The Lord’s Day Morning
August 15, 2010
“What Our Tongues Tell”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 12 as we continue our way through Luke’s gospel. We’ll be looking at verses 8 to 12. Let me outline the passage for you in three parts.
First, in verses 8 and 9 you will see Jesus make it very clear to His disciples that He Himself is the nub of the issue. He is the hinge point of judgment. If you acknowledge Him, you will be acknowledged at the final judgment. If you deny Him, you will be denied at the final judgment. And so Jesus makes Himself to be the turning point of salvation itself, the hinge on which salvation turns.
Then in verse 10 you have one of these passages in the New Testament — the parallel is in Matthew — that speaks of the unpardonable sin. This is, of course, a topic that has troubled many Christians for many years and there is no way in the course of a few brief moments this morning I can even begin to answer all of your questions, but I do believe the context of this passage helps you understand what is being said. Notice, for instance, this passage is in the context of Jesus’ continued engagement with the Pharisees. Now the Pharisees wanted to promote religion. They wanted people to believe in God, but they also wanted to make it clear that it was not necessary to follow Jesus, to accept His claims, or to obey His teachings. In fact, they would argue that His teachings, His claims, were actually detrimental to a true relationship with God, and so they wanted to teach religion but they wanted to excise Jesus — His person, His works, His claims, and His teaching — from that religion. Jesus identifies that as a satanic assault upon essential truth. If you’ll remember that it will help you understand what He means by blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. This discussion, both here in Luke and also in Matthew, is in the context of Jesus’ engagement with the Pharisees whose sole intent in relation to His ministry is to make sure that He is rejected by Israel and that even His disciples would abandon Him and His teaching and Jesus here is addressing precisely that kind of move.
Then if you look at verses 11 and 12, again Jesus speaks to His disciples about their readiness to give testimony to Him if they are called to account by the religious leaders. Remember the religious leaders wanted to drive a wedge between Jesus and His disciples and Jesus is saying here that they need to be ready to give an account.
The whole passage has to do with how they testify with their tongues to the Lord Jesus Christ. Do they acknowledge Him? Do you remember what Romans says? If we confess Jesus as Lord we are Christians. Jesus Himself says, “If you acknowledge Me, you will be acknowledged.” And so the passage begins by talking about our testimony to Jesus with our lips. And then in verse 10 it talks about those who oppose Jesus with their lips and with their words. And then in verses 11 and 12 it talks about giving testimony to Jesus when we’re called to give an account for the hope that is in us. So the whole passage has to do with how our lips testify to what we believe about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well let’s pray before we read this passage and study it together.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we already sense how timely it is for us. The Lord Jesus was speaking to disciples two thousand years ago and only a few years later Luke wrote down what He said to them, but what He said to them was not only important and vital and timely and necessary for them, it is important and vital and timely and necessary for us. We pray that by the Holy Spirit we would understand what You are saying to us in Your Word and that by the grace of the Holy Spirit we would believe it and we would do it for Christ’s sake. Amen.
Hear the Word of God:
“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
What do your tongues tell you about your allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ? What does the testimony of your lips, of your mouth, say by way of the state of your heart? Do you confess Jesus Christ as Lord with your tongue, with your lips, with your mouth? When called upon to give testimony of where your ultimate allegiance is, do you give allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ? What do your tongues teach you about your heart? This passage very much gets at that issue and there are two or three things that I want us to see together today.
And the first thing is this — Jesus makes it clear in this passage that His disciples need to understand that He is the nub of the issue. His person, His work, His claims are absolutely at the center of the message that He is proclaiming and they are the very foundation of the life, the way that we are called to live, and we cannot fudge on that. Absolute fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ, absolute fidelity to His Word, is part and parcel of being a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at how He puts it in verses 8 and 9 — “I tell you, everyone who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” The language, “the angels of God,” would have immediately called to mind, to the Jewish peoples first hearing Jesus’ words, the final judgment when the angels of God would come and stand as witness when God judged the world. So Jesus is painting a final judgment scene and He’s saying, “You acknowledge Me before men, you will be acknowledged in the final judgment. You deny Me before men and you will be denied in the final judgment.” He is making Himself the criterion of either your acceptance or rejection in the final judgment.
Now I need hardly point out that that is not a politically correct view of Jesus. There are so many people today who want to teach Jesus, but they want to teach a Jesus who is a great moral prophet who is fostering and proclaiming a gospel that we treat one another well and that we take care of the poor and the oppressed, but there’s no claims of His Lordship, there’s no claim of His divinity. There is certainly no claim that He is the only way of salvation. Why, that would be intolerant and it would be arrogant to claim that He is the only way of salvation. But here is Jesus in this passage saying, “The determining point as to whether you will be accepted or rejected at the final judgment is Me. Whether you accept Me or deny Me, this is the determining factor in the final judgment.” And so Jesus is claiming far more than being someone who’s speaking truth to power or teaching you how to live a better life or promoting your health and wealth and happiness. He is saying that He is the very hinge point of salvation, the only way of salvation, and that your acceptance and rejection of Him will be the determining factor in your acceptance and rejection in the end. And so this is a very, very powerful statement about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. He is the only way of salvation.
But it’s also a passage that is designed to encourage His disciples’ fidelity in accepting Him and professing Him publically when they are so challenged. And this is a very important thing for us. We have lived in a culture that has been dominated by Christianity. And cultures that are dominated by Christianity tend to have a couple of patterns. Either, Christians and Christian churches tend to dominate in those cultures or they tend to actually blend into those cultures and be infiltrated by and compromised by those cultures. They are watered down in attempted to blend into those cultures. And what we have seen, especially in this last century, is Christianity blend in more and more and more to the point that it is almost unrecognizable to the culture around it and when the culture challenges us on our distinctive beliefs, we are tempted to either jettison those distinctive beliefs or hide them or downplay them and to play up the things that we have in common with that culture. And this plays in to our testimony of loyalty and allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, my friends.
And in this last month I have been struck in at least two ways that we are facing an immediate challenge in terms of our loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. There can be very few people in this room that don’t know that a federal judge, this month, declared in the state of California that marriage, being defined as “between one man and one woman,” is unconstitutional. Now I’m not a constitution scholar, nor am I a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but even I know that that’s bad constitutional law. But that’s not what I want to talk with you about. What’s so interesting is in his opinion he went on to say this — “Religions bodies that teach that marriage ought to be between one man and one woman are doing harm,” he said, “to gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered people.”
Now that is a very, very common argument in our culture today, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it more boldly stated in the sphere of the judiciary. And it’s going to have wide-reaching ramifications. But one ramification is going to be my friend, that you are going to be viewed — if you are a Bible-believing Christian, loyal to Jesus and to His Word — and let me say, you can’t get Jesus off the hook on this. Jesus, quoting Moses, defined marriage as “between one man and one woman.” You can’t get Jesus off the hook on marriage. He’s committed on this issue. You can’t rescue Him from the dominant public opinion of today. He is on the record, in print, in black and white. He’s irredeemable on this issue. So you as a Christian, if you stand with Jesus and the Bible you’re going to be viewed as a bigot. You are going to be viewed as hateful. You are going to be viewed as discriminatory against your fellow citizens. You are going to be viewed the way we would have viewed a white supremacist. You are going to be looked upon as a person who is characterized and motivated by hate towards your fellow man and woman.
Now here’s the question — when that challenge comes, whether it’s in the classroom, in high school or college or graduate school, whether it’s in the workplace, whether it’s in family relationships, whether it’s somewhere out in the community or whether it’s in some other public forum, where is your allegiance going to be? Are you going to stand what Jesus and with the Bible, or are you going to give in to the culture around you? Is your allegiance going to be with Jesus? Are you going to acknowledge Him and His authority and the authority of His Word, or are you going to give in?
Another way that this has struck me just in this last month is in this tragic story of the ten Christian aids workers who were killed on their way to Nuristan to do an eye clinic by the Taliban, or on their way back from Nuristan having done an eye clinic. If you have followed the reports, one of the things that has been repeatedly asserted, both by the news agencies and by the International Assistance Mission, is that these people were doing humanitarian work. They were not sharing the Gospel. They were not bearing witness to Christ. They were not trying to convert Muslims to the faith. They were not, in any way, (quote, unquote) “proselytizing” or seeking to have someone converted. And I’ve heard this repeated both by spokespeople and by the media so many times in my mind a question is screaming out. And the question is this — so would it have been okay to slaughter these ten people had they been sharing the Gospel? If that was what they were there for, would that have justified the Taliban killing them? And let me tell you, very many times in the reporting of this, the tacit assumption of this is yes. If you’re over there in Muslim areas, you’re sharing the Gospel, you are being insensitive, you are being inflammatory, you are being imperialistic, you are being arrogant, and you know what? You’ll get what you deserve. In fact, that has been said by more than one pundit. In fact, more than one pundit in the last two weeks has said the United States’ States Department ought to forbid passports to be issued to people who are going to go into Muslim countries and share the Gospel because it’s going to provoke political turmoil.
It’s very interesting, after the early service, one of our deacons who sits on the board of an international Christian ministry came to me and he said, he said, “I could tell you stories all day long about our Christian workers in Muslim countries.” And he said, “Interestingly, when our Christian workers get in trouble for sharing the Gospel in Muslim countries, our State Department is nowhere to be found.” He said, “If we were doing aid work, they would be there, but if we’re doing evangelism, we’re on our own.” He reported to me in one Muslim country where a minister and his wife had been thrown out of the window onto the street and killed and the U.S. State Department had no interest whatsoever into looking into the case, though the Muslim officials in that country were willing to look into the case and investigate it.
Why am I telling you all this? Because more and more we will face the question, “Are you going to share the Gospel or are you going to cause there to be domestic intranquility here because you’re offending people?” Do you know several Christians were arrested in Detroit just a few months ago for handing out Bibles in a Muslim neighborhood, gospels of John in a Muslim neighborhood? They were arrested. The question will be my friends — this is not a question for far off, the question is for now — will you acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ, will you continue to proclaim the Gospel, will you acknowledge the authority of the Lord Jesus’ Word no matter what people are saying to you? That’s a question that is pressing on us now as Christians. Will we acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ or will we deny Him? Jesus says He is the nub of the issue and He is building disciples who will have an instinctive fidelity to Him. When those press against us not to testify to Him, His disciples testify to Him.
There’s a second thing I want you to see in the passage. You see it in verse 10, the passage that gives us one of the important testimonies to what we call the unpardonable sin. “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” In that passage Jesus makes it very clear that if you reject Jesus you cannot be forgiven because when you finally and fully and unremittingly and unrepentantly reject Jesus, you have rejected the only way of salvation. You understand the logic — if Jesus is the only way that sins are forgiven and you reject Jesus, there is no other way left for sin to be forgiven.
Now how are we to understand the passage though, because it says, “If anyone speaks a word against the Son of Man he will be forgiven, but one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven”? Is that saying that you can reject Jesus but you can’t reject the Holy Spirit? No. It’s saying this — the Spirit does what? The Spirit testifies to the person, work, and claims of Jesus Christ. And what did He testify? He’s true! He’s the Messiah! He’s the Son of the Living God! He is the Savior! He is the only way of salvation! So do people reject Jesus sometimes and then later they are converted? Yes, it happened in the Bible. In fact, I remember a Pharisee who once rejected Jesus who became the greatest Christian missionary ever. His name once was Saul and it became Paul. He was a Pharisee just like these Pharisees who were rejected Jesus. Once upon a time he rejected Jesus, but the Holy Spirit converted him. Had he blasphemed against the Holy Spirit? No. The Holy Spirit in fact converted him. The Lord Jesus met him Himself. Had he said bad things about Jesus? Yes he had, but he was saved. So in the Bible we even have examples of people who once rejected Jesus and then came to Him.
The thief on the cross who came to faith in Christ. You remember we’re told in the gospels that at the beginning of the day, both of the thieves were mocking Jesus. At the end of the day, one of them had said, “Stop mocking Him! This Man is who He claims!” And he said to Jesus, “Please remember me when You enter into Paradise.” So yes, some people can reject Jesus and then be gloriously converted. But no one can be forgiven who perseveres in unrepentance, resisting the Holy Spirit to the end, because the Holy Spirit testifies that Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit testifies that Jesus is Savior. And if we persist in rejecting that testimony of the Holy Spirit there remains no possibility for the forgiveness of sins.
Now this is important for us to understand for several reasons. It’s important because Jesus, in this context, is speaking about Pharisees who were saying, “Disciples of Jesus, we want you to believe in God, we want you to believe in the God of the Bible, but we don’t want you to believe the claims of Jesus Christ. We don’t want you to accept the claims of His teaching and the witness of His life. Believe in God but don’t believe in Him.” It’s important to understand that a Christ-less religion is of no value. Jesus is not interested in a Christ-less religion. People in our culture today, they are fine with religion as long as you don’t expect them to believe it and as long as you don’t think Jesus is the only way of salvation. As long as you let them believe what they want to believe and you don’t believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation, they are fine with you. Is Jesus fine with that kind of religion? He says this — “If you blaspheme the Holy Spirit, there is no possibility for forgiveness.” That’s one reason this passage is so important.
It’s also important because there are many Christians, perhaps in this room — I met some after the early service — who have struggled wondering if they have committed the unpardonable sin. Perhaps they’ve come from a background where, when they were young, they blasphemed against the Lord. Perhaps they made a profession of faith but they have stumbled at significant points along the way in their lives and they have committed grievous sins and they worry that they have committed the unpardonable sin. Well let me just give you a couple of words of encouragement. Most, one of the great evidences that you have not committed the unpardonable sin is that you worry that you have committed the unpardonable sin. I’ve never met anybody who’s committed the unpardonable sin who worried about whether they’ve committed the unpardonable sin.
The second thing is this — this word is said specifically against the Pharisees that were deliberately denying Jesus and His message. This resistance to the Holy Spirit is a deliberate denial of the person, work, and claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I want to remind you that there once was a disciple who denied Jesus. He didn’t just do it once or twice, but three times. His name was Peter. He denied Jesus but Jesus still saved him with a look and brought him to repentance. And you remember that glorious scene where He restored him on the beach. You may have denied Jesus sometime in the past, you may be deeply burdened by that and wonder whether you have crossed that line back from which there is no hope. I tell you, there was a man named Peter. And he became a great and powerful preacher of the Word of God. And even if you have denied the Lord Jesus Christ, I call you even now to bow your head before Him and to trust in Him as your Savior and see His work of grace at work in your heart.
Third, as we look at verses 11 and 12 in this passage, Jesus addresses His disciples’ witness when they’re called to give account in the synagogues. Notice these words — “When they bring you before the synagogues and rulers and authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Is Jesus saying we don’t need to study and prepare to share the Gospel, that there shouldn’t be evangelism training or that we should never study and prepare to defend our faith? No, not at all. This church in fact, for at least forty years, has spent a good bit of time and effort trying to do our best to train as many people in our congregation to share the Gospel and to defend the faith and we’ve done that in various ways. Jeremy and Pete Whitney again this fall will be offering a class on Wednesday nights to try and help Christians share the Gospel more effectively. Is Jesus saying we shouldn’t do that in this passage? No, that’s not what Jesus is saying at all. What is He saying then? He’s saying, “Christian, when you are faithful to Me and you are called to give an account, don’t underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to give you the words or even the word that you need in that time.”
A number of years ago in Colorado, young people got up in the morning and went to school, expecting it to be just another day. And that day, two crazed teenagers with automatic weapons went into the school in Columbine and began shooting people. And at some point, someone said to one of the female students, “Do you believe in God?” And one of them said, “Yes,” and died.
We never know when we may be called to give a testimony, but the Lord will give us the word, even if it’s just “yes.” Some day someone may say to you, “Are you a Christian?” And the only word you may say is, “Yes,” like apparently the PCA missionary said, who died among those ten who were killed by the Taliban just a few days ago. “Yes,” may be the only word of testimony you give and it may be the only testimony that needs to be given, but the Holy Spirit will equip you and He will give you the word that needs to be said.
But my friends, all of us live in a day and age where we need to be asking ourselves when we get out of bed in the morning — are we ready to give that testimony? If life and death hung in the balance, would we be ready to say, “Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, He is the only way of salvation and I don’t care whether you’re going to fire me or whether you’re going to sue me, or whether you’re going to cease to be my friend, or whether you’re going to mock me — I am a Christian.” And this is not some theoretical issue for us as believers. It happens in school, it happens in work, it happens in neighborhoods, it happens in our community. There are young people that will go off to seventh grade this year and you’ll be challenged as to whether you’re going to believe what the Bible teaches about the origins of man and creation or whether you’re going to accept a theory that rules out God. There will be others of you who are in business relationships and partners and contractors and those that are working with you are going to ask you to do things which would compromise your fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His Word. And you’re going to have to decide in those circumstances — are you going to stay with the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word or are you going to deny Him?
All of us in our culture must decide — will we acknowledge Christ? Will we testify to Him? My friends, you’ll only do it by the power of the Holy Spirit, but even now you need to remember that the Lord Jesus is preparing disciples who recognize that He is the nub of the issue. And if you’re an unbeliever here today and you think that Christians are just an intolerant bunch because they believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation, please understand, the Lord Jesus has saved us. We cannot deny Him.
Our Lord and our God, every one of us who names the name of Jesus must ask and answer the question of whether we are on the Lord’s side, truly, whether we believe on Him, whether we love Him, whether we will testify to Him. By Your Holy Spirit, we pray, grant that we would give the good testimony, no matter what it costs, and that Christ will be exalted. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Would you take your hymnals and turn with me to 580 — what is it? 587 — “Who Is on the Lord’s Side?”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ.
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