Removing Masks (3): The Unpardonable Sin
May 31, 2015
Intro – (Read Lu 12:8-12). Bob Hope hosted many Academy Awards. In 1953 he opened by saying, “This is the first time the Academy Awards have been on television. You’ll see the faces of the winners – and you’ll see the faces of the losers -- congratulating the winners. In other words, tonight you’re gonna see some real Academy Award acting.” We all wear masks, don’t we? Often we believe our own lies. That’s a major issue with hypocrisy.
In our text, as Jesus leaves a Pharisees lunch, He turns to His own followers and challenges them to avoid hypocrisy. In this passage, Jesus gives a Warning Against Hypocrisy in vv. 1-3. Then He gives Ways to Avoid Hypocrisy in vv. 4-12. Every member of the Trinity plays a role.
I. Fear the Father
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psa 111:10). He is Ground Zero for reality. So being grounded in reality involves embracing His holiness and His love by accepting His gift of grace and living in reverence of Him. To live without respect for the Creator is to step outside reality.
II. Confess Christ
8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” This is not the meek and mild Jesus we hear so much about. This is the Jesus who pulls no punches letting us know when He reigns some people He will acknowledge before the whole universe as His – others He will deny. But He’s the key.
The word “acknowledge” is elsewhere translated “confess” – like Rom 10:9, “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.” It describes a publicly acknowledged commitment. It means to declare publicly for Jesus, to confess Him, to acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior. This is the outward expression of a truly changed heart. It tells us two things about saving faith and authentic life. 1) It confesses Christ - and 2) it confesses Him conspicuously.
A. Confess Christ – There is no salvation, no heaven, no eternity with God apart from Jesus. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If He died for your sins then He’s the only way to the Father. So many people today want to have God, but deny Christ at the same time. That is not possible. V. 9, “but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” Crystal clear. Mt 10:33, “but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” You can’t deny Christ and get to God, Beloved. That is an impossibility. It’s like saying I’m going to Windsor Castle while denying the Queen’s authority. You’ve denied the only means of access.
Neither can we have access to God without the Son who paid the price for entry. When His disciples wanted to know how to get to the Father, He told them, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except thru me” (Jn 14:6). The entry point to heaven is exactly one person wide. You must come thru Jesus. There is no other way. Why? No one else “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He alone could and did pay the price of entry. I Jn 2:23, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son (there is our word again – confesses, publicly acknowledges) has the Father also.”
Clint Hill was the agent who ran after President Kennedy’s car on that awful day of his assassination. He was Jackie’s senior agent. A couple of years ago he wrote a book detailing delays in mail delivery to evaluate threats. Jackie wanted to get non-threatening mail from family and friends quickly. Hill came up with a scheme. He told Jackie, “Have family and friends put my name, ‘Clint Hill’, on the envelope along with yours. That will be the code that it is okay.” Jackie thought her friends would find that amusing, and it worked to perfection. The access code was Clint Hill. And the access code to the Father is Jesus, Beloved. No other way. No other entry. We must confess Him.
B. Confess Conspicuously – Believers embrace Jesus openly. To deny Him means there is an idol somewhere – something more important to our heart than Him. Perhaps we fear being thought stupid or religious, and our reputation is more important to us that Jesus. Perhaps we fear retaliation – loss of promotion and so ambition is the idol. Perhaps we fear we will lose friends, and so some relationship is the idol. But failure to acknowledge Jesus openly means there’s an idol somewhere. Even true followers can slip at times, but if this is a life pattern, Jesus’ warning is dire: “ but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (9). That means you are not genuine, and heaven is not your destiny.
Genuine believers embrace Jesus in this life. Rev 3:5, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” We may think we’re fine because we know and affirm the facts privately – but if we are ashamed of Jesus, we have not been made a new creation and given a new heart. We are fooling only ourselves. Paul says in II Tim 2:12, “if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.” The acid test of faith – an open, public declaration for Christ, starting with baptism, which often meant death in the early church. To deny Christ is to deny reality; it is hypocrisy. There are no secret agent believers.
Imagine getting married only to overhear your spouse at a class reunion deny to an old flame that they even know you. You’d be devastated – but you’d know their true heart, wouldn’t you? And so our public confession or denial of Jesus reveals who we really are in relation to Him.
An old Methodist circuit rider, Daniel Curry, made a campfire on the NE prairie one night and fell asleep. He dreamed he had died and gone to heaven where an angel asked his reason for being there. He said, “I’m here to claim the mansion Jesus promised me long ago.” But the angel wouldn’t let him in, so Curry pleaded to see God. Arriving at God’s throne he was dumbstruck by the blaze of glory that greeted him, like 1,000 suns. He fell prostrate before the God. A stern voice cried out, “Who are you and what do you seek?” Curry tried, but was too terrified to speak. But suddenly a scarred hand pulled him to his feet. “Father, this is Daniel Curry. He confessed me before men, and I now confess him before you. Whatever sins he has committed – whatever stains his record, charge them all to me. Put them on my account.” This can be all of your future; it all depends on what you do with Jesus now.
III. Savor the Spirit
A. Don’t Denounce the Spirit’s Work
Here’s a much debated passage. 10 “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” So, is there an unpardonable sin? Answer – Yes. What is it? It is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. So, what does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? All kinds of answers have been given – murder, adultery, suicide – and many others. But serious as those are, it is none of those. David was certainly forgiven of both murder and adultery. So what is the unpardonable sin? How does one blaspheme the Holy Spirit?
To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to firmly, finally and fully reject the Holy Spirit’s clear, unimpeachable evidence of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, and further to attribute that work to Satan – to mock it. It is to harden your heart against full light to the point of no return. We’ve seen how Pharaoh did that in the face of multiple display of God’s power and glory.
Both Matthew and Mark place this comment by Jesus in the context of a blasphemous accusation. Check Mt 12. Jesus has healed a demonized blind and mute man. The crowd marvels at His power. Mt 12:24: “But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” The Pharisees have reached a watershed point in their opposition to Jesus. Originally they thought him a nuisance they could soon silence. But every ill-fated effort had failed. It should have long ago dawned on them that truth was on His side. For a few, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, it had. But most intensified their opposition. They could not deny Jesus’ compassion; it was everywhere. They could not trap Him verbally; He destroyed them every time. And they never even attempted to deny His miracles, so obvious were they. You can deny them from 2,000 years distance, but not a single person tried to do so during Jesus’ lifetime.
So they did they only thing left to them. They claimed He was empowered by Satan. It was an act of spiritual suicide. With more direct revelation of God than anyone in history, these men chose to claim it was all from Satan. They didn’t just reject Jesus, which one might do and still repent later. No, their rejection had reached the point of attributing every work of the HS thru Jesus to Satan – a lifetime choice. They had crossed the Rubicon and were confirmed in their unbelief, having sinned against more light than anyone in history. So Jesus, after showing the insanity of their position, concluded by saying in Mt 12:31, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Many people worry that they have committed the unpardonable sin. I assure you, people who have are not worried about it. It is not a question of severity. Mt 12:31, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.” The worst sin ever committed was killing Jesus who prayed on that occasion, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lu 23:34). Neither is it the number of sins someone may have committed. God assures us in Jas 5:20 for any repentant, God “will cover a multitude of sins.” Neither is the species of sin an issue. I Jn 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The issue is the persistent suppression of God’s revelation to the point of no return. Like Judas when he sinned against more light than any person in history to betray Jesus. He’d reached the point of no return. An unpardonable sin.
It is likely that modern examples include people who have sat under the teaching of God’s Word for years, only to finally throw it all over. A former minister, John W. Loftus, has been called the “Crown prince” of atheists these days. Why? Because he has 3 degrees in theology, including study under the prominent apologist, William Lane Craig, pastored for 14 years, then suddenly left the ministry and declared himself an atheist. He’s founded a blog called Debunking Christianity. He published a book: Why I Became an Atheist. He found the church unloving. He also attacks the Bible on multiple fronts. One example: he claims it advocates child sacrifice – using God’s instruction to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, which God stopped, of course. And Exod 22:29, “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me” which, of course, was not advocating child sacrifice but was speaking of service. Loftus never mentions God provided an alternative whereby the people could pay a tax to support the Levites as substitute for giving their firstborn to His service.
What is seldom mentioned is that Loftus committed adultery and was ostracized when he was unrepentant. He later divorced and married another woman, who happened to be an atheist. It was not for intellectual reasons that he originally left the faith, but for moral ones. His blog includes multiple cartoon videos mocking Bible stories and presenting the biblical God as a buffoon. Blaspheming the HS. Has he committed the unpardonable sin? Only God can or should judge that. I hope not. But I fear for him because this is what it would look like. To denounce the Spirit’s work in such blatant terms is willful denial of the witness to Himself God has put in every heart. In the words of Rom 1:18, it is “to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” God gives such people up, to “the lusts of their hearts” (24), “to dishonorable passions” (26) and “to a debased mind” (28). (Ref John 16:8-11 to talk about the threefold role of the Spirit in our world).
The unpardonable sin is committed when we have denied God the Father by denying God the Son, who reveals the Father, and denouncing God the Spirit who reveals the Son. At that point, you’ve denied the whole Trinity, and there is nowhere left to go.
B. Do Depend on the Spirit’s Wisdom
Now, in closing Jesus addresses how to handle the persecution that will attach to publicly acknowledging Him: 11) “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Don’t depend on your own wisdom. Depend on the Holy Spirit. V. 11 – Don’t worry about what you “should” or “might” say. The HS will show you what you “ought” – what “is necessary” (δει) to say – not what you think you might say to get free, but what God wants said testify to His glory and keep you from hypocrisy.
Now when Jesus says the HS will teach you at that very time, He is not advocating lack of preparation. God urges in II Tim 2: 15) “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Peter similarly advises, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (I Pet 3:15). There is never an excuse for lack of preparation. But when the time comes to speak – whether in conversation, teaching or under persecution – rely on the HS to take what you’ve learned and studied and believed to give you words that He can use to change hearts.
Peter and John did in Acts 4. Arrested for healing a man, in the name of Jesus Christ, whom the leaders had just crucified and thought they had heard the end of, Peter and John were threatened if they did not stop talking about Jesus and His resurrection. But they reply in Acts 4:19-20, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” They are not trying to get out of jail free; they are bearing witness to Jesus under the HS’s direction.
Conc – So how do we remove the masks of hypocrisy? By our relationship to the whole of the Trinity of God. Fear the Father – reverence both His holiness and His grace. Confess Christ – stand with the Son. And Savor the Spirit. Seek His control in your life to empower your witness to your faith.
There’s a great story about Branch Rickey – Hall of Fame baseball administrator for several teams – primarily the Dodgers where he integrated baseball in 1947 by employing Jack Robinson. Rickey was a devout Christian who lived his faith. He was in the middle of trade discussion one time when he threw down his pencil, pushed back his chair and growled, “The deal’s off.” Everyone asked, “Why? What’s wrong? Everything’s going great.” Rickey said, “Here’ why. All day you’ve been using the name of a friend of mine in vain, and I don’t like it.” Everyone was puzzled, “What friend? We haven’t spoken ill of anyone, let alone a friend of yours.” “But you have,” said Rickey. You’ve made Jesus Christ nothing but a swear word, and He’s my best friend.” Apologies were quick –whether sincere or not. And negotiations continued. But Rickey left with integrity intact, no masks, no hypocrisy – fearing the Father more than men, confessing the Son and savoring the Spirit. Let’s do the same. Let’s pray.