The Unpardonable Sin & Family Identity

Apparently, tracing family history is a big thing in my new home state of Utah. But it’s not a new phenomenon to me: my great-aunt was into lineage study and her work is legendary in our family, though not necessarily in the way she would have wanted. See, she traced our family line back to Squire Boone, Daniel Boone’s brother. Interestingly enough, Squire Boone was the first Baptist preacher in Kentucky and Indiana, where I worked and studied for about 10 years. It seems somewhat prophetic given my calling. But our line of the Boone’s didn’t stay real committed to the faith beyond Squire. In fact, when I moved back to Kentucky for school, my grandpa suggested I look up some of our ancestors. I asked where he suggested starting and his reply was “with the prison records.” Anyways, my aunt did all this research, traced us back to Squire Boone and then back across the pond to England. Apparently, the family had been a pretty inconsequential bunch, but some ancestor had done the king of England a favor at one point and was granted a land holding and title, leading to our last name. Fascinating stuff.

But it’s all hearsay at this point. I don’t have any details on any of it, and a lot of what I think I know could be made up or exaggerated. Why? Because my aunt saved all her research in cardboard boxes. Apparently, she had a ton of material, stuff she’d mailed out to people for, traveled to get, years of research. And this is pre-computer days, so it’s all paper files, which take up a lot more room than a flash drive. She needed a place to store the files, so she took them to my grandpa’s place in Tumalo, OR. My grandpa and grandma have a ranch there with lots of space and they even have a well-maintained cabin/bunkhouse on the property that they store stuff in and visitors stay in too. Well, my aunt put her file boxes in there. Quite a while later, grandpa decides to clean out the cabin. He doesn’t look in the boxes, just tosses them all in the burn pile and lights them up. My grandpa’s still alive, but it was touch and go for a while! My grandma was able to find some stuff that grandpa didn’t and she put together a binder for all of us to have a copy of what was left.

Why? Why did my aunt give so much time to putting that all together? Why was it such a big deal that grandpa burned it? Why did grandma take the time to put as much as she could together for us all?

Because in our disconnected, highly-mobile, and increasingly confusing world, having a family identity is important. Understanding who you are requires understanding who you came from.

In Matthew 12, we find Jesus providing some family research for his followers. He’s walked them through a lot, and they’re getting ready to head into a lot more, and he takes the time to establish who they are, what Jesus’ family looks like, what’s their identity, how’d they come to be a family when they didn’t share a mom and dad?

What we find is that Jesus’ family is marked out by a series of encounters and teachings from Jesus. He paints a picture of his family, not in bloodline and heritage, but in faith and work.

1. Jesus’ family is made up of those who recognize God’s work in the world through his Son, not those who see it and try to explain it away.

[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?”

The crowds are amazed! For heaven’s sake, we just read it and we should be amazed: Jesus healed a man who couldn’t see, couldn’t speak and had a demon. If you’ve been paying attention to what we’ve seen in Matthew to this point, those three miracles are like the trifecta. This is amazing! It’s like Jesus is working up to a finale: “you’ve seen me heal a blind man, you’ve seen me heal a mute man, you’ve seen me drive out demons, now watch as I do not one, not two, but all three of those miracles at once, in one man!” Those who saw this miracle would have no choice but to acknowledge both Jesus’ power and the truth of who he was.

The crowds get it: this miracle should cause everyone who sees it to at least consider that maybe Jesus was the Messiah, the King of the Kingdom of Heaven, come to earth, Immanuel, the Promised One. The crowd could get it, we can get it, anyone who hears it should get it.

Except the Pharisees didn’t.

[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.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that many get sidetracked and confused by this idea of the unpardonable sin and many, myself included, have wrestled with the question: “have I committed the unpardonable sin?”

Let me say this: If you are worried about possibly having committed this sin, you haven’t committed it.

The unpardonable sin comes to us in a context that clarifies its meaning. Jesus is not talking to his disciples, he’s not even talking to the crowds following him; he’s quite clearly referencing the Pharisees who just saw him do this amazing miracle. And the Pharisees turn away, like “meh. He’s only doing this because Satan’s doing it through him.”

That’s the unpardonable sin: to see the clear demonstration of the unfathomable power of God, and to turn away from it in stubborn, hard-hearted rebellion.

If you’re a Christian, in other words, if you’ve repented of your sins, committed to following Jesus, and are seeking to submit every area of your life to his Lordship, you can’t, by definition, commit the unpardonable sin. You’ve already recognized God’s work in the world and you rejoice in it. You can’t commit the unpardonable sin if you’ve acknowledged your sin and Jesus’ solution: you’ve submitted to the work of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is refusing to submit to the clear work of God in the world.

2. Jesus’ family is made up of those who speak the truth of the gospel, not those who speak with the cynicism of the world.

[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.”

Those who rejoice in the work of God are those who speak of the work of God. Have you ever met a triathlete? How do you know someone is a triathlete? Talk to them for five minutes. Even if you just met them, they’ll tell you. Why? Because anyone who can swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles is awesome! They’re doing something amazing and they want to tell others. Is it motivated by pride most of the time? You better believe it! And dare I say, that pride is, if not permissible, at least understandable? If I had a triathlete family member, I’d be proud and I’d tell everyone before they could.

And yet what is a triathlon compared to what God is doing in the gospel? What is a race compared to a universe-redeeming, comprehensive, unimaginably glorious, plan of God for the ages? Those who get it, those who see it and submit to it, can’t help but tell others about it. If you’re one who constantly is complaining, cynical about the work of God, running down the ministry of the church with words and actions, stop and ask yourself: “Do I really believe the gospel? Have I really grasped the truth, the goodness, the completeness of it?” Because if you have, if you’re part of Jesus’ family, the good treasure of the gospel inside you can’t help but bubble up in your conversations! It’s going to happen!

3. Jesus’ family is made up of those who submit to his superiority, not those who demand his performance for their satisfaction

[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.

Do you get the irony here? Just a brief moment earlier Jesus had hit the trifecta healing and the same Pharisees and scribes who heard that one dare ask him for a sign!? “Like, Jesus, the dude walking around seeing, speaking, and not slobbering at the mouth anymore, that’s cool and all, but could you really show us a sign, I mean, like a for real sign?”

Do you hear Jesus’ indignation? “An evil and adulterous generation” – “Evil” because they weren’t asking because they were submitted to him and longing to see him work again, but asking because they had no intention of every submitting and were hoping that maybe he couldn’t do it again.” “Adulterous” because these were the Bible scholars who were supposed to be giving their lives to understanding scripture so that when the Messiah came, they would recognize him, yet when the Messiah came, they were so busy loving their position and authority that they couldn’t see what was obvious: He’s here.

Jesus says, “No. There’s nothing more I could do than what I’ve done. If you don’t believe yet, you won’t. I’ll give you the sign of Jonah, I’ll die and be raised to life three days later, but most of you won’t buy that either.”

When they ask for a sign, how different are they from us when we do the same? I wish I didn’t do this but have you ever had the conversation with God: “God if you’ll prove yourself by doing what I want you to right now, I’ll really believe, I’ll really commit my life to you, etc”? It’s no different than an atheist insisting that if God were real, he’d prove it by healing all the sick people in a hospital. The atheist isn’t really concerned for the sick people, he’s demanding personal satisfaction. God hates self-centeredness, he bows to no one and nothing, and he owes you nothing.

Get this one statement and you’re close to getting the central message of Scripture:

There is a God, you’re not Him, and He owes you nothing. But He loves you anyway.

Those who are part of Jesus’ family don’t demand that God becomes some sort of trained monkey there to entertain and serve them. That’s Pharisee stuff. Christians hope that God would be willing to use them as his monkey. There is nothing that the Christian wants more than to be useful to God, to be submitted to God as his slave, to serve, to love, to die if that’s what is required. To forgive, to pass overlook an offense, to crucify self-interest on the cross of Christ’s love.  Something greater has come, something greater than Jonah, greater than Solomon, great than you, greater than me – it’s Jesus. It’s the kingdom of heaven. It’s worth sacrificing everything for and nothing is worth losing it over.

4. Jesus’ family is made up of those whose allegiance is given to him alone, not to those who leave space in their hearts for idols.

[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.”

Jesus, perhaps reminding his audience and the man he just healed, but still addressing the scribes and Pharisees, makes it clear that it’s not enough to recognize the work of God if you don’t embrace the one who did the work: God himself. God can do amazing things for a person, but unless they are filled with the Holy Spirit, they will end up filling themselves back up with idols.

I’m reminded of a comedy bit I heard once in which a comedian said he got off cigarettes with a nicotine patch, got off the patch with marijuana, and got off marijuana with cocaine so he was pretty well tobacco free.

Unfortunately, that’s what happens in a lot of people’s lives. Maybe not falling into drug addiction out of tobacco addiction, but simply replacing certain idols with other idols. This can happen in the church. In Colossians, we are told to put off sin and put on Christ. Too many of us take off our blatant external sin and trade it for an internal, insidious, and just as deadly a sin. We quit getting drunk, but we judge the girl whose insecurity causes her to dress inappropriately. We quit cheating on our taxes, but refuse to listen to counsel from other believers.

If we’ve given our allegiance to Christ, there is not part of our life we get to mark as off limits. We don’t submit to Jesus as king by marking off sanctuaries for our favorite idols. We don’t get to decide which parts of God’s Word we’re going to obey and which ones we’re going to ignore.

5. Jesus’ family is made up of those who do what he commands, not those who can quote him.

[46] While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. [48] But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” [49] And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! [50] For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Are you a part of Jesus’ family? I don’t know. Scripture’s pretty clear that only an individual can make that decision, “to confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and to believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead.”

So I can’t know if you’ve done that. But I can ask you this: “Are you doing what he commands?”

We wrestle with this all the time: Are we saved by faith or by works?

I think Ephesians 2:8-10 is particularly apt here:

[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

We are saved by grace through faith. It’s not something we did or that we do, it’s the gift of God. We can’t boast that we’ve saved ourselves or contributed to it in any way. But that’s not the end of the passage:

[10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Those who have been saved by grace through faith aren’t saved to sit on a shelf; we are saved, created in Christ Jesus, for good works that God decided in advance we should do.

In other words, the only thing you have to do to be saved is to believe that Jesus is Savior and submit to him as Lord. And then everyone who does that will get to work at obeying their new Lord. And we know what he’s commanded, right? “Love God, Love Others, Make Disciples.” Put it another way: Do everything you can to demonstrate the amazing worth of God, do everything you can to demonstrate the love of God to others, and teach others how they can love and serve God and others too.

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