Red: Understanding the Hard Sayings of Jesus - "The Sin Against The Holy Spirit"
This week we are continuing the sermon series that we started last week, a series entitled, "Red: Understanding the Hard Sayings of Jesus." The title of this series comes from the presence of "red letters" in many versions of the Bible to indicate when Jesus is speaking and teaching.
I love the red letters. In fact, I have a version of the Bible that is nothing but the red letters. It's pretty amazing just to read the teachings and the sayings of Jesus. Most of these words are beautiful, inspiring, challenging and wonderful.
But there are some of the red letters that make me scratch my head. More than a few Christians have struggled with what scholars have called the "hard" sayings of Jesus--"red letters," so to speak, that seem completely out of character for Jesus, are confusing, maddening, difficult to understand or all of the above.
Today we're going to be taking a look at a passage of Scripture from Mark chapter 3 that seems to go against everything that you and I have been taught about Jesus. For most of us, we have been taught that Jesus is love, and forgives our sins. But in the text that we are going to read today, Jesus actually declares that there is a sin that is unpardonable. He says that there is a sin that you can commit that can not be forgiven.
Let's just let that sit there for a moment.
Many years ago, I sold appliances at Circuit City--a job that I held for two years. I became quite good at selling appliances, honestly. Some of it was due to the training I received, but most of it had to do with fear and an aversion to losing money. You see, back in the day Circuit City would advertise really cheap appliances on the front cover of their Sunday ads. Dishwashers for $199. Washer Dryer combo for $399. Fridge for $399. Stuff like that. Here's the thing. They advertised those pieces. They had them in stock. But if you sold them--you were the one that got busted.
This is an old tactic in the sales business called "bait and switch." You think you are coming in to buy a bargain dishwasher, but noooooo. There was Leon from twenty-three years ago, resplendent in his pony tail and Circuit City blue (or grey) jacket to try everything that he could to get you to buy something else. Because Leon would lose money, get reamed by his manager and have a blight on his permanent record for selling what was commonly known as "The Nail."
The reason we called those items "The Nail" is that if you sold enough of them, it would be like nails in your coffin. Selling "the Nail" was the unpardonable sin at Circuit City--because the name of the game was bait and switch.
So if Jesus is forgiving, full of grace, and is God in the flesh come to earth to show all of us just how much God loves us... So if Jesus died and rose again to forgive all the things I've done---and trust me, I've done a lot of things--what do we do when Jesus then says that there is a sin that we could commit that is unpardonable, that could not be forgiven?
Isn't that kind of like Bait and Switch?
The passage of Scripture where this hard saying comes from is in Mark chapter 3 verses 28-29. What's happening in this part of the Gospel is that Jesus is kind of under attack from all sides. Some experts of the law and scribes--religious elites who are threatened by his ministry and popularity among the masses--come to assess him. Honestly, they had their minds made up before they even got there, as we soon find out. They determine that the reason he's able to do all of the miraculous things he's doing, including casting out demons, is because he is possessed by Beelzebub, the prince of devils.
Even Jesus' family shows up to "restrain" him because they think he's lost his mind, that he needs to be locked away in a padded room--or the equivalent of a padded room in the first century, which probably wasn't at all padded.
It seems there was a bit of a religious debate going on at the time between the Pharisees and Sadducees, which were the two main "denominations" so to speak in ancient Judaism during the time of Jesus. The debate was over whether demons actually existed. The Pharisees who sorted the world into dualistic categories of good and evil, believed they did, and the Sadducees didn't. So we know that the group accusing Jesus at this point were Pharisees.
Jesus turns their arguments against them. He kind of scoffs at their logic by saying, "why would the prince of the devils cast out devils--doesn't that kind of prove you guys are full of it? A house divided against itself cannot stand." Then Jesus reveals the real sin in the moment. He says this to his accusers:
28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
Jesus is basically telling these guys, that their eyes were shut so tightly they could not see the light. They had made up their minds ahead of time that Jesus was to be condemned, despite what was happening all around them. And what was happening? The broken were made whole, the blind were receiving their sight, the lowly were being raised up... and all Jesus critics could do was deny it, and claim it was coming from an impure source.
Here's the thing, and this is one of the truest things that you will ever hear when it comes to Jesus and what Jesus is all about. Shutting your eyes to the light doesn't mean it isn't on.
This is the point in the sermon where I would be asking the following question: Okay, Pastor---how do I know that I haven't done this? How do I know that I haven't blasphemed against the Holy Spirit? How do I know that I haven't committed the unpardonable sin? Is my soul in danger of eternal retribution?
Here's the thing, if you are worried about it--you haven't done it. I know, that sounds kind of odd, right? But it's true. The fact that your heart is soft enough to want to be on the right side of that statement means that you have not grieved, sinned against or blasphemed the Holy Spirit--all of which are ways that verse has been translated.
What Jesus was talking about here was malicious blindness. Blindness that was intentional, hard-hearted, cynical, and downright mean-spirited. The kind of blindness that sees miracles and scoffs at them. The kind of blindness that sees healing and transformation and denies that it actually happened.
Some people might say, "Well didn't the Apostle Paul persecute Christians and have them killed before he became a follower of Jesus? So how do you explain that? Surely he was acting out of malicious blindness!" Not at all. Paul's heart was always zealous for God, he just needed redirection. He was open to the truth when he heard it. He was open to Jesus when he experienced him.
Others might say, "What about the Apostle Peter? He denied Jesus three times in a heinous way, after all that he saw and experienced. Jesus forgave him!" Peter wasn't completely closed off to the light, he was just afraid and acted out of fear. His problem wasn't deliberately shutting his eyes--not in the least. He had openness to Jesus, he just needed some repentance and restoration.
C.S. Lewis described this like this: at some point God finally says to those of us who are deliberately blind, who will not see, who shut our eyes to the light refusing to acknowledge its transforming power---God says to us, "THY will be done."
In his masterful work "The Chronicles of Narnia" Lewis writes a scene in the final book "The Last Battle" that contains some obstinate dwarves. They are sitting in a beautiful field on the other side of the cold, dark reality of the "real" world. They are surrounded by wonder. They even sit in the presence of the king himself, Aslan, the lion. At their feet are cups filled with the best wine, a table before them has the finest food. But they see none of it. Their hearts were so turned against Aslan, and the truth that they could see nothing but darkness, taste nothing but stale bread and bitter water.
While every one else went on ahead into the glory of an eternal home--the dwarves refused to budge and stayed there sitting in their delusions. Eyes shut to the light.
When you shut your eyes to the light, you miss the joy, the hope, the peace of eternal life--which as Jesus taught is life now and after death. Maybe you've been spending your whole life refusing to see the light. Don't get to a place where you no longer feel that twinge of wonder, that flutter in your stomach at the prospect of Jesus transforming your life. Don't get to a place where you have no openness to the possibility that all of this stuff that we talk about each and every week---all of the lives that are being transformed all around you---all of the hope that is filling this place---that all of this might actually be true... that Jesus is who he says he is. That he is the light of the world.
Shutting your eyes to the light doesn't mean it isn't on.
Imagine if we lived this well--as Christians. Imagine what it would look like as a witness to the world. I'm preaching now to the Church, can you feel me? Christians just seem to do nothing but tear one another apart. Who cares if that church doesn't believe just like you do? Who cares if they baptize differently, have different music, wear their hair up in buns, don't listen to rock and or roll music, don't smoke, don't chew or go with girls who do? If people's lives are being changed, the kingdom of God is being shared---isn't that a good thing? What if we just cheered each other along?
That would be pretty sweet, I'm thinking.
That would be light of the world kind of stuff.