“The Tree is Known by Its Fruit”

Jeremiah 7:7-10; Matthew 12:22-50
January 6, 219 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Dear Congregation of Christ: We have been studying the Gospel of Matthew for a few months now before we went into the Advent season. In the first eleven chapters, we read of many signs and wonders and miracles that Jesus performed before the crowds. He healed the blind, deaf, mute, paralytics, and raised the dead. But in between these miracles, Jesus taught the people on many subjects, notably the Sermon on the Mount.

Today, we will continue Chapter 12 which begins with Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath. This action provoked the Pharisees into accusing Jesus of breaking the Sabbath laws. But Jesus countered with three arguments: (1) healing a person is more important than observing the Sabbath; (2) the Sabbath was made for man; and (3) he is the Lord of the Sabbath. Then in verse 22, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. All the people who witnessed this miracle were amazed, but the Pharisees who hated Jesus were impossible to please. Their hatred for Jesus reached its height when they accused Jesus of being an associate of Satan.

Jesus again countered the Pharisees’ accusation by saying that Satan will not divide his own kingdom. And then he adds, “blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven,” a fearful saying that many Christians fail to understand. Later, Jesus also told them that a tree is known by its fruit. This morning, we will meditate this passage in two points based on what Jesus said to the hate-filled Pharisees.

A Bad Tree Bears Bad Fruit

We start with some sort of bad news that Jesus said, “Make the tree bad and its fruit bad.” Our passage has two of these bad news bad trees and fruits: the persistent unbelief of the Pharisees.

The first bad fruit is the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus casting out a demon from a blind and mute man. Instead of being amazed like all the other people who saw the miracle, they had evil words about Jesus. And what they were saying to each other made no sense to Jesus, who read their minds. They were saying that Jesus was able to cast out demons because he had power given to him by Beelzebul, “the prince of demons.” The name Beelzebul is associated with Baal, one of the chief pagan gods of the Canaanites. And since the Pharisees call him “the prince of demons,” it is clear that they were accusing Jesus as being a soldier of Satan’s kingdom.

But Jesus knew how unreasonable this accusation was, even impossible. How can demons cast out other demons belonging to the same kingdom? It would be like a civil war, with soldiers of the same nation fighting each other, until the whole nation is destroyed. Having destroyed the Pharisees’ accusation, Jesus tells them that he casts out demons through the power of the Holy Spirit. Then he adds a somewhat perplexing statement, “Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (verse 29).

What does he mean by this? Within the context, the “strongman” is Satan, and his house is his kingdom. In this kingdom dwell all Satan’s followers, those who reject and hate Jesus like the Pharisees. Jesus says that he is a “thief” who enters Satan’s house and binds him to “plunder his goods,” referring to those who belong to his house. Jesus was telling the Pharisees that together with his preaching, his signs and wonders will drive Satan’s followers away into the kingdom of Christ.

Then Jesus follows this difficult saying with another more difficult one. In verse 31-32, he says,

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

What was he saying here? This saying is more commonly known as the “unpardonable or unforgivable sin.” Many Christians are fearful of this saying, sometimes even doubting and asking themselves, “Have I committed the unpardonable sin?” when they sometimes doubt God or Christ. But what Jesus was referring to here is not the occasional doubt or lack of assurance. Notice in verse that the Pharisees “were saying,” not just “said.” So this sin is unforgivable because it is a persistent, knowing and deliberate rejection and hate of Jesus by people who has knowledge of what the Bible says of Christ: that he is the Divine Son of God who came down from heaven to save his people from sin. This was what the Pharisees were saying and doing.

Jesus says that all kinds of sins and blasphemies are forgivable. Even unbelief is forgivable, because can give faith and repentance to those whom he has chosen. Who was the best example of a blasphemer and unbeliever? It was the Apostle Paul himself, who said, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 13-14)). God was so merciful and gracious to him that he gave Paul faith and repentance to be saved and become the greatest Apostle to the world. He sinned greatly against Jesus by persecuting Christians, so Christ asked him on the road to Damascus, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:5)

But now, Jesus was telling the Pharisees that what they were saying was an unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. How? Jesus told them that he is able to perform signs and wonders and miracles only through the power of the Spirit. So when the Pharisees said that he was doing them through the power of Satan, they were attributing the works of the Spirit to the devil. They have personally seen and heard all that Jesus was preaching and doing as the Messiah, yet, in their unbelief, they say that Jesus was sent by Satan. This is the unpardonable sin: accusing Jesus as an agent of Satan in persistent, knowing, deliberate unbelief and hate.

A second bad fruit of the Pharisees is repeatedly asking for a sign. Right after Jesus healed the demon-possessed man, the scribes and Pharisees once more asked Jesus for a sign. Remember when Jesus fed more than 5,000 people with two fish and seven loaves of bread? Immediately after that, they asked Jesus for “a sign from heaven” (Matt 16:1). There was no satisfying these unbelievers. There is no satisfying unbelievers who have heard the gospel of Jesus, have knowledge of the Bible, have seen evidences of its truth in the lives of people and in the world. Yet they are persistent in their unbelief and rebellion. You can tell them all the truths of the Bible and evidences from the lives of many Christians, yet they continue in their unbelief. Such are the Pharisees of today.

So Jesus condemns the Pharisees as an “evil and adulterous generation” and refused to give them what they wanted to see. Instead, Jesus tells the Pharisees that the Ninevites – unclean Gentiles – who believed and repented after Jonah preached the gospel to them will condemn them on Judgment Day. Jesus tells them that Jonah was a picture or a type of Christ: Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, so Jesus would be in the heart of the earth for three days, referring to his death. Then Jesus adds that the Queen of Sheba – another unclean Gentile – who came to King Solomon to give tribute to the wisest, most powerful and richest man on earth will also condemn the Pharisees on Judgment Day. But Jesus says that the Pharisees are like demons who are persistent in their wickedness, persistently bringing other demons to resist Christ the Greater Jonah and the Greater Solomon.

So Jesus says to them, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (verse 34). The Pharisees’ evil thoughts against Jesus came out as blasphemy against the Spirit. So whatever is in our hearts comes out of our mouths. The slip of the tongue is not an accident, because whatever is in our thoughts eventually comes out in words. This is why even an evil thought is a sin because it shows in our evil words and deeds. The newly-inaugurated Muslim Congresswoman from Michigan who cursed the President with a profanity that only despicable people utter will be judged by her words. There is a Facebook page called, “I Hate Jesus,” where the owner and all comments are profanities against God and Christ. In one post, he says, “I’d feel better burning in hell than chilling with the dude who created the place.”

The prophet Jeremiah perfectly diagnoses the human heart as “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” This is the state of the Pharisees’ hearts and all unbelieving hearts. There is no cure for this cancer, except faith and trust in Jesus as God and Savior. So God says, “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jer 7:7-10). Everyone will give an account of all that he says on Judgment Day.

A Good Tree Bears Good Fruit

Though the scribes and Pharisees were bad trees that bore bad fruits, there were some who were good trees that bore good fruits.

The first “good tree” are those who wondered, “Can this be the Son of David?” after they saw the healing miracle by Jesus. They were better than the Pharisees because they started thinking that Jesus might be the Messiah they had been waiting for many centuries. There were many others who recognized Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah.

The Samaritan woman at the well who had a conversation with Jesus was better, because she told the whole village, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). A Canaanite woman pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David” (Matt 15:22). Many others who pleaded with Jesus to heal them recognized him as the Messiah. So Peter and the other apostles declared to him, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). Satan knows him as the Son of God (Matt 4:3, 6), so a demon knew as well, saying to Jesus, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7) Therefore, in this way, demons are in better state than all unbelievers who reject Jesus as God and Savior.

A second “good tree” are those who today continue the plundering of Satan’s goods through the preaching of the true gospel. They deliver people from sin, Satan and eternal death. Paul says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14; Eph 6:12). Christians in China and other parts of Asia, the Middle East and Africa suffer and are even martyred for preaching the gospel. They will receive their reward in heaven for bearing good fruits.

The third “good tree” are those who are members of Jesus’ family. These are not his blood relatives, but those who have been given faith and repentance by the Spirit and therefore believe in Christ as God and Savior. In verses 46-50, a man pointed to Jesus his family: his mother Mary and his brothers who stood outside the place where he was teaching. But Jesus asked the man, “But who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Jesus told the man that his disciples are his family. This passage is used by Roman Catholics to teach that Mary was a Perpetual Virgin, having had no sexual relationship with her husband Joseph. But the context of this passage is so clear that not even a little child can miss. In addition, we read in Matthew 1:25 concerning the birth of Jesus that Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son.” The word “know” in this context in all Scripture refers to sexual relationship between a husband and wife (see also Gen 4:1, 17, 25).

However, what Jesus was teaching here is not that he has no physical mother and brothers. He was teaching about his spiritual family, his disciples who truly believe in him as God and Savior. So he says, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Those who do signs and wonders, but are actually only pretenders in the faith, are not his family. He says the same thing in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus loves his spiritual family, “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb 2:11). Therefore, on Judgment Day, he will say to the sheep, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40). These are Christians who helped and treated their fellow Christians well, and who will enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, Paul exhorts us, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). As good trees, we bear good fruits of faith, especially to our brothers and sisters in the church.

Dear friends, are you a good tree bearing good fruits? Our Catechism reading today stresses the importance of good works. They show our thankfulness and praise to God for our salvation. They are evidences that testify of our true faith to others. And they assure us that we have true faith.

Jesus also taught about good and bad trees and good and bad fruits in the Sermon on the Mount. He warned of false teachers bearing bad fruits, saying, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” Their judgment is to be cut down and thrown into the fire (Matt 7:15-20). May we as Jesus’ brothers and sisters and God’s household strive to always be courteous and kind to others in our words and deeds.

Related posts