On the Unforgivable Sin and the Completed Work of Christ

Posted: January 14, 2013 in Mark, Sermon Manuscripts, Theologababble

[Author’s note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you’d like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]

Well good morning! I hope you’re all well. Go ahead and turn to Mark chapter three. Mark chapter three. We have a lot of ground to cover today as we continue our journey through the Gospel according to Mark. If you’ll recall, we’re now following the ministry of Jesus as he moves throughout the Galilean area. Last week we found him solidifying his core group of twelve disciples, or followers. We know that Jesus had many followers, but these twelve men were about to spend the next couple years eating, sleeping, and living with Jesus.

We’ve also seen a series of encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees, the religious elite among the Jews. Encounter after encounter, Jesus demonstrated that grace rules, that merely following the Law- or trying to follow the Law (since no one can actually keep it perfectly), isn’t going to bring us to God. The Law was never designed to in the first place- it was to show our own insufficiency and our dire need for grace.

And grace is good, right? Being forgiven by God? I’m glad that God doesn’t hold things against us, that God saves us in spite of our actions. It’s why we exist as a church. We’re go grateful that God has forgiven us that we want to see His fame, and glory, and goodness spread into Crozet, to our neighbors and the nations.

I’m also glad that God forgives us better than we forgive each other. Too often we’re prone to hold a grudge against those who have wronged us. We know that forgiveness is rare, because when it’s extended in the wake of tragedies like Columbine, the Amish school shooting in Nickel Mines, PA, the VA Tech shooting, Newtown, CT- the media is hardly able to believe that victims can truly forgive those who wronged them. It not normative. “Do unto others,” and whatnot.

I’m glad that God forgives us better than we forgive ourselves. I think about the movie Seven Pounds, where the main character ultimately sacrifices his own life to make restitution for a car accident he caused. He’s unable to forgive himself and move on. I know it’s Hollywood, but doesn’t it strike a nerve with us? Especially as God’s children, when we of all people should rejoice in our salvation and God’s forgiveness, but for some reason we seem to be unable to forgive ourselves when we mess up.

For some of us, I think there’s a fear buried deep within that causes us to wonder if God truly can forgive us for the evil things we’ve done, the things that we’ve done when no one else was watching, or when you acted out of impulse and managed to get away with it.

And here’s what compounds the problem…not every sin is forgivable. Not every sin is forgivable. You don’t have to take my word for it- Jesus said it.

Now when we hear that, I don’t know about you but even as I say it there’s a part of me that wants to say, “Well you don’t understand grace! You don’t understand God’s love! He forgives!”

And yet while that is all true, it’s also true that there is an unpardonable sin. An unforgivable sin. A sin for which there is salvation. There is no rescue. You do this sin, and you have absolutely no hope whatsoever. You have sealed your damnation.

For some of you that’s a foreign concept. Who ever heard of a sin God won’t forgive? For some of you, fear that you’ve committed this sin has paralyzed your spiritual growth. Some of you are like, “Oh- that thing.” I know all about that, and it’s no big deal.

My hope when we leave here is that I’ll accomplish a few things- I’ll be able to assure the fearful, then I want to clear up a lot of theological confusion that may be here today.

So with that in the back of our minds, let’s look at the text. If you’ll recall, Jesus has appointed His twelve disciples, also known as apostles, those sent out by Jesus, and He returns home, where His family is.

We find that Jesus’ reputation has preceded Him, too. Upon His arrival the crowds surround Him, He misses dinner, and His own family said “this guy is out of his mind!”

Meanwhile, Jesus has also landed Himself in hot water with the Pharisees. In our Grace Rules series, at the end of this five-part series of encounters, we saw in Mark 3:6 that the Pharisees had finally had enough and were now conspiring with the Herodians as to how they could destroy Jesus.

So now as we pick it up in verse twenty two we see the plot thickening as scribes, the teachers of the Law, have come from Jerusalem. We know that Jerusalem is south of Capernaum, or Nazareth if that’s where “home” is, but due to the elevation of Jerusalem anytime you went anywhere you were going down.

As so “these scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.’”

Ok, so let’s just back up a bit and paint a picture of what’s going on here. For some year now Jesus has been on the scene. He was supernaturally baptized by John the Baptizer, He’s been going through Galilee teaching in the synagogues, healing people, calling disciples to follow Him, casting out demons, declaring sins to be forgiven, and most of all identifying Himself as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of His people.

Now any lunatic can call himself God, but Jesus’ deeds backed up His words. All authority and power was His, yet even His own family, those closest to Him, was blinded to the reality that this carpenter’s son was their Messiah, their Redeemer.

And at this point in His ministry, His power and authority is undeniable, and the scribes and Pharisees could sense their power slipping. This rebel who was proclaiming a Gospel of Grace was wrecking their party, and it was time to do something about it. And if they could discredit Jesus, the people would again look to them for all matters pertaining to God and religion.

I don’t suppose the timing could have been better for them. After all, Jesus’ own supposed friends and family were against Him. And so since they couldn’t deny the power of Jesus, they could attribute it to demonic force. And they do- but here’s the irony: these scribes were so aware of the power of Jesus that they knew they couldn’t simply say that He was demon possessed. After all, demon possession wasn’t unheard of, yet no demon-possessed person had ever demonstrated a fraction of the power Jesus had.

So their strategy? Hey, we’ll just tell ‘em that he’s possessed by Satan himself, by Beelzebul, the “Lord of the House.” Yeah! That’ll show ‘em! Make them think that Jesus is possessed by Satan. That’ll ruin His credibility!

But there’s a couple fundamental flaws in their argument, and Jesus is kind enough to expose them.

Mark tells us that “Jesus called to them and spoke to them in parables.” A parable is a story that illustrates a deeper meaning. Sometimes they’re simple and easy to understand- sometimes they’re not. We’re about to see Jesus using them to expose the Scribe’s bad logic in a multitude of short parables.

He begins with this- “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

Now follow Jesus here, look at the point he’s making. We know that a kingdom or country that’s divided against itself cannot stand. It’s what caused our own civil war. It’s what had lead to much of the fighting in the middle-east. We’re seeing it even now in the  quasi-serious petition for Texas succession in light of the recent debate over gun rights.

On a smaller, more personal level, Jesus tells us that a divided house, or family, is doomed to failure. We see this all around us in a country with a divorce rate of some 50%. Hollywood knows that we’re drawn to this kind of drama, hence the popularity of shows like American Chopper, or reality shows like the Ultimate Fighter, or Big Brother, or the Real World, that force these groups to either band together and function well…or to be divided and let chaos ensue. Obviously the more dysfunction, the higher the rating.

Jesus’ point is simple. He’s saying “You guys are accusing me of using the power of the prince of demons to cast his own demons out. How much sense does that make? How does Satan using me to cast out his own army do anything to build His kingdom, to strengthen his rule?”

He spells it out pretty clearly to the scribes and for the benefit of His hearers: “If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.” in other words, the last thing Satan would ever do if he wanted to remain the god of this world is defeat himself in freeing people from his control and possession. The accusation of the scribes is senseless.

Get’s a bit worse, though, for the scribes. Jesus continues, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”

More simple reasoning from Jesus. “Look guys, you’ve seen my power. You’ve seen me free people from demonic possession for a year now. You know I have power over evil. And you also know that the only way I can undo the work of Satan is by being stronger than Satan.

“I mean, come on, guys! You’ve made the 100+ mile trip from Jerusalem so that you can try to salvage something of your power over these people, and the best you can do is very illogically say that the power with which I do these things is through Satan?! When what I’m doing is showing my power over Satan? You can tell- you know I’m different from any man you’ve ever seen, yet instead of rightfully worshipping God you would rather say I’m empowered by the devil himself??”

And then Jesus says it- the passage that has by and large been misunderstood, taken out of context, and generally misused.

Jesus says “Truly I say to you-” That means “Listen up! Don’t miss this!” “All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

Hmm. You get that? “Whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness.” Interestingly enough, in the Greek the phrase here for “never has forgiveness” actually means…”never has forgiveness.” And there it is- the unpardonable sin.

Lotta confusion about this thing. And I know we’re going to leave our normal pattern here to dive into some deeper theological waters, but the text definitely warrants it. So let’s begin by exploring what the unforgivable sin is not.

Firstly, it’s not suicide. There are groups and people who believe and teach that suicide is unforgivable by God, yet nowhere in scripture is that found. In fact, we find that Samson is mentioned in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews Eleven, yet Samson took his own life in the destruction of the temple where he was held. You might also recall that God was the one who empowered Samson in that final act of destruction.

The unpardonable sin isn’t murder, either. Remember Moses? Guilty of murder. David- guilty of murder. And adultery. All forgivable.

Another common one in evangelical circles is this- every sin is forgivable except for the sin of unbelief. There’s only one problem with that- we all were born in disbelief. And until our conversion, we were all unbelievers…so if unbelief is an unpardonable sin, none of us could be saved because at some point in our lives we were all guilty!

So here’s the theological problem. Jesus says that one, and only one sin will not, can not, shall never be forgiven- the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Which means, so say some theologians, that if one cannot blaspheme the Holy Spirit, than one likewise cannot be damned because all other sins are forgiven. This is what Universalists teach. Love Wins, right?

But the problem with this is that Hell is populated, that not all will be in Heaven, and so if people are bearing the wrath of God than at least one sin hasn’t been forgiven, which means that people must still be committing the unpardonable sin, which is blasphemy of the Spirit. That’s their line of reasoning, at least.

So then they modified that position to teach something like this: On the cross, Jesus bore every sin of every person who would ever live, except for the sin of final unbelief, from which the dying unbeliever could not be pardoned. After all, Jesus did say that “all sins will be forgiven the children of man.” Live in unbelief all you want- it can be forgiven. But die in unbelief and now your doom is sealed. That’s the one sin not paid for by Christ!

All this sounds good, right? Jesus’ death expunged all sins but for final unbelief, and then if we “accept” Jesus we go to Heaven, and if we “reject” Jesus, which is blaspheming the Holy Spirit, we go to Hell because that sin wasn’t paid for…

And here’s the problem with that- nothing about it is Biblical, it’s not stated anywhere in Scripture, it certainly doesn’t do justice to the context in which Jesus made the statement, and this position reveals a widespread lack of understanding of just what transpired on the Cross some 2000 years ago.

Let’s start with this truth right here- God’s wrath toward sin was not exhausted in its entirety on the Cross of Jesus Christ. It was not.

And I know that many of us recoil against a statement like this because it seems to contradict everything we learned while growing up. But if we think our way through this, we know this to be true logically and biblically. Logically, if Jesus underwent divine punishment on behalf of every man, woman, and child who ever did, ever has, or ever will live, then Hell would be empty. God would have no grounds to inflict His wrath upon rebellious sinners.

Again this is the basis for Universalism, or the belief that everyone ever born spends eternity with God in Heaven. The Universalist follows the logic that if Jesus died in the place of sinners, then the salvation of said sinners would be guaranteed. God’s wrath is averted. And while they’re wrong, I can at least appreciate their view of propitiation. They recognize that on the Cross, Jesus not only absorbed the Father’s wrath against sin, but He effectively removed the sins from those from whom He was suffering.

But their logic breaks down when we see Biblically that not all sins are indeed gone. In other words, we can look at the Biblical passages which teach the population of Hell and therefore conclude that not all of God’s wrath was placed on Christ, but we also have direct Biblical proof of this.

Consider Colossians 3:5-6, where Paul tells the Church in Colosse that God’s wrath is still coming because of sins such as sexual immorality, impurity, evil desires, and idolatrous coveting. He said as much to the church in Ephesus in Ephesians 5:6 as he talks about the wrath of God coming upon the sons of disobedience for their idolatry and sexual immorality.

Time after time in Scripture we’re given direct evidence that God’s wrath is still coming for all kinds of sin, which makes it wrong for us to say “Jesus died for every sin but unbelief”! Think about the words of Jesus Himself when He told the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida that it would be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgement than for them. There is ample evidence that there are varying degrees of punishment in Hell, but this could only be because, as we see in Revelation 20:13, those in Hell will be judged for all their sins…sins that remain. Sins that were not nailed to the Cross.

Punishment is still coming. God’s wrath in it’s entirely was not appeased and removed at the Cross. And we deny the effectiveness of Christ’s atonement when we cross the line and say that it doesn’t actually atone.

Now if you’re still tracking with me, this presents an interesting conundrum: If Jesus didn’t pay for all the sins of anyone, and God’s wrath is still on the way because of our rebellion against God, then no one will be in Heaven because we will all be in Hell atoning for our own sins.

After all, “the wages of sin is death.” And we’ve all sinned. If Jesus didn’t satisfy the wrath of God for all of my sins, and I’m left to satisfy even just some God’s wrath, I would still bear infinite guilt for rebelling against an infinitely holy God.

And so here we are- If Jesus died for all of the sins of every person, then everyone is free the punishment of their sins. The debt is cancelled and gone. If Jesus died for some of the sins of every person, then no one is free the punishment of their sins, which leads us to this Biblical conclusion:

Jesus died for all the sins of some people.

How else could anyone be saved? I love how Paul describes it to the Christians in Colosse. He says in Colossians 2:13 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him (Jesus), having forgiven us ALL our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with it’s legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Done. It’s gone. The death of Christ guaranteed salvation for all those for whom he died. The only alternative is that it guaranteed no one’s salvation.

And so the million-dollar question is this- who will be saved? Who can be saved? Who did Jesus die for? Whose sins were covered at the Cross? Who can become a child of God??

Let’s let God’s Word answer that for us. John 1:12 tells us that “to all who did receive Him (talking about Jesus here), who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Who did Jesus die for? Everyone who believes. Whose sins are gone? Everyone who believes. So believe. Trust Christ as your Savior.

You say, Richard, I’ve done some pretty horrible things- things God can’t forgive me for. Let’s go back to the text: Jesus said “all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” What Jesus is saying is that with the exception of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, there is forgiveness for any imaginable sin, provided you are united to Christ by faith.

And so what is this blasphemy of the Spirit that so many have been confused on? I’m glad you asked, because Mark make it very clear why Jesus said “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is guilty of an eternal sin,” “For they were saying, He has an unclean spirit.”

These scribes knew. They knew. They knew that Jesus was no ordinary man. They knew that His mission and His authority demanded a response, and rather than rightfully acknowledge the truth that Jesus’ power was divine, they called Him possessed. They gave credit to Satan for what the Holy Spirit had empowered Christ to do. And because of that, they had doomed themselves. Anything else, anything but that, could be forgiven.

So as our band comes forward, we need to reflect on some things- the first is this: if the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the attribution of Jesus’ miraculous power in Nazareth to the work of Satan, then for us here today there is no sin that cannot be forgiven. I don’t care how bad it is, how shamed you feel, how destructive it was. There is no sin in your life that is bigger than grace.

But here’s the thing. Unless you’re united to Christ by faith, then you will continue to be beneath the wrath of God. As Jesus is going throughout the land, his message is clear- He is saying “I am the Messiah. Believe in me.” Mark has written this account to continue to assure the Christians in ancient Rome who had trusted in Jesus as their Savior.

What will you do with Him? Will you trust Him as your savior? Will you believe His message and follow Him? In our time of reflection, Walt and I will be up here to talk with you, pray with you- whatever you need from us, that’s why we’re here.

Lastly, for those of you in here who are following Christ, how great is it that all of our sins are gone? All of them- even the ones we haven’t done yet. And so why hold them against yourself? God doesn’t. Jesus took them from you. Live in the freedom that forgiveness gives us.

We’re going to give you a few moments of reflections before we stand and continue our worship through music, but what I want you to think about is our JourneyMarker for the week: “The work of Christ on the Cross guarantees complete forgiveness for the believer.” Will you believe that?

I mean, isn’t that Good News? Are you resting in it? Are you living in it? Are you sharing it?

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