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Study Notes:

Matthew 12:22-37

You Can’t Hide What’s In Your Heart

Summary: What we resist reveals our allegiance.

When Madeleine and I were dating we were given some interesting advice: you need to see each other under stressful circumstances. It’s not enough to go out for dinner, have coffee, maybe see a movie or go to the beach together, you need to see how the other person acts when things are uncomfortable, when life is hard, when things are irritating.

So, we went on a short-term missions trip to Mexico with a team from our church. We lived at a beachside campsite where there was hard, physical work to be done each day, no hot water or showers, and romantic sunsets over the body of a dead, beached whale.

What was the point of the advice? To see who each other really is under pressure. Because, as we all know, there are things that come out of you when you are stressed, or tired, or hungry, or all of those things at once, that don’t come out at other times. They’re there; we just keep them hidden with manners and self-control. But adversity often exposes and magnifies your true character to the encouragement or disappointment of the people around you.

Which brings us to Matthew’s gospel. After Jesus casts out a demon there is a debate over where He gets the power to do it and Jesus says those who are resisting the miracles they’re seeing are revealing their true character and spiritual allegiance. In other words, what comes out of them proves what was already in them.

Matthew 12:22 Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. 23 And all the multitudes [the common people] were amazed [beside themselves with astonishment] and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
24 Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”

So, you have one group of people openly wondering if Jesus is their expected Savior and another insisting He’s a sorcerer using black magic to pull tricks and deceive people. How do two groups of people, who witness the same event, draw totally opposite conclusions? Simple: bias. The reactions that came out of them reflected their character, values, and hopes.

We all have a tendency to interpret events in a way that fits all the things we already believe and tell ourselves about the world and other people. The Pharisees expected God to send the Son of David; they expected a Savior just like the common people did. But Jesus troubled them because He didn’t seem to be prioritizing their national independence, He didn’t seem to be reinforcing their social and racial prejudices, in fact, He seemed to be tearing down distinctions everywhere He found them, and He seemed to value service over status in measuring the worth of a man or woman. The kingdom He was promoting seemed nothing like the one they were looking for, so they rejected and resisted Him with increasing fervor.

Matthew 12:25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.

Jesus dismantles the logic of their argument. He exposes the absurdity of their claim, asking “Why would Satan help pull down his own kingdom?” It doesn’t make sense for one part of a body, a team, or a nation to intentionally attack another part of itself. That’s not an indicator of health, or a strategy for victory, it’s a sign of weakness and vulnerability.

Yet still today, when you examine the claims of those who say they have an intellectual or rational opposition to the faith, you often discover that their thinking is also influenced by other sources – they don’t want the claims of Christ to be to true, so they selectively assemble reasons why it is not.

You don’t have to check your brains at the door to enter the Christian faith. Some of the greatest philosophers, scientists, and statesmen of history built their academic and professional endeavors on the presuppositions of their Christian faith. But if you reject a supernatural explanation before you even begin your inquiry, is it any wonder you never find evidence that points to God?

Jesus points out this same problem – if you think it’s only possible for Me to cast out demons by the prince of demons, how are the other Jewish exorcists doing it? I’ll tell you: they’re doing it by the power of God, and so am I. But you don’t want to hear that answer because it means you should also listen to the other things I am saying.

The Pharisees were opposing Him out of spite and envy. So, Jesus forces a declaration of allegiance. The Kingdom of God has come, and it’s not what you expected. So what are you going to do? Reject your previous preferences, ideas, and opinions, or reject Me?

He makes it very clear: there is no middle ground. “Whoever is not for me is really against Me.” There is a spiritual war raging but there is no spiritual Switzerland. Switzerland was famously neutral during World War II formally taking no sides, but Jesus says that’s just not possible when it comes to taking sides in eternity. It’s not like you die, and religious people go to Heaven, while a few, very few, really bad people go to hell, and the people who weren’t all that involved either way go to “a better place.” No. Jesus says there are only two options – either you are for Him or you are against Him. Nobody gets to opt out.

You might insist: I didn’t do anything terrible, I wasn’t a bad person. OK, but the message of Christ is two-fold, not only does He save us FROM sin, but He also saves us FOR good works. So, it’s not just about the sin He saves us from – and to be clear, we all need that forgiveness no matter how “good” we think we’ve been, none of us has been absolutely perfect – it’s not just about the sin, it’s also about the good you’ve done. Have you made yourself completely available to God? Is He really Lord, that is, Master of your life? Are you really His servant? Is He really your Father, and are you really His child? If so, are you an obedient child, or a tantrum-throwing, grumbling, selfish, mopey, self-interested child who just wants to be left alone with his Xbox or her iPad and a set of earphones content to have a spiritual Father who pays the bills and provides the toys?

We all trend toward spiritual inertia, we want to be left alone in a comfortable life and to let spiritual things take care of themselves. Most people would rather have security than adventure – they want things to stay how they are. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t cause a ruckus. Let me believe the things I want to believe and live the way I want to live. But God won’t accept that. He insists upon a declaration of allegiance.

And notice this: Matthew 12:25 But Jesus knew their thoughts. Friends, God already knows the real you. He knows what you really value, He knows what you really want. He knows what you really think. He knows what side you’re on, even if you’re against Him.

And the crazy thing is: knowing all He knows, He persistently and patiently offers you the hope of forgiveness and change. He invites you into His Kingdom and offers you purpose, giftings, counsel and comfort – IF you will receive Him. He has bound the strong man, and He is plundering his goods – the gates of hell will not prevail against Him. There is nothing He cannot save you from, there is no one and nothing that can keep you from Him, He is undefeatable and His church is indestructible.

But that does not mean salvation is inevitable for all people. Listen to what He says next:

Matthew 12:31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

Jesus warns here of what has come to be called, the unforgiveable sin. And before we dig too deep into what that means, let’s understand what else it implies.

Yes, there is this one thing that will not be forgiven, but everything else can. EVERYTHING. You are not God’s kryptonite. You are not the one person who figured out how to mess up your life SO much that He could never forgive you or use you. You are not the puzzle that He cannot solve. You are not the one He’s embarrassed of, ashamed of; you’re not the one He’s just barely tolerating so long as you keep the noise down and don’t ask for much. He can and will forgive EVERYTHING you’ve ever done if you will come to Him.

Psalm 103:11 ​​For as the heavens are high above the earth,
​​So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 ​​As far as the east is from the west,
​​So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

There is only one thing that could keep you from this great promise and that is flagrantly, willfully, persistently, rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit in your own life. Because, how can God forgive you and save you if you are snubbing His conviction and calling? If you don’t see a need for repentance, how can you be forgiven? It’s not that you can’t be saved, it’s that you personally insist that you won’t be saved.

This sin is the result of two things: clear understanding and deliberate rejection. You understand what you’re rejecting and you intentionally choose to do it.

One theologian put it this way: “Once you declare that the only remaining bottle of water is poisoned, you condemn yourself to die of thirst.” (Wright)

God is patient and incredibly merciful, but He is also tremendous and holy and He will not tolerate the willful, intentional, persistent, deliberate defiance of men as if it were nothing. Do not mistake His patience for permission or passivity – there is a judgment ahead for all of humanity, and you will either receive eternal pardon in Christ or eternal punishment in hell. Remember, Switzerland is not an option.

And, your eternal destiny is only a reflection of what you already are on earth. That’s true for good or bad as Jesus notes next:

Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.

Jesus draws a line in the sand and calls for a decision – either He is producing good things because He is good, or He’s producing rotten things because He is evil. There is no middle ground – you don’t get peaches from a lemon tree. He goes on to expand upon and reinforce the concept:

34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.

Jesus wants to make sure we don’t miss it: what comes out of you reflects what is in you. This is why you may have heard it said: character is who you are when no one is watching. What naturally comes out of you when your guard is down?

He says the words a man or woman or a child speaks reflect what is already filling their heart. Jesus paints the picture of a warehouse of things in your heart, and you take from your supply shelves and bring out things that are good, or things that are evil all depending on what you’ve already stored up inside because words are outward evidence of our internal condition.

And this is where it is fascinating to watch people react to what comes out of them.

I don’t know if you saw this in the news or not, I don’t follow the news myself, but this story caught my attention. Last month the actress Roseanne was confronted over a racist comment she made on Twitter. And some people rushed to her defense and said it was humor – she was just cracking a joke.

Well, I don’t know about you, but in my house, saying “I was just joking” is no defense for saying or doing something hurtful to someone else. That doesn’t get you out of trouble – it may even get you in more trouble, because you just confessed you did it, and you meant to do it, you just wanted some people to take it differently.

So, when that didn’t fix things, what happened next? She claimed she was taking Ambien, the sleep medication, so she can’t be held responsible for what she wrote. And then, the drug manufacturer came out and says, “look, racism is not a side-effect of our product.”

If anything, it was comically tragic as she groped around for an excuse and was quickly shot down. But it’s also a perfect example of what Jesus is talking about: what comes out of us is just proof of what is already in us – it wasn’t the Ambien putting something new there, the wretchedness in her heart that has always been there was just openly exposed. But when we are confronted about what comes out, we all want to be able to say, that wasn’t really me, it wasn’t really my fault.

Jesus says, YES it is. That’s IN you! It’s not just Roseanne, or Donald Trump, or any other public figure – it’s you and me, it’s all of us.

This is the doctrine of the depravity of man. Christians believe there are toxic things down inside each of us, things we need to be saved from. And there’s no use in just trying to prune the tree a little bit and add some fertilizer to keep up good appearances. The whole thing needs to be cut down, the old stump needs to be ground out, and we need to have a new tree planted in it’s place. This is why Christians talk about being born-again. We need a whole new start with a whole new seed, we need to become something entirely new, not just a trimmed up, cleaned up version of what we’ve always been.

And then, once you become something new, you need to jealously guard the ground around you so it doesn’t poison your roots and the fruit God wants to produce through you. Or, to use the other analogy, you need to let Jesus come in and take inventory of the storeroom shelves of your life and throw some things out if need be. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to fling wide the doors of your life, to hold nothing back, rope nothing off, and ask Jesus – what in here needs to go out with You so it doesn’t come out of me?

Christian, I highly recommend you memorize and meditate on this wisdom from Proverbs:

Proverbs 4:23 Keep [guard] your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.

In my neighborhood we have these signs on the storm drains. They say No Dumping – Drains To Accotink Creek. What’s the message? They’re saying any pollutants you pour down here are going to come out over there. Environmentalists get this concept! If you want purity in the pond you’ve got to watch what’s coming in.

Do we understand the same thing is true spiritually? What are you allowing to come into your life, and into your home? Men, what role are you taking to guard your family?

Now, I understand, sometimes you’re on a team, or you have co-workers, and you get exposed to filth and trash and toxins, but remember: it’s one thing to be exposed to it, it’s another thing to stew in it. You might encounter it, but don’t bring it in to your storeroom, don’t give it a place on your shelves.

Let Jesus manage your inventory, and ask Him to be your filter. Some of you are going to have to work hard to establish and keep a healthy environment, or you’re going to have think of it like suiting up in a hazmat suit everyday. But you must, you absolutely must, be aware of the danger here because Jesus has one more thing to say:

36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Friends, that is strong. That is heavy. But Jesus said it, and it’s true – we will give an account for every thing we say that is morally useless and unprofitable.

How much attention do you pay to your words? What about the words that come out of your fingers instead of your mouth? How is your texting? Your Twitter, your comments, your email? Will your words on these various platforms defend you or accuse you?

David said:

Ps 39:1 I said, “I will guard my ways,
​​Lest I sin with my tongue;
​​I will restrain my mouth with a muzzle,
​​While the wicked are before me.”

Even better is the prayer he learned to prayer, relying on God for help

Ps 141:3 ​​Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
​​Keep watch over the door of my lips.
But why is this such a big deal? It’s because what comes out of us is a reflection of what is in us. And if we are open and honest, we know that there are deep pits of darkness inside us all. We know that we are prone to producing rottenness. We are likely to bring evil out of the evil in our storehouse.

We need to be cut down, cleaned out, and washed clean by Jesus Christ, and then we need to live with a holy filter over every day of our lives, while asking Him to produce His goodness in us.

The good news is, if He is in us, He will come out of us. That’s what is meant to happen.

He’s the vine, we are the branches. If we abide in Him we will produce much fruit, and it will be good fruit. Abiding in Christ does not produce bad fruit.

He’s the One who declared: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” – John 7:37-38

That’s what we want coming out of us when we speak out of the overflow of our heart – living water and rivers of it, not a trickle, and certainly not toxic sludge – living water, proof of Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Friends, we came here today. We have heard God’s Word. We know His thoughts and His assessment of the way things are. Now the question is – how do these things apply to you?

What is God calling you to do about the things you have heard? What is He saying to you about the things that are in you and the things coming out of you? May I encourage you, take a sober assessment, listen to His Words and respond. Let Him purify you and make you Holy. Do not resist, do not deny, do not explain. Simply surrender.

Let’s pray.

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