I have been working on the lessons for Vacation Bible School this week and when it came to writing a blog, I searched for something new or creative to write, but came up with nothing that really struck me outside of my prep for the adult class I will be hosting all week next week. The Theme Verse for our Mighty Fortress VBS is 1 Corinthians 15:57 “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So, it is interesting to me how the stories are selected for these studies, because when I first looked at it, I thought that some of the selections were…well…interesting! We start off with the tale of a fortress and God’s people coming up against there enemies at Jericho. A classic VBS story for sure! Here, we can see the connection between the theme “Mighty Fortress” and the notion that this Jericho fortress was not one that the Lord God built and so it had no position or power over God’s ability to bring victory. The next two stories baffled me, the stories of Hezekiah and Josiah. I must admit that in my years going to VBS, I never remember covering these stories. The second day will cover the siege that the Assyrians placed on Jerusalem. Hezekiah was king in Jerusalem and God saved this fortress, His city, from total destruction. The lesson here is that God is our refuge and strength, a help in times of trouble. Ok - I see the connection with the theme and the Bible story really focuses more on King Hezekiah’s faith in God and prayer when Isaiah reassured the King that God was present. Now on to day three and Josiah…and here we see a different notion of “mighty fortress” in that it doesn’t have to be big walls and cities, but God’s Word and teaching! God’s story is important and obeying His word is essential if we are to experience the victory of Jesus. Josiah’s reforms, tearing down idols and restoring the Temple, showed that God was most important and this was all prompted by reading the Word of God to the people. These three lessons set up the last two days of VBS, Jesus enters into Jerusalem and Jesus dies and rises from the tomb. This is the ultimate story of God’s victory and thus our victory. Jesus is our champion, and our enemies of sin, death, and Satan are defeated and we can live the victorious life in Christ.
I look forward to a great week of VBS, and if you want to join us, bring your kids, it will be from 6-8 PM Monday through Friday of next week. I think one of the things I like most about a Vacation Bible School program is the combination between having fun and learning God’s story! Thank You to all volunteers who make these weeks possible for children, I can tell you that it makes a difference!
Today I was listening to Christian radio after thinking about this text in Matthew regarding the “unforgivable sin” and the speaker, John McArthur, a well-known voice in Bible study said that rejection of Jesus is the unforgivable sin. That is to say, if someone rejects Christ as Savior, then his or her destiny is Hell. Now, this is representative of what his claim was, and it puzzled me and I’ll explain by having you read a passage of scripture that is JESUS’ own words in the Gospel.
Matthew 12:31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks 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.
This is puzzling to me because Jesus actually contradicts the notion that those who reject Christ cannot be forgiven…and seems to place more emphasis on a more abstract notion of “blasphemy” or rejection of the Holy Spirit over and above His own treatment. So, if you are scratching your head, then you are in good company because I think this goes against the Evangelical notion that those who believe in the Lord will be saved and those who “believeth not” will be condemned. And this is why context is so important…in any scripture study that we can do! You might notice that our text begins with the word, “Therefore” and so as Mike Cope used to preach, when we see therefore we should stop and ask, “What is that there for?” So, leading up Jesus’ teaching on the unforgivable sin was this…
Matthew 12:22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
When the Pharisees heard it they decided that this could not be the work of the Holy Spirit but the work of the prince of demons. This is a striking judgment…one that is motivated by their need for power and control, enticed by their religious superiority, walled in from any experience of the divine that was outside their theological boundaries. The question that was raised by the people who saw the miracle was asking if Jesus was the Messiah or Son of David…and the Pharisees do not speak against Jesus, but against the power, or empowering force, that makes the miracle possible. Jesus sees into their thoughts and motivations, and provides a lecture correcting their terrible logic and even worse understanding of the spiritual world. Then comes the hammer…
Jesus essentially says, “It is one thing to question who I am and to make claims about my validity…but when you question the very working of God, that being the Holy Spirit, and judge God’s action to be something else, you make an eternal mistake.” It makes you wonder who would have that type of arrogance? Who would place themselves as judge over the actions of God? Well, the Pharisees would…that’s who and that is why Jesus speaks so harshly to them. You see, the unforgivable sin is not the one time rejection of Jesus, because as long as there is breath in our lungs, we can choose to come to Christ. Speaking against Christ was not the issue here, but the issue was making oneself the judge over the Son of God’s action, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
The thing that is clear to me is that the unforgivable sin is not something that the faithless commit…because they are ignorant. I’m not suggesting they don’t sin, I’m simply suggesting that the Bible and Jesus do not argue that the lost, or those outside of Christ, act in a way that is beyond the forgiveness of God. Therefore I must also conclude that God forgives many of the sins that some of our more conservative thinkers might see as a challenge to the church's purity. So, who does? Well, whether it is this passage or the warnings in the book of Hebrews and elsewhere, it is the religious person whose righteousness is prized over the Lord God to the point that they become the judge of whether or not God is acting or working in a particular case…those are the ones most at risk of committing the unforgivable sin.
It seems that those who are empowered by the Holy Spirit and in Christ Jesus should be able to see God at work as discern it correctly. And yes, sometimes we miss it due to distraction or apathy or a myriad of other reasons. But that is not the same as a blatant condemnation of something God is doing among us that doesn’t fit our theology or our experience of religion. Let’s be cautious not to misrepresent the one who has been given as a gift to us empowering the work of God in our time, in our world.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.