MATTHEW 12:24 (part one)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:24 (Holman) When the Pharisees heard this, they said, “The man
drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.”
The crowd’s interest in Jesus made the Pharisees panic. Feeling their grip on the masses loosening, they envied Jesus (MT 27:18). His waxing moon made theirs wane. They could not tolerate the crowd embracing one who faulted them.
In the crowd’s indecision about Jesus, the Pharisees saw their opportunity to strike. Pouncing quickly, they started poisoning the well against Jesus.
John the Baptist had been willing to let go, to release fame and position for Jesus (John 3:30). The Pharisees refused to do likewise. They loved their reputation and craved the renown. It fed their pride and filled their purses.
Beware addiction to fame and approval. If we bind our happiness to applause, we lose our gladness when the clapping begins to be directed elsewhere.
Don’t live on the praise and acceptance of others. Popularity, position, prestige, renown, power – they can all be addicting.
Some people hate it and become bitter when they are eclipsed by another. This brought about the downfall of Benedict Arnold. When men younger and of lower rank were promoted above him, he turned traitor. Beware envy.
Many lives are ruined near their end by an unwillingness to leave center stage. Some athletes and actors can’t walk away from the crowds, some business people can’t retire, some pastors are unable to step aside when the time comes.
Historians say the distinct characteristic that made Washington our dearest USA hero was his ability to release power. He resigned as commander of the army, when to do otherwise would have made him king. He refused to run a third time for President, when to do otherwise would have made him President for life.
We admire people who find fulfillment in the simpler, less public, things of life. Cincinnatus left plowing his fields to lead an army in rescuing Rome. When done, he could have ruled, but returned to his farm instead. Harry Truman kept the common touch, finding fulfillment in something other than outward trappings.
Take the circle test often. Draw an imaginary circle around your feet. In your mind’s eye push everything and everyone outside the circle, and ponder, “Is all well inside the circle, is knowing Jesus all I need, am I okay in my walk with Him?” Once this is settled, bring back into the circle what you pushed out.
The Pharisees, having not taken the circle test, based their self-esteem and self-worth on things unspiritual and outside themselves. Don’t repeat their error.
The Pharisees knew if Jesus’ miracles were deemed legitimate, the people would believe He was Messiah. One of their own, Nicodemus, had privately confessed to Jesus, “We know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him” (John 3:2b).
The Pharisees were on the horns of a dilemma. No one could deny the reality of Jesus’ miracles. They were too many too spectacular too often to refute. Lives were being changed, illnesses healed, the evidence was clear and irrefutable.
Not even Jesus’ worst and bitterest enemies ever expressed doubt about His miracles actually happening. His foes could have immediately and forever ended His influence had they been able to prove any one of His miracles to be trickery.
The Pharisees had another problem. His miracles were not only irrefutable, but also too powerful for human agency. The Pharisees knew they were dealing with a man obviously in touch with huge numbers of influential unseen powers.
Formal religionists, casual church-goers, and the irreligious don’t know how to respond to people in obvious touch with the unseen realm. Unbelievers are nonplused when trying to explain someone who displays a personal relationship with God that manifests itself in power, peace, and purpose.
Evangelist Mordecai Ham saw 300,000 people, including Billy Graham, come to Jesus in his crusades. Ham used a novel method in his crusades. In each city he learned who the most notorious sinner was and tried to win them to Jesus.
In one town the most hardened atheist was told the fiery preaching Ham was coming. Not knowing what to expect, he ran into his cornfield to get away. The evangelist went hunting for him and found him hiding under a corn shock.
Cowered and taken aback, the atheist asked, “What are you going to do with me?” “I’m going to ask God to kill you! You don’t believe God exists. If there is no God, then my prayers can’t hurt you. But if there is a God, you deserve to die because you are making atheists out of your children and grandchildren.”
Terrified, the atheist begged him not to pray that way. Ham counter-offered, “Very well then, I shall ask God to save you.” He was saved, and before the crusade ended, all the atheist’s family had been baptized – forty of them!
This world has trouble dealing with a person who interacts with another world. This is precisely the type of people we believers are meant to be–oddities, show-stoppers, attention arresters, unexplainable apart from holy spiritual power.
Jim Elliott, missionary martyr, well said, “Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to a decision. Let me not be a milepost on a side road, make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.”
This describes the crossroad the Pharisees were facing in Jesus. Dazed, outflanked, and outmaneuvered, they were being forced to decide, to think fast.
Unfortunately, they would not tolerate any notion that Jesus’ power came from God. Thus they were left with only one other reasonable explanation for the miracles. His supernatural power, if not from God, came from Satan. Jesus, they said, had made a secret compact with Satan, and ordered evil spirits because He was their Master. He who is Truth was said to be in cahoots with the father of lies.
Their preposterous argument breaks down under its own twisted logic. “All Jesus’ miracles are good. Only two power sources are available to Him, one good, one evil. We choose to attribute His good miracles to the evil power source.”
The only redeeming virtue of this inane explanation was it at least admitted the supernatural was present. The possibility of miracles was acknowledged. Their explanation confessed the impossibility of explaining Jesus in natural terms.
The miraculous was obvious to the Pharisees, yet they refused to believe in Jesus. Their silly explanation was the last foothold of obstinate unbelief. Their refusal to accept undeniable but unwelcome realities was a last resort of prejudice so blatant that it would spout out an absurdity rather than yield to strong evidence.
The same tragedy unfolds before us everyday. Unbelievers explain away dramatic changes they hear about in Christian testimonies. The lost attribute them to the power of psychological trickery or to the power of suggestion or self-help.
The irreligious explain away miracles as flukes in nature or as being due to yet undiscovered causes. They will attribute the extraordinary to any raving mad hypothesis to keep from having to confess Christ and surrender to Him as Lord.
Rationalizations to explain away our faith are often wild and harebrained. “It is more difficult to believe the explanation than the alternative which it is framed to escape. So it is always. The difficulties of faith are small by comparison with those of unbelief, gnats beside camels” (Maclaren).
Unbeliever, do you lack faith due to a lack of evidence, or a lack of desire? Is the real sticking point intellectual or moral? Don’t make the Pharisees’ mistake.