ACKNOWLEDGE CHRIST BEFORE AN OPPOSING WORLD
by Esther Powell
In these powerful words, Jesus draws a line between saving faith and ongoing unbelief. He begins with encouragement to those who profess faith in Christ before others, on earth. They are acknowledged before the angels of God. He encourages those who, in a moment of fear and weakness like Peter, “speak a word against” the Son of Man. Peter’s denial of his relationship to Christ was not a denial of Christ as Savior. Peter had confessed his belief in Christ, and confident in his own strength, proclaimed that he would go to death for Jesus. He did not realize how weak his faith was, and how, in the face of possible arrest and torture, he could not publicly acknowledge (admit) that he was a follower of Christ. Jesus had warned him of this temptation under which he would fall. John 21 records Jesus’ loving restoration of Peter to fellowship.
Jesus’ words concerning the Holy Spirit are more difficult. While a teen, I was taught the Bible by a wise, elderly pastor. We asked him, after reading this passage, how we would know if we had committed the “unforgivable sin.” He replied, “If you have committed the unforgivable sin, you won’t be worried about it.” He said that those who blaspheme (curse, revile, or despise) the Holy Spirit have no desire, or feel the need, to be forgiven. Like the Pharisees and lawyers, to whom Jesus was most directly speaking, one might be filled with religious knowledge, yet not believe in Christ as the God-Man, come to save us from sin. The Pharisees attributed Jesus’ power to heal to the devil. They called Jesus himself “Beelzebul,” a name for the devil. (Matthew 10:25) They resisted the conviction of sin, and their need for a Savior. So, Jesus says those who continually refuse to believe in Christ as Savior “will not be forgiven.” This is not to say that one who blasphemes can never repent and be forgiven. Paul, the great apostle of Jesus Christ relates how he was once a “blasphemer, persecutor, an insolent opponent.” (I Timothy 1:13) But, Jesus’ words give the lie to modernity’s idea that in the end everyone will be OK, no matter whether they believe in Christ or not.
Jesus’ final words are full of assurance for us as we wonder how well we will stand for Christ in our day, with a message which is unequivocal in its radical claims. We cannot tell others that as long as they live a good life, they’ll be fine with God. We may one day face angry opponents, and persecutors of Christians, people who hate Christ. How will we respond? The Holy Spirit will give us, even as he gave Jesus, “in that very hour” what we need to say.
Father, thank you for reconciling us to yourself, in Christ. Because of him, we are known before the angels in heaven. Thank you for sending Your Holy Spirit, who will give us all we need to say when asked about the reason for our faith. Strengthen us to be bold to speak about Christ without wavering. Amen.
Esther Powell has been a member of The Falls Church (Anglican) for 40 years. She and Charlie have worked in education and missions in the USA, Europe, and Asia.