Earlier this year I had the privilege of preaching one night at Thornhill Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY during a special week of meetings leading up to Easter Sunday. I preached a message titled “The Serpent Symbol of a Suffering Symbol” from Numbers 21:4-9.
Audio of this sermon is available here.
There has been a lot of speculation about the nature of the unpardonable sin. Some have suggested that divorce, murder or suicide. But none of those sins are identified as unforgivable in the Bible. Others fear that they have committed the unpardonable sin because of an unguarded thought or word against the God the Father, Son or Holy Spirit. Some think that an irreverent joke might be the unpardonable sin. But the idea of the unpardonable sin comes directly from the lips of Jesus. In our text this morning, Jesus says that every kind of sin and blasphemy can be forgiven, except for one. What does He say that it is? That’s what we want to consider in this passage.
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. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 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. Matthew 12:22-32
I. The Occasion of the Miracle, vv. 22-23.
The occasion that produced the statement by Jesus about the unpardonable sin is this. Jesus has just healed a man who was oppressed by a demon. Jesus had healed the man by exorcizing the demons. This is exactly the kind of action that indicated that Jesus was the Messianic King, the descendent of David, for which the Jews had been waiting. Isaiah 35:5-6 prophesied the coming of the kingdom of God: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Interestingly, when the crowd sees this miracle their minds must have immediately went to these Old Testament prophecies that link the coming of the Messiah with His Davidic kingdom to miraculous works such as they have just seen. No wonder, then, they ask the question “Can this be the Son of David?”
II. The Accusation by the Pharisees, v. 24.
It is unclear whether the crowd asks this question out of faith or doubt? There seems to be a hint of skepticism in the Greek at this point, like “He can’t be the Son of David, can he?” But the Pharisees did not even want the issue raised. They immediately reject this possibility by asserting that the miraculous deeds done by Jesus can only be attributed to Satan himself. Notice what they are doing. They are taking the miracles which Jesus has performed by the power of the Spirit which identify Him as the messianic king, the Son of David and are rejecting that evidence and saying that these miracles were performed by the power of Satan.
III. The Reaction by Jesus, vv. 25-32.
Jesus responds. He knows their thoughts, which was itself evidence of his divine power. He responds by pointing out two problems with their accusation:
- First, he points out the illogical nature of their accusation, vv. 25-26.
- Second, he points out the inconsistency of their accusation, v. 27.
Then, in verses 28-29, Jesus argues that, contrary to the Pharisees, the inclination of the crowd to identify Jesus as the promised Davidic king was dead on. Jesus asserts that since He is performing this miracles, since He is casting out demons, this is evidence that the kingdom of God has come among them because the king was standing in their midst!
So, what is the sin that Jesus is discussing here that is unforgivable? It is a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. John Walvoord has defined this sin as “attributing to Satan what is accomplished by the power of God.” D. A. Carson has defined the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as “the willful assigning of what is unambiguously the Spirit’s work in the ministry of Jesus (12:28) to the devil (12:24).” In other words, Jesus is referring to the sins of the Pharisees in this text who have rejected the evidence provided by the Holy Spirit through the miracles performed by Jesus that He is indeed the Messianic King. Their rejection is unforgivable at this point, because they have sufficient evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. They know the Old Testament prophecies and they have seen the miracles in person. Yet, they reject Jesus as their Messiah. Jesus essentially says in verse 30 that you’re either with me or against me. They have aligned themselves against Jesus by their rejection and therefore there is no forgiveness available for them.
Now, for the question: Can this sin be committed today?
If we take this question in a very strict sense, we would say no. This sin could only have been committed by people who were alive during Jesus’ earthly ministry who knew the Scriptures like the Pharisees and saw the miraculous signs performed by Jesus.
But, I believe that this sin can still be committed today. Because it is still possible to reject the evidence provided by the Holy Spirit in Scripture and through His internal conviction that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, the Savior, the Son of God.
When an individual is brought to a certain point by the Holy Spirit where they are convinced that Jesus is indeed the only Savior, and they still reject Him at that point, then there is no other hope available for them and their sin is unpardonable.
I think this is what the author of Hebrews is talking about in Hebrews 6:4-6, 9. These people have been exposed to the working of the Holy Spirit, even having been enlightened, but not yet converted. If people brought to that point do not trust Christ, salvation is impossible for them.
Don’t be that person! How can you guarantee that you’ve not committed the unpardonable sin? Don’t reject Christ. Respond positively to each step of revelation given to you by the Spirit. Don’t reject His testimony in the pages of Scripture and His working in your heart!
On Saturday, one of the students in the History of the Baptist course which I am teaching at SBTS this semester asked for examples of using church history in preaching. I answered in some way, but I do not remember what I said. Yesterday, at the church where I pastor, the guest speaker was unable to make it to our church service due to inclement weather. Naturally I thought of the events surrounding Spurgeon’s conversion and the text God used to bring him to faith, so I pulled an old sermon which I had preached before from my files and preached it. As I thought about it this morning, I realized that the sermon is an example (but not a typical one) of using church history in preaching a sermon. Here’s a link to my notes which I posted on my blog this morning. An audio version has also been posted.
Again this sermon is not typical, but I think something like this can be done occasionally on special occasions. Thus, I believe it serves as an illustration of using church history in preaching. Of course, I believe that this can be done on a much smaller scale on a more regular basis (perhaps as a short illustration or introduction to a sermon). If you do this, you will not only be providing your congregation with an illustration of the text you’re preaching, but also providing a much-needed introduction to many of the great examples of faithfulness to God found in church history.
Yesterday, at the church where I pastor, the guest speaker was unable to make it because of inclement weather. Naturally I thought of the events surrounding Spurgeon’s conversion and the text God used to bring him to faith, so I pulled this sermon from my files and preached it. Audio version here.
Just this past week there was an anniversary of sorts. On January 31, 1892, the famous British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon died at the age of 59. During his lifetime, Spurgeon preached enough sermons to fill 63 volumes. The sermons’ 20-25 million words are equivalent to the 27 volumes of the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The series stands as the largest set of books by a single author in the history of Christianity.
On January 6, 1850 (or 13th, see Lewis Drummond’s case for this date in his Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers), just less than 163 years ago, Charles Haddon Spurgeon experienced salvation on a snowy day in England.
The snow was so bad that the young Spurgeon could not make it to the church he had planned to attend that day. So he turned into a small Primitive Methodist chapel. The minister was snowed in and couldn’t make it there, but that day a lay member of the congregation took as his text Isaiah 45:22 and read, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” (AV)
In this short text three important aspects of the gospel message are evident:
1. The Exclusivity of the Gospel Message;
2. The Simplicity of the Gospel Message; and,
3. The Universality of the Gospel Message
I. The Exclusivity of the Gospel Message, “Look unto me!”
This text is a very exclusivistic one. In this text the LORD says, “Look unto ME!” He does not say look anywhere you please, one look is as good as another. No, He declares that “there is none else.” The context of Isaiah 45:16-25 is very clear. Notice the exclusivistic claims there.
The New Testament Parallel to this passage is John 3:14-15 which refers to the account recorded in Numbers 21:4-9 of the children of Israel’s experience in which they were bitten by poisonous snakes. This plight had come upon the children of Israel because of their continuous complaining against Moses and God. After many people had already died from their snake bites, the ones who had been bitten but had not yet died cried out to Moses acknowledging their sin. God then provided a means of healing from the deadly serpent’s bites. It involved the construction of a serpent of brass placed upon a pole (the debatable source for the medical symbol). Anyone who looked upon the serpent on the pole would be healed and escape death.
The serpent symbolized the sin of Israel. Because of the Israelites sin of unbelief God sent the serpents in judgment. The serpent was a reminder of judgment which in turn was a reminder of the sin. Those who looked on the brazen serpent were acknowledging that their sin was the cause of their judgment and death.
Similarly, as Jesus Christ hung on the cross He symbolized God’s judgment upon sin. This was testified in the Old Testament in the words of Deuteronomy 21:22-23:
And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: (23) His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
Likewise, Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21 states that God made Christ “to be sin for us”! This means that God the Father treated His own Son as if He had committed all of our sins!
For he hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
In John 3:15 it is stated that as the wounded who looked upon the brazen serpent were restored to temporary health, so in this case eternal life follows from the faith of the believer on the crucified and exalted Lord. This is the message which Spurgeon heard 163 years ago. He later recalled:
Then the good man followed up his text in this way: — “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!
II. The Simplicity of the Gospel Message, “Look unto me!”
What a simple message! Look and Live! Look to Jesus now and Live! It is a simple message, but not simplistic. They are great depths of truth in the gospel that have occupied the greatest minds in human history, yet there is a simplicity that even a child can understand. As someone said of Scripture there are waters deep enough for an elephant to swim and shallow enough for a child to wade.
Again note the parallel to Numbers 21 and John 3.
To look, to believe, says more than mere cognitive awareness. It includes the recognition of a desperate need (Why else would one look?).
When someone turns to Christ, they are turning away from theirself. They are willing to be transformed. They don’t want to be left in the same state. They want to be changed! Faith and repentance go together!
Listen as Spurgeon describes his first encounter with the simplicity of the gospel:
Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable — miserable in life, and miserable in death, — if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said, — I did not take much notice of it, — I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.”
III. The Universality of the Gospel Message, “All the ends of the earth.”
Again, notice the parallels to Numbers 21 and John 3. In Moses’ day the invitation was open to everyone. Any who would look could be spared their violent death. In John 3:15, the text states that “Whoever believes will not perish, but will have everlasting life.”
This is a message that is for everyone of every race, class, gender and background. This the message that young Spurgeon also heard:
The preacher began thus — “My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves.
Have you ever looked to Christ alone? Are you still clinging to your righteousness? There must be recognition of your need for healing if you are to look to Christ. Do you realize that you need Christ?
Notice that I didn’t ask if you’re a church member. I didn’t ask if you’re a good neighbor. I didn’t ask if you’re a good father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, child, etc. Have you looked to Jesus?!?!
All of us were bitten by the serpent, the devil, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. As a result the poisonous venom of sin courses through our veins and will eventually lead to eternal separation from God in hell.
There is only one remedy, there is only one antidote! See the man hanging on the cross! See him bleeding and pleading for you! Look to him and you shall live! Look! Look! Look!
- Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell. This was the first book on preaching which I ever read and it is my favorite. Urges the preacher to preach each sermon in the context of the whole Bible which is Christ-centered.
- The Preacher’s Portrait by John Stott. Great book for the preacher. Stott examines several words used for the “preacher” in the New Testament. An excellent and edifying study.
- Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy. Another great book on interpreting and preaching Scripture in light of the progressive revelation of Christ.
- Preaching & Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Must read. The good doctor was very opinionated and that makes for good reading. He is at his best discussing the romance of preaching.
- Lectures to My Students by Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Another must read. One of my favorite books that I refer to again and again. The lecture on “Sermons – Their Matter” is excellent. “The Blind Eye and Deaf Ear” and “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” are other excellent treatments. This is also a book that will make you laugh out loud because of Spurgeon’s humorous way of expressing himself.
- Power in the Pulpit by Jerry Vines & Jim Shaddix. This is a great book that deals with every aspect of preaching from the preparation of the preacher to the preparation of the sermon. It also deals with the delivery of sermons. An excellent one-stop guide to preaching.
- An Earnest Ministry by John Angell James. This older work (I’m not sure that it is still in print.), as the title suggests, emphasizes “earnestness” in ministry. James is talking about what we might call passion. This work was helpful to me in seeing the difference between communicating passion and manipulating emotions. The former is essential, the latter is evil.
- George Whitefield (2 volume) by Arnold Dallimore. Any preacher will be thrilled, encouraged and challenged by this biography. It is hard to put down, so beware!
- Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers by Lewis Drummond. One of the first biographies which I ever read and one of my favorites. It is a long one (896 pages), but an excellent read. Highly recommended.
- The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper. This quote alone is worth the price of the book. But buy the book, there is much more where that came from!
- The Temple Repair’d by Hercules Collins. This one is not readily available (except in library archives in London). But I have produced a critical edition which I plan to publish in the near future. It contains great exegetical and homiletical advice from a 17th century Particular Baptist. Some excerpts from this work were published in my Devoted to the Service of the Temple: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins.