Reading for Tuesday, June 26: Matthew 12
Matthew 12 finds Jesus in conflict with the religious leaders of his day. Perturbed that His disciples pick grain and eat on the Sabbath, the Pharisees press Jesus for an explanation of this violated social norm. But Jesus answers by quoting Scripture: an OT story about David eating the consecrated bread reserved only for the priests. He further appeals to the priestly activity in the Temple on the Sabbath, saying “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here,” (v6) — one of the most controversial statements He ever made. He compounds the situation by healing a man in the synagogue on the Sabbath, demonstrating the truth of Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” All of this poses a tremendous threat to the religious ruling class. “But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus,” (v14).
Matthew turns his attention to a well-known passage in Judaism: Isaiah 42. The prophet foretells of a servant of God, empowered by the Spirit, proclaiming justice to the nations. He is the champion of the bruised reed and the smoldering wick; many will place their hope in Him. Matthew interprets this passage as a reference to Jesus, God’s chosen Messiah. This is important, given the contrasting opinion of the Pharisees, who begin churning out their venomous propaganda and fear-mongering: “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons,” (v24). Of course, this is absurd and Jesus says as much. “If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?” (v26). But this leads Jesus into a greater body of teaching. “He who is not with me is against me” underscores the impossibility of neutrality when it comes to Jesus. What one believes about Him has ultimate significance, in this life and in the life to come.
I wanted to share this from the ESV Study Bible on the statement Jesus makes about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit:
Jesus closes this occasion of teaching his disciples (v. 1) with one of the most enigmatic, debated, and misunderstood sayings of his ministry. Key to understanding this passage is the distinction Jesus makes between, on one hand, the extreme case of blasphemy against “the Holy Spirit” and, on the other hand, the lesser case of speaking in an dishonorable way against “the Son of Man.” One who asks to be forgiven for disrespectful words hastily spoken against Jesus (the Son of Man) will be forgiven. (Note, e.g., Peter’s rejection of Jesus [see 22:54–62] and his subsequent restoration [John 21:15–19].) But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—that is, the persistent and unrepentant resistance against the work of the Holy Spirit and his message concerning Jesus (cf. Acts 7:51)—this, Jesus says, will not be forgiven. The person who persists in hardening his heart against God, against the work of the Holy Spirit, and against the provision of Christ as Savior, is outside the reach of God’s provision for forgiveness and salvation. Christians often worry that they have committed this sin, but such a concern is itself evidence of an openness to the work of the Spirit (see also notes on Matt. 12:31–32 and Mark 3:29).
Jesus goes on to indict these rabble-rousing Pharisees as a “brood of vipers” (v34), incapable of good. In particular, Jesus highlights their speech: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” (v34). These men have revealed their corrupt hearts through their perverse and wicked language. “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
The Pharisees rise up and ask for a sign and Jesus lashes out again: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” If you’re a follower of Jesus’, you have to be thinking to yourself, “This is not going well.” Jesus seems bent on exposing these Pharisees for the lying, deceptive, evil leaders that they are. With each word of Truth, Jesus cements His fate at the hands of Jerusalem’s power players. But this does not stop Him from prophetic speech. In fact, it probably emboldens Him all the more.
As the chapter concludes, Mary and his brothers approach, seeking an audience with Him. But He denies them. Jesus is in no mood for pleasantries; He has no desire to be calmly coaxed by His family. Instead, He offers up this teaching: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” These words surely cut Mary to the core, but Jesus speaks them nonetheless to galvanize His followers in the face of the coming opposition at the hands of the Pharisees and religious rulers. If this ragtag group of disciples is to withstand the hailstorm that is to come, they’ll need to think of themselves as a tight-knit family, a group committed to each other and the teachings of their common Lord.