I grew up in the church. I was very blessed to have parents who loved God with all their hearts and wanted to raise my sister and me not just in a religion, but in a relationship lifestyle with Jesus. Having said that, being in the church since birth means that there are some cultural things about it that I find funny and things that I find repeated in the memories of my friends who also grew up in the church. It’s the reason I find the blog Stuff Christians Like so funny. I prayed a version of the sinner’s prayer pretty much at every church service I attended just in case I wasn’t really saved until I was about 15 and realized, once was enough. I’ve agonized over riding in the “cool’ van while on youth group trips (come on we all know there was one van that was cooler than the others). And I’ve even though “please don’t let the world end before I have a boyfriend/have sex” But the thing that really scared me when I was little? Accidentally committing the unforgivable sin.
The scriptures that I am referring to are Matthew 12:31-32 where Jesus says (talking to the Pharisees) “Every sin or blasphemy can be forgiven-except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which can never be forgiven. Anyone who blasphemes against me, the Son of Man, can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world, or in the world to come” (New Living Translation)
I can’t have been the only kid growing up in the church who freaked out when she heard this verse right? I remember thinking “what does blaspheming the Holy Spirit sound like? What if I accidentally do it? How will I know if I’m getting close to doing it? I thought God forgave all sin?” Eventually my mother explained it to me. (I’m not sure if I asked her or what; that memory is vague.) What does this have to do with Holy Week? Read on.
On Tuesday Jesus returned to the temple and the religious leaders asked him a spiritual question whose only purpose was to trap Jesus and put his authority into question. Jesus refused to play their spiritual games and instead chose to tell 2 parables about men with calloused hearts who ignored the truth right in front of them until it was too late. I’m not going to type out each parable, but you can find them in Matthew 21:33-46, and Matthew 22:1-14. Both stories feature a benevolent king/leader sending emissary after emissary to his people wishing to give them a gift. Time and time again the people in the stories send the emissaries back and in one case actually kill the messenger (pun intended)
Lucado paints the moral of the parable this way. “No price is to high for a parent to pay to redeem his child…A parent will go to any length to find his or her own. So will God. Mark it down. God’s greatest creation is not the flung stars or the gorged canyons; it’s his eternal plan to reach his children. Behind his pursuit of us is the same brilliance behind the rotating seasons and the orbiting planets. Heaven and earth know no greater passion than God’s personal passion for you and your return.”
This is the love that enabled Jesus to lay down his life for all of humanity on Good Friday. His desperation to see us reconciled with God. So who is Jesus condemning in these parables? Certainly not people who sin. No, he is again condemning those religious hypocrites who know the truth and willing turn a blind eye away from him. As Lucado puts it “The religious leaders knew Jesus was speaking about them. Just as their fathers had rejected the prophets, now they were rejecting the Prophet-God himself.” We know they knew who he was talking about because in verse 46 of chapter 21 it says they were so angry at Jesus they would have arrested him then and there except they knew the rest of the crowd would be against them. It is in this moment that the plot for Jesus’ arrest begins. And here Jesus again speaks very sobering words. “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to people who do the things God wants in his kingdom” Matthew 21:43.
Now we get back to the unpardonable sin. My mother explained it to me in a similar way that Lucado talks about it in his book. Here comes a big quote, but bear with me it’s the most important point of the whole post.
“It was not God who made the people unworthy. It was their refusal to listen that excluded them from grace. Jesus condemns the cold heart, the soul so overgrown with self and selfishness that it would blaspheme the source of hope, the heart so evil it would see the Prince of Peace and call him the Lord of the Flies
Such blasphemy is unforgivable, not because of God’s unwillingness to forgive, but man’s unwillingness to seek forgiveness. The calloused heart is the cursed heart. The calloused heart represents the eye that won’t see the obvious and the ears that won’t hear the plain. As a result they do not seek God and pardon will not be given because pardon will not be sought.”
Or, as my mother put it; “the fact that you are worried about blaspheming the Holy Spirit is proof that you are not in danger of doing so.” There is no unforgivable sin in the eyes of Jesus. He will forgive ANYTHING. ANYTHING. It’s me that can close the door forever. It’s me that can see the son of God and say “no thanks I don’t want it.” This Holy Week and today especially I am praying that God will help me recognize him when he comes to me. That I will not let my heart became callous towards him. I want to be like the disciples and the other people in the temple listening to Jesus preach, not the religious leaders.
He wasn’t what they thought the Messiah would look like so they rejected him. This Easter season my prayer is that I will throw away my preconceived notions of Christ and be ready to follow him whatever form he takes and in whatever direction he leads me even if it’s a direction I am unsure of. The Holy Spirit is the one who draws me to God. I will not ignore his voice no matter how hard it is to hear what he has to say. Because if I ignore it enough, someday I might not hear it anymore.