Matthew 12 reads like the transcript of the final scenes of a long courtroom drama—The People v. Jesus of Nazareth. It’s a trial that as arrested the attention of the entire nation of Israel.
This otherwise nondescript Rabbi burst onto the scene claiming to be the long-awaited messianic king and boldly offering to establish the divinely-promised, eternal kingdom characterized by unending peace, unfathomable prosperity, unfettered godliness, and unabating rest. For months he taught and healed, traveled and modelled, fulfilled prophecy and challenged orthodoxy, all of which sparked a growing polarization among the people.
Many believed, followed, and trusted him. Others, particularly Israel’s religious leaders, were scandalized by his claims. The trial now, however, is coming to an end. The evidence is about to be summarized so that it is fresh in the minds of the jury who will then, after quick deliberation, hand down a final, irrevocable verdict that will define the entire case as well as the fate of a generation.
Turn in your Bible to the gospel according to Matthew. After a three-month summer break from our study of this book we now return and pick-up the account halfway through chapter twelve. Matthew 12.
On October 3, 1995, two words shot across North America grabbing both public attention and media headlines: “not guilty.” After an epic 252-day trial—the longest ever in the state of California—former football star, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of double murder by a jury of his peers who had deliberated for less than four hours.
This complex, emotionally-charged criminal trial lasted over eight months, involved twenty attorneys, 150 witness testimonies, 857 presented exhibits, and cost an estimated $15-million. The transcript of the trial is 50,000 pages long. But, ultimately, it’s remembered and defined by the two-word verdict that drew it to a close.
As we turn to Matthew 12, it’s as though we’re entering into the final scenes of a long courtroom drama that as enraptured the attention of the entire country in which the events in question took place.
Jesus started his ministry claiming to be the God-promised and long-awaited King of Israel—the Messiah—who was going to deliver God’s people from their enemies and establish an eternal, global kingdom characterized by unending peace, unfathomable prosperity, unfettered godliness, and unabating rest.
For months Jesus taught and healed, traveled and modelled, fulfilled prophecy and challenged orthodoxy. As time passed, polarization grew. Many believed him, followed him, and trusted him. Others, particularly the scribes, Pharisees, priests, and Sadducees—the religious watchdogs of the nation—were offended by his claims.
In our text this morning, we come to the end of the trial, however. The evidence is going to be summarized so that it’s fresh in the minds of the jury who are then going to deliver a final, irreversible verdict that will define the entire case.
EVIDENCE PRESENTED BY JESUS
In the opening scene we find that the evidence presented by Jesus—exhibits considered, witnesses heard, and testimonies given. A representative summary of the evidence is provided for us.
But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. Many followed him, and he healed them all, and warned them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, my Servant whom I have chosen; my Beloved in whom my soul is well-pleased; I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel, nor cry out; nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A battered reed he will not break off, and a smoldering wick he will not put out, until he leads justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
Then a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and he healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw.Matthew 12:15–22
Jesus had presented Israel’s religious leaders—the jury—with all the evidence needed for them to see that he was, indeed, the promised messianic King. We might break the evidence into three categories.
First, there’s his power. The scene we just read opens and closes with public displays of supernatural power. Jesus first heals the many who followed him in verse 15 and then heals the demon-possessed man who was blind and mute in verse 22. For all to see—sick made well, lame walking, blind seeing, mute speaking, leprous cleansed, and demonized liberated. What power on display!
Where did he get this power? Re-read verses 17 and 18. Hundreds of years before the incarnation (before this trial began), recorded in Scriptures Israel’s leaders knew by heart, Isaiah recorded the words of Yahweh claiming that he would send his Servant, his Messiah, who would be endowed with the power of his Spirit. And, all through Jesus’s earthy ministry, since his baptism when the heavens’ opened up and the Spirit of God descended upon him, he’s been publicly demonstrating prophecy-fulfilling power as evidence of the veracity of his identity and claims.
Jesus did what the messianic king was supposed to do. Jesus presented his power as evidence of his identity.
Second, there’s his proclamation (vv. 18, 21). Not only had Jesus’s power been presented as evidence, but what he proclaimed also. Isaiah foretold that the Messiah, when he came, would declare hope not only for Israel, but for Gentiles too. And while his focus to this point in his ministry has largely been the house of Israel, Jesus had claimed eventual blessing to the nations. This global proclamation was further evidence of his identity and his claims.
Jesus did what the messianic king was supposed to do and said what the messianic king was supposed to say. Jesus presented his proclamation as evidence of his identity.
Third, there’s his passivity (vv. 19–20). While the Jews were anticipating a conquering hero, the prophets anticipated something more gentile. Yahweh’s Servant, when he came, wasn’t going to be looking for a fight. He’s going to be so gentile that he won’t harm something as delicate as a beat up reed and he won’t cause enough of a stir to extinguish a flickering candle. The Servant is going to come with meekness. Jesus presented his passivity as evidence of his identity.
In the case of The People v. Jesus of Nazareth, the evidence has been collected, examined, presented, and now summarized as the trial concludes. Jesus came with prophecy-fulfilling power, proclamation, and passivity. He did what the messianic king was supposed to do, said what the messianic king was supposed to say, and all in the manner in which the messianic king was supposed to operate.
The defence rests, your honour. Matthew punctuates this climactic moment with a restatement of the issue at hand in verse 23: “All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, ‘This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?’”
That is the question. Is Jesus the Son of David or not? Is he Messiah? Is he the King? If so, his offer of the kingdom is good. If no, kill him. The evidence must be weighed.
Even today, of all the reasons people give for disbelief in the person and work of Jesus, lack of evidence is the most foolish. Creation testifies, Scripture certifies, a changed life exemplifies, and the empty tomb verifies. Evidence is not the issue.
“The apologetic for God’s existence is creation. To those who believe, no argument is necessary. To those who do not believe, no argument is sufficient” (Kreider, God With Us, 165). Evidence is not the issue today just as it wasn’t the issue in the first-century. Jesus presented ample evidence to Israel. The question is, what will their leaders do with it? What will be the jury’s verdict?
EVIDENCE REJECTED BY ISRAEL
What we’ve found foreshadowed in the chapters leading up to this, we find definitively here: The evidence is rejected by Israel. With Jesus on trial, the evidence summarized before them, the jury of Israel’s religious leaders do not deliberate long before they reject Jesus as king. And, as we’ll see in the remainder of our passage today, it’s a wholesale rejection.
The evidence is evangelistically rejected.
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”Matthew 12:24
Seeing the amazement of the crowds and hearing the sincere question about his identity, the Pharisees make a clear public declaration: “He’s not God’s Servant! He’s Satan’s pawn!” They reject the evidence evangelistically, hoping to use their clout to sway the crowds away from belief.
The evidence is also illogically rejected. In light of all the evidence presented, their rejection makes no sense.
And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?Matthew 12:25–26
An army can’t win a war when under friendly fire. That makes no sense!
“If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges.”Matthew 12:27
The Jews had their own exorcists who, they claimed, were of God. Same action as Jesus, same result as Jesus. You can’t claim one is from God and the other from Satan. That makes no sense!
Here’s what does make sense: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (v. 28). If Jesus is using divine power, then he is the Son of David, he is the Messiah, he is the promised King; and that means his offer to bring the promised kingdom is legitimate.
“Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.”Matthew 12:29–30
Obviously, for the kingdom described by the prophets to come to earth, something’s going to have to be done about Satan, something debilitating and permanent. The King must have the ability to command evil spirits; he’s not going to be subjected to them.
The hatred the religious leaders had for Jesus and his claims blinded them to the point that they illogically rejected him.
The evidence was also irreverently rejected.
“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”Matthew 12:31–32
Israel’s leaders were witnessing the power of the Holy Spirit in unprecedented ways. Yet, they not only refused to bend the knee, but they call him the devil. I’m not sure we could imagine a more irreverent act if we tried.
And Jesus says, there is forgiveness—the cancelling of guilt for an action—for all sorts of sins, but the guilt remains for this act of extreme irreverence. The consequences are dire and irrevocable.
This is not a sin that can be committed today but one that was unique to first century Israel. The opportunity to worship or blaspheme the Spirit of God at work through the Son of God offering the kingdom of God to the people of God was unique to the setting Matthew’s describing. And Israel chose poorly. They irreverently rejected Jesus and, because of that, that generation would lose the kingdom and come under intense judgement.
Finally, the evidence was also irrefutably rejected.
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”Matthew 12:33–37
There was no denying their evangelistic, illogical, irreverent rejection of Christ. Their words betray them. Their words showcased the blackness of their hearts. They couldn’t claim not to have rejected him. It was irrefutable.
After a short deliberation, the jury of Israel’s representative leaders delivered their verdict, a verdict that would define the entire trial: Jesus is not the messianic king. They looked at the prophecy-fulfilling power, proclamation, and passivity and evangelistically, illogically, irreverently, and irrefutably rejected it.
“Nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, represented by your religious leaders, have you reached a verdict?” “We have, your honour. We find the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth guilty of blasphemy. He is not our king and he cannot bring our kingdom.” The decision is final, irreversible, and generation defining.
But before I’m too hard on first century Israel, I first need to ask myself, are there times I refuse to believe God, his word, and his Spirit, in spite of the mountain of evidence he’s provided for me?
EVIDENCE CONSIDERED BY US
In our text we’ve seen evidence presented by Jesus and evidence rejected by Israel. Now we shift to evidence considered by us. It really comes down to the question posed in verse 23: “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” Israel’s leaders answered “no” to that question. They made the wrong call. They saw the evidence, weighed it, and rejected it. May God help us learn from their blunder and do the opposite.
This morning, each and every one of us is being invited to answer “yes” to that question. Yes, he is the Son of David. Yes, Jesus is the Christ. Yes, he is the Son of God. Yes, he has the power to do all that he’s promised to do in my life and in our lives and in the world around us. Yes, God has graciously provided us a mountain of evidence to consider should we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Lord, help us not harden our hearts and make the wrong, life-defining call.
I want to encourage us all to respond with a “yes” this morning. Perhaps, for some of you, it is the first yes. You’ve never before made the decision to trust in Jesus, the Saviour of the world, for the salvation he’s offering you. This man cannot be the Son of David, can he? Answer with the first yes today.
For others here, you’re not being called to a first yes but a return yes. Over the past number of months or years you have strayed from God, your heart growing cold, sin progressively wrapping its life-strangling tentacles around areas of your life. Joy is fleeting, peace dying, anxiety rising. Maybe you’ve set out on your own instead of walking with the God who saved you. This man cannot be the Son of David, can he? Answer with a return yes today.
Finally, for many of us, we’re being called to the next yes. The Christian life is often about plodding along in faithfulness, trusting God to be the God he’s said he is and has proved himself to be over and over. We walk by faith, trusting him with our physical health, relationships, finances, families, dreams, and even our lives. This man cannot be the Son of David, can he? Answer with the next yes today.