A Devotional from Central Presbyterian Church.Find another day here.
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Some years ago, when one of our daughters (name withheld to protect the guilty) was just a little over 2 years old, we went to the beach for a family vacation. Not only was it a great time to enjoy the sand and the surf with some of our Ohio kin, but we were also able to celebrate a birthday together, a rare treat when your nearest relatives live 600 miles away. On the morning of the big day, after a little coaching by her mother and I, our little girl excitedly raced over to her uncle, gave him a hug, stared him straight in the eyes, and shook her head in silence. Instead of saying “Happy Birthday,” she refused to say anything at all. At first we busted out laughing, but as the day went along, and the same thing happened over and over and over again, the situation went from humorous to head-scratching. Everything finally came to a head in the evening when we all went out for dessert after dinner. We issued one final plea along with an ultimatum: if she would not say “Happy Birthday,” then she would not get ice cream. Sticking to her guns, she calmly responded, “that’s fine, I don’t want ice cream anyway,” then proceeded to sit and watch the rest of us enjoy our sundaes. I’m sure the uninformed observer must have thought us cruel parents for depriving our sweet little girl while we indulged right there in front of her, but even as we packed up the van and headed back to the condo, we begged her one last time to say “Happy Birthday” so we could get her a treat to go, but she flatly refused. Of course, as soon as the door closed and we began to pull away, the hardened facade finally began to crack and she suffered a major toddler meltdown. In a last-minute attempt to salvage the day, and a chance at a bedtime snack, sobbing in her bed, she promised to cooperate in exchange for a cookie, before once again turning into a statue before her bemused uncle.
Jesus continues His defense before the accusative Pharisees with a straightforward and perhaps even slightly scandalous message; all sins will be forgiven. Included under the umbrella of “all sins” are the biggies such as murder, idolatry, and adultery, as well as all moral and ethical failure and sins of both commission and omission. Jesus takes care to explicitly state that even blasphemy, openly defiant irreverence and public defamation against the name of God, is forgivable. A quick glance through the history of Israel illustrates the beautiful truth that the Lord chose ill-tempered murderers (Moses), cowardly idolators (Gideon), covetous adulterers (David), and disobedient xenophobes (Jonah), to lead His people and share the message of redemption with the world. Left unstated by Jesus here, but prominently proclaimed throughout the duration of His public ministry, is that all sin is forgiven exclusively through confession and repentance. Time and again humanity is urged to turn away from their sin and back towards their Maker in order to experience the endless joys of His mercy and the unfathomable riches of His grace.
While the first half of the message offers cause for hope, Jesus’ next words have historically been seen as some of the most concerning and perplexing in all of Scripture. Jesus continues: “but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin.” Throughout the centuries the question has been raised, and rightly so, “What does Jesus mean by ‘blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?’” and “How can I make sure I never commit this unforgivable sin?”
First, let’s recall those who received forgiveness for their sins and remind ourselves of what this cannot mean, namely denying a relationship with Jesus or saying/believing that He is not God. On the night Jesus was arrested, the apostle Peter, on three separate occasions denied any knowledge of or association with Jesus. Shortly afterwards, before being stopped on the road to Damascus, Saul the Pharisee, acting as a one-man wrecking crew, believed it to be his divine duty to apprehend and persecute the disciples of Jesus for declaring that He was God. But instead of rooting out heresy, to his horror, Saul discovered that he was the heretic. Rather than defending the truth, he was actually persecuting the risen Lord Jesus Himself. Of course Peter and Paul were not only forgiven of their blasphemy against Jesus, but they became His chosen instruments for proclaiming the gospel of grace; forgiveness of sins for all who would put their faith and hope in Jesus.
If forgiveness is available even for those who at some point in their lives denied the sufficiency and deity of Jesus, then what can it mean to “blaspheme the Holy Spirit?” Jesus is talking about more than a one-time action or even a temporary state of being, but a constant rejection and denial of the truth of God as revealed through His Word. The Pharisees became guilty of this sin because they continually refused to acknowledge the presence of God as evidenced through the words and works of Jesus. As commentator William Hendriksen writes: “to be forgiven implies that the sinner be truly penitent…their sin is unpardonable because they were unwilling to tread the path that leads to perdition.” When Peter and Paul were confronted by Jesus with their sin, they grieved over the horror of denying Him and they repented of their ways. But when the Pharisees were likewise confronted by Jesus for their many sins, they became hardened in their depravity and grew more determined to destroy Him. Instead of humbling themselves, they delighted in His humiliation and rejoiced in His execution.
Being concerned over unintentionally committing the “eternal sin” is a sure sign that you have not done so. As God has revealed throughout His word, He is neither arbitrary nor capricious, but He is in fact slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He provides chance after chance to repent from our sin and acknowledge our need for the Savior that He provided for us. The book of Acts joyfully reports that even many of the priests and Pharisees that initially opposed Jesus, like Paul, later turned from their sins and acknowledged Him as their Lord and Savior. Like the parent of a stubborn child, God does not delight in punishing the wicked nor find joy in their condemnation, but after they repeatedly and deliberately refuse His gift and deny His appeal their ends are unquestionably deserved. But for anyone and everyone who is truly sorrowful over their transgressions and horrified by their past, the grace of Jesus is more than sufficient to cover even the most heinous and spectacular, for we can not out sin the grace of God. Like the waves of dawn crashing on the sand, His mercies are new every morning.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we come to You today in humility and contrition. We confess that we have not loved You as we ought and far too often we have ignored Your direction and refused Your good gifts in favor of stubbornly following our own desires. We ask that, in Your mercy, You would soften our hearts and show us our need for what only You can provide. Forgive us our sins and restore us into the joy of our salvation. We ask in Your all-sufficient name, Amen.