THE NEED FOR SPIRITUAL CHANGE.
The spiritual blindness of the people opposed to Jesus is demonstrated in their reaction to His good works. Their refusal to hear His message is echoed in their speaking out against Him.
A demon-possessed man, who was physically both blind and dumb, was brought to Jesus: and He healed him. The positive impression which our Lord was making upon the ordinary people of Israel was growing, as was the negative reaction of the religious leaders.
Early in the ministry of Jesus, people were wondering, “What is this? He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (Mark 1:27).
The multitudes who followed Jesus declared, “It was never seen like this in Israel!” To which the Pharisees replied with the ridiculous proposition that, “He casts out demons by the ruler of demons” (Matthew 9:33-34).
Now the people were beginning to question, “Could this be the Son of David?” To which the Pharisees retorted, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons” (Matthew 12:23-24). The name Beelzebub translates, Master of flies.
In accusing Jesus, the Pharisees were in fact condemning themselves. They did not doubt that a miracle had truly happened, that the demons were cast out. But by calling the work of God by the name of the work of the devil, they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
Jesus explained that Satan would not destroy his own kingdom. This was the Spirit of God at work amongst them. The kingdom of God had come to them, yet they could not recognise it because it challenged their own authority.
Jesus had come to bind Satan before destroying the evil one’s hold upon the kingdoms of the world. And whoever is not in favour of Jesus is His enemy!
It is in this context that Jesus speaks of the unpardonable sin. All manner of blasphemy might be forgiven, but to attribute the work of God to Satan is unpardonable. Can good fruit come from a bad tree? Their very words condemned them!
In their continuing malice against Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees next asked for a sign. (Interestingly, the word which the Apostle John chooses to use for the miracles in his Gospel is the word for signs.) What had the religious leaders just seen if not a sign, both of Jesus’ authority, and of the presence of the kingdom of God amongst them?
Jesus granted them a sign. It was the sign of the prophet Jonah. Just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, so Jesus would be three days dead in a tomb. Just as Jonah came out of the belly of the whale alive, Jesus would rise from the dead. The tomb could not hold Him, and death would lose its sting.
Continuing to relate the history of Jonah, theirs would be a sign of judgment. The men of Nineveh who had repented at the preaching of Jonah would rise up in judgment against them, because the scribes and Pharisees refused the preaching of one greater than Jonah.
Likewise, the Queen of the South testified against the perversity of their unbelief. She had travelled many dangerous miles to hear the wisdom of Solomon, yet now a greater than Solomon was here in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The ignorant Gentiles believed the prophet Jonah, and the Queen of Sheba sought out the wisdom of King Solomon, yet the Scribes and Pharisees failed to recognise Jesus as their expected Prophet and King!
After all the trials and lessons of the wilderness, the judges, the Kings, and the exile, Israel had at last come to realise that there is just one God, and that the worship of idols is nothing less than demon worship.
However, having swept away the evil spirit of outwardly false religion, the scribes and Pharisees represented a legalistic form of religion which still, by their own denial of Jesus, excluded the true and living God! They were blind to the truth, deaf to the message of Jesus, and their voices spoke blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
These were the ones who thought so much of themselves before God. To them and all like them might be extended the warning of the Apostle Paul: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Those among whom the Lord was walking were being enticed by evil spirits to the greatest of madness: enmity against God! Thus “this wicked generation” of Israel stood condemned.
A person might not think themselves to be possessed of an evil spirit, but to be living their lives without Christ puts them in a similar plight. It is the very height of madness to rush into eternity without having found peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. All have sinned, and all sinners need repentance.
Repentance is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is a turning away from sin. On the other, it is turning to good. It is out with the old, in with the new.
Yet this is not just turning over a new leaf, amending our lives. To "cease to do evil" and to "do good" is impossible unless there is also a spiritual change: a spiritual emptying, and a spiritual infilling.
It is well that the demon is cast out: but when the demon goes, there is no native goodness to rebuild life, there is only a void. Unless that void is filled with God Himself, the demon will return with seven others worse than itself, and the patient will be rendered worse than before. Thankfully, in His mercy, the Lord not only casts out the evil, but gives His Holy Spirit.
When we first come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, confessing and turning away from our sins, and worshipping God only through Him, we become members of a new family. It was so for the twelve Apostles, and for the women who provided for Jesus out of their substance: among whom was Mary Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons (Luke 8:1-3).
Whilst speaking to the multitudes, Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were outside, seeking to speak to Him. He stretched out with His hand towards His followers, both men and women saying, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:49-50).
So when we listen to and obey our Lord Jesus we are received into a new spiritual family, the family of God. Our membership of this family is seen in the fact that we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, and do the will of God.