The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 6, 2021
The established leaders of the nation refused to look at Jesus with open eyes and minds, and resolved to see only what would confirm their pre-formed, set-in-stone opinion of Him. So, when those Jerusalem scribes couldn’t deny the reality of His supernatural acts, they attributed them to an evil supernatural power. They leveled the charge that Jesus performed miracles by colluding with Beelzebul, the Canaanite “prince of demons” whom Jesus identified as Satan.
Jesus refuted this accusation with common sense. Satan wanted to destroy people; and Jesus, to save them. The two were pursuing antithetical agendas, and thus they’d never work in collaboration. Jesus was tying Satan up and “plundering” his supposed property. Jesus was the last person Satan would share his power with!
The obvious irrationality behind the scribe’s perspective pointed to their obstinate refusal to face facts. Jesus knew their determined resistance to taking an honest view of Him, and of themselves, put their souls at risk. So Jesus, out of loving concern for them, warned them of their spiritual danger.
The truth is that Jesus loves everyone and offers everyone forgiveness, and that He sees no sin as so reprehensible as to remove anyone beyond the reach of God’s grace. Jesus sees all sin as forgivable and all sinners as redeemable. He told the scribes, “People will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter” – even against Himself, Matthew’s Gospel notes. All sins, no matter how bad, are forgivable.
All but one, though, perhaps? Jesus declared, “Whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness.” But they are unable to have it, not because their sin is so heinous that God can’t bring Himself to forgive it, but because their sin renders them incapable of receiving the forgiveness God longs to give them.
The context here shows what this blasphemy involves. Here was Jesus proving the reality of God’s unconditional grace by the power of the Holy Spirit, and these religious experts had convinced themselves He was doing it by the power of “an unclean spirit”. Either out of pride, fear, or some combination of both, they denied reality and lied about Jesus with such perseverance that they came to believe their own lies. Thus, they were fulfilling the lament of Isaiah: “Ah, you who drag iniquity along with cords of falsehood…Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.” Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit keeps a person from seeing straight. It disables them from seeing that they have a problem but God has a solution, from seeing how bad they can be but also how good God can be. Those who blaspheme against the Spirit settle into a state of mind which, though they built it, locks them up in a prison without walls which doesn’t permit God to get His forgiveness into their souls, as much as He’d like to. For His forgiveness, gratuitously offered, is a gift and, like every gift, can only be enjoyed by receiving it. Yet, it can’t be received unless a person sees it, wants it and takes it to make it their own.
Here was Jesus, the only hope for such grace there is, and the scribes were rejecting Him according to the rationalizing, self-justifying fantasy they projected on to Him. They denied the reality of Jesus as an agent of God’s love and dismissed Him as an agent of Satan’s ill will. They turned a blind eye to the world’s only hope and thereby incapacitated themselves from taking the gift there for them. They couldn’t take it because they couldn’t anymore see it or their need of it.
Those of us who have dealt with alcoholics in denial know this dynamic. They can lie to themselves for so long they come to believe their lies, and their lies make their seeing as cockeyed as when they’re drunk. They see what is killing them as the elixir of life, their drinking buddies enabling their self-destruction as their friends, and those attempting an intervention as their enemies. They lock themselves up in their own obstinate blindness; and God, for all His love of them, can’t break through their deliberate, dogmatic distortions. Their willful choice of a substitute reality of their own making keeps them from receiving the grace that alone can save them.
We may not be alcoholics; but, whenever we refuse to own up to reality, we risk rendering ourselves incapable of receiving the free gift of redeeming grace. We risk sawing off the branch on which we sit and on which our only hope hangs.
We are all capable of self-deception and denial. Thus, we are all in danger of terminating our possibility for receiving forgiveness. Each of us then would do well to wonder whether we’re telling ourselves lies, lies such as: “My failures are mainly the fault of others.” “I am never self-absorbed and insensitive to those around me.” “My spouse is always the one that starts the fight.” “I am free from any prejudice or sense of privilege.” If we’re serious about facing the truth, we will engage in some honest self-examination and invite some loving truth-tellers to speak up about what they honestly see in us.
We cannot be forgiven of a sin we don’t think we have, and we cannot receive a grace we don’t think exists. May God in His mercy give us grace to admit the awful truth we wish to deny and to believe the wonderful truth we fear to trust. Let us pray.