The Kingdom of God is Within You – Parable of the Leaven

(Matthew 13:33)

This short parable of the leaven is talking about the kingdom of God within you. It is similar to the previous parable of mustard seed, but there are some marked differences. There are many commentators who have placed a negative connotation on this parable of the leaven because Jesus uses the analogy of leaven as something evil in other places. How ever in this scripture he is comparing this analogy to the kingdom of heaven, which is good, and so it should be seen in the light of something good.

Leaven is important to the making of bread because it causes the bread to rise and makes it soft and palatable. The way leaven works is through an organic process. As it sits in the flour mixture it slowly expands and works its way through the flour until all of the flour becomes activated by the yeast or leaven. Leaven improves the quality of the bread.

In the parable of the leaven we see a more personal view as it shows the kingdom of god is within you and how the gospel works to transform you. First we see a woman “hides” a piece of leaven, which is yeast or yeast affected dough, in three measures of flour. The act of hiding this leaven is interesting and the process of hiding something is seen in other places as well. We see in verse 44 of this chapter that a man found a hidden treasure and covered it up till he could acquire the field and own it fully. Similarly this woman hid the leaven in the flour.

When a person hears the words of the kingdom, if they do not fully understand it, the evil could snatch it away if they are not careful. This was like the birds taking the seed in the parable of the sower. (Matthew 13:4, 19) Thus by hiding it they can meditate on it and learn more so that the word expands and grows in them, transforming them in the same way that leaven transforms flour to make bread. It is a slow growth as the words of the kingdom of God work on your life.

Like the leaven is in the flour, the words and the truth of the kingdom of God is within you. The teachings of Jesus act on your life from within, working from the inside out. The work of transformation is a work that occurs by the Holy Spirit on your own spirit. It starts within and changes your life from within, just as leaven transforms flour from within. This work of transformation is a long slow process, which is also why we speak of walking with Jesus. We do not run with him but we walk. Walking is sustainable for a long time, and suggests a slow but steady progression to reach a destination. Leavening a lump of dough is also a slow process and progression until it is fully ready for baking. And we are being slowly transformed by the working of the truth of the gospel as we grow from within until we are changed into the image of Jesus.

The Parable of Mustard Seed

(Matthew 13:31-32)

Jesus gave a number of parables concerning the kingdom of God and the parable of mustard seed seen in this section is particularly interesting. The parable of mustard seed has been interpreted many different ways. I believe there is both a meaning for the community of God’s people and for the individual in this parable.

Let us take a literal look at the parable first. There are several key elements, the first of which is the mustard seed that Jesus describes as the smallest of seeds. Then there is the bush or tree that it grows into, which is described as the largest of shrubs. This tree is so large that birds come and nest in its branches. The two significant points here are the dramatic transformation from tiny seed to large tree, and the sheltering of birds in this tree.

The kingdom of heaven will start out small, like a tiny mustard seed. When planted in a field it will grow into a large mustard tree. If we consider this from the perspective of the community of God’s people, his church, then that is exactly what has happened. From Jesus’ beginning the Christian movement with a band of a dozen or so disciples, it has grown to millions of believers and changed the course of this world.

Whether the modern church is representative of the kingdom of heaven is questionable, just as the religion taught by the Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees was not representative of the truth of the Old Covenant. There are many things taught in the modern church that have no basis in the scripture. There are also some teachers and preachers that twist scripture to their own purposes. Yet even in the church described as Babylon in Revelation there are people who are God’s people and part of the kingdom of heaven. He says, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Revelation 18:4-5)

When Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven in the parable of mustard seed, he is not necessarily talking about the physical church. Clearly there are people who are part of God’s kingdom that were found in the false church known as Babylon in Revelation. So the Kingdom of heaven cannot be described simply as a church. Instead it is the community of true believers who come to Jesus and worship according to the truth. This is evident when we see Jesus say elsewhere, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21) Also in Romans 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” So the kingdom of God is not a physical place, but a spiritual place. Jesus also said that, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)

When we meet together in Jesus’ name he is there with us in the spirit. Truly then the kingdom of heaven is in our midst when we meet together for the King himself is with us. And the kingdom of God is not about church buildings, protocol, laws and regulations, but how we live our lives in accord with the words of Jesus. The true kingdom of heaven that is in our midst exists in the spiritual realm amongst the community of those who worship God according to the truth.

So how does this apply to the parable of mustard seed? We see the kingdom begins as a small seed. Within that seed is the tree that will grow if it is planted, fed and watered. In the same way the kingdom of God may start with us as a single word and a grain of faith, as faith is also compared to a mustard seed elsewhere (Luke 17:6) As a community the kingdom of God begins with one person as it did when Jesus began his ministry, and when Paul went from town to town preaching the words of the kingdom. And within each of us as individuals it began likewise with a single word, or belief.

Then as we learn and grow, the kingdom expands. At an individual level our knowledge grows and we learn how to be stable in the word, not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. At the community level as people come to the kingdom it too grows and expands.

Which brings us to the second critical point in the parable of mustard seed being the birds that come and nest in the branches of the tree. When we consider this analogy we need to understand why the birds come. They nest in trees for protection from predators, security, comfort, rest and stability. These are exactly the same reasons why we come to the kingdom of heaven. We too as individuals and as a community of believers come to the Lord and his kingdom to find protection from the evil one, rest, security, peace and comfort from the problems of this life.

The kingdom of heaven provides these blessings in abundance and in the future the hope of an eternal salvation in God’s kingdom. May that day hasten and come soon.

Weeds Among the Wheat, Wheat and the Tares

(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Jesus provides another parable of what the kingdom of God is like in the parable of the weeds among the wheat, or as the KJV states, the tares among the wheat.

While we think of weeds in many ways and varieties, the original Greek word translated as weeds among the wheat or tares among the wheat was actually quite a specific type of weed. The word used was “zizania” which is a weed commonly known today as darnel. In it’s immature form it is very similar to wheat, but when the heads of grain appear than it can be distinguished quite easily from wheat. When wheat is fully grown the head of grain is quite heavy causing the head to droop on the plant and the grain is golden brown in colour. Darnel grains though are much smaller and are black. The effects of eating darnel are quite toxic for both man and livestock. Some of the symptoms noted when eaten are sleepiness, drowsiness, hypnotic episodes, convulsions, drunkenness, intoxication, trembling, inability to walk, hindered speech, vomiting, stupefaction and dim-sightedness.

Now knowing what these weeds are like and the effects of their consumption, we see this parable of the weeds among the wheat or tares among the wheat in a different light. Jesus gave us the parable in verses 24-30 and then at the disciples’ request he explained what it meant in verses 36-43. His explanation of the parable was, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.”

There is a challenge for us today because the weeds are still among the wheat. We must understand first that the field is the world and the wheat is the sons of the kingdom. Where are the sons of the kingdom? They are in the churches of God worshiping the Lord. Jesus says that the enemy, the devil, has sown his weeds, the tares, among the field of wheat. So where are these evil ones? They too are among the churches. But their purpose is not to worship the Lord but to destroy and tear down God’s people.

As darnel looks like wheat in it’s early stages of growth, so too these people will look like Christians. They are well disguised, which is why they can grow and flourish in the churches almost undetected. In the end they will be rooted out from among God’s people and destroyed at the time of judgment. Their destructive influence in the cunning ways of the devil can uproot people, families and entire churches. This is why Jesus said in the parable to let them grow up with the wheat and they would be dealt with at the close of the age.

But in the mean time how are we to know these people and deal with them appropriately? Jesus said earlier in Matthew 7:16, “You will know them by their fruit.” It is what these people do that will distinguish them from the true believers. They will be hard to detect initially for they are well camouflaged, like wolves in sheep’s clothing, but their evil will come out for they will be unable to hide it. It is part of their heart and who they are. As the heart of a seed of darnel is black, so too the hearts of these people are black. Their desire is to overpower and take control of the church or the people of the church for their own ends, not the glory of God.

So why has Jesus allowed these people to continue in the church? There are several reasons. First in the explanation of the parable he says that if he were to root them up it may pull the wheat up at the same time. If you consider a field of wheat, it is like a carpet. Unlike a vegetable plot that has rows and access paths between the plants where weeds can be easily identified and removed, in a wheat field the tares and the wheat are closely intermingled. If you pull one up you may uproot the other at the same time. If you pull the darnel out while the wheat is still immature, then the wheat will never grow and come to maturity. Some of the weeds in the church may be very close to the true believers, perhaps even family members. If the weeds were removed, you could remove the rest of the family at the same time and the good people would be lost along with the bad people. They would not have the opportunity to learn and grow and come to maturity.

Our challenge is to gain as much insight as possible from the Lord so that we can distinguish the weeds from the wheat. Our job is to become mature in Christ so that we can see these people for what they are and beware of their false teaching and destructive influence.

In the end Jesus will deal with these people. If they are too destructive he will have them removed at the right time or will take his people away from them. If not, then he will deal with them at the close of the age. The evil will be gathered and go into judgment of fire while the wheat, those who follow Jesus, will be gathered into his kingdom and receive eternal life.

Why Jesus Spoke in Parables

(Matthew 13:10-17)

When Jesus taught the people he used parables, analogies, stories and figures of speech to convey the messages of the Kingdom of God. Why Jesus spoke in parables was so that the truth of the kingdom could be spoken and at the same time kept hidden from those who chose not to find it. There are deep messages in the parables and the words of the truth, but without the revelation of these words they cannot be understood.

It is a bit like trying to learn a complex subject without a teacher. Can you understand quantum physics, advanced mathematics and so on unless you have someone to guide and teach you? Probably not. But the truth of the gospel is different because unlike those things, it is very simple and accessible to any person even though Jesus spoke in parables. You do not need to be a great intellect to see and hear the truth of Jesus ministry. But in its simplicity many people miss the point and fail to see the kingdom of God. They fail because they try to approach it like you would approach human knowledge. Yet in Christ the way we approach God is through faith.

The truth of the kingdom and understanding the parables of Jesus and his words of truth only comes through the revelation of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Jesus showed this in John 16:12-13 saying, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” To those who come to the Lord and receive his spirit, who seek out the truth and ask for his insight, will receive it. It is by the Holy Spirit that our eyes are opened to see God’s kingdom, and our ears are opened to hear the truth and our minds are given the understanding of the words that lead to eternal life.

In this section of Matthew we see Jesus explain why he spoke in parables. The disciples had been given the understanding of the words of the kingdom of God, but the general masses remained ignorant even though they heard his words. Many followed him not for the sake of the teaching, which was backed by signs and wonders, but because they were being fed. As Jesus said after feeding the multitude on loaves and fishes, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” (John 6:26-27) He counsels the people to seek the spiritual food, which are the teachings of the kingdom, and not the food, desires, pleasures, riches and things of this life.

The disciples were given the understanding, but the rest were not. Though the people as well as the Pharisees and scribes saw and heard they did not understand his words. They did not recognise the power he brought to lead them to life. To those who did not receive this understanding, his words were just a bunch of interesting stories. But to those to whom the truth was revealed those same words were life, and on the opening of their eyes to the truth they were amazed and humbled.

If you seek his kingdom you will receive it. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) And here in Matthew 13:12 we see Jesus say that everyone who receives something of the understanding of the kingdom will receive more. “For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

It may seem odd to say of those who have nothing that what they have got will be taken away. How can you take away something from someone who has nothing? If you have nothing there is nothing to take. However we must understand that Jesus is not talking about matters of the flesh but of the spirit. He is not interested in the things of this world but the things of the spirit. In a spiritual sense everybody has something. They have life, as does every person on the planet, and they have the promise of eternal life if they choose to follow Jesus. When he says, “from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away,” he is talking about these things of the spirit. They will lose their life and the promise of eternal life by choosing to reject God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.

The insight that Jesus has given us in the New Covenant far outweighs anything that preceded it in the Old Covenant. The old prophets testified to the coming of the Messiah and the New Covenant. They saw it from afar and longed to gain the insight into it. They were not permitted to see it as they were told this was for a later generation. We are of that later generation and fortunate that the revelation of this truth is now open and available to all. If we choose to seek it out we will find it today. But even today as back then, many will see and not perceive, hear and not understand and choose not to believe, for they still seek the things of this world and miss the glory of the kingdom of God.

The Parable of the Sower

(Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)

The parable of the sower gives us tremendous insight into how people will react to hearing the words of God. It shows us what they will do upon hearing it and helps us understand why it is that some people do not, cannot or will not accept Jesus.

In the first part of the parable of the sower we see that a seed is sown. The seed is the word of God that is sown by preaching to men. As it is sown it falls into different areas of ground with different degrees of fertile soil. The different grounds are the different types of people who hear the word and how it affects them. Jesus shows us that there are four basic types of ground and thus four different types of people who receive the seed of his word.

The first group do not even listen to the words. This is the seed that falls along the path. He indicates that the birds come along and take the seed away even as it falls. The analogy here is that when they hear the words of the kingdom, they do not understand them and so the evil one comes along and immediately snatches it out of their heart. The seed never gets a chance to take root. They do not believe and often oppose the words of God, turning on and attacking those who do accept his words.

The second group are like those where the seed falls into rocky soil. There is no depth of soil among the rocks and so nowhere for the seed to take root and grow. These people take the word and receive it with joy. They may appear to be on fire for the Lord. However at the first sign of tribulation or opposition, or if they get persecuted and put to the test for the sake of what they believe, they crumble and wilt under the intensity of the heat of opposition. They walk away from the Lord as they don’t have the depth or desire to continue on in the face of opposition and stand up for what is right. They have put their own comfort ahead of their eternal salvation, and sometimes it can be uncomfortable being a Christian. Sometimes we do have to swim against the current to stand up for what is right. Peter said that this would happen when he said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14) We will go through fiery ordeals in our walk with Christ, which is why it is important that the word of God needs to take root in our lives so that we can stand in the face of these fiery ordeals.

The third group of people are like seed that falls among the thorns and grows with the thorns, but is eventually choked by them. Jesus says that these people have heard the word of God but the cares of this world and the delight in riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful. It is easy to get caught up in the things of this world. It is easy to chase after the good things of this life, perhaps even more so today as we have sophisticated and targeted marketing to induce us to go down certain paths. They promise the world, but often not for our sake or any real benefit. Paul wrote about the issues of those who fall among the thorns suffer saying, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10) It is the love of money and the desire to be rich that causes all manner of evil in people’s lives. Money is only a medium of exchange, but many seek it as if it is an end in itself. They are lured and enticed to their ultimate destruction. Consider all who are gamblers of any type. The lure is to make money. Any pursuit where the lure is wealth can be a snare and a trap for people. And ultimately the chase after the things of this world chokes out any effect that the words of God may have had in their life.

The final group are those where God’s seed falls on fertile ground. It grows and they bear fruit for the kingdom of God. These are the people who hear and accept the word and it takes root in their lives. They see the value of the word and they make it a priority so that they can live a godly life now and have the reward of entering God’s kingdom when Jesus returns. Even among those who receive the word there will be different degrees of fruit. He speaks of some producing thirty fold, some sixty fold and some one hundredfold. When we come to God we are not expected to all achieve one hundredfold as we all have different talents, abilities and gifts. The important thing though is that we accept Jesus into our life through faith and we learn from him. We need to be receptive to his words so that he can work with us and transform us into the image of God.

Paul showed that there would be different levels of belief among people who come to the Lord. He said, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-13)

All have the one thing in common, the foundation of Jesus Christ. But what is built upon that foundation, which is the teachings and beliefs accepted by each person, may be of poor or good quality. Like seed bearing thirty fold or one hundredfold. When the fiery ordeals of life come against the building, that is when they are tested. If they burn up it is clear the quality of teaching was low. If they stand it is good.

There are many things taught in the church today that have no foundation in the scripture. The only way we can truly find the truth is to first come to Jesus through faith, second seek out his truth and his word and third, compare all that we hear with the truth of the gospel in the bibles he has given us. Only then will we become like seed that produces one hundredfold with buildings of gold that are actually purified by fire, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

The Family of God

(Matthew 12:46-50)

Everyone knows Jesus had a mother by the name of Mary. But many people do not realise he also had brothers and sisters too. He was part of an earthly family as well as being in the family of God.

This comes as a shock to some people the first time they see this, as common perceptions are that Jesus was an only child. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When Joseph was about to take Mary for his wife and found her to be pregnant he was going to divorce her. He believed she had done wrong by him by having sexual relations with another man. However, he was visited by an angel of God in a dream who explained that the child Mary carried was of God and would be the saviour of the world. Joseph then changed his mind and took her as his wife. But the scripture says, “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25) Joseph and Mary did not consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born. However after that blessed event, their marriage was like the normal relationship between a man and a woman, which included sexual intercourse and the birth of other children.

In Matthew 12:46 we see that someone came to Jesus saying that, “…his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him.” So this verse indicates that Jesus did indeed have physical brothers who were the sons of Joseph and Mary. In Mark 6:3 we see that he had four brothers and he had at least two sisters as well. The brothers are named in this scripture as follows, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” So Jesus was the eldest child of Mary and through her he was half brother to four brothers and at least two sisters for the word “sisters” in this verse is plural.

Now even though we have a physical family on this earth, Jesus shows us that we will have brothers and sisters in the Lord as members of the family of God. This family that we gain in Christ, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, may even be more important in some ways than our family in the flesh. There are many people who are abused and hurt by their fleshly families, but the family of God will not do that to us.

Here in Matthew 12:46-50 we find Jesus showed us that everyone who does the will of the Father is his brother, sister or mother. And if we are thus related to Jesus, we are sons and daughters of God and part of the family of God. The key to becoming part of the family of God is to do God’s will, which is to believe in Jesus Christ and to follow his teachings and ways.

When Jesus spoke to the disciples just prior to Pentecost, he told them they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to them in the rush of winds and flames of fire and they all began speaking in tongues. (Acts 2:1-4) There was indeed power in this event and afterwards the apostles did many miraculous things, healing the sick, raising the dead and other things, all done by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Today there are some in the church who wish to have this power to do miracles. But in thinking that way they miss the point about the power that the disciples received. They received power to be his witnesses so that they could bring people to God and increase the family of God. The real power that the disciples received is the power to become children of God as the apostle John said, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

The power to become the children of God and thus members of the family of God is the true power we have been given. Miracles are just a flash in the pan by comparison, for they will fade away and disappear eventually. In 1 Corinthians 13:8 we see it stated, “Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” All of these miraculous things will cease eventually but love, and especially the love in the family of God lasts forever. It is the power to become the children of God through doing God’s will that is important.

We may lose our fleshly families in the process as our physical brothers and sisters may choose not to follow Jesus. But Jesus promises that if we lose our earthly families we will gain a heavenly family in the family of God. He said in Mark 10:29-30, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

So we can take heart that even though we may lose the people who are close to us, not that we walk away from them, they will leave us, we will gain a family in God that will sustain us in ways our earthly family cannot. And his promise is that we will receive even more both now and in the future an eternal life with God the Father, Jesus and the rest of the family of God.

One Important Reason to Receive the Holy Spirit

(Matthew 12:43-45)

Jesus gives us two fascinating insights in this short section. First he provides an insight into the spiritual realm. He shows us what happens to a demon when it is cast out of a man. Second, he then gives us a warning to make the necessary changes that will keep the evil spirits away.

In relation to the first point we see that when an evil spirit is cast out it “…passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none.” (Vs. 43) It is clear that for an evil spirit to exist outside the flesh of man is a harsh experience, like being in the desert. There is no rest and it is a difficult existence for the evil spirit. (Don’t take pity on them…they deserve what they get!)

After wandering in this spiritual desert for some time the evil spirit then returns to the man from whom it was cast out. In the example Jesus gives we see the evil spirit finds the “house” from which it came, that is the man it was cast out from, “…empty, swept and put in order.” (Vs. 44) This is showing us that the man has been cleaned up but is empty, ready and waiting for a new occupant. But as the “house” (man) is empty, the spirit goes and gets seven demons worse than him…and moves in.

Now why does the evil spirit bring back seven worse demons than itself? I believe it is for self-preservation and protection. You see if the demon has all these strong and worse demons with him, they may be able to take a stronger hold over the man to prevent him seeking the Lord and thus make their “home” secure…from the Lord. By making the evil in the man stronger they can control him.

Jesus pointed to this in Matthew 12:29 saying, “…how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house.” This is important for it tells us both what the evil spirits were thinking and also how we can keep the evil spirits away.

This brings us to the second point, how to keep the evil spirits at bay.

The reason this man had such trouble is that although he had been swept and put in order, ready for a new “tenant”, he was still empty. By being put in order by the Lord he was made ready to receive the Holy Spirit, but the man had not taken that step. Now if they do not receive the Holy Spirit after cleansing of the evil spirit, what is there to stand in the way of the evil spirit returning? But if the new tenant is a “strong man” as referred to in verse 29, then he will prevent the old evil spirit from coming in. And the Holy Spirit is a “strong man” having access to both Jesus and the Father himself.

So the warning we see here is…don’t leave the “house” empty after it has been cleaned. Otherwise the evil spirit squatters will return and, “…the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Vs. 45)

Jesus also warned the people of his generation that they too could end up like this. They were being prepared through his teaching and ministry to repent and be baptised (i.e. swept and put in order), in preparation to receive the Holy Spirit. If they chose not to, then they too would be in a worse state than they were previously. So we too must heed his warning. When your “house” is swept and put in order, don’t leave it empty. Fill it with the in-dwelling Holy Spirit so you can be led into all of the truth.

A Sign from God

(Matthew 12:38-42)

The Pharisees and the scribes came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” (Verse 38) What they were actually asking was, “Prove you are the Son of God.”

Jesus had already performed many signs and miracles before their eyes and yet they still did not believe in him. He had cast out demons, healed the sick and even raised the dead, but they did not believe. One wonders what kind of sign they needed to change their hearts and minds.

The truth of the matter is that no sign would have been sufficient for them. It did not matter what Jesus did, their hearts were still hardened against him. With every successive sign they got harder and more furious with him and sought ways to condemn and destroy him.

So asking for a sign was sheer malice on their part. They were cunning and mocking also when they called him teacher, for they did not accept his teaching and did not recognise him as the Son of God. It was evident that such seeking of signs was common amongst the Jews at that time. Even Paul made mention that, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23) Even today we see that those who come into contact with Christians are still seeking proof of who Jesus is through signs. Christians are opposed on many fronts and often they are asked to, “Prove there is a God.” This may be by some profound proof of wisdom or by showing a sign from God, which is exactly the point Paul made. So there is no real change today when dealing with those who are not followers of Jesus.

Jesus response to the scribes and Pharisees was evidence that he understood their hearts and their malice. He said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In this remark he condemned them for asking for this sign, but also told them that a sign would be shown anyway. The sign would be that three days after he was put to death he would arise in the same way that Jonah returned from supposed death after three days in the belly of the whale.

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus said, “And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'” (Luke 16:30-31) Now Jesus has risen from the dead as he said he would, and he did so after three days, giving them the sign of Jonah. Did they believe? No they didn’t. And right through his time of ministry Jesus continually upbraided the scribes and Pharisees for even though they claimed to be followers and teachers of the Law of Moses, they did not keep the law. So as Jesus said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.”

The law shows the difference between right and wrong. It is both a standard and a preparation for it shows what is required to live a good standard of life. It is a preparatory step for we see Paul write, “…the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24 KJV) In the law we see we were being trained. The law contains the wisdom of God for Paul also said the law is holy, just and good. (Romans 7:12) Thus Jesus rightly said that any person, who would not listen to the wisdom of God contained in the Law of Moses or the words of the prophets, would not be convinced if someone (Jesus) were to rise from the dead. Both are from the same source, the power and wisdom of God. So if they ignore and reject one they will ignore and reject the other.

And finally Jesus said of the Pharisees and scribes that through their rejection of him and his teachings, they would be condemned. They did see signs and wonders, but more importantly, they had the Son of God, Messiah and Saviour himself teaching them and they rejected him. Jesus’ teaching was much more important and greater than the teachings of all the prophets of the past, and so to reject him is a greater failure than to reject them. Let us today not make the same mistakes and fail to hear the words of the truth of Jesus so that we do not share in their judgment.

Out of the Abundance of the Heart the Mouth Speaks

(Matthew 12:33-37)

Jesus makes an interesting point in this section, and it is rather at odds with some modern thinking. Here he says, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.” (Vs. 33) The point he is making is that people are either good or bad and you will know them by what they do.

Whatever comes out of a person defines who they are. As he said elsewhere, “…not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:11) In this case he was using the traditions of the Pharisees concerning the washing of hands before eating. We know there are hygiene issues today, but the Pharisees were teaching this as a doctrine and making it of greater importance than the law of God. Jesus
showed their folly and error and in his teaching made the above point. What goes into the mouth is food and it goes to the stomach and passes on. But what comes out of the mouth are the thoughts of men expressed as words and if
these are evil, that is what defiles the man. Eating with unclean hands might make you unwell, but speaking evil will cost you your life into eternity.

The words we speak and what we do are controlled by our thoughts and the passions of our flesh. These are the fruits of our minds. Thus a person who does evil bears evil fruits and a person who does good bears good fruit in the
words, deeds and behaviour. The point Jesus was making is that it is not possible for an evil person to bear good fruit and vice versa. He stated as much in the section about being aware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. (Matthew 7:15-20) In that passage Jesus also made the point that, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:20) It is by this method we are to test for false teachers and prophets.

So if the abundance of the heart of a person is fundamentally evil, that is what will come out of them in words, deeds and behaviour. They may be able to act for a time and masquerade as being good, but in time the truth will come
out and they will be seen for what they truly are.

This position is different to much modern thinking. Today we see teachings from eastern religions about the “Yin and Yang.” This teaching says that in everything good there is some evil and in everything evil there is some good.
That is not what Jesus taught. Jesus shows that we are either one or the other. There are no halfway or part way positions. “Either make the tree good and it’s fruit goof or make the tree bad and its fruit bad.” (Vs. 33) Yin and Yang teachings are positions of compromise, but the word of God is not compromised.

If we accept compromise, how much should we accept before we are totally compromised? Jesus taught about this matter too saying, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but
if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23) What he was saying here is that if we take in evil and accept it into our thinking we will be compromised. And if the light of knowledge in us is compromised by some darkness of un-truth or lies, how dark is our understanding and where will it end? The answer is to reject all evil and not seek out the darkness but to seek the knowledge of the truth that comes from Jesus Christ and God alone.

There is a fearful prospect of judgment in this section too, for Jesus shows we will render account for every careless word we utter. If such is the case we must learn to bite our tongues and mind what we say. As James wrote, “Let
every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) Good advice if we are to avoid this judgment of all that we say.

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The Unforgivable Sin

(Matthew 12:29-32)

There are many wrong things a person might do which the Lord will forgive them for when they turn to him in repentance. However there is only one thing that the Lord ever said would not be forgiven. We see it here in vs. 31-32 where he says, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Jesus and the Father are prepared to forgive men of virtually anything they might do, even if they blaspheme Jesus who is the Son of God. But they will not forgive any person who blasphemes the Holy Spirit. Let us look at this in some more detail.

What is blasphemy? There are numerous dictionary definitions that include: to speak impiously, use profane words, revile, and curse. In short it is to call something evil when it is good. As regards blasphemy of the Holy Spirit it is to say that the good works and actions of the Holy Spirit are demonic or of the devil. We saw in the section just leading up to this that the Pharisees had said that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Satan. This is exactly what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is. Jesus was casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit and these Pharisees said he was using satanic power. They had committed blasphemy of the Holy Spirit Jesus was warning the people of the seriousness of this sin.

Why is it that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven when Jesus said if a man blasphemed Jesus they would be forgiven? To understand that we need to understand something about whom the Holy Spirit is, and more importantly, what the role of the Holy Spirit is in the New Covenant.

The Holy Spirit is our teacher, comforter, counsellor and guide to bring us to the Lord. (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:7-15) The work of the Holy Spirit is to transform us from our evil ways and nature into the image of the Son of God. This is accomplished by the spirit who changes us gradually from one degree of glory to another as it says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Now we saw that the Holy Spirit was first received by the disciples at Pentecost in Acts 2:2-4 like this, “And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” So the Holy Spirit is received and enters a man to dwell within him and work with him individually.

Jesus spoke of this indwelling of the Holy Spirit too, “…even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.” (John 14:17) Paul also wrote of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in several places, saying in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” He also warned Timothy to, “…guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.” (2 Timothy 1:14) And he also wrote of the indwelling spirit in Romans 8:9-11.

Now why is this matter of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in man significant in relation to the sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Consider the nature of man for a moment. We know that there is nothing good dwelling in man’s nature as Paul said in Romans 7:18, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” We may wish to do good but we often fail. The passions of a man are evil and we know that many people will do whatever they can get away with. This is not God’s nature. The nature of man is described by Paul as, “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.” (Galatians 5:19-21)

We know that the Holy Spirit is holy and given to us individually as a gift from God. And we know also that, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) So when God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit he does not take it back.

But we see also that, “… the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” (Galatians 5:17) And again, “…the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8) So knowing that our human passions and desires are opposed to the desires of the Holy Spirit, how awful a job is it for the Holy Spirit to have to do in us? We are being transformed into the nature of God, but until that state is achieved the Holy Spirit has to put up with all manner of unholiness, strife and evil passion in the human nature as he dwells within each individual.

This must be a terrible job for one who is holy. To have to put up with all manner of evil in man while he works to change man into the nature of God must be the most difficult task ever given to anyone. It is for this reason that I believe that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only unforgivable sin. It is just retribution for the filth and rubbish that the Holy Spirit has to put up with as he dwells within us to do the work of change. And praise God that he is prepared to do this horrible and awful task for it is for our benefit and we should thank the Lord daily for his compassion and be mindful of the Holy Spirit as we live our lives.