Sometimes I will hear people say, "I like to think of Jesus as a good teacher, but I don't think we need to believe that he died for our sins." Or, "I like the words of Jesus, but I don't like the blood of the cross." I think that those statements can only be made by someone who has not actually read the New Testament. In the passage we have today, we see five warnings and a promise that Jesus will enter death and rise again after spending 3 days and nights "in the heart of the earth." (v. 40) This is the promise of the atonement on the cross and his resurrection. Here is a quick summary of the warnings:
(i.) "Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" [v. 22-32] The pharisees saw the power of Jesus demonstrated by the Holy Spirit, but instead they attributed the miracles to the power of Satan. (A much feared verse by many Christians, this is best viewed as a warning: today, the Spirit continues to offer evidence of the divinity of Christ, if we persist in rejecting the evidence we will be lost.)
(ii.) "Every careless word" [v. 33-37] Our words reveal the state our hearts and we will give account before God for every careless word.
(iii.) "The sign of Jonah" [v. 38-42] Jesus again speaks of the final judgment and refuses to give a gratuitous sign to the Pharisees, offering them only the evidence of his resurrection - the "sign of Jonah."
(iv.) "The empty house" [v. 43-45] Jesus uses the language of demon possession to describe a person who has cast our terrible things in repentance, but fails to have a life centered on faith. The demons return to find the house empty and the situation in the end is worse than before. The conclusion: moral reform without true faith is no good.
(v.) "True family" [v. 46-50] Even the mothers and brothers of Jesus cannot claim special connection to his power. Only those who are true disciples and who do the will of the father will be saved. Our family connections cannot save us.
This is hard teaching. The words of Jesus give us five crushing warnings, but the deeds of Jesus give us our only hope. If all we had was the teaching of Jesus, we would be doomed. Praise be to God, we have the ministry of Jesus. He stood in our place and bore the weight of our sin upon the cross. In his resurrection from the dead he was vindicated and pardon is assured for all who put their trust in him. After three days and nights in the heart of the earth Jesus rose from the dead that we might share in his righteousness. -MK