Will Your Heart Be Hardened Or Humbled by this king?


Will Your Heart Be Hardened Or Humbled by this king?


Will Your Heart Be Hardened Or Humbled by this king?

Matthew 12

Main Idea: When we see Jesus for who He is, we can either repent and receive His mercy, or we can reject Him and experience eternal judgment.

Six More Portraits of Jesus

  1. He Is the Lord of the Sabbath.
    1. As legalists, the Pharisees
      1. added to the requirements of the law.
      2. ignored the exceptions to the law.
      3. missed the heart of the law.
    2. As Lord, Jesus
      1. is greater than the tabernacle.
      2. is greater than the temple.
      3. is God.
  2. He Is the Servant of God and Sinners.
    1. Of God: Jesus is loved by the Father and filled with the Spirit.
    2. Of sinners: Jesus is hope for the hurting.
  3. He Is the Power of God.
    1. An unreasonable accusation
    2. Undeniable conclusions
    3. The unforgivable sin
    4. Two unforgettable reminders
  4. He Is the Greater Prophet.
    1. Jonah was alive after three days in a fish; Jesus would be alive after three days in a grave.
    2. The Ninevites responded with repentance; the Israelites were responding with rejection.
  5. He Is the Wiser King.
  6. He Is our Elder Brother.
    1. What we don't need: an empty religion consumed with outer reformation
    2. What we do need: an intimate relationship compelled by inner transformation157

In Matthew 12 we get another stunning picture of King Jesus. Many people in the first century who saw Jesus in the flesh, including most of the religious people, were hardened by their encounter with Him. Due to the fact that our hearts are naturally sinful, this is how all of us would respond to Jesus apart from the grace of God. In reality, when anyone sees Christ for who He is, there are really only two options: (1) we will humble ourselves before Him, or (2) we will harden our hearts toward Him. After reading chapter 12, we should have a fuller and more glorious picture of Jesus than we previously had. And by God's grace, we will be humbled and overwhelmed at what we see.

In many ways, chapters 11 and 12 of Matthew's Gospel go together (much like chapters 8 and 9). In Matthew 11 we saw four portraits of Jesus: He is the promised Messiah, the authoritative Judge, the sovereign Son, and the gracious Master. To that impressive picture, we will add six more portraits of Jesus from chapter 12. At the end of these portraits, we are confronted with the ultimate question: Are you for or against Jesus?

He Is the Lord of the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-14

Verses 1-14 give us the first portrait of Jesus in Matthew 12. You may be wondering what in these 14 verses incited murder in the minds of the Pharisees. Jesus' disciples simply picked grain to eat on the Sabbath, and then on that same day, Jesus healed a man's hand. These are hardly actions that necessitate murder, at least in our minds. To understand what is going on here, we need to get into the minds of the Pharisees. Pharisees were religious students, teachers, and defenders of God's law who sought to apply that law in every single detail of life. They believed that their obedience to the law helped them earn the favor and righteousness of God. We might refer to Pharisees as legalists, a term that needs some explanation.

Legalism involves working in our own power (sometimes according to God's law and other times according to our own rules) in order to earn God's favor. We think that if we can do certain things—good things no doubt—we can be righteous before God. Lest we too quickly disconnect ourselves from the Pharisees, we need to be reminded that we are all born with a legalistic heart, a heart that thinks there is something we can do to merit our way to God. It's the foundation of all the158 religions of the world, whether it's paying homage to Hindu gods at Sikh temples or bowing to Allah in a Muslim mosque. At their core all other religions call us to follow religious rules and regulations. And if we're not careful, this kind of thinking becomes the foundation for how we live as Christians; we begin to think that if we pray enough, if we study the Bible enough, if we avoid certain sins, if we come to worship, if we help other people, if we go overseas in missions, if we do any number of things, we will become more acceptable to God. This is what the Pharisees had done: they took the law of God, and not only had they used it as a basis for righteousness before God, but they had added all kinds of other rules and regulations to it.

As legalists, the Pharisees were in serious error in at least three different ways. First, they added to the requirements of the law. For example, the law said you couldn't travel on the Sabbath (Exod 16:29), which leads us to ask, What is considered traveling? Can you travel around your house? Can you travel to someone else's house? If you travel beyond someone else's house, how far can you go? The Pharisees answered such questions by saying that someone was permitted to travel up to three thousand feet from their house, a permissible Sabbath day's journey. That is, unless you have some food that is within 3,000 feet of your house, and if that's the case, then that food is an extension of your house, thus allowing you to journey another 3,000 feet. If you went any further than that, it was sin (MacArthur, Matthew 8-15, 282).

Another example of the Pharisees' approach to the law concerned God's command not to carry a load on the Sabbath (Exod 20:8-11; Jer 17:21-22). The question naturally arose, What constitutes a load? For instance, are your clothes a load? The Pharisees said no, not if your clothes are worn; only if you are carrying your clothes are they considered a load. So it would be okay to wear a jacket on the Sabbath, but it would be a sin to carry a jacket. John MacArthur describes the absurdity of it all:

Tailors did not carry a needle with them on the Sabbath for fear they might be tempted to mend a garment and thereby perform work. Nothing could be bought or sold, and clothing could not be dyed or washed. A letter could not be dispatched, even if by the hand of a Gentile. No fire could be lit or extinguished—including fire for a lamp—although a fire already lit could be used within certain limits. For that reason, some orthodox Jews today use automatic timers to turn on lights in their homes well before the Sabbath begins.159 Otherwise they might forget to turn them on in time and have to spend the night in the dark. Baths could not be taken for fear some of the water might spill onto the floor and "wash" it. Chairs could not be moved because dragging them might make a furrow in the ground, and a woman was not to look in a mirror lest she see a gray hair and be tempted to pull it out. (MacArthur, Matthew 8-15, 282)

With such strict regulations, we can begin to understand why Jesus and His disciples came under fire from the Pharisees in Matthew 12 for some seemingly harmless acts. MacArthur observes, "According to those hair-splitting regulations, a Jew could not pull off even a handful of grain to eat on the Sabbath unless he was starving" (MacArthur, Matthew 8-15, 282). This was exactly the kind of approach to God that Jesus had addressed at the end of Matthew 11 when He said, "Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened" (v. 28). The weary and burdened were those who had the law heaped upon them, with the idea that their righteousness depended on keeping certain rules and regulations.

In addition to adding to the requirements of the law, the Pharisees ignored the exceptions to the law. In order to justify His disciples' act of plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath, Jesus cited the Old Testament story of David entering into the tabernacle and eating a piece of bread with his men on the Sabbath (1 Sam 21:1-6), something only the priests were permitted to do (Lev 24:5-9). Jesus then noted how the priests were, according to the law, allowed to work on the Sabbath without dishonoring God (Num 28:9-10). In other words, the rules that the Pharisees were making would not even stand up with precedent in the Old Testament, the very same Old Testament they were seeking to uphold.

The third serious error the Pharisees committed was that they missed the heart of the law. We can see this error clearly in the Pharisees' response to Jesus' healing of a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. The Pharisees believed—and enforced—a rule that it was only lawful to heal someone on the Sabbath if that person's life was in danger, which for the man in this story was clearly not the case. So they asked Him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" (v. 10). You can almost imagine the intensity of this scene as Jesus looked them in the eye and said, "If you had a sheep, and it fell into a pit, wouldn't you save it? And since people are more valuable than sheep, it is lawful to do good, to show mercy, on the Sabbath" (vv. 11-12, paraphrased). Jesus touched the man with the withered hand, and in response the Pharisees went out160 and began conspiring to kill Him (v. 14). What an amazing picture, as those most devoted to the law turned completely against the One who gave the law in the first place!

Jesus' actions and claims in this passage upset the Pharisees on multiple levels. They were infuriated that, as Lord, Jesus was telling them that He is greater than the tabernacle. If exceptions were made for King David and his men to eat in the tabernacle, surely they would be made for the Messiah King who had come in the line of David, who was Himself greater than David. Just as David and his men could eat in the house of God, so it is okay for Jesus' disciples to eat in the presence of God. For Jesus is not only greater than the tabernacle; He is greater than the temple. Just as the temple represented the dwelling place of God, so Jesus was present as God's dwelling place in an even greater way. Since there were clear exceptions for working on the Sabbath in the presence of God, it follows that it is permissible to work on the Sabbath in the presence of the Christ.

Don't miss the underlying point here: Jesus is making clear that as Lord of the Sabbath, He is God. He is God in the flesh, and as God, He has the authority to determine Sabbath regulations for His disciples. This authority goes beyond the mere exceptions to the law that gave David the right to eat in the tabernacle or priests the right to work on the Sabbath. It was absolutely right, then, for Jesus to show mercy to a man on that day. By claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus was implicitly saying to these legalistic Pharisees that the way to become right before God is not through following certain rules and regulations; the way to become right before God is through faith in Him. This is the same message we proclaim to every single person on the planet: you cannot become right before God by following certain laws; you can only become right before God by trusting Jesus as Lord.

He Is the Servant of God and Sinners

Matthew 12:15-21

In the second portrait of Jesus, notice the contrast between the Pharisees, who ignored the needs of men and plotted to kill the Messiah, and Jesus the Servant. This passage contains the longest quotation of the Old Testament in the book of Matthew. Matthew is quoting Isaiah, one of his favorite authors, and in particular the prophecy of a Suffering Servant in Isaiah 42:1-3. Knowing that the Pharisees were plotting to kill Him,161 Jesus didn't try to fight against them; instead, He withdrew, and as He healed the crowds at this time, He tried to keep a low profile. Jesus was intent on His mission: He is the Servant of God and sinners. Consider both of these aspects of Christ's service. First, He is the servant of God: Jesus is loved by the Father and filled with the Spirit. He alone is pleasing before the Father and He alone is perfectly and fully under the influence of God's Holy Spirit.

Second, the Promised One of Isaiah is the servant of sinners: Jesus is hope for the hurting. As a picture of Jesus' refusal to fight or shout against the Pharisees, Matthew (citing Isaiah) says that Jesus "will not argue or shout, and no one will hear His voice in the streets" (v. 19). Jesus is a meek and gentle Savior who "will not break a bruised reed" and "will not put out a smoldering wick" (v. 20). What imagery for the One who is Lord of the Sabbath, the One with authority over the law, and the promised King to come! Christ comes to people who are bruised and battered, whose flame is flickering out. He comes to the spiritually broken, those so bruised by sin and all its effects that they are unable to stand up under it. Richard Sibbes, the Puritan pastor who wrote The Bruised Reed—a classic book taken from the text of Isaiah 42:3—writes the following of Christ's compassion:

Are you bruised? Be of good comfort, he calls you. Conceal not your wounds, open all before him and... go to Christ.... There is more mercy in [Him] than sin in [you].

He Is the Power of God

Matthew 12:22-37

Matthew's third portrait of Jesus in this passage comes in the context of another healing. After Jesus healed a demon-oppressed man who was both blind and mute, the crowds responded by saying, "Perhaps this is the Son of David!" (v. 23). They wanted to know if Jesus was the Messiah. This question enraged the Pharisees, causing them to make the outlandish accusation that Jesus was performing miracles by the power of "Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." This is an unreasonable accusation that Jesus addresses on two primary levels. First, He points out that it is illogical. After all, why would the Devil want demons cast out? That would be like casting himself out, destroying his own work. A kingdom divided against itself will not stand (v. 25).162

The second flaw Jesus points out about the Pharisees' accusation is that it is inconsistent. If casting out demons were a demonic activity, then why didn't the Pharisees criticize their own followers for casting out demons? These "sons" of the Pharisees, likely a reference to their followers, claimed to have cast out demons, and we know from Matthew 7 that people who were not followers of Jesus had cast out demons. Jesus points out the inconsistency in all of this, and this leads to three undeniable conclusions.

First and foremost, if this is not by the power of Satan, then this is by the power of God. If Jesus is not casting out demons by the power of the Devil—which would be both illogical and inconsistent—then there's only one other possibility: He is casting out demons "by the Spirit of God," which means that "the kingdom of God has come" (v. 28). More specifically, the King is here.

This leads to a second undeniable conclusion, which Jesus points out: The One who is stronger than Satan is here. Jesus claimed that He was tying up the "strong man," i.e., Satan (v. 29). Because Jesus is stronger than Satan, He is plundering his house, the domain where he has temporary rule. The book of Matthew has been making this point repeatedly. Jesus is healing people of diseases, delivering people from demons, raising people from the dead, and forgiving people of sins. And all of these things are shouting one reality: One who is stronger than the Devil is here!

As Jesus manifests the kingdom, we see a third undeniable conclusion: Neutrality toward Jesus is impossible. Verse 30: "Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters." What Jesus said to the Pharisees applies equally to us. We too must decide whether Jesus is evil, which leads to prideful opposition, or else that He is good, which means that we follow Him wholeheartedly. There is no middle ground.

The fact that we must be either for or against Jesus leads directly into His discussion of the unforgivable sin in verses 31-32. This is surely one of the most misinterpreted and misunderstood passages in the whole Bible, and given the seriousness of Jesus' words, it is imperative that we understand them rightly. A right interpretation begins by looking at these verses in light of the overall biblical context, and then in light of this specific biblical context. In terms of the broader context, we know from Scripture that God is a forgiving God. That reality is all over both the Old and New Testaments. Exodus 34:6-7 is one clear example,163 where the Lord proclaims His name to Moses: "Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin." This is the God who forgave Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, King David, and countless others throughout the Old Testament. God even forgave His people for heinous and rebellious sins. We see the same thing in the New Testament, as forgiveness is extended to tax-collectors (like Matthew) and sinners, as well as anti-Christian terrorists like Paul (Acts 9). God's grace and compassion are consistent themes throughout Scripture.

Keeping in mind God's merciful character, we turn to consider Jesus' words in Matthew 12. Jesus is speaking to Pharisees who are showing themselves to be completely opposed to Him. They were saying that Christ's works were not through the power of the Spirit, but through the power of Satan. This context helps us to understand why Jesus uses the term blasphemy here instead of the more common term, sin. To blaspheme is to speak against or to slander, and that's what the Pharisees were doing. With this in mind, consider two aspects of Jesus' words in verses 31-32.

First, Jesus says that blasphemy against the Son is forgivable, and the avenue to forgiveness is repentance. Jesus will graciously pardon those who deny and mock Him, for we see this all over the New Testament. For example, Peter denied Christ three times and he was forgiven (Matt 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72). Paul tells us that he was "formerly a blasphemer," yet "the grace of our Lord overflowed" (1 Tim 1:13-14). There's a sense in which all of us are guilty of blasphemy: we deny Christ by our silence or cowardice, or we defame Him by questioning His goodness toward us. Gratefully, all of these sins are forgivable by God's grace. He will forgive blasphemy against the Son for those who repent of their sins.

Second, blasphemy against the Spirit of God is unforgivable, because the avenue to forgiveness is rejected. Jesus is speaking to people who He knows were in serious danger, if not already guilty, of hardening their hearts completely against Him. In attributing the work of the Spirit to the person of Satan, they were setting themselves in total opposition to the Spirit of God, the only Spirit who can draw them to salvation through repentance. They were rejecting even the thought of repentance. Such sin involves willful unbelief, persistent rebellion, and final denial. It's worth considering each of these aspects of sin further.164

The Pharisees had seen Jesus heal every kind of disease, cast out every kind of demon, forgive every kind of sin, yet they chose to charge Him with deceit and demonism. Theirs was willful unbelief. In the face of the undeniable evidence of Jesus' deity and messiahship, they rejected Him. They did not reject the Spirit's work in Jesus' life and ministry for lack of evidence, but rather for lack of humility. The Pharisees were also guilty of an ongoing pattern of sin, and not merely a spur-of-the-moment reaction. This was persistent rebellion that proudly refused to submit, regardless of what Jesus said or did.

In the end, the Pharisees' willful unbelief and persistent rebellion led to final denial. Theirs was a permanent refutation of the work of the Spirit in the Son of Man, and permanent refutation leads to permanent condemnation. Of such sin, Jesus says, "it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come" (v. 32). One commentator described the Pharisees like this:

For penitence they substitute hardening, for confession plotting. Thus, by means of their own criminal and completely inexcusable callousness, they are dooming themselves. Their sin is unpardonable because they are unwilling to tread the path that leads to pardon. For a thief, an adulterer, and a murderer there is hope. The message of the gospel may cause him to cry out, "O God be merciful to me, the sinner." But when a man has become hardened, so that he has made up his mind not to pay any attention to the promptings of the Spirit, not even to listen to His pleading and warning voice, he has placed himself on the road that leads to perdition. He has sinned the sin "unto death." (Hendriksen, The Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, 529)

In the end, no one can be saved if they pridefully and permanently reject the Spirit of God. This is the Spirit who draws us to salvation, who alone leads us to repentance and applies God's forgiveness. We dare not reject His testimony to the Son. Even as we consider the danger of blaspheming the Son and the Spirit, we must be careful not to completely disconnect the two from one another, for ultimately to reject the Spirit is finally to reject the Son. As 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, "No one speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus is cursed,' and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit."165

These sobering verses leave us with two unforgettable reminders. First, we must avoid labeling anyone as guilty of the unforgivable sin. The reality is that in all of our hearts, there was a time when we spurned the work of the Spirit. All of us were at one time opposed to Christ and His Spirit in some sense; yet God patiently pursued us. Jesus knew the thoughts of these Pharisees (v. 25) in a way that we do not, so we should be slow to make pronouncements on someone's spiritual condition. We trust that God alone knows a person's heart. Who are we to say that a person has committed willful unbelief, persistent rebellion, and final denial of the Spirit's invitation to repent? Because God has not enabled us to see perfectly into a person's heart, and because His mercy is so lavish, we work and we pray with a constant hope that God will soften even the hardest of hearts, that He will save even the most prideful of sinners.

Sometimes Christians wonder if they have committed the unforgivable sin. Based on all we've seen in this passage, it's pretty safe to conclude that if you're worried about having committed this sin, you are showing by your concern that you have not fully and finally rejected the Spirit's testimony. Some people have labeled suicide or other particular sins as ultimately unforgivable, but this passage definitively does not teach that. Blasphemy against the Spirit of God is unforgivable because the avenue to forgiveness—repentance—has been thoroughly rejected.

The second unforgettable reminder in this passage is in verses 33-37: We must realize that the unforgivable sin is primarily a sin of the heart, not the lips.

Based on verse 32 in the previous paragraph, blasphemy involves speaking against the Spirit of God. This causes people to wonder, "Have I ever said something against the Spirit of God?" In verses 33-37 Jesus spoke of a principle that we see all over Scripture: Our words reveal our hearts. The unforgivable sin, therefore, is not ultimately about what is spoken, but rather about what lies underneath what is spoken. A heart that rejects humble repentance speaks like the Pharisees and reveals a dangerous condition.

It's a sobering reality to think that what we say, and what we don't say, is a reflection of what is in our hearts. Jesus says in verse 33 that a good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears bad fruit. The fruit that pours from our lips is evidence of what lies within our hearts. To put it another way, faith results in good works, which includes good words. This truth goes back to the reality that Jesus is the Power of God. He166 changes us so that what we believe actually makes a difference in terms of the words that we speak. It makes sense, then, for Paul to describe salvation as he does in Romans 10:9-10:

If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.

He Is the Greater Prophet

Matthew 12:38-41

Matthew gives us three more portraits of Jesus in the rest of Matthew 12. In the fourth portrait of Jesus we see that He is the Greater Prophet. The scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, as if they hadn't seen enough already. Jesus had shown them many signs, but they wanted something else, something more sensational. Jesus called them out in their wickedness, knowing that even His own resurrection from the dead would not convince their hardened hearts. He points back to the prophet Jonah.

Consider the parallel: Jonah was alive after three days in a fish; Jesus would be alive after three days in a grave. There's some debate about Jesus' reference to three days and nights, because technically He died and was buried on a Friday and then He rose on a Sunday. That timeframe doesn't allow for three full nights (or three full days, for that matter). However, it was very common at that time to count any part of a day as a complete day. Three days and three nights could easily refer to parts of three days and parts of three nights (Carson, Matthew, 296). The point is that just as a fish swallowed up Jonah, a prophet who was shortly thereafter delivered from death, so the grave will swallow up Jesus, and He will be delivered from death too. But there's also a contrast here: Upon Jonah's deliverance, the Ninevites responded with repentance; the Israelites in Jesus' day were responding with rejection. Even in the face of the resurrection, Jesus' contemporaries refused to believe in Him.

He Is the Wiser King

Matthew 12:42

Fifth, Jesus continues His response to the scribes and Pharisees. Not only is He the Greater Prophet, He is the Wiser King. Jesus points out167 that a pagan queen from of old would condemn these Pharisees, for when the Queen of Sheba came to visit Solomon, seeing His wealth and wisdom, she marveled that God had given such wisdom to man (1 Kgs 10). Yet the Pharisees had the very wisdom of God standing in front of them, and they rejected everything He said.

He Is Our Elder Brother

Matthew 12:43-50

The sixth portrait of Jesus in Matthew 12 may be the most amazing. In light of Jesus' greatness, it is simply stunning to consider that He is our Elder Brother. As we hear the term elder brother, we need to guard against a misunderstanding related to certain cultic teachings in our day. Mormons, for instance, do not believe the Bible's teaching on Christ's divinity, though they do claim that certain people will actually attain unto godhood after the final resurrection based on certain religious requirements.26 However, Scripture clearly presents Jesus Christ as God the Son, fully divine (Col 2:9), and although believers will one day receive a glorious resurrected body, we will never become gods. Our part will be to serve and worship the one true God (Rev 7:9-10). Referring to Jesus as our Elder Brother reminds us that, as God, He took on human flesh (John 1:14), and because He is both fully God and fully man, His death and resurrection make it possible for sinful human beings to be a part of His family. We see similar language in places like Romans 8:29, where Jesus is called the "firstborn among many brothers," or in Hebrews 2:11, where it says of believers that Jesus is "not ashamed to call them brothers."

After responding to the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus then tells a story about an unclean spirit and applies it to the present evil generation. At first glance, the point of Jesus' story in verses 43-45 is not altogether obvious. Jesus is telling us here what we don't need: an empty religion consumed with outer reformation. All kinds of fanciful explanations have been offered regarding what this passage teaches, including how to deliver demons out of people and what must be done to ensure demons don't come back. However, this kind of speculation about tactics in spiritual warfare misses the entire point of the passage. Jesus was168 still addressing these Pharisees who had hardened their hearts toward Him and who were leading the Jewish people away from Him. He describes them as people who had sought to get their house in order, likely a reference to their attempt to follow God's laws and a variety of other rules and regulations. The Pharisees had tried to sweep evil out of their lives and put things in order in their own strength. But their religious devotion had ultimately left their hearts empty. They were so focused on outer reformation when their greatest need was a new heart. And as a result, they were even more susceptible to the advance of the Evil One than they had been before.

The Pharisees were classic moralists, thinking they could reform their own lives. This kind of self-righteous moralism is empty; it only drives you further away from God, making you worse off than you were previously. Ultimately, this kind of approach to God damns you. Legalism gets progressively worse in our lives from year to year and from generation to generation. The more we convince ourselves that we can reform our lives, the more we find ourselves working harder and harder; yet we come up empty every time. That is a recipe for hopeless living and eventual condemnation. Make no mistake about it: legalism is demonic.

Rather than legalism, in verses 46-50 Jesus points in another direction for the answer to our great need. So if we don't need empty religion consumed with outer reformation, then what do we need? What we do need is an intimate relationship compelled by inner transformation. Jesus says that those who do God's will are part of His family, a family united around the gospel.

We come to God the Father through God the Son, knowing that Christ Jesus is our Brother. In His humanity, Jesus is like us in every way, only He is without sin (Heb 4:15). He alone is righteous. He alone is able to obey the law that we cannot obey. He alone is stronger than Satan, which enabled Christ to overcome sin in His life and in His death. And finally, only Jesus was able to rise from the grave. On that basis, Jesus invites us into His family. He makes it possible for us to be called sons and daughters of God. When we turn aside from sin and self and trust in Jesus, we are brought into God's family by the power of His Spirit. This is the kind of relationship that brings about inner transformation.

Hear the humbling invitations given throughout this chapter in Matthew. For all who have worked hard to try to be righteous, rest in the Lord of the Sabbath who is righteous for you. To all who are bruised and broken, whose light is struggling to find life, humble yourself before169 the One who brings hope to the hurting and ask Him to heal you. To all who are struggling under the weight of sin, come to the One who is the Power of God—to the One who is stronger than your enemy. To all who fear death, come to the greater Prophet who conquers death. To all who seek wisdom, come to the only wise King. And to all who long to be loved, come to your Elder Brother, who brings you into the family where God is Father.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. Why are legalistic hearts so resistant to Jesus?
  2. How does legalism and a desire to earn your standing before God manifest itself in your own life?
  3. Explain what it means to say that Jesus is greater than the temple.
  4. Matthew presents Christ as merciful in this passage. How is the mercy of Jesus different from a "live and let live" mind-set?
  5. In an effort to make the cost of following Christ clear, what is the danger of downplaying His mercy?
  6. How might the portrait of Jesus' power in this passage impact our view of spiritual warfare?
  7. How would you counsel someone who feared that they had committed the unpardonable sin because of a sinful thought or word toward God?
  8. Matthew compares Jesus to Jonah and Solomon. How do these comparisons speak to the seriousness of rejecting Christ?
  9. It's common to hear unbelievers refer to everyone as "God's children." How does Matthew 12:50 help us rightly define God's family?
  10. Some sermons only emphasize moral lessons for believers. How does an emphasis on the person of Christ as we see in Matthew 12 help correct such an approach? What is the danger of not presenting Jesus as central in our teaching and preaching?

For these and other false teachings by the Mormon Church (also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), see Walter Martin's The Kingdom of Cults (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 179-243.