Healing: Miracles or Magic

vintage

Matthew 12 is about widening rift between Jesus and the Jewish religious leadership.

Incidentally both Matthew and Luke use the religious and political leadership of Israel as being representative of where the whole nation stands on Jesus (Lk 13 31-35 19:41-44).

Why is this “Vintage Jesus”. The miracle, told in a single verse, reflects one of the most significant kinds of activity in Jesus’ ministry. Most miracles are told with vivid detail, while reactions to them are only briefly summarised. Here the situation is the opposite, in that the reaction dominates the account.

This incident summarises the public debate over Jesus’ miraculous work and carries an explanatory significance for all his miracles.

1. The issue here is Jesus’ authority.

When he exorcises a demon that is the source of a man’s being mute, the discussion begins about the unusual character of Jesus’ ministry. Two approaches emerge.

a) Some say his work to Beelzebub.
This name, probably originally referring to a pagan god, was applied to Satan, designating him as "Lord of the Flies." This derisive name indicated a lack of respect for this powerful figure. To some, therefore, Jesus’ power is demonic.

This is a serious claim. The Greek means “vilification (especially against God), blasphemy, evil speaking, railing”, an active and on-going opposition. It is to witness God’s goodness and call it (and continue to call it) evil.

When someone consciously rejects God they cannot be saved, because they have rejected their only path to salvation: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Since the power of God’s Holy Spirit is the means by which we are saved, a person who rejects him cannot be saved.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not merely a certain sin or cursing God in a moment of anger or misery. Nor is it merely saying or writing the words “I blaspheme the Holy Spirit.” Any sin can be forgiven if a person honestly confesses, repents, and asks God for forgiveness, as Jesus say: “people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy” (Matthew 12:31) and as we read in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Only someone who has totally closed themselves off from God’s love and marvellous offer of grace could be so calloused as to continually and unrepentantly call God and His glorious works “evil”.

Thus, if you are worried that you have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, you could not possibly have done it, for someone whose heart is so calloused would not be at all concerned about such a thing!

Doubt or weak faith are not the same as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

b) Others prefer to sit on the fence and wait for some-thing more from Jesus.
The request for a sign from heaven is vague, given the many acts Jesus has already done. Apparently some type of visible sign involving activity in the heavens is in view.

This questioning prevents making a commitment to Jesus, while admitting that there is something happening that requires reflection.

Perhaps their testing of Jesus falls in line with what the Old Testament instructed God’s people to do with prophets (Deut. 13:1-5). Given all that he has already done, which should be sufficient to identify him, Jesus responds only to the claim that he is connected to Satan.

c) Jesus knows the speculation about him and addresses it. He rejects the connection to Satan on a simple premise.

i. If Satan’s goal is to destroy and Jesus is reversing the effects of destruction by healing, then how can one tie Jesus’ work to the archdemon? That would mean a house divided and a kingdom ready to fall. Satan’s kingdom cannot stand if Jesus is driving out the demons by this power.

ii. He does not act alone. Others are also driving out demons. The meaning of this point is disputed.

Is Jesus pointing to all Jewish exorcists here, asking how they manage to do their work? This meaning seems unlikely. Would Jesus really hold out the possibility that Jewish exorcists will help in the final judgment (as the end of v. 19 says)? Jesus could hardly be acknowledging that God works through Jewish exorcists in a community needing reform.

More likely, “your sons" is to Jesus’ disciples, who are also Jewish but who do their work through Jesus’ commission. His point is that there is more than one figure in the movement that shows this authority. Divine endorsement extends to those he has commissioned. They will serve as the judges of the Jewish leadership one day, if the latter do not change their mind about who Jesus is.

If the satanic connection is out, then what remains?

Jesus next issues one of the most crucial statements of his ministry: "But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you."

Jesus’ work is different from Satan’s. Whereas the devil destroys, the deliverer rescues. Whereas Satan debilitates life, Jesus enhances it. Whereas Satan cripples, Jesus liberates. Jesus shows how his work exalts life. That activity defines his service, picturing how disciples should walk in a way that seeks to encourage others to experience life in its fullness.

His use of the phrase "the finger of God"—which occurs in the biblical account of the Exodus (Ex. 8:19), another great moment of divine activity—shows that God is directly involved in history through Jesus with the powerful touch of his grace.

2. A cosmic battle

A strong man occupies a house and guards his possessions. They are safe until someone stronger attacks him, overrunning his home. When the stronger one comes, the armour of the original man is stripped away and the spoils are divided among the victors.

What is at stake in Jesus’ ministry is a cosmic battle displaying the right to rule. Like a great war, the combatants are facing off with everything at stake. The promise of the kingdom is one of the great promises of the Old Testament.

In the following parable, Satan’s house is overrun and defeated, with the spoils of the victory being shared with those on the winner’s side.

Jesus claims that his miracles are audio-visuaIs of the presence of God’s victorious rule. They indicate that the great promised Messiah has come.

He is not saying that everything promised in association with that kingdom has come, only that the kingdom itself has arrived.

No authority is greater than Christ’s, to whom we have access (Eph. 1:15-23). The power he gives (the spoils he distributes!) includes the enablement to live as reconciled people in a community that evidences love and reconciliation in the context of renewed relationship.

The victory Jesus describes clears the road of any claim that obstacles exist that cannot be overcome in the church community. A rich array of resources exist to help us overcome the forces that otherwise overpower us.

In dependence on him, we can be the new community he calls us to be. The kingdom of God is not an abstraction,- it is a community where God’s presence and rule so dominate our existence that we honour him in all we do and where righteousness manifests itself in the face of a hostile world (Gal. 2:20; 5:22-26,- 6:14-16).

This passage is like pulling back the curtains on the divine perspective of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ battle with Satan is the greatest spiritual battle of all time. Jesus establishes his position as the stronger man who overcomes the power of the evil one.

His ministry was the key turning point in this battle. Though skirmishes are still being fought and the complete victory still awaits us, the victory described here is part of a fundamental perspective Jesus wants both his disciples and opponents to appreciate. The theme of his victory as pictured in his miracles speaks to every age about his matchless authority.

3. What will you do with Jesus

The decision Jesus calls for in this text is another feature that is true for every generation. His life and ministry were so unusual that we have to make a response.

The distance between the present and the past has allowed some to claim that Jesus did not really perform these wonders or give this type of evidence of his unique relationship to God. They attempt to relegate Jesus to the level of other greats of religion.

But the opponents living in Jesus’ time did not have the luxury of such a claim. They could not deny he had performed deeds of unusual power. The Jewish records we possess that allude to Jesus report the unusual nature of his deeds and try to explain them, not deny them.

The corridors of time may dim the reality of his majestic works to an extent that some do deny he did them, but that is not a rational option. If it were, his opponents would have taken that road long ago. Those who opposed Jesus took the only logical option left to them in light of the evidence of his supernatural power: They claimed it was rooted in a diabolical force.

What do you claim?

Christ’s rule is designed to establish the presence of righteousness on the earth through the formation of a people who reflect his character before others (Matt. 5:14- 16; Titus 2:11-14).

Though his kingdom will be powerfully visible one day when he returns, Jesus has gathered around himself a community of redeemed people who demonstrate the transformation and real life his victory paved the way for.

That transformation is why Paul defines the gospel as the "power of God" in Romans 1:16-17. He then goes on in that great letter to describe how humanity has been delivered from the depths of sin and bondage (so also 2 Cor. 3-4, which speaks of the new covenant of the Spirit).

This new community is to be a people who evidence reconciliation, the union of Jew and Gentile into a new body (Eph. 2:11-22), absent of the malice that comes from the presence of sin and from following the "ruler of the kingdom of the air" (2:2).