An Evil Generation.

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 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. 45 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.” – Matthew 12:38-42 ESV

These verses seem to come out of nowhere. But if you look closely at the overall context of this portion of Matthew’s Gospel, you’ll notice that it contains the healing of the blind and mute man from whom Jesus cast out a demon. And Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees as being part of “An evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39 ESV). In these verses, Jesus simply combines the two topics to further demonstrate the wickedness of those who refused to accept Him as Messiah and to warn of their future judgment. 

There is much about Jesus’ comments regarding demons that are difficult to understand. But we can know with certainty that Jesus believed in demon-possession and, evidently, the possibility of someone becoming re-possessed by the same demon. In each case  where Matthew recorded Jesus casting out a demon, the individual who benefited from Jesus’ miracle enjoyed the benefit of His power, but there is no indication they expressed belief in Him as their Messiah. In essence, they were left in a nuetral state – no longer demon-possessed, but still in their unrepentant, unredeemed state.

And Jesus indicates that the dispossessed demon will seek “rest,” passing through “waterless places” until it finds it. It is difficult to build a theology of demon possession from these few verses. It may be that Jesus was using the common Hebrew perception regarding demons to make His point. The book of Tobit, part of the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical scriptures, believed to have been written in the 400-year period between the Old and New Testaments, mentions demons preferring desert conditions. So, perhaps Jesus is utilizing this Jewish perception to make His point. The only reason a demon would leave a human host would be because of an exorcism, such as Jesus had performed on the blind and mute man. But, according to Jesus, that dispossessed demon will seek rest, but not find it, because its main purpose is the torment of human beings. So, Jesus suggests that the demon, unable to find rest or a cessation from its demonic responsibilities, will seek to return to its original host.

And Jesus infers that the formerly possessed individual, while having cleaned up his act and put his life in order, will prove an easy target for the demon. In fact, the demon will return, making himself at home and bringing seven, more wicked demons with him. It would seem that Jesus is not attempting to provide us with a doctrine on demons, but a statement regarding man’s need for something or someone to occupy his life. In Jesus’ story, a man whose life is swept clean and in order and free from demon possession, is not safe from the attacks of the enemy. In fact, he is an easy target and will find his last state worse than the first.

Not having a demon is not enough. Having your life swept clean and in order is no protection from the attacks of the enemy. The outward appearance of righteousness is not the same as a life made righteous by faith in Christ. Jesus once again refers to the Jews of His generation as evil. He does so because they will refuse to accept Him as their Messiah. Their rejection of Him will condemn them. He had come to expose the darkness in their lives and yet, they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV).

Jesus had said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign,” and yet, Jesus had appeared in their midst, a visible sign of God’s promise of redemption – and they were going to end up rejecting Him. Jesus’ use of the phrase, “evil generation” would have been very familiar to the scribes and Pharisees. With their superior knowledge of the Scriptures, they would have recognized that Jesus was using the very same words God had used of the Jews who refused to enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses.

35 “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!” – Deuteronomy 1:35-36 ESV

Later on, in the very same book, Moses would speak of the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of the people of God.

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
    for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
    just and upright is he.
They have dealt corruptly with him;
    they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
    they are a crooked and twisted generation.
Do you thus repay the Lord,
    you foolish and senseless people?
   Is not he your father, who created you,
    who made you and established you?” – Deuteronomy 32:4-6 ESV

The Jews had a habit of treating God with contempt, refusing to honor Him as their God. Instead, they lived according to their own desires, treating His faithfulness with disdain. They had been chosen by God. They had been rescued from slavery by God. He had promised to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. But they had refused to trust Him. They had been unfaithful to Him. And Moses described them as a crooked and perverse generation.

Now, centuries later, the problem remained the same. This generation of Jews was no different. The promise of God was being fulfilled in their midst, but they were going to reject it. The Messiah had come, just as God had said He would, but they would choose not to accept His offer of salvation. Jesus had come, offering to free them from their slavery to sin and their captivity by the enemy. He came to transform their lives from the inside-out. But they were going to have to place their faith in Him, believing that He was who He claimed to be. And not long after Jesus had died, resurrected and ascended into heaven, the apostle Peter would preach a powerful message of redemption to the Jews in Jerusalem gathered on the day of Pentecost.

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Acts 2:37-41 ESV

Save yourselves from this crooked generation. Believe the promise of God. Accept God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. You can attempt to sweep the house clean and put your life in order, but only Christ can make all things new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Something Greater.

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 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. 40 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. 41 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. 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.” – Matthew 12:38-42 ESV

These events have been arranged by Matthew thematically, not chronologically. He is not following a hard-and-fast timeline, but attempting to place these stories in an order that allows him to continue his proof of Jesus’ divine nature and Messianic credentials. The word “then” is meant not as a link to the previous paragraph, but almost as if to say, “on another occasion.” Matthew is relating yet another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. These encounters were increasing in frequency and intensity.

On this particular occasion, the Pharisees were joined by the scribes. This was a group of learned me whose job it was to protect and preserve the law of Moses. As their name implies, they would scribe or copy the law, using painstaking methods to ensure that there were no errors in their transcriptions. They would count letters and spaces in a line of text to check for errors and guarantee accuracy. These men were considered experts in the law and were most likely invited by the Pharisees in order to spot any violations of the law that Jesus might be committing.

The request they made of Jesus was most likely not spontaneous, but prearranged. They wanted to see Jesus perform a sign. These men had seen Jesus perform many miracles, but they had concluded that He did so under the power and influence of Satan. Their request for a sign was something different altogether. The Greek word is sēmeion and it refers to a sign by which anything future is pre-announced (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). In essence, they were requesting that Jesus perform a particular type of miracle, something far more difficult than even a healing. In their minds, if Jesus was divine, He should be able to do something out-of-the-ordinary and impossible, predict the future. They were asking Jesus to make a prophetic prediction, knowing that the Scriptural command regarding anyone who prophesied by the name of God falsely was death.

20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. “ – Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV

But Jesus saw through the nature of their request and responded with a stinging indictment.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” – Matthew 12:39 ESV

These were men who took great pride in their righteousness and faithful adherence to the law of Moses. So, for Jesus to address them as evil and adulterous was a nothing less than a verbal slap in the face. Not only that, Jesus refused their request for a prophetic pronouncement and, instead, announced a sign of coming judgment. The story of Jonah would have been very familiar to these men. But Jesus gave the story an intriguing new twist. He tied it to His future death, burial and resurrection. Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the great fish, Jesus predicts His own 3-day long interment in the tomb. And just as Jonah had been sent by God to bring a message of repentance and salvation to the people of Ninevah, Jesus, by His death and resurrection, would make possible the salvation of all those who hear and accept His offer of justification by faith.

In a way, Jesus was answering the request of the scribes and Pharisees, but not in a way that they would have recognized. He was predicting the future, clearly indicating the manner of His own death and the means of salvation it would make possible. But He was also predicting the fate of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as all those who refuse to accept the salvation that Jesus’ death will make available.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it… – Matthew 12:41 ESV

The pagan, Gentile people of Ninevah heard and responded to Jonah’s message of repentance and were saved from destruction. But the scribes and Pharisees, like most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, would refuse Jesus’ offer of salvation, choosing instead to rely on their own self-made righteousness. And Jesus made it clear that, at the judgment, the people of Ninevah would stand as witnesses against the Jews for their refusal of God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross.

Knowing the great respect these men had for the Scriptures, Jesus made an interesting statement that would have further incensed them against Him.

something greater than Jonah is here – Matthew 12:41 ESV

He was referring to Himself and that fact would not have escaped them. Jesus was placing Himself on a higher plane than their own Scriptures. He was claiming to precedence over the stories of Scripture, because He was the ultimate fulfillment of those stories. Jonah had been nothing more than a foreshadowing of Jesus Himself. Jonah had been just a man, and he had fulfilled the command of God reluctantly. His “death” in the belly of the great fish had been a form of judgment for his own disobedience. But Jesus would prove to be a faithful and obedience Savior, willingly giving His life so that others might experience eternal life.

And Jesus used another familiar Scriptural account to drive home His point, claiming to be greater than the wisest man who ever lived: King Solomon. The queen of Sheba had traveled all the way to Jerusalem to see for herself the great wisdom of Solomon. But Jesus claimed to be greater and to possess a wisdom that far surpassed anything Solomon ever hoped to know.

The apostle Paul would later describe the superior nature of God’s wisdom as displayed in the life of His Son, Jesus.

God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. – 1 Corinthians 30 NLT

Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT

And Jesus predicted that the queen of Sheba would join the people of Ninevah in witness against the Jews when the coming day of judgment arrived. Jesus was going to die, be buried and rise again from the grave, and all those who placed their faith in His sacrificial death on their behalf would receive forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. But when that sign finally appeared, the majority of the Jews, including the scribes and Pharisees, would refuse to believe the truth. They would refute Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and refuse His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. And they would stand condemned.

The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus became a man so that He could do what the law could not do. He was better than the law. He offered a better way, something the law was never intended to do.

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

And the author of Hebrews will go on to state that Jesus is better than Moses, greater than Abraham, and greater than the high priest. He surpasses all the characters of Scripture, acting as the final fulfillment of God’s promises to mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Heart Disease.

 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:33-37 ESV

At first glance, these verses appear to contain some confusing and contradictory messages from the lips of Jesus. In His continuing confrontation with the Pharisees, His rhetoric intensified and some of His statements seem contrary to the Gospel as we know it. As usual, we must take into account the context and the individuals to whom His words are directed. The Pharisees were considered part of the religious elite and Israel. They were revered for their piety and their strict adherence to the law of Moses. But they had just accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. In other words, they had judged His works as being evil. So, Jesus determined to address the issue of works or fruit.

He began with what appears to be a command that, from a Christian perspective, sounds a bit strange coming from the lips of Jesus.

“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.” – Matthew 12:33 ESV

Can a tree make itself good or can a tree make itself bad? The real issue here has to do with fruit. The nature of the fruit is in direct relationship to the condition of the tree. A good tree bears good fruit. A bad or unhealthy tree bears bad fruit. The fruit merely proves the condition of the tree from which it came.

This was not the first time Jesus utilized this metaphor of trees and fruit. He had previously used it in His sermon on the mount.

16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. – Matthew 7:16-20 ESV

The Pharisees had accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name and power of Satan. But by restoring the sight and speech of the possessed man, Jesus had done a good thing. His actions had released a man from the control of a demon and restored him to health. The “fruit” was self-evident and should have been recognized for what it was: A work of the Spirit of God. But instead, the Pharisees had attributed it to Satan.

So, Jesus addressed the Pharisees on terms they could understand. They were self-righteous men who truly believed that their actions were the determiner of the justification before God. They were confident in their own righteousness, believing themselves to be law-abiding and God-pleasing. But Jesus knew their hearts and called them out for their hypocrisy. He used what would become a favorite term of His when referring to these men: “You brood of vipers!”

This was the same term John the Baptist had used when the Pharisees and Sadducees had showed up in the wilderness seeking to be baptized by him.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:7-10 ESV

These men, who by all appearances were godly and righteous, were actually deadly and dangerous. They were the offspring of Satan himself, and the fruit of their lives was proof. They could no more change the nature of their fruit than an apple tree could decide to bear oranges. Notice what John the Baptist said to them: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In other words, the only way they were going to change the fruit of their lives was by repenting of the way they lived their lives. They were going to have to change their whole outlook on what it means to be righteous before God. Their belief that good works and obedience to the law earned a man a right standing before God was going to have to be replaced by faith in Jesus. First, they would have to agree with the assessment of the prophet Isaiah.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

They would need to accept the less-than-flattering conclusion of Solomon:

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

Or as the apostle Paul would later put it:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

Jesus pulled no punches, but harshly assessed the true state of the spiritual condition.

“How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” – Matthew 12:34 ESV

He leaves little doubt as to His opinion of these men. They were evil and the very words that came from their lips were proof. They were suffering from a serious heart problem. And the Old Testament was full of warnings regarding the heart.

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life. – Proverbs 4:23 ESV

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 ESV

“How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute…” – Ezekiel 16:30 ESV

Jesus made His view of them crystal clear.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. – Matthew 12:35 NLT

They were suffering from an internal disorder over which they had no control. They couldn’t change the fruit they bore because they were incapable of altering their sin natures. The true condition of their hearts would eventually manifest itself. There was no hiding it. And Jesus dropped a bombshell on them that had to have left them reeling in disbelief and anger.

“…on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” – Matthew 12:36 ESV

The day is coming when God will judge all men. And Jesus seems to be saying that He wil judge them according to their words. But it is important to consider all that Jesus has said. His emphasis has been on the condition of the heart. He told them, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The word translated as “abundance” has to do with surplus or that which fills and overflows the heart. Whatever fills the heart will overflow through the mouth. So, at the judgment, men will give an account for the words they have spoken, because those words will give evidence of the content of their hearts.

Then Jesus summarizes His comments with a statement that seems in direct violation of the Gospel.

“…for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:37 ESV

Is Jesus insinuating that our speech will save us? Do we have the capacity to talk our way into the Kingdom of God?

Obviously Jesus did not mean that if a person was able to say all the right words he or she could deceive God and win salvation by clever speech. The basis of justification and condemnation is character, but words reveal character and so become the instruments by which God judges. – Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes of Matthew

Once again, the point Jesus was making had to do with the condition of the heart. As the prophet Jeremiah so boldly put it: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). Our words and our conduct are merely expressions of the condition of our heart. And we can do nothing to change our words or actions because we can do nothing to change our hearts. That is the work of God. And God had long ago promised to give the people of Israel new hearts, doing for them what they could have never done on their own.

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT

The Pharisees were convinced of their own righteousness. They viewed themselves as justified before God because of their outward adherence to the law of Moses. But Jesus knew their real problem was a heart condition for which their was only one cure: Faith in Him. Their words would end up condemning them because the wicked hearts within them. Had they been willing to pray the same prayer that King David prayed, they would have found Jesus ready, willing and able to answer.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blaspheming the Spirit.

 22 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. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 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. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 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. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. – Matthew 12:22-32 ESV

Matthew continues to arrange the events of Jesus’ life in order to provide further proof of His claim to be the Messiah. He had come declaring Himself to be the long-awaited King of the Jews and calling the people to repentance. The Kingdom they had been eagerly and patiently anticipating had come.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17 ESV

Mark records that, immediately after Jesus had been baptized by John, He declared Himself to be the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies found in the Old Testament.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15 ESV

But the Jews were having a difficult time reconciling their expectations of the promised Messiah with what they were witnessing in the actions of Jesus. Yes, they were amazed by His miracles and attracted to His message, but He did not act or look like a king. He had no royal retinue, only a small, ragtag group of disciples made up of former fishermen, a tax collector and other assorted nobodies. Apart from His miracles, there was little about Him that would have led the people to see Him as the Messiah. Which is why, even after having watched Him cast out another demon, they responded, “Can this be the Son of David?” Actually, their question can best be translated as, “He can’t be the Son of David, can He?” They were filled with doubt and misgivings. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah, but they were having a difficult time resolving their dreams with reality.

The Pharisees, fearing that the people were being swayed by Jesus’ miracles and rhetoric, declared Him to be operating in the power of Satan.

“It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” – Matthew 12:24 ESV

Beelzebul was another name for Satan. These religious leaders could not deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles. They had been eye-witnesses of many of the healings Jesus had performed and had just seen Him cast the demon from the blind and mute man. But they were unwilling to attribute the power of Jesus to God, instead accusing Him of being under the influence of Satan.

Jesus responded by revealing the non-sensical nature of their accusation. Why would Beelzebul, the prince of demons, provide Jesus with power to cast out demons? What benefit would Satan gain from such an arrangement? In fact, Jesus reveals the self-destructive nature of such a plan.

“…if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” – Matthew 12:26 ESV

Then Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees, asking whether their own “sons” were casting out demons by the power of Satan as well. Jesus had not been the first to exorcise demons. We know from the book of Acts, that there were others who at least attempted to do so.

13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. – Acts 19:13-14 ESV

So, how did the Pharisees justify the actions of such people? Were they also under the influence of Satan? Jesus concluded that the reasoning of the Pharisees was flawed and highly biased. They were rejecting Him, and in doing so, they were rejecting the arrival of His Kingdom. And Jesus blatantly contradicted their assessment, claiming to be operating by the power of the Spirit of God. Not only that, His demonstrations of that power were proof that the kingdom of God had come.

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” – Matthew 12:28 ESV

With the arrival of Jesus, the Kingdom of God had broken into the earthly realm. In the opening chapter of his Gospel, Matthew recorded the announcement of the angel regarding the virgin birth of Jesus, a fulfillment of the promise of God.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” – Matthew 1:22-23 ESV

Jesus was God incarnate, God in human flesh. His birth made the presence of God tangible and touchable.

He is the image of the invisible God… – Colossians 1:15 ESV

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

But they refused to acknowledge Jesus as God. And rather than admit that Jesus was operating under the power of the Spirit of God, they attributed His actions to Satan, an action Jesus described as blasphemy. But He was very specific in His accusation, declaring them to be guilty of “blasphemy against the Spirit.” And then He dropped the bombshell that this kind of blasphemy was unforgiveable in nature. They could say all they wanted against Him and be forgiven, but their decision to blaspheme the Spirit of God was unforgivable.

In essence, Jesus was declaring that His power to heal had been given to Him by the Spirit of God and was proof that He was the Messiah. To deny this proof was to reject the testimony of the Spirit of God. It was to refuse to accept Jesus as who God, through the Spirit, declared Him to be. If you recall, when Jesus was baptized by John, the Spirit of God descended on Him in the form of a dove, and God declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). The coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus had been accompanied by the verbal, audible testimony of God. Jesus was His Son.

By attributing to Satan, the works done by Jesus, made possible by the indwelling Spirit of God, the Pharisees were rejecting the power of the Spirit and the testimony of God. The unforgiveable sin is the rejection of Jesus as Messiah. For this sin there is no forgiveness, “either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32 ESV). The Pharisees would be forgiven their verbal abuse of Jesus, if they eventually accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. But if they continued to deny the testimony of God and the visible proof of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, they would not be forgiven.

The interesting aspect of this whole encounter was that the Pharisees were blind to the reality of Jesus’ claim because they denied the proof of the Spirit of God. They were devoid of the Spirit themselves. The apostle Paul would later write:

So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Corinthians 12:3 NLT

And John would also provide further insight into the Spirit’s illuminating role in man’s ability to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God come in the flesh.

This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. – 1 John 4:2 NLT 

But the Pharisees, lacking the presence of the Spirit of God, were incapable of recognizing the Son of God. And Jesus declared them to be aligned against Him, operating in direct opposition to His divine mission.

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30 ESV

The battle lines were drawn. The King had come. The Son of God had taken on human flesh and was in the process of fulfilling the divine will of His Heavenly Father. But the Pharisees represented the forces of this world, aligned against the redemptive plan of God. And their hatred of Jesus was going to end up destroying them. While they would eventually succeed in putting Jesus to death, they would fail in their efforts to put an end to His rule and reign. They could deny His claim to be the Messiah, but they could not deny His right to rule as King of kings and Lord of lords.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Justice to Victory.

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 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. 11 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? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “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.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” – Matthew 12:1-9-21 ESV

Jesus had just claimed, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” and now He was going to prove it. Immediately after wrapping up His discussion with the Pharisees about the Sabbath, Jesus entered their local synagogue. Matthew records that there was a man in the congregation who had a withered hand. His hand was evidently shrunken and paralyzed and clearly visible to all those around him. It’s not clear whether this man was a regular member of the congregation or had been arranged by the Pharisees as a plant, in order to trap Jesus. But they immediately seized the opportunity in order to place Jesus in a predicament. They asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” And Matthew makes it clear that their intent was to trick Him into giving a wrong answer so they might accuse Him of disobeying their laws. According to their oral tradition, it was only legal to provide medical attention if the individual’s life was in jeopardy. In all other cases, it would be considered working on the Sabbath.

It’s evident that these knew Jesus could heal. They had seen Him do it. Their real issue with Him was that He didn’t seem to keep their laws. He was operating outside the scope of their authority and creating a potentially dangerous precedence for all those who followed Him.

As Jesus was prone to do, He answered their question with a question: “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?” (Matthew 12:11 ESV). The Jews had a litany of man-made rules for all kinds of things, including the treatment of animals. And they had strict commandments regarding anything that had to do with relieving physical suffering.

[If] one has an ache in his teeth he may not rinse them with vinegar, but he may dip [his food] as usual [in vinegar and eat normally], and if he becomes healed, he becomes healed. [If] one has pains in his loins he may not anoint with wine or with vinegar; he may [however] anoint with oil, but not rose oil. – Mishnah, Shabbat 14

Even relieving tooth pain could be construed as work, if not done in the properly prescribed manner. But when it came to animals, it seems that the Pharisees had developed workarounds or loopholes that would allow them to violate their own laws in order to care for them. This was evidently due to the fact that viewed their animals as property and, therefore, of monetary value.

We are permitted to violate Shabbat to a limited extent to rescue an animal in pain or at risk of death. For example, we can move them if they are in pain, move objects that we would not otherwise be permitted to touch to relieve their pain, we may give them medicine, and we may ask non-Jews to do things that would violate Shabbat to help a suffering animal. – www.jewfaq.org

Jesus was well aware of these laws and His knowledge provided the background for His question. He knew they would do everything in their power to rescue their own sheep if it fell into a pit – even if it meant violating the Sabbath. They had created loopholes to their own laws that allowed them to remain guiltless if they broke them. But these men cared nothing for the man with the withered hand, placing far greater value on their own commandments. And Jesus summarized His views on the entire matter with the simple and succinct statement: “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12 ESV). The Lord of the Sabbath proved His authority over the Sabbath by restoring this man’s hand – with just a word. And while the man was healed, the Pharisees were incensed. Rather than rejoice in this man’s miraculous restoration, they began to plot as to how they could destroy Jesus.

So, Jesus, aware of the anger of the Pharisees, moved on, and found Himself once again trailing a wake of followers, most of whom were curious rather than committed. But Jesus continued to heal and restore those who came to Him with their physical infirmities. But curiously, Jesus commanded all those He healed to remain silent about what He had done. He knew that human nature would prompt these people to tell anyone and everyone about their supernatural healing. But Jesus was on a divine timeline. He was operating on the Father’s schedule and was wary of the people attempting for force His hand by prematurely announcing Him as the Messiah. And Matthew makes it clear that Jesus had come to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, but in a way that the people of Israel neither expected or desired. In quoting from Isaiah 42, Matthew pointed out the humble, meek nature of the Messiah. His first appearance would not be as a conquering king, but as a suffering servant. He would come without fanfare, speaking quietly and acting gently. He would extend mercy and grace to all, including the Gentiles. This description of the Messiah would have conflicted greatly with the expectations of the Jews.

Jesus showed compassion to the “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks.” And He would do so until He brought “justice to victory.” It would be through His death on the cross that Jesus would conquer man’s greatest enemies: Sin and death. During His earthly ministry, He healed many of their physical infirmities. He even raised the dead back to life. But Jesus came to give new life, in the form of a restored relationship with God the Father and complete forgiveness from sin and release from eternal condemnation. The apostle Paul provides us with encouraging words that should remind us of just how great a gift has been offered to us by God through the sacrificial death of His own Son.

51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Lord of the Sabbath.

1 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.” – Matthew 12:1-8 ESV

Jesus has condemed the cities of Bethsaida, Chorizin and Capernaum for their refusal to accept Him as Messiah. Now, Matthew provides specific examples of the rejection and contention He faced among the Jewish population. Of course, some of His greatest moments of conflict came as a result of His interactions with the Jewish religious leadership. They found this unknown rabbi from Nazareth to be an enigma. He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere and, from all places, the backwater town of Nazareth. Even Philip, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, had reacted with amazement when he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, sarcastically responding, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV).

The Pharisees were a religious sect made up of mostly middle-class businessmen and leaders of the synagogues. Together with the Sadducees, they formed the Sanhedrin or religious high council of Israel. The Pharisees were seen as pious men who placed a high priority on the oral and written law of Israel. They were experts in the law of Moses and prided themselves on their strict adherence to the more than 600 laws found in the Torah. These men had created additional rules or regulations that they regarded as binding as the law of Moses. Later on in his gospel, Matthew will record the indictment Jesus labeled against these men.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

One of the primary points of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees will become the Sabbath, the weekday that had been set apart by God as a day or rest.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11 ESV

The Pharisees had developed a whole series of regulations designed to deal with any and all scenarios that might come up on the Sabbath. They created a plethora of rules based on every imaginable situational possibility. In doing so, they missed out on the spirit of the law, and turned God’s command regarding the Sabbath into an impossible-to-keep list of dos and don’ts that no one could obey.

When they found Jesus and His disciples in a field plucking the heads of grain and eating them, they were appalled, because it was the Sabbath. They considered these men to be in violation of the law because they were “harvesting” grain on the Sabbath. There is an interesting point of conflict that often gets overlooked. If you recall, Jesus had just extended His Great Invitation offering people a release from their weariness and the heavy burdens that weighed them down. He offered them rest for their souls. And yet, here were the Pharisees demanding that the disciples deny the satisfying of their hunger in order to obey man-made rules regarding Sabbath rest.

Knowing that the Pharisees prided themselves in their knowledge of the Old Testament, Jesus reminded them of a story involving David found in the book of 1 Samuel. David was on the run, having been forced to flee from King Saul, who was out to take David’s life. David made his way to the city of Nob in order to seek aid from Ahimelech the priest. When David had requested food, the priest had informed David that the only bread available was that which was offered as a sacrifice in the tabernacle.

Since there was no other food available, the priest gave him the holy bread—the Bread of the Presence that was placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle. It had just been replaced that day with fresh bread. – 1 Samuel 21:6 NLT

And Jesus used this historic event to expose the fallacy of the Pharisees’ understanding of the Sabbath. In taking the Bread of the Presence, David had violated the law of God, but was not condemned for doing so. And, to further prove His point, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the priests who served in the temple were technically in violation of the law every time they offered sacrifices on the Sabbath, because they were doing “work.” But they were not condemned by their efforts. They were guiltless because they were doing the “work” of God. And Jesus informed the Pharisees, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6 ESV). He was referring to Himself and pointing to His superior authority over the earthly temple. The disciples had been operating under the authority and with the permission of Jesus. And Jesus made it clear that He was far more concerned about mercy than law-keeping.

“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” – Matthew 12:7 ESV

The Pharisees had placed rules ahead of any regard for the needs of the people. Jesus had allowed the disciples to do what they did because they were hungry. He knew the ridiculous rules of the Pharisees and He was fully aware that the actions of the disciples were in direct violation of those rules. But He was far more concerned with extending mercy than demanding legalistic adherence to a set of arbitrary regulations. He was focused on the heart, not any outward display of ritualistic rule-keeping. And Jesus sums up His response to the Pharisees with a statement that must have left them incensed.

For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:8 ESV

They would have known full well that Jesus was referring to Himself with the Messianic designation of “Son of Man.” And they would not have like what they heard. But Jesus’ claim to be lord of the Sabbath would have left them in a rage. How dare this itinerant teacher from the backwater town of Nazareth claim to have authority over the Sabbath day of God. Jesus was not bound by the Sabbath. He was greater than the Sabbath, with full authority to do as He saw fit on that day or any other. Which is why Jesus seemed to make it a regular habit to heal on the Sabbath. He was doing the work of His Father in Heaven, and the work of God took precedence over the Sabbath and any rules men may have made regarding that day. The work of God always trumps the laws of men.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Great Invitation.

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  – Matthew 11:25-30 ESV

After pronouncing a warning of pending doom on the cities of Bethsaida, Chorizin and Capernaum for their refusal to accept Him as Messiah, Jesus offered a brief prayer of thanks to the Father. The placement of this little prayer seems as strange as its content. Because of the flow of the narrative, it would appear that Jesus prayed this prayer within the hearing of His audience. It was a verbal aside that acted as a prayer to His Father in heaven, while at the same time offering His audience insight into the mysterious ways of God.

Jesus addressed God as His Father, a statement of their intimate relation. But He also addressed Him as the Lord of heaven and earth, indicating God’s sovereignty over anything and everything. God is all-powerful, all-knowing and in complete control of all things, including the mysteries of His will. And Jesus makes it clear that the inability and unwillingness of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was all within the divine will. God had “hidden these things from the “wise and understanding.”  The Greek word translated as “hidden” is apokryptō and it means “to hide, conceal, or keep secret.” The stubborn refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus as their Messiah was actually part of God’s redemptive plan.

In his Gospel, John makes it clear that Jesus came to the Jews but that they refused to accept Him.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

The will of God was that Jesus would come into the world but that the vast majority of the people would refuse and reject His offer of salvation. And Paul provides us  with further insight into this mysterious aspect of God’s will.

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning. – Romans 11:1-2 NLT

God had not rejected the people of Israel. In fact, Paul pointed out that he was a Jew who had accepted Christ, and he was not alone. There were others. But they were in the minority. And there decision to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior had been due to the grace and mercy of God.

It is the same today, for a few of the people of Israel have remained faithful because of God’s grace—his undeserved kindness in choosing them. And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved. – Romans 11:5-6 NLT

This small remnant of Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, had done so because God had chosen to open their eyes so that they might see the hidden mystery of His Son’s sacrificial death on their behalf. But Paul pointed out that the majority of the Jewish people had rejected Jesus.

So this is the situation: Most of the people of Israel have not found the favor of God they are looking for so earnestly. A few have—the ones God has chosen—but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Scriptures say,

“God has put them into a deep sleep.
To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see,
    and closed their ears so they do not hear.” – Romans 11:7-8 NLT

Their hearts were hardened by God. He put them into a “deep sleep.” He “shut their eyes” and “closed their ears.” But that begs the question: Why would God do this to His own chosen people? Why would He send them a message of salvation, but then prevent them from hearing and accepting it? Paul provides us with insight into the answer to these questions when he quotes from a psalm written by King David.

9 “Let their bountiful table become a snare,
    a trap that makes them think all is well.
Let their blessings cause them to stumble,
    and let them get what they deserve.
10 Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see,
    and let their backs be bent forever.” – Romans 11:9-10 NLT

The Jews were convinced that they were safe and secure because of their relationship with God. They were His chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God had made to Abraham. But if you recall, both Jesus and John the Baptist had arrived on the scene preaching a message of repentance. They were calling the people of Israel to change their minds regarding their beliefs about God and their own standing before Him. They were to radically alter their thinking about everything from sin and righteousness to justification and judgment. But they refused to do so. And God simply allowed them to remain in their state of rebellion by refusing to open their eyes to the truth. He didn’t make them rebellious, but simply chose to leave them that way. And Paul provides us with the why.

11 Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. 12 Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

The rejection of Jesus by the Jews had a divine purpose behind it. He was the Jewish Messiah and, as such, He was the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. God had told Abraham, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18 NASB). And Paul, writing to the Galatians, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, would provide the proper meaning of this promise.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
 – Galatians 3:16 NASB

Jesus was to be the means by which the nations of the earth would be blessed. And the rejection of Jesus by the Jews made possible God’s fulfillment of this promise as He opened up the offer of salvation to all people of all nationalities.

15 For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. It will be life for those who were dead! – Romans 11:15 NLT

God is not done with Israel. As a nation, they are still suffering from spiritual blindness, unable to see the mystery of God’s redemptive plan, but Paul makes it clear that their future acceptance of His offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone will be wonderful.

But Jesus makes it clear that the only means by which men can come to a true knowledge of God is through Him. He is the door. He is the access point through which a right relationship with God is obtained. Which is why He so boldly and flatly proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). The Jews, who believed that had a right relationship with God, would one day discover that their hope of justification before God would come through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.

And that is why Jesus offers His Great Invitation, and He extends it to all those who labor and are heavy laden. His focus is on those who find themselves burdened by the legalistic and moralistic requirements of the law. They are pressed down by rules and regulations that place on them a burden so great, they feel crushed by its weight. And Jesus offers them an attractive alternative: Rest. Notice that He does not promise them a cessation from work. He invites them into a yoke, a farming implement that would have been very familiar to His agrarian audience. Jesus was inviting them into a partnership with Him, joining Him in the yoke beside Him. It is only in a relationship with Him that we can find true rest and peace. It is only in partnership with Him that our burdens become light and our souls can find rest from the daily toils of life.

Jesus wasn’t offering them an escape from life or a panacea from all troubles and trials, but a source of strength found in the promise of His presence. Laboring alongside Jesus is a blessing, not a burden. And Paul would testify to the truth of that reality.

11 …for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Jesus was grateful to God for revealing the truth of who He was to “little children” – those who were innocent and dependent. The prostitutes, tax collectors, pagan Gentiles and others to whom Jesus ministered tended to be the ones who accepted His message and placed their faith in Him. They were burdened by sin, weighed down with their own guilt and their hopeless circumstances. But they had turned to Jesus in faith. And Paul would remind the Corinthian believers that this state of weakness and hopeless is shared by all those who accept the Great Invitation offered by Jesus.

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unrepentant and Unforgiven.

20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” – Matthew 11:20-24ESV

This whole section of Matthew’s Gospel is intended to point out the Jewish nation’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. The primary focus of Jesus’ early ministry had been the region of Galilee. His sermon on the mount had taken place on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The miracles chronicled by Matthew up to this point have all taken place in the surrounding area. Even Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations, was located in Galilee. But in spite of all the miracles He had performed and the message He had proclaimed, the people had refused to accept Him as their long-awaited Messiah. They were more than content to watch Him heal and cast out demons. They enjoyed the perceived benefits of His power, but had no intention of recognizing Him as the Son of God and the Savior of Israel. So, Jesus denounced the cities located in Galilee in which He had performed most of His miracles.

The Greek word translated as “denounce” carries a lot of emotion behind it. It can also mean “to reproach, to upbraid or revile.” The attitude of Jesus toward these Galilean cities was far from tolerant or indifferent. His words make it clear that He was displeased with their reaction to Him. Matthew states that they had refused to repent. This had been the call of John the Baptist. He had pleaded with the people of Israel to repent because the Kingdom of God was near. Even Jesus had begun His ministry with this same message. But the Jews had refused to repent. The call to repentance was a call to a change of mind, a radical realignment of the way one thought about God, the Kingdom, righteousness, sin and salvation. The people loved that Jesus offered physical healing. But they refused to admit their need for spiritual healing. Yes, there had been isolated cases of belief and faith displayed but, for the most part, the Jews in Galilee had been unbelieving and unrepentant. They maintained their old ways of thinking about everything, holding on to their long-held belief that, as Jews, they were God’s chosen people and safe from judgment. They also believed that their righteousness was self-manufactured through keeping the law and following the God-ordained rites associated with the sacrificial system.

But Jesus pronounced a woe upon the people of Galilee. This was an expression of denunciation that carried with it a warning of doom. Jesus specifically addressed His displeasure with the Galilean cities of Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. But His real issue was with the inhabitants of those cities. They had been given the unique privilege of seeing His “mighty works” but had remained unrepentant because they had remained unbelieving. His miracles, while impressive, had not convinced them of His claim to be the Messiah.

So, Jesus contrasted these three cities with three other, more notorious and well-known cities: Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. These more distant cities, located outside of Galilee, were renowned for their pagan influences and unrighteous reputations. Sodom had long been regarded as a mecca of sin and idolatry that had been destroyed by God for ts rampant unrighteousness. While Sodom was long gone, the cities of Tyre and Sidon were alive and well, but had not yet had the privilege of hearing the message of Jesus or witnessing His miracles. And Jesus insinuates that had they, their reaction would have been radically different.

“For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” – Matthew 11:21 ESV

Both of these cities had large Gentile populations, but Jesus insists that they would have responded more favorably and remorsefully than the Jews had. Not only that, Jesus prophetically announces that many from these three cities will escape the coming judgment because they will end up placing their faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. Jesus would eventually remove Himself from Galilee and make His way to Tyre and Sidon (see Mark 7:24). He would perform miracles there, including casting out a demon of a young Gentile girl whose mother was a Syrophoenician. When the woman begged Jesus to help her, He had responded, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27 ESV). But the woman, non-plused by His response, simply said, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28 ESV). And., amazed by the woman’s faith, Jesus told the woman, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29 ESV). The woman believed and her daughter was healed. She did not defend her status or become offended that Jesus had referred to her as a dog. She simply expressed her belief that, in spite of her lowly status as a non-Jew, Jesus would extend mercy and grace to her. And He did.

One of the things that Jesus was looking for from those to whom He ministered was a recognition of their need. That is why He tended to minister to those who came to them with their disabilities, pains, brokenness and extreme sense of unworthiness. That is why Jesus had said:

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” – Mark 2:17 NLT

A major aspect of repentance is the acknowledgement of sin and the need of salvation – a salvation outside of oneself. The people who came to Jesus for physical healing did so because they had either exhausted all other avenues or their ailment was beyond the scope of human help. They were forced to turn to Jesus in the hope that He could do something about their problem. But the same would be true for those who suffered from the disease and destruction caused by sin. That is why Jesus would offer what has become known as the Great Invitation, which we will cover tomorrow,

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28 NLT

The city of Capernaum was filled with God-fearing Jews who believed they were the chosen people of God and so, in no need of a Savior. But Jesus asked them rhetorically, “will you be exalted to heaven?” And, just in case they they failed to understand that the question was rhetorical, He clarified the answer for them.

“You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” – Matthew 11:23 ESV

They would end up rejecting His message and His offer of salvation. And the result would be judgment and eternal punishment. Their refusal to accept Him as Messiah would have dire consequences. They would remain unrepentant and sadly, unforgiven.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Unexpected and Unaccepted.

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:7-19ESV

John had questions for Jesus, but Jesus had no questions regarding John. He was not put off by John’s inquiries regarding His identity, because He knew that John was unaware of the exact nature of His ministry and mission. So, as soon as John’s disciples left, Jesus turned to the crowd and presented a defense of John. First of all, Jesus asked the people why they had flocked to see John in the wilderness. What had been their motivation? Was it to see a man who was driven by the wind and susceptible to the whims of culture? No, John had been a strong-willed and passionate speaker who was not afraid to preach a message of repentance to the people of Israel. Matthew described him as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:3 ESV).

Secondly, Jesus asked if the crowds had pursued John because he dressed in fine clothes and was a man of means. Of course, the answer was no. According to Matthew’s earlier description of John, he “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4 ESV). John wasn’t a wealthy or powerful man. He had no reputation as a man of influence or learning. So, that brings Jesus to ask His third and final question: “What then did you go out to see? A prophet?” (Matthew 11:9 ESV). And the answer to that question was a resounding, “Yes!” That exactly what the people believed John to be. And he was. Jesus confirmed John’s prophetic role and even added that he was “more than a prophet.” What did Jesus mean by that statement? John was a spokesman for God just like all the Old Testament prophets had been. But there had been a 400-year silence between the time of the last prophet and the day when John had begun his ministry. And when John had showed up on the scene to break that silence, he had been the fulfillment of prophecy himself. That is what set him apart from all the other prophets. Jesus paraphrased Malachi 3:1 when he said:

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way before you.’ – Matthew 11:10 ESV

John was the God-ordained forerunner of Jesus, having been given the sole responsibility and privilege of announcing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah. And by quoting this Old Testament passage, Jesus was declaring His role as the Messiah and John’s role as the prophet who would prepare the way before Him.

Later on in the book of Malachi, the prophet wrote of the return of Elijah the prophet.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

John had come in the spirit of Elijah, calling the people to prepare for the coming Kingdom and to accept the newly arrived Messiah. And Jesus declared that “he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:14 ESV). But the people had refused to believe the words John had spoken. Yes, many of them had chosen to be baptized by John, but they would end up refusing to accept Jesus as their Messiah. The majority of the Jewish nation would turn against Him, denying Him as their Lord and Savior.

Jesus declared John’s superiority because he had been given the one-of-a-kind task of preparing the way for the Messiah. As far as Jesus was concerned, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11 ESV). That’s extremely high praise, when you consider men like Abraham, Moses, and David. John was far greater than any of them, not because of anything he had done, but because of the extreme importance of his role as the herald for the coming Messiah. But Jesus added an important and, somewhat confusing statement regarding John. He said that “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11 ESV). John’s ministry was an earthly one. He was relegated to announcing the arrival of the Kingdom, but was not yet a part of it. He had a very important role to play on earth, but Jesus lets His audience know that those who inherit the Kingdom will be far greater than John. Jesus is not saying that there will be degrees of worth in heaven. If anything, He is insinuating that even the least – the prostitutes, tax collectors and other worthless sinners in this life – who place their faith in Him and inherit eternal life, will be greater than John. John got to proclaim the coming Kingdom, but those who participate in it will have the greater reward.

Next, Jesus turned His attention to those in His audience, comparing them in not-so-flattering terms to “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates” (Matthew 11:16 ESV).

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
    we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ – Matthew 11:17 ESV

In essence, Jesus is accusing the Israelites of rejecting Him because He refused to dance to their tune or react in the way they had expected. They were like spoiled children who had their view of how the Messiah should appear and what He should do when He did. And Jesus didn’t meet their demands. So,they rejected Him. They were critical and impossible to please. That’s why Jesus describes them as having “neither eating nor drinking,” and the people wrote him off as having been possessed of a demon. If John was the forerunner of the Messiah, the people wondered why he dressed and ate the way he did. He was an aesthetic, set himself apart and limited his diet, so the people labeled him as demon-possessed. But Jesus had come along, and rather than being a separatist, He ate and drank with sinners, so the Jews described Him as a glutton and a drunkard. Not only that, He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. This was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting.

But Jesus ends His address to the crowd with a simple statement:

Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” – Matthew 11:19 ESV

Time would tell. The future would vindicate the lifestyle choices of John and Jesus. They were acting in unity with God and in complete submission to His will. While the people would end up rejecting Jesus as their Messiah, His status as the chosen one of God was not in jeopardy. He was no less the Messiah because of their stubborn refusal of Him. And the day will come when all mankind will realize that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:11-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Are You the One?

1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  – Matthew 11:1-6 ESV

For whatever reason, Matthew chose to leave out what happened when the disciples went on their mission. He seems less interested in what the disciples ended up doing, than with what Jesus continued to accomplish as part of His messianic activities. Remember, Matthew is out to prove that Jesus is the Messiah so, it makes sense that he would ignore the accomplishments of the disciples. What they ended up doing was secondary in importance to what Jesus was doing and saying.

This chapter opens up with an encounter between Jesus and a few of the disciples of John the Baptist. John sits in a prison cell, by the order of Herod Antipas. His crime? Speaking out against the king’s immoral relationship with his own brother’s wife, Herodias. She had been incensed by John’s remarks and arranged to have him imprisoned. From his cell, John sent two of his own disciples to ask Jesus an interesting question. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 ESV). Was John’s question an indication of a lagging faith or a growing impatience? Was he beginning to doubt whether Jesus truly was the Messiah? It is likely that he was more than a bit confused by his imprisonment, wondering how it fit into the coming of the Kingdom as he had been preaching. Was he simply wondering when Jesus was going to begin acting like a Messiah and usher in His Kingdom? The passage doesn’t tell us what was going on in John’s mind, but based on the tone of his question, it seems as if John is struggling with both doubt and impatience. After all, he is sitting in a prison cell and Jesus is traveling around the countryside drawing crowds, but also drawing the anger and animosity of the nation’s religious leadership. If John is suffering from a case of doubt, who can blame him? While he had been chosen by God as the one to pave the way for the Messiah, he did not have in-depth knowledge of just how Jesus’ ministry would unfold. I don’t think John is wrestling with his imprisonment as much as he is with his expectations of just what should be happening outside the walls of his prison cell. Like all Jews, he had an image of what the coming of the Messiah would look like. John had preconceived ideas of what Jesus should be doing and he was probably wondering just what was going on.

When the two disciples arrived and presented John’s question to Jesus. In his Gospel, Luke tells us that “at that very time, Jesus cured many people of their diseases, illnesses, and evil spirits, and he restored sight to many who were blind” (Luke 7:21 NLT). And Matthew states that Jesus responded to John’s disciples with a command to return to John and describe what they were seeing.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” – Matthew 11:4-5 ESV

John was the herald, the offical God-appointed prophet, tasked with announcing the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah and His Kingdom. But even John had to have been a little confused by all that was going on. His concept of the Kingdom was markedly different than what was going on outside the walls of his prison cell. The activities of Jesus were not lining up with his expectations.

And Jesus wants John to understand that His immediate mission was far different than any of the Jews had expected. If you recall, John had a fairly strong view of Jesus’ role as the Messiah. Part of his message to the people entailed a fairly clear vision of Jesus as judge.

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. – Matthew 3:12 ESV

He had told the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7 ESV). So, in John’s mind, Jesus should have been taking names and dishing out some well-deserved wrath on those who stood opposed to Him. And this encounter between Jesus and John’s disciples opens up a section in which Matthew begins to reveal that rejection of Jesus by the Jews. Which is why, when Jesus said, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Most would end up finding Jesus offensive and reject not only His message of salvation, but His claim to be the Messiah of Israel.

Jesus seems to be trying to assure John that His miracles were evidence of His authority and power, and that His message of Good News spoke of His agenda. Jesus encouraged John to stay faithful in the face of adversity. There were going to be bumps along the road. Not everyone was going to believe in Jesus or His message, just as not everyone believed in or took advantage of John’s baptism. In refusing John’s baptism, the Pharisees and experts in religious law were really rejecting God’s plan for them and that seems to be the real message of this passage.

The people to whom John had been sent and to whom Jesus was ministering were cynical and skeptical of this new message. They were attracted to Jesus’ miracles, but didn’t know quite what to do with His message. He tended to challenge them and raise the bar of expectation for them. He seemed to be making it harder, not easier. Jesus challenged the status quo and made them uncomfortable in their self-satisfied little worlds.

For John and all those who heard the message of Jesus, it tended to make no sense at times. It was confusing and seemingly contradictory to all that they had come to know about how to have a relationship with God. Jesus’ message was about faith in who He claimed to be – the Son of God, sent directly from the throne of God with a message of repentance and a plan of salvation for restoring man’s marred relationship with God. And the wisdom of what Jesus was saying would be proved true in time – for John and all those who chose to have faith in Him.

Jesus wanted John to know that everything was happening just as God had ordained it to happen. Yes, John was in jail, but that was no indication that the Kingdom was in trouble or that Jesus had lost His focus. John would be executed long before Jesus was tried, crucified, buried and raised again. But the disciples of Jesus would see the wisdom of Jesus’ message proved true. They would see their own lives radically changed. They would witness a literal revolution that would spread throughout the known world in a very short period of time, as the Gospel of Jesus Christ, powered by the Holy Spirit, exploded onto the scene and into the lives of men at Pentecost. So Jesus encourages patience and faith. Give Him time to do what He came to do, in the manner in which He came to do it. Things would never be the same again.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson