The Hard Sayings of Jesus:  The Sin Against the Holy Spirit

A sermon from Matthew 12:22-32 by Fr. Justin Clemente, delivered to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican) on September 11, 2022. Part of our ongoing “The Hard Sayings of Jesus” series.

Spiritual Hypochondriacs?

I can remember as a young teenage Christian happening upon our Hard Saying for today and feeling like a spiritual hypochondriac. I read of this terrible sickness – the sin against the Holy Spirit and I thought could I have committed this sin without knowing it?

Perhaps you’ve felt a similar way at one point in your walk with Christ. If so, take heart – your anxiety is evidence of health, not sickness. It’s evidence of a tender conscience, not a seared one. As we’re going to see, if you had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, you certainly would not care.

This is a Hard Saying that we have tiptoe through very carefully. As Tim Keller says here, this passage is more like “hard candy” and less like chocolate. You have to take one layer at a time to get to the center.

The Wonder of Forgiveness (The Son of Man Forgives! Vs. 31a, 32a)

Let’s start with the first half of verses 31 and 32. In context, the sin against the Holy Spirit is bumped right against the wonder and liberality of God’s forgiveness in Christ. Look at Jesus’ words, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.” Stop there. Don’t rush over this. Son of Man is Jesus favorite title for himself. Where did it come from?

Principally, it comes from Daniel 7:13-14. There, the Son of Man is the divine and human figure given reign and rule over the whole world. By the way, this is where we see the divinity of Christ clearly on display: how can you blaspheme Jesus if he isn’t God?

Let me read Daniel 7:13-14 to you:

And behold, with the clouds of heaven
    there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
    and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
    and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
    should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
    which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
    that shall not be destroyed.

So God’s great King – the Son of David (v. 23) – Jesus, has come in to the world. What does he say to us? If you speak against me, you can come to me, and I will forgive you. Now, you may know, this is not normally the way kings work. To speak against the king invites swift judgment. But Jesus says every sin and blasphemy, even against me, the Son of Man, can be forgiven.

You see, before you understand the sin against the Holy Spirit, you have to understand the readiness of God to forgive. Not that it’s easy or automatic, but that Jesus has come to make it possible through his death and resurrection. Jesus is like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He does what no middle eastern Father would do – he becomes undignified and runs to meet every prodigal who will returns to him. (Luke 15:20) “Whoever comes to me,” says Christ, “I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)

What Then is the Sin Against the Holy Spirit? (v. 31b, v. 32b)

So now we ask the question, “What is the sin against the Holy Spirit?”

Look at the context – what’s happening? Jesus is healing and restoring humanity – the sign of God’s reign here is the liberation of a blind and deaf demon-oppressed man. This man has been freed in Jesus! He’s been given new life! He’s been taken out of the kingdom of darkness and reclaimed by God.

Jeffrey Gibbs writes: “Jesus through the Holy Spirit is manifesting God’s royal rule in the world, binding the strong enemy and setting people free. The battle is raging, with Satan and God engaged in hand-to-hand combat. There is no demilitarized zone in such a conflict.”[i]

There are those present who have become so hardened and so far from God, that they attribute Jesus redeeming work as evil. They look down their noses at it. They despise it.

Every sin can be forgiven, but not the refusal to come. Anything can be remedied, but not for a patient who won’t come to the physician. If you refuse to get on the operating table, then you’ll die in your condition. The sin against the Holy Spirit is not so much a specific instance of sin, but a disposition of heart – it results in a withered, steady, unrelenting refusal of the Spirit’s work and the Savior God has provided. The Holy Spirit’s work is to lead us to agree with God. To say, “I was wrong!” Without that, there’s no hope of forgiveness.

Jesus says to us in Matthew 7 that many – many – will come to him on the Day of Judgment and say, “‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will [Jesus] declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23)

Do you know what these words reveal? What their words reveal is that for this group their Christianity was never about the Gospel. It might have been about physical healing or social justice or self-improvement, but it wasn’t about Jesus.  Look at their words: it’s all about their works. In their mind, God owes them something! “Lord, did we not?!” The free and justifying grace of Jesus Christ never pierced their hearts. Dietrich Bonhoeffer perceptively notes here that the one thing these people will not say is, “I know you – I know you alone, Jesus, that’s enough!”

But Don’t Get Comfortable – It Is the “Good” Who Can Commit This Sin (v. 32b)

I began by comforting the afflicted, and now I want end by afflicting the comfortable. Let me ask you this question: who is warned against the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in this passage? Who is Jesus primary target? The Pharisees – religious people. It is those whom other people would deem as good and upright who are warned of committing this sin. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is religion without Christ – and that can happened even in the church! In the gospels, it is the irreligious who come to Jesus quicker than the religious. Surprisingly, it is those who come to Jesus with humility rather than arrogance who are in his Kingdom, regardless of background.

For us in the church, this passage is a warning against taking the gospel for granted. It’s a warning against familiarity. Against formality with no change of heart, no inward repentance. How sad would it be to be in the Father’s house, but not in the Father’s heart. To be around Christ constantly, but not in Christ. A prayer for you from Philippians 1:9-11: now “May your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

[i] Matthew 11:2-20:34 by Jeffrey Gibbs, pg. 638