Archive for October 2011
Some more thoughts on the unpardonable sin in Matthew 12.
First, the Holy Spirit can variously be seen as the personified love of God, the life of God, as life-giving water and breath and fire. The Spirit proceeds between the Father and Son, from the Father and Son to Christians, and from Christian to Christian. All of the gifts and fruits of the Spirit have a one-another focus to them: the Spirit is the unity-giving glue between Christians that ties the church together and strengthens our life.
So, in a sense, to blaspheme the Spirit, to quench the Spirit, is to cut yourself off from the waters of life and from the body of Christ.
Second, there is a corporate reading of this passage that complements the individual reading. Jesus is speaking here to the shepherds of Israel. Later in this chapter Jesus establishes a direct parallel between his miracle of deliverance and the nation of Israel: Jesus would set Israel free, but the demon will return, find the house empty of the Holy Spirit, and fill the house with more evil spirits. “So also will it be with this evil generation.” This is not unusual; many of Jesus’s parables are warnings spoken to Israel and her leaders as a nation, assembly, church.
Reading the passage in this light, blasphemy against the Spirit is the rejection of the Spirit by God’s people. Jesus is warning Israel that the Spirit will depart from them, a direct fulfillment of the Spirit’s leaving the temple in Ezekiel’s vision. The unpardonable sin is thus not only a warning to individuals, but also a warning to churches: if you reject the Spirit, the Spirit will depart from you.
In Leviticus, the sin offering only dealt with lesser sins — sins of inadvertency, or of being led astray. Often it is called the purification offering; in many cases it dealt with issues of uncleanness that were not sins at all. But the purification offering did not deal with any of the more serious sins — sins of trespass against God’s holy things, or high-handed sins.
The only way that a trespass or high-handed sin could be dealt with was by confession and bringing a trespass offering (sometimes translated guilt or reparation). The trespass offering was always followed by a purification offering. James Jordan makes the point that, in one sense, there was no offering that could take away high-handed sins. But by confessing your sin and bringing a trespass offering, God converted your high-handed sins and trespasses into lesser sins, sins of inadvertency that could then be cleansed by the purification offering.
In Psalm 40:6, David lists four of the five offerings, saying that God does not desire sacrifice (peace offering), offering (tribute, or grain, offering), burnt (or ascension) offering, or sin (or purification) offering. The one offering David does not name is the trespass offering. Unlike the sin offering, the trespass offering was a male lamb, the one sacrificial animal most closely linked with Jesus, who came “to do your will” and who sanctified us by the offering of his body (Heb. 10:5ff). All of the offerings prefigured Jesus, but Jesus is preeminently our trespass offering, the ram of God. He is the one offering that is able to take away the worst and greatest of sins, if we confess them. He is the one offering that God does desire.
Seeing how God dealt with high-handed sin might help us to better wrestle with the unpardonable sin (Matt. 12:32). It is common, and right, to say that if you tremble at the thought you have committed this sin, then you haven’t. But perhaps we can go deeper. The unpardonable sin is a high-handed sin. It is a sin for which there is no offering that can cleanse you. But if you confess your sin, even your worst sin, Jesus your trespass offering converts your sin into one that can be pardoned. He is faithful to forgive and cleanse you.