20 February 2011 : Matthew 12 : 30-37
Last week we spoke of the privilege and responsibility of being ambassadors for Jesus, and before we move forward I’d like to spend a few more minutes developing that, because you and I may be the first and only Bible some people will ever encounter.
Let me explain. The truth is that many people today do not have a Bible in their home, or if they do it’s an elderly King James version with tiny print. The KJV, which is 400 years old this year, was revolutionary in its day and has served the church well. But, let’s be brutally honest, it’s not really accessible to today’s text-message generation – the ones who are overwhelmingly unchurched, the ones who will lead this nation and this world, and for whom, I hope, we have a heart of love and a sense of mission.
The future of this nation and this planet depends on them accepting Jesus, but if the Word is not speaking to them with power, how is that going to happen? Through the church? Well, that’s precisely what we’re here for, but at present we are not, by and large, making much of a positive impact upon this present generation, and we need to understand why. To most people under 60, make no mistake, what they have seen of the Church of Scotland as an organisation does not do it for them.
The Kirk does not come over as having a radical cutting-edge message with real impact on their everyday lives in the 21st century, and I have to say that we have, to a considerable extent, been architects of our own downfall. We tend to do what we do, the way we do it, because we are comfortable with it. It doesn’t challenge or threaten us, and what I see of the mindset of the denominational church is survival mode.
Cling to the familiar, don’t rock the boat, and it will last long enough to see us out. And so the gospel of radical and costly grace poured out through the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, to be appropriated by a personal decision to love and trust in Jesus in every area of life, and to believe that in the Bible, especially the New Testament, God speaks and we ought to listen, is seen by many as too controversial, too exclusive.
So Biblical truth is watered down in the hope of making it more user-friendly, more relevant, more in synch with the spirit of the age – and those very words were used in a recent General Assembly report. At the same time as we’ve soft-pedalled the life-changing content of the message, we have become very conservative as to how it is presented. Immense passions have been expended on, and people have fallen out over, tiny matters such as hymn tunes, or the colour of the church loo, or whose turn it is to make the tea. We have strained at procedural gnats and swallowed theological camels.
At a human level, I understand the motivation behind that mindset. We don’t want to alienate the people who are already on the church roll. We want to provide for them a safe haven in a time of uncertainty in the world, a time and space to re-create in this one peaceful hour the innocent days of our childhood, when it genuinely seemed that all things were bright and beautiful. So we become anxious not to frighten the horses.
But here’s the bitter irony. In an age when there is so much uncertainty and insecurity, we are not helping anyone to look forward in faith if we don’t address, with integrity and boldness, the real issues with the power and authority of God’s Holy Word. What people need is not for the church to nod sagely and say that we understand and accept and sympathise with your doubt, and try to find some lowest common denominator on which we can all agree, but to proclaim the evangelical certainty of Jesus Christ.
You see, at the same time as the doctrinally liberal traditional churches like the C of S are in the business of managing decline, there are churches which are growing, which attract the new generation. What’s their secret? They tell the truth in love. They don’t pull their punches. These growing churches, by and large, are what’s called word-faith churches, and they bsaically do what it says on the tin. They have faith in the Word, as brought to life by the Holy Spirit. They believe, as it says in Hebrews 13.8, that Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. We believe that too, don’t we?
And if we believe that, then it means that the same free and unconditional grace of Jesus that embraced the woman caught in the act of adultery, and the wee tax-collector who’d been on the fiddle for so many years, and the woman at the well who had gone through five husbands and was now shacking up with someone else, and the thief at his side on the cross, is available NOW to anyone and everyone who will receive it.
If we believe that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, then it means that the same healing power that Jesus exercised toward the centurion’s servant, the cripple who’d been moping beside the pool at Bethsaida for 38 years, Jairus daughter and the wee woman who grabbed his coat on the way to see Jairus’ daughter, is available NOW to anyone and everyone who will receive it.
If we believe that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, then it means that every single promise in the Scriptures that found its fulfilment in Jesus is available NOW to anyone and everyone who will receive that promise. And if we don’t believe exactly the same forgiving, reconciling, healing, delivering, life-giving, life-changing power is available NOW to anyone and everyone who will receive it then – logically – we cannot truly claim to believe that Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
Matthew 12.30, then, is an urgent word addressed to the church right here in Scotland, right now in 2011 : He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. Our calling as the church, the body of Christ, at this time and in this place, is straightforward, to gather with Jesus. This we do by being totally committed to the revelation of God’s supernatural love that He has brought into the world.
Anything that gets in the way of that, any watering down of the message, any reversion from radical grace to rules and rituals and traditions of men that, as Jesus says, make the Word of God ineffective, does not gather but scatters. Our recent visit from presbytery highlights some areas in our church life that we do need to address in the near future, especially in terms of our mission to the unchurched generation.
Pray that we will have the obedient heart to do what it takes, and pay what it costs, to open the door for the Kingdom to come to people in this parish who, up to now, may have written us off as a quaint little club with nothing worthwhile to say. That we will be bold to put forward New Testament Christ-centred Spirit-led answers to the real and pressing questions that people are asking.
And as we move from v.30 to v.31, we must deal with another massive challenge to the church, and that is to take seriously the very strong warning Jesus sends out here about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which He describes as the unforgivable sin. Two questions stand out. What exactly is this, and why can it not be forgiven?
Firstly, what is the work of the Holy Spirit? In John 16, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, and will bring glory to Jesus by taking all that is His and giving it to us. That’s good, isn’t it? So blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would be to say what is not the truth about God and Jesus but claim that it is, or to say that what Jesus did is not God’s will for us today, or to take the devil’s stuff and claim that it is God’s will for us. Blasphemy against the Spirit is to call good evil, or evil good.
Things like : God sends sickness and suffering to humble us and teach us patience. God sends earthquakes and hurricanes and 9/11 as a judgement against the world. God took away my husband, my wife, my child, because he must have needed them more in heaven than I needed them on earth. Healing and other miracles were only for Biblical times but God took them away when the Bible was written. There are many ways to God, and it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe something
We’ve all heard that sort of stuff. Religious-sounding garbage that is completely and utterly against what the Bible actually teaches. What the Bible teaches is that the devil is a thief who comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but Jesus came so that we might enjoy life, in abundance, to the full, till it overflows. To ascribe to God the stealing, killing and destroying that’s actually the work of the devil is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Plain and simple. And if people hear that trash from people associated with the church, no wonder they get turned off God. Scattering, not gathering.
We all quite clear what blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is? We all quite clear how much it breaks God’s heart? But to step it up to a whole new level, what does it mean to say that it is an unforgivable sin? Simply this. Most people who make comments of that sort do so just because they don’t know any better, because they’ve been taught wrongly since 19-canteen. That in itself is not unforgivable, which is just as well for people like me who have opened our mouths and spouted such drivel in ignorance.
And when someone comes along and explains it, and exposes the wrong teaching, and gives you a revelation of the true nature of God as we see in Jesus, unconditional love and grace, and suddenly a light goes on in your head, and suddenly the spiritual penny drops – as Paul writes in Romans 12.2 : you do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind …
Instantly you receive the complete forgiveness that Jesus died to release into your life.
The difficulty is when someone hears the right teaching but steadfastly refuses to accept it, who obstinately rejects the truth and continues to embrace the lie, who will not allow the Word of God to change their carnal, wrong, opinions. That attitude gives the devil a spiritual foothold in your brain, and the longer you close your ears to the truth and cling to the traditional religious junk that the devil is happy to spew forth at any time of day and night, the more that foothold hardens into a stronghold.
And if eventually it gets to the stage that you stop going to church because you can’t stand the truth of the Word that contradicts your opinion, or start going to some other religious thingy, it could even become a stranglehold. There is only one thing that can make a sin unforgivable. You ready for this? It is when somebody hears the truth, loud and clear, over and over, knows deep down through the witness of the Holy Spirit that it is the truth, but absolutely and consistently and stubbornly refuses to accept that truth and gets to the stage of believing that they are right, and the Bible is wrong.
God will never give up trying to get the truth through, but at the end of the day, it is up to each and every one of us to accept – or not – the free gift of His grace, His truth, His forgiveness, His blessing, His healing. And if not, although Jesus died not just for the sins of the church but of the whole world [1 John 2.2], and it is not the Father’s will that any be lost but rather that all be saved through faith in Christ [2 Peter 3.9], God will not cosh us over the head and drag us kicking and screaming into heaven. One of the unique features of being human is freedom of choice, and God respects it.
Today we have dealt with 3 verses. We’ll return to this passage next time and see if we can push on a little bit further. But I make no apologies for spending considerable time on this today, nor for the uncompromising nature of the message. I hope you will find it convicting – not condemning – and help you to be stronger and more resolute in that life of faith as an ambassador of Christ in a world that needs to meet Him.