is to speak against, to slander, to defy, to mock, and that’s what they were doing.
So with that context, generally and specifically, let’s think about what Jesus is saying. First, He says that blasphemy against the Son is forgivable, and the avenue to forgiveness is repentance. To speak against Christ, to slander Christ, to mock Christ, to deny Christ is forgivable through repentance. We see that all over the New Testament. Peter denied Christ, and he was forgiven. Paul said in 1 Timothy, “I was formerly a blasphemer…yet the grace of the Lord to me was more than abundant.”
And we see this all over our lives. There’s a sense in which we are guilty of blasphemy in times where we deny Christ, when we defame Christ, when we question His goodness, His wisdom, His love, His faithfulness toward us. And praise God, all of this is forgivable by God’s grace. And the avenue to forgiveness is repentance, right? Confession of sin, seeing that what we have done is wrong, admitting our sin, and by God’s grace, turning from sin. Blasphemy against the Son is forgivable, and the avenue to forgiveness is repentance.
On the other hand, Jesus says, “Blasphemy against the Spirit of God is unforgivable. Why? Follow this with me. Because the avenue to forgiveness is rejected. Remember the context here: Jesus is speaking to people whom He knows have hardened their hearts completely against Him. In attributing the work of the Spirit to the person of Satan, they have set themselves in total opposition to the Spirit of God, the only Spirit who can draw them to salvation through repentance. They have rejected even the thought of repentance.
Their sin involves willful unbelief, persistent rebellion, and final denial. Think about all three of those. Willful unbelief: They had seen Jesus heal every kind of disease, cast out every kind of demon, forgive every kind of sin, yet they chose to charge Him with deceit and demonism. In the face of every possible evidence of Jesus’ deity and messiahship, they said, “No.” They did not reject the Spirit of Christ in Jesus for lack of evidence; they rejected the Spirit of Christ in Jesus for lack of humility. Willful unbelief.
Persistent rebellion: They persisted in their pride regardless of what Jesus said or did, to the point of final denial. This was permanent rejection, permanent refutation of the work of the Spirit in the Son of Man, and permanent refutation leads to permanent condemnation. “They will not be forgiven, in this age or the age to come,” Jesus says. One commentator described the Pharisees, saying:
For penitence they substitute hardening, for confession plotting. Thus, by means of their own criminal and completely inexcusable callousness, they are dooming themselves. Their sin is unpardonable because they are unwilling to tread the path that leads to pardon. For a thief, an adulterer, and a murderer there is hope. The message of the gospel may cause him to cry out, “O God be merciful to me, the sinner.” But when a man has become hardened, so that he has made up his mind not to pay any attention to the promptings of the Spirit, not even to listen to His pleading and warning voice, he has placed himself on the road that leads to perdition. He has sinned the sin “unto death.”
And it makes sense, doesn’t it? How can someone be saved if they pridefully and permanently reject the Spirit of God in Christ? It is the Spirit alone who draws us to salvation, the Spirit alone who leads us to repentance, and the Spirit alone who applies to us forgiveness. 1 Corinthians 12:3, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”
Now, even as we think about this, we must keep in mind two unforgettable reminders. One, we must avoid labeling anyone as guilty of the unforgivable sin. The reality is, in all of our hearts, there was a time where we spurned the work of the Spirit. All of us were opposed to Christ and His Spirit, in some sense, in our hearts, and He patiently pursued us. Paul is a perfect example of this. Now Jesus, here in Matthew 14, knew the thoughts of these Pharisees, and we’re about to see that He knew their hearts, as well in a way that we do not.
So, we trust that God alone knows a person’s heart. And who are we to say that a person has committed willful unbelief, persistent rebellion, and final denial of the Spirit’s invitation to repent? We don’t know, and so we avoid labeling anyone as guilty of this sin. Instead, we work and we pray with a constant hope that God will soften even the hardest of hearts, that God will save even the most prideful of sinners. We pray for that, and we work for that, and we hope in that.
And real quickly, along these lines, sometimes Christians wonder if they have committed the unforgivable sin, or maybe fear that they have committed the unforgivable sin. Based on all we’re seeing here, it’s pretty safe to conclude that if you’ve worried or feared that maybe you have done this, you are showing by your concern that you have not done this; that you have not fully and finally rejected the Spirit of God in Christ. Others have labeled suicide or other particular sins as ultimately unforgivable, but this passage definitively does not teach that. Blasphemy against the Spirit of God is unforgivable because the avenue to forgiveness and repentance has been thoroughly rejected.
Second reminder: We must realize that the unforgivable sin is primarily a sin of the heart, not the lips. Listen to verses 33–37:
“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. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be
Blasphemy is speaking, right? Blasphemy against the Spirit is speaking against the Spirit of God. And based on that, people wonder, “Have I ever said something against the Spirit of God? If so, then have I committed the unforgivable sin?” But Jesus makes clear here a principle, a truth, that we see all over Scripture: Our words reveal our hearts. And what is at the core of the unforgivable sin is not ultimately what is spoken, but ultimately what lies underneath what is spoken. A heart that rejects humble repentance speaks like the Pharisees were speaking. The problem is not ultimately with what someone says; the problem is ultimately with someone’s heart.
This is a sobering reality, though, isn’t it? Our words reveal our hearts. Look at your words—what you say, or sometimes what you don’t say — and you will see your heart. Jesus makes clear that a good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears bad fruit, and the fruit of our lips is evidence of the heart in our lives. “Humble faith in me,” Jesus says, “results in good works, which includes good words.” All of this goes back to the reality that Jesus is the Power of God. He is the One who is stronger than Satan, who has the power to bind Satan and cast Him out, ultimately revealed in His work on the cross and in the resurrection, where He conquers sin, death, and Satan. So it makes sense for Paul to describe salvation in Romans 10:9-10, saying, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with his heart that a man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Jesus is the power of God.
He is the Greater Prophet.
Three more portraits, we’ll hit them quickly: Jesus is the Greater Prophet. Matthew 12:38–41:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
The scribes and Pharisees ask for a sign, as if they hadn’t seen enough. They wanted something else, something more sensational, more exciting, greater than what He had already done, to prove Himself to them. Jesus calls them out in their wickedness, knowing that even His own resurrection from the dead will not convince their hardened hearts. He points back to the prophet Jonah, who was alive after three days in a fish. And Jesus tells them He would be alive after three days in a grave.
There’s some debate about Jesus’ usage of three days and nights here because, technically, Jesus died and was buried on a Friday and rose on a Sunday, which would not be three full nights (or full days, for that matter). But it was very common to count any part of a day as a complete day, so this should not be surprising. Regardless, the point is that just as a fish swallowed up Jonah, only to be delivered from death, so the grave will swallow up Jesus, and He will be delivered from death.
Upon Jonah’s deliverance, the Ninevites responded with repentance. And here the contrast sets in, because the Israelites were responding with rejection. What greater sign could they receive than the resurrection? Yet they would still reject Him.
He is the Wiser King.
Jesus is the Greater Prophet, and He is the Wiser King. Matthew 12:42, “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” Here Jesus points out that a pagan queen from of old would condemn these Pharisees, for when the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, and she saw his wealth and wisdom, she marveled at God, who had given such wisdom to man. Yet here were the Pharisees, with the very wisdom of God standing in front of them, rejecting everything He said.
He is our Elder Brother.
He is the Wiser King, and finally, and maybe most amazing of all of these, Jesus is our Elder Brother. Now as soon as I say that, I want to guard against a misunderstanding. There’s a cultic way to understand this in the sense that some believe we will one day become equal with Jesus, and I hope we have seen that Jesus is superior to us, and always will be superior to us, in every way. But I do want you to see that in His humanity, Jesus made it possible for us to be a part of His family. It’s language we see in places like Romans 8:29 and Hebrews 2:11, where Jesus is called our brother.
Now what does that mean? Well, start with me here in verse 43:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Now let’s pause for a minute before we get to this last paragraph, because I want us to see how these paragraphs link together. This first paragraph makes clear what we do not need. We do not need an empty religion consumed with outer reformation. Some people have taken this paragraph to come up with all kinds of fanciful explanations about how to deliver demons out of people, and what must be done to ensure demons don’t come back. But to go off in all kinds of speculation about tactics in spiritual warfare here misses the entire point of the passage. Jesus is still addressing these Pharisees who have hardened their hearts toward Him, who are rejecting Him, and who are leading the Jewish people away from him. He describes them as people who have sought to get their house in order, who have sought to follow God’s laws, in addition to a variety of other rules and regulations. They have tried to sweep evil out of their lives and put things in order on their own. But their religious devotion has ultimately left their hearts empty. They were so focused on outer reformation when their greatest need was a new heart.
And as a result, they were all the more susceptible to the advance of the evil one than ever before. They were classic moralists, thinking that could reform their own lives, and that kind of self-righteous moralism is empty. It only drives you further away from God, making you worse off than you were before, more susceptible to the evil one.
And, ultimately, it damns you. Oh, don’t miss the warning here: Legalism gets progressively worse in our lives from year to year and from generation to generation. The more we convince ourselves that we can reform our lives, the more we find ourselves working harder and harder and harder, yet coming up empty every time. That is a recipe for hopeless living and eventual condemnation. Legalism is demonic.
But there is another way. Read Matthew 12:46–50:
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Yes: What we don’t need is empty religion consumed with outer reformation. That only leads to greater evil and ultimate death.
What we do need is an intimate relationship compelled by inner transformation. We need a new heart. We need to come to God the Father through God the Son — through Jesus — realizing that He is our brother. Meaning that in His humanity, Jesus is like us in every way, except He is without sin. He alone is righteous. He alone is able to obey the law that we cannot obey. He alone is stronger than Satan, able to overcome sin in His life and in His death, able to rise from the grave. And as such, He invites us into His family. In this sense, He is our Elder Brother, our Supreme Brother, before the Father. He is the Son (capital “S” Son) who makes it possible for us to be called, with Him, sons and daughters (lowercase “s” and “d,” sons and daughters) of God. When we turn aside from our sin and ourselves to the Spirit of God, and we trust in Jesus as the only One who can save our souls, we are brought into His family as children of God with Christ our Elder Brother.
The Humbling Invitation …
Oh, hear the humbling invitation to you, and do not harden your hearts to it. Humble your hearts, men and women, and feast at the table with the promised Messiah, the authoritative Judge, the sovereign Son, the gracious Master, the Lord of the Sabbath, the Servant of God and sinners, the Power of God, the Greater Prophet, the Wiser King, and your Elder Brother.
Do you realize what we do in communion? Do you realize what we will do in eternity? We will feast with the promised Messiah; He is our Elder Brother. Oh, see Him. See Him and love Him. See Him and worship Him. See Him and humble yourself before Him. For the first time today, for all today who have worked hard to try to be righteous God, rest in the Lord of the Sabbath who is righteous for you. To all who are bruised and broken, whose light is struggling to find life, humble yourself before Him and ask Him to heal you, to rekindle your heart. To all who are struggling under the weight of sin, come to the One who is the Power of God; He is stronger than your enemy! To all who fear death, He is the greater Prophet who conquers death! To all who seek wisdom, He is the wiser/wisest King. And to all who long to be loved, see your Elder Brother who brings you into the family of for whom God is Father.
What does it mean that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath?
How did the Pharisees distort God’s Word? How are we guilty of acting in similar ways?
Why is neutrality towards Jesus impossible?
How do our words reveal our hearts?
What are the implications of Christ’s humbling invitation?