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Matthew 12:22-37 - Homilies By P.c. Barker

The bathos of detracting blasphemy.

In introduction, note the unity of this passage of sixteen verses. While the linking of one portion of the accounts contained in the Gospels to another is very often exceedingly evident, and that, link by link, a oneness of a different and complete kind marks this marvellous episode. Observe also upon the fact that the criticism of all the ages from the earliest Christian writings of the centuries has fastened upon these verses with no mistaken instinct. And grant that the crucial question, which they undoubtedly own to, considering the words and the tone of the Lord Jesus, may be approached, ought to be approached, investigated, and pondered with prayer, but will not allow itself to be dogmatized upon. The certain meaning eludes this treatment at any rate; and demands most reverential handling quite as really as it commands the awed meditating of the true student of the words of Christ. Treating the passage in the simplest manner, the likelier to lead to a better appreciation of the central difficulty, notice—

I. THE SIGNIFICANT RISE OF THE OCCASION , WHICH TOOK SO WIDE A RANGE AFTERWARDS .

1 . The prompt, manifest, and undisputed healing of a man who suffered from the deprivation (presumably) of three out of the five senses which belonged to his nature.

2 . The modus of this healing, to wit, the relieving the man of the tyrannous incubus of an evil spirit. This dispossessed, the man's dispossession vanished; the devil's possession challenged, disturbed, dislodged, and evicted, the man's rightful possession and possessions came to him, like some dawn of day.

3 . Inspiration's presentation of this event and transaction to the uncounted millions of its readers. That is, not in its personal aspects, without one word of rehearsal of the circumstances of the faith and inner desire and subsequent conduct of the man healed. He is here; be is healed—possibly he joins the amazed multitude, possibly he goes his way, and gratefully so; but the mighty work of Christ is left, and this becomes the sole absorbing subject.

4 . The world of observers wended different ways—the way of the "people," and the way of the "Pharisees."

II. THE DARING IMPUTATION , SUICIDAL SLANDER , AND PRONOUNCED BLASPHEMY THEREUPON , OF THE PHARISEES . A type to infernal perfection of that vice that has discredited so often in less degree fallen human nature, the detracting from the goodness of the good and their good deeds, and from the greatness of the great and their great deeds, is before us here. What are the facts ? They are:

1 . A great work done, a good work done, an absolutely merciful work done, the same being done not on the sabbath day," and the same, all in one, done manifestly and to absolute undenied certainty; done , not merely alleged, not even offered the charge of simulation.

2 . An evil work undone, a devil's work undone, with the devil who had done that, work turned out; and an exceeding bitter calamity and deprivation to an integral, individual part of God's creation graciously undone.

3 . The Doer of the work answering to the above description—he is present, and his prerequisites for such work are, and (by the confession and in the words of one of that very body from whom the blasphemy proceeds) are known to be," that he be come from God," and that "God be with him" ( John 3:2 ). It must be added that the credentials of this accused but wonderful Personage are already multiplied, and of the most pronounced character, alike in deed and in word. The blasphemy is that his detractors say that his work is not of that God whose working he does, but of the devil whose working he undoes!

III. THE EXPOSURE AND REBUKE OF THIS BLASPHEMY . The Pharisees spoke their blasphemy as an aside; or perhaps from a little distance off, whence they come, and now draw near enough to Christ for him to address them and "their thoughts" personally, though "their thoughts" had not been openly and with any "courage of conviction'' addressed in language to him.

1 . Universal reason expressed in universal proverb exposes and rebukes the blasphemy. Satan won't divide against himself, says Christ; and they all know it.

2. A practical alternative question storms the position and abashes the blasphemy. "If," says Christ, "I by Beelzebub cast out devils," dare to put it in words," by whom your children cast them out?" "but if I by the finger of God," which is "the Spirit of God, cast them out, then that kingdom of God ' which you are refusing to enter, and which you are striving to prevent, is veritably " come to yon." What about your neglect of it, and your malignant opposition to him who brings it? Strong and armed as confessedly Satan is, and his "palace" long time "kept," now it is before your eyes, though you may not, will not, confess it with the tongue, that a Stronger has "come upon him," has "overcome him," has "bound him," has "taken from him all his armour, wherein he trusted, and has divided his spoils." It is upon the ruins of that house, that palace, that kingdom which your blasphemy says is already divided against itself, that "the kingdom of God is come unto you." And now henceforth, he that does not know me, know to be "with me," and to gather with and for me, "is against me," and dooms himself to "scatter," and be scattered.

IV. THE TERRIBLE WARNING IN THE MATTER OF BLASPHEMY , VIZ . THAT " AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST ," NOW PRONOUNCED BY CHRIST . The language of Christ on this subject offers itself for the simplest acceptance, and humble and awed faith of all. Notwithstanding its brevity, its exceedingly simple diction, and the apparently designed wording of it, so that it shall not fail to reach its aim, it remains, after all the centuries, a passage that finds no absolutely satisfactory exposition, and that can command not one really just parallel by aid of which to determine and define it. To generalize upon it is easy, and to say continuous resistance of the Holy Spirit is likely, only too likely, to lead to final resistance of him, and that to the fatal doom here pronounced, is safe enough, and at the same time safely far enough from the exactness of the language and the point of its warning, here found. The apostle warns not to "quench" the Holy Spirit of God, after warning not to "grieve" him. But at what point long and repeated grieving may avail to quench we cannot fix, nor, if we could, would this enable us any more certainly to decipher what is here written, not of some prolonged rebellion against the Holy Spirit, but apparently of some such state of heart as may in a moment precipitate the unforgivable sin. We believe that it must be a "mercifiul and wise obscurity" that lies upon this passage; none the less solemn, but perhaps more so; none the less useful, but perhaps more so. The comment of St. Mark ( Mark 3:30 ), "Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit," seems to bring us nearest of all to the exact description of the sin, already adjudicated on by Christ, both for the time before the full gospel day, and thence to the end. And we believe that the dread testimony and warning goes to this—that there is a blasphemy of the tongue against the Holy Ghost, which speaks a blasphemy of the heart against him, such and of such sort, that though not to be pronounced upon (while wheat and tares grow together), the all-seeing One knows, and declares of it, that it cannot know the grace of repentance, and cannot have the infinite boon of forgiveness extended to it.

V. CHRIST 'S EMPHATIC DENIAL OF ANY FORM OF CONVENTIONAL AND ARTIFICIAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE HEART AND INNER QUALITY AND INGRAVEN CHARACTER OF MEN , AND THEIR WORDS AND ACTIONS . It is as true of the highest as of the lowest; and it is also as true of them both, and of all others whomsoever, as of the tree and its fruit. So literally and precisely true is this, that though it were possible that a "word," for instance, were so "idle," so light, so useless, so inactive, devoid of energy, inoperative, that it inferred no danger to any one in all the world outside, it should not the less be true that it inferred danger to the speaker of it. What witness must it needs bear about him , and against him! These concluding verses are, without mistake, a summing up of most practical and forcible application to the "generation of vipers" in the first instance, and also a reminder of widespread and deeply significant importance to all of us.—B.

Matthew 12:38-45 , specially Matthew 12:42 (see also Luke 11:16-18 , Luke 11:24-26 )

One inevitable law of judgment.

In introduction, notice the displeasure expressed by Christ in respect of the scribes and Pharisees asking a sign. This may have been for an accumulation of reasons. First , because (see Luke 11:16 ) perhaps they asked a "sign from heaven," marking in their wish a craving of curiosity for the novel and the more striking, regardless of the quantum of instruction that the sign might be charged with, at any rate, for others. Secondly , whether it were a sign from heaven or not, in asking they asked without the higher wish, without any wish, probably, for the higher object of a sign, when it is granted. Thirdly , without asking, they had already had many a sign of the most effective and incontestable kind, and they were signs "nigh at hand, and not afar off;" and yet these signs had not been used, not improved—had been seen, but resisted; and these men are the worst of all, who had "seen and yet believed not. " And once more, fourthly , because if this passage finds its correct place immediately on the narrative that here precedes, as seems certainly to be the case, they had just seen a sign, and had listened to what followed from the lips of Christ, and had been in the position to survey the entire scene, and to take awful warning from it. Note, further, that, true though it was that these doubters and unbelievers and disbelievers had had, and were still sure to have, numerous signs of the kind just given, yet Christ takes their meaning when he adds, "No sign shall be given but the sign of the Prophet Jonas;" and, alluding to this, he contrasts the practical conduct, the faith and repentance of Nineveh, on the preaching of Jonas, and the faith and zeal of the Queen of Sheba, when she heard the wisdom of Solomon, with the wilful unrepentingness of his hearers, and the cold deadness of their mind and heart. Note once more, from the closing portion of these verses, the link which holds them to the beginning of the passage. Their text is the "evil and adulterous generation;" and these last sentences forecast the" worse" state, to which they ever sink who, with all added light, gift, opportunity, shut, not eye and ear so much as mind and heart to them, while these are flung wide open for the evil spirits, who most ruthlessly victimize them. In the whole passage, select for special development the instance of the judgment and condemnation which the Queen of Sheba shall contribute, by the contrast of her example with that of the men to whom Jesus Christ was preaching, and manifesting forth his glory, his wisdom, and his mighty works. And learn that this example—

I. REMINDS OF THE CREDIT THAT IT IS TO HUMAN NATURE TO SEEK . It is one of the certain signs that its life and reality are not yet dried up and exhausted. We honour and admire the individual who seeks. Our admiration and honour grow when we see the seeking converted into thorough, earnest, persevering search. This, the onward, upward determination of our nature, constitutes one of the moral evidences of its immortality. Yet at the same time we cannot leave out of the question what it is which is the object of its search. Endeavour, labour, decision, and enthusiasm directed to a really worthy object—when any one labours for the thing he knows to his best light to be the highest—raise the whole scale of our admiration. Still, the man who exhibits these qualities may be wrong in not knowing a higher. It may be his fault , it may be even his sin, that he does not know a higher. Of how much of both our darkness and ignorance are we ourselves not unfrequently the guilty causes! Not, then, does any arrive at the best till he has made sure that what he and his heart and soul go in quest of is the truly highest that human mind may reach after, and human heart love. Though the visitor of Solomon was a queen, she journeyed far; and not for money nor for presents, though with both did she journey, but in quest of wisdom; this fired her soul's desire, on this her imagination went to work, this her ears tingled to hear, this determined her journey. In her deed she was blessed—blessed for her time of day. She acted up to an elevated and generous impulse, and she was not disappointed. And it is she, says Christ himself, who will rise up in judgment with those who, so far from being athirst for wisdom, and for the highest type attainable, refuse that infinitely greater wisdom, so near, so graciously pressed on them, of him who is greater beyond all count than Solomon. Search long, toilsome, and honourable for inferior blessings often reproves our wasteful heedlessness of that which is the greater; but never a millionth time so much as when it is "all the world" on the one hand, but Christ and his wisdom on the other hand, which are offered so freely, which plead for our regard so graciously, and which nevertheless are sought so feebly.

II. REMINDS OF THE SUPREME OBJECT WHICH IS INCONTESTABLY THE ONE WORTHY TO BE SOUGHT . It is, indeed, in itself a most interesting thing, as the barest fact of history, the history of the time of the Queen of Sheba, that she longed to hear the wisdom of Solomon. To be anxious to see all his wealth and magnificence and state would have been a usual enough anxiety. Nor can there be any doubt, from what we afterwards read, that she did think of these, and was satisfied and rejoiced with the satisfaction and rejoicing that these could give. None the less is it to be noticed that the record is that she craved to hear his wisdom. Now, this wisdom was great in certain relations and comparisons, and it was very unusual; but what at the furthest was its compass and its range? Great memory, great knowledge, great gift of observation, great force of discernment—all such Solomon confessedly had. How many proverbs did he write, and then repeat from memory! how much poetry did he compose and sing! what a natural historian he was, though science "in those days was very precious," and microscope there was none! "He spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. He spake of trees also, from the cedar that is in Lebanon even to the hyssop that springeth out of the wall of Jerusalem. He spake of beasts also, and of fowls, of creeping things, and of fishes." But all this—was it not knowledge of a very restrained sort? It was curious and entertaining and instructive, and capable certainly of leading from nature to nature's God; but what was it in comparison of the antitype! Now for the reverse of the grand medal.

1 . The "Greater than Solomon" brings his wisdom, and brings it from heaven's highest heights. Thence brought, it descends to all of our various, deepest need. Thence brought, it spreads over all the wide compass of the various want of our life. Christ knows all that is.

2 . The wisdom of Christ antedates all the present. All the past he knows, who" was in the beginning with God, and was God." So his wisdom was "from everlasting."

3 . He knows all the future. Where our vision cannot reach, and where ( could we glance) we should tremble to glance, which way soever our glance turned, there does his reaching, searching, steady gaze anticipate the direction, and swift as a morning ray travel to the end. How should men cleave for his wisdom's sake to him who sees, who only sees, all that awaits them!

"No eye but his might ever bear

To look all down that vast abyss,

Because none ever saw so clear

The shore beyond of endless bliss.

The giddy waves so restless hurled,

The vexed pulse of the feverish world,

He views and counts with steadfast sight,

Used to behold the Infinite."

Oh, with what strange, awful wisdom does all this invest Christ'!

4 . The wisdom of Christ is so kind. It is not confessedly grand and awful things which can be depended upon to draw human hearts the most. But Christ's wisdom is what we of all created things should most rejoice to call wisdom. It is so kind, so deep, so gentle, so quiet, that condescends to search all our needs, to stoop to view all our trials and sorrows, to come in contact with all that is most infinitely repulsive to him, our sin , and then to find the one perfect remedy for it. What justice even to our apprehension in that sentence of St. Paul, "Christ the Wisdom of God"! To "hear" the wisdom of Solomon did the Queen of Sheba travel from the uttermost parts of the earth, though there might not be one single word in it all for her self , for her life, heart, soul. But all the wisdom of Christ, so far as it is as yet revealed to us, gazes full on us; it has us for the objects of its expenditure. He has come to us. From the uttermost heavens has he descended to us.

"How swift and joyful was his flight,

On wings of everlasting love!"

He has worn our nature, borne our sins, carried our sorrows; has made himself known in our world, the very Pattern and Type of the seeking, watchful, compassionate Shepherd. And in the unfathomed marvels and mystery of the cross he has comprehended all the length and breadth, the height and depth, of wisdom. Against those who neglect this, it must indeed be that the Queen of Sheba shall rise in the judgment.—B.

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