Expository Sermon on Matthew 12
Bellevue SDA Church 4/21/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
To hear the audio for this sermon, click the white triangular “play” arrow on the line below.
Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 12.
This is another in our sermons on the “Red Print” in the Bible. As you know, in some Bibles, Jesus’ words are printed in red to make them stand out. These are statements He made which were important for the people of His time, and important for us as well.
This is a chapter where we can see spiritual warfare going on. In fact, in this chapter Jesus tells us about the “unpardonable sin,” the sin against the Holy Spirit. This causes concern for people who hear about it, and it should, because Jesus says it is a serious matter.
Which is a good reason, of course, to dive into this chapter and see what’s happening.
In this chapter, a spiritual war is happening, war between Christ and Satan. Satan has a goal, and Jesus has a goal. Satan’s goal is to eliminate God from your life, to drive you away from Him, and to convince you that God can’t stand you.
Ideally, he would like to convince you that God doesn’t exist. That has been his goal since the Garden of Eden onward. Jesus’ goal is to reunite you with God, to bring you closer to Him, and convince you that God loves you.
And in this war, both sides have tactics they use. Satan has certain tactics he uses, and Jesus has tactics He uses. And those tactics are what will be looking at, and we’ll find out how Jesus’ tactics can bring us closer to Him and His Father. So let’s get started.
Matthew 12:14 [NKJV]: Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Here we see Satan’s first tactic. It’s the Pharisees who are trying to pull it off, but these are the same class of people whom Jesus was speaking to in John 8:44, when He told them, “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning . . . .” So even though they don’t know it, these Pharisees are agents of Satan.
So what is Satan’s first tactic? Remember, his overall goal is to eliminate God. If you are taking sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One.
Satan’s first tactic is to try to brutally destroy Jesus.
Of course, eventually Jesus will be killed – but only on God’s timetable, only when the time was right. Satan had tried to destroy Jesus three decades earlier, when Herod’s soldiers stormed into Bethlehem. Even further back than that, Satan had fought a war in heaven, hoping to dethrone God.
So if Satan’s first tactic is to brutally destroy Jesus, what is Jesus’ response? Remember, Jesus’ main goal is to reunite us with God. Satan wants to eliminate God, Jesus wants to reunite us with God. Watch what He does:
Verses 14 – 21: Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust.”
How does Jesus respond to Satan’s first tactic? He strategically retreats. He is not admitting defeat. It’s just that His goal is different than Satan’s goal. Satan’s tactic is to try to destroy Jesus, but Jesus’ tactic is not to try to destroy Satan at this point. Jesus wants to reunite as many people as possible with God – and reunite them in a way where they see how lovable God actually is.
Throughout the book of Acts, we see Paul and other disciples doing this kind of strategic retreat, because their goals were different than those of their opponents.
It’s interesting to look at why the Pharisees were so intent on destroying Jesus in the first place. In the first 13 verses of Matthew 12, Jesus strikes two blows at the Pharisees’ Sabbath traditions. First, on a Sabbath morning (quite early, because they hadn’t been to the synagogue yet) we notice Jesus’ disciples plucking some of heads off wheat stalks and rubbing them in their hands to get to the kernels. The Pharisees are horrified, because to them, this qualifies as working on the Sabbath? But Jesus tells them it isn’t.
Immediately after that, Jesus goes into the synagogue, and notices a man who has a withered hand. He calls attention to that man, and heals him. And the Pharisees, rather than praising God for this superhuman miracle, get together and start plotting how to destroy Jesus.
Now this is pretty sinister. After each of these disputes, Jesus calmly reasons from Scripture and logic about why the Pharisees have an incorrect interpretation. But that doesn’t make a bit of difference to them. They are determined to destroy Him.
And even if Jesus hadn’t specifically labeled these stubborn Jewish leaders as children of Satan, we would still sense the devil’s hand in this crisis. Of all God’s gifts to humanity, maybe the one the devil hates the most is the Sabbath.
Why would the devil hate the Sabbath so much? Because he remembers how the Fourth Commandment goes, and what it means:
Exodus 20:8 – 11: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
If the devil’s main goal is to eliminate God, then he must do his level best to eliminate the Sabbath, or at least make it as distasteful as possible. Because if people truly and knowledgeably keep the Sabbath for what it means, they will remember that it is a memorial of God’s creation. And any group of people who allow themselves to be constantly reminded that God is the Creator will certainly not eliminate Him from their lives. Just the opposite.
Back in Jesus’ time, the Pharisees and rabbis and other leaders had created and enforced many often nonsensical rules about Sabbath observance, so that no longer was the Sabbath a delight, but a burden. But Jesus came to restore real joy to the Sabbath.
So what do we do, in order to join Jesus in His battle against Satan? Well, since Jesus wants to unite us with God, we need to absorb God into our lives however we can. We need to read our Bibles. We need to listen to our Bibles in the car. We need to seize the Sabbath for all it’s worth – celebrate it, revel in it, greet it every Friday evening with relief and joy. We need to gather with other people who also believe in the Sabbath, for mutual encouragement, as we all are doing this morning.
Now let’s take a look at Satan’s second tactic he uses to try to eliminate God from our lives.
Verses 22 – 24: Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”
If Satan’s first God-elimination tactic is to try to brutally destroy Jesus, then his second tactic is to assert that Satan himself is the source of God’s miracles.
Now notice how Jesus responds. He uses simple logic.
Verses 25 – 29: But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.
So again, Satan’s goal is to eliminate God. And with the tactic we’ve just seen him use, he is trying to eliminate God by using the Pharisees to claim that miracles of God actually come from Satan.
But what is so grotesque about this tactic is that if people actually believed that, it would take them straight back to the idolatry of the Old Testament. Back in those days, if you believed in a God like Baal, for example, you were believing in a capricious god, a god who couldn’t really be depended on.
Remember how the 400 fervent prophets of Baal shouted and danced and even cut themselves with knives to cause Baal to pity them enough to send down fire on their altar? But it didn’t work. The god whom they were trying to defend was shown to be absent—and even non-existent. But after Elijah’s prayer, which lasted less than a minute, God responded with a bolt of fire directly down upon that altar.
So what do we do with this, now that we know it?
Some people say, “Well, how can I be sure that something that happened to me is really a miracle? Maybe it’s just coincidence, or good luck, or a natural result of something.”
I’ve always been cautious when it comes to saying that something is a direct miracle of God. But most Christians—including me—can tell you about times in their lives when God directly intervened, maybe to guide them in a different direction from the way they were going, or to bring healing, or any number of things.
After all, each of us is a miracle already. This week I watched an online video where a robot had been programmed to put together an IKEA chair. It took about 20 minutes, and there were a few glitches, but the robot did the job.
But even though decades of careful programming have gone into artificial intelligence, no scientist in his or her right mind really believes that any thinking machine can, or ever will, equal or surpass a human being in everything.
No, the more you and I contemplate ourselves and the world around us, the more we are convinced that we are all miracles of God. Shelley and I take walks whenever we can, and we enjoy watching and listening to birds, and animals, and watching the trees “green out” in spring.
So, if you find it repulsive that Satan claims powers that God alone has, allow yourself to feel the horror of this idea. And if we totally eliminate God from our lives, and say that even miracles come from natural causes, then Satan chortles with joy – because we have done his God-elimination work for him!
Let’s look at one more of Satan’s God-elimination tactics. But before we do that, let’s make a little bus-stop at the unpardonable sin.
Verses 31 – 32: “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.
If you’re reading this out of the Andrews Study Bible, you’ll notice a footnote at the bottom of the page. I’m going to read that footnote for you, because it summarizes very well what the unpardonable sin is.
“This is traditionally known as the ‘unpardonable sin.’ The context of this statement suggests that the unpardonable sin that the Pharisees were committing was that they were attributing to Satan (Beelzebub), rather than to the Holy Spirit, the power by which Jesus did His miraculous works.
“From this we can extrapolate that the essence of this sin is the deliberate refusal to acknowledge the working of God’s Spirit. This deliberate and obstinate stance ultimately leads to a hardening of the heart, and a total rejection of the Spirit and thus Jesus Himself. Under such circumstances salvation through Jesus is impossible. . . .
“The refusal to heed the Spirit’s warning stems from a sinful, perverted heart. It is important to note, then, that if one is concerned as to whether he or she has committed the unpardonable sin, it is almost certain that that stage has not been reached. Such a smiting of the conscience means that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the individual.”
(From the Andrews Study Bible, Dybdahl, J. L. (Ed.). (2010). Andrews Study Bible Notes (p. 1266). Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press. Scripture references not included, and paragraphing was added.)
So what is Satan’s third God-elimination tactic?
If Satan’s first God-elimination tactic is to try to brutally destroy Jesus, and if his second tactic is to assert that Satan himself is the source of God’s miracles, then his third God-elimination tactic is to try powerfully to occupy empty hearts.
Now let’s take a look at that final tactic of Satan. And this too should cause us to be alertly concerned.
Verses 43 – 45: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.”
This was always very disturbing to me as a kid. To think of that evil spirit being driven out of someone, and then roaming around trying to find a place to rest, and then coming back and finding that recently vacated place all swept up and cleaned out, and then moving back in with another seven spirits worse than he was, this made me really thoughtful.
So what does this mean to me? I don’t know all the details behind this story of Jesus, and maybe it’s partly a parable. But one thing that comes through to me, strong and clear. It’s that when Satan is ejected from my life, I need to replace him by answering Jesus’ Revelation 3 verse 20 knock on the door of my heart. There He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
The bottom line—don’t let your heart be empty. If the Lord has delivered you from the devil’s clutches, cling to Jesus. Do what I mentioned before—immerse yourself in God’s words, in Jesus’ red print. I grew up on the King James Bible, and I’ve found a KJV which is printed like a regular book, where each new verse isn’t separated into its own little paragraph. I am once again truly enjoying that magnificent English prose.
So choose whatever Bible version you like, and make it a part of your life. Read it every day, or listen to it in the car every day. One of our members told me recently that she prays her way through Bible verses.
Would you like to resolve to fill your heart with your Savior’s presence from this day on? Let me see your hand if that is your wish.