What Words Reveal - Matthew 12:22–37
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Last year, near the city of Chico in northern California, a destructive and deadly wildfire began. You likely followed this in the national news. It became the most devastating fire in California’s history, with more than 80 fatalities, 150,000 acres scorched, and damages estimated at over 16 billion dollars. Of course, it began with just a small fire. But it grew into something much worse. The NT compares the devastation that our words can bring to a wildfire. James 3 says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” Sinful words are evil, plain and simple. James was speaking to the church in the first century A.D., warning them about the power of the tongue and the consequences of careless words.
How seriously do you take the words you utter, whether at work or at home, or driving in your car; toward your spouse, toward your siblings, toward your children? You’ve heard it said that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But that our words can hurt, not only others, but our own words, Jesus says in Matthew 12, can hurt ourselves. This is especially troubling because carelessly spoken words come naturally to us.
However, when Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross, he died not just for sinful deeds and desires, but for our sinful words. Our words, just like our actions and thoughts, incur God’s wrath. And because Jesus suffered punishment for our words, we should consider what our words reveal about us. What do they reveal? You can see a few things listed on page 6 of the worship guide. Our carelessly spoken words expose: our resistance to the Son’s lordship, our disregard for the Spirit’s conviction, and the basis for the Father’s condemnation.
Jesus had an escalating conflict with the Jewish religious leaders. He was making them look bad and exposing their sin. Here, he performs an exorcism. And verse 23 says,  all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” In other words, “Is this the long-awaited Messiah who will reign eternally as King?” The people see the power; they hear the truth and sense of authority. But the Pharisees were angry and jealous. When they hear the peoples’ response, they say, verse 24, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” They say Jesus is from Satan, not God. But the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus knows their thoughts, and he counters their argument with common sense. Verse  he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.  And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
Why would Satan cast out the demon he sent into someone? Jesus’ words about “kingdom” are important. He’s been talking about the coming of the kingdom of God for a while now. The kingdom of God – the reign of God over hearts and lives - is breaking in where another kingdom has been set up – the kingdom of Satan, the evil one.
After we receive the Lord’s Supper, we pray the Lord’s Prayer together. In that prayer, we say, as it is commonly translated, “deliver us from evil.” But important to know is that in the Greek manuscripts, which have been translated to English, the word used for “evil” refers not just to evil in a general sense, but to “the evil one,” to Satan. Satan has a measure of power. He exercises evil over people; he does not free them from evil.
Jesus then says, verse , “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub,by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” Other Jews had, at times, cast out demons by the power of God. How were they doing it? By Satan’s power? No, by God’s power. It is God’s handiwork. The Pharisees were just angry and looking for an angle to take against Jesus. They were reaching, scrambling, and saying anything to discredit him. The kingdom of God had come in power and glory, but it was not what they wanted.
They wanted a Messiah who would affirm them, not correct and condemn them. Jesus had gone outside of their professional ranks and chosen regular guys as his disciples. The Pharisees can’t dispute the actual work Jesus has done. They can only cast doubt in people’s minds about the source of the work. Look at verse , Jesus tells them, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” All the Pharisees’ words have done is expose their resistance to the lordship of Jesus – to his kingship and authority over their lives. The kingdom is here because the king is here! Pride and jealousy has blinded these men.
Have you ever been so angry or so swept up by your pride that you spoke and you didn’t care about the consequences? It just felt good to spit venom. Everyone hear, born again or not, adult or child, man or woman – surely you can remember a time when you opened your mouth and spoke words which revealed that, in that moment, you couldn’t care less about the lordship of Jesus Christ. That’s one thing that carelessly spoken words reveal. They expose the part of us that doesn’t want Jesus to rule over us. The Pharisees didn’t want Jesus as king; and our sin natures don’t want him as king.
Notice what else their words reveal. Verse , Jesus goes on with his argument. He says, “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. Go back to the miracle Jesus just performed. He freed a man from demon possession. The man, Jesus says, is like a house. And a strong man, Satan, had made himself at home. But Jesus comes along and basically takes the house from Satan. How does he do it? He binds Satan.
This is what Jesus was doing everyone he went, and in this “kingdom age” in which we now live, Jesus has bound Satan to a degree. And if you’re not on Jesus’ side in his work, you are opposed to him. Verse Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Jesus is gathering the helpless sheep. The careless words of the Pharisees were scattering the people, turning them away from the Messiah!
Jesus was preaching, teaching and doing mighty works by the power of the Spirit to bring the Spirit’s conviction of sin in their hearts so they might repent and believe. But these Pharisees disregard the call to repent. They reject the Spirit. Their words expose this. How severe is their rejection? Verse , Jesus says, Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
I remember as a child hearing about “the unforgivable sin.” I was told, by another child, that taking God’s name in vain was unforgivable. That isn’t true. But here we see something that in unforgivable. This can be confusing. You’ve about God’s grace and that God can forgive anything. King David himself was guilty of both adultery and murder, but he was forgiven by God. But verse 31 refers to something that can’t be forgiven, something involving words of “blasphemy.” In other words, “severe slander against.”
To understand this, it helps to consider a statement from Jesus in Luke 23. When he was dying on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His accusers were ignorant, not unlike the apostle Paul who persecuted Christians but was later redeemed and changed by God. The slander against the Spirit that Jesus speaks of is slander by those who know that Jesus is the Christ. The implication here is that this was the ground on which these religious leaders were treading. Jesus goes on to say, verse  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.
What do we make of this difference between speaking a word against the Son of Man and against the Spirit? Son of Man was an OT term that Jesus used to refer to himself. At that time, Jesus was not yet fully understood by people. He had not died and been raised again. Even his own disciples didn’t understand; in fact, Peter would abandon and deny Jesus. Yet Jesus forgave him and restored him. But the Pharisees are speaking against what is, without question, the obvious work of God. This kind of severe slander of God’s work reveals a severe hardening of one’s own heart. How hard would the hearts of the religious leaders become? So hard that these men would plot to kill Jesus’ death.
I can’t be direct enough about the danger of hardening your heart by going against your conscience and doing what you know is wrong. Let me quote a better preacher. He told his listeners this:  Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But (urge) one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. That’s the writer of the NT book of Hebrews. He quotes Psalm 95.  As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” What these Pharisees were doing was what so many of the OT Israelites had done: disregarding the conviction of the Holy Spirit when the work of God was right before their eyes. How can there be forgiveness without repentance? We must turn from sin and to God. If someone won’t repent in the end, they are not saved. And we shouldn’t be deceived into thinking, “Oh, I can sin now and repent later.”
It’s alarming how deep someone can be in the covenant community of the local and still be unsaved. We read last week from Hebrews 6. I’ve heard many questions about that passage over the years. It says,  it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,  and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,  and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance.” This can be confusing. What about “once saved, always saved?” We do believe that. But someone can receive the sign of the covenant and experience all of the outward things that take place here, but still reject the faith one day. If someone walks away,
we must pray for them and urge them to repent and believe, but only the Spirit of God can change the person and bring them back. Pastors preach and baptize, but we don’t know for sure who is saved and who is not. All we have to go on, the Scripture tells us, is your actions – and your words. When we receive new members, those are the criteria. But time will tell who is truly saved. This has always been the case with the people of God. After all, sometimes, even pastors fall away. And so, each week, the reminder goes out.
The warning goes out. Paul said it in 2 Corinthians 13,  Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I try to conclude my sermons each week with something like that statement. Even you, a person who professed faith in Jesus Christ long ago – you should think each Lord’s Day about your life. You should consider your behavior, consider your thoughts, consider your words – and do not assume that you are deceived by sin in some way. When you examine yourself, you should see that you are a rotten sinner and Jesus is your only hope. If you don’t see that, there may be no hope for you.
But you’re all here, there is still time for you, and so, look at what Jesus says next. Verse  “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. In other words, do what is within your power to change. You can repent. You can turn. Jesus aimed these next words, that day, at the Pharisees, but haven’t we all spit venom before? Verse  You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
Consider your words. What kind of heart do you have in there? What do your words reveal?
Proverbs 12 says,  There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. We need to consider our careless words toward others because they expose the basis for the Father’s condemnation. Verse , Jesus says, I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,  for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Here is the hope and relief of the gospel: prideful, sinful words bring condemnation, but humble, repentant words bring forgiveness. What repentant words do we speak? Things like, “I’m a sinner. Save me Jesus. Forgive me. Have mercy on me, O God.”
As we go to table today, we need to see the ugliness of our sin, so that we may see our need for salvation in Jesus Christ. He was the One who lived a life in which he never spoke a careless word. Even in suffering to death, he was silent. For all of us, whether you are already born again and need to renew your faith in Jesus today, or you are not born again and today is perhaps the day of salvation for you, God has made a way to bring you to himself without spot or blemish.
Romans 10, “the righteousness based on faith says,…The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart… because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Will you turn from sin and follow Jesus? Careless words from our mouths reveal our need. But gospel words from our mouths reveal God’s saving work within us.
Let’s pray together.