It’s hard to know what to pray for when it comes to the war happening in Ukraine. The images on TV and the stories of the pain, suffering, and fear are overwhelming. Maybe you, too, have struggled with how to pray for Ukraine. Maybe not. Don’t get me wrong, I have been praying. I’ve been praying for the Church in Ukraine to stand strong in the power of Jesus. I am praying for God to receive glory. I am praying for protection for the innocent. I am praying for peace and an end to the war. I think those are appropriate and biblical prayers. I wonder what God would have me pray for, though.
The other day I was reminded of Jesus’s words in Matthew, and it has an unlikely connection, at least in my mind, to the crisis in Eastern Europe.
And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. -Matthew 12:31-32
What is so bad that even God is unwilling or unable to forgive?! It’s a daunting question. I think we can get so caught up in that statement that we miss the statements surrounding it. “Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven…” Did you catch that? Every kind of sin. All of it. God can forgive anything you’ve done and anything you will do. Jesus says that we can speak against him and even that is forgivable! God’s love is unsurpassed and awesome. It’s endless.
However, there’s this bothersome part of the passage, as well. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. Yikes! This makes me want to find out exactly what that is and be sure I avoid it at all costs! To understand this, we need to understand the role of the Spirit of God.
The Spirit fills us with all wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (John 14:26)
The Spirit is something that God puts on us to empower us for his works (Judges 14:6)
The Spirit restores and sustains us for salvation (Psalm 51:10-12)
The Spirit brings God’s justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 12:18)
The Spirit guides us in all truth (John 16:13)
The Spirit testifies to the truth about Jesus (John 15:26)
The Spirit is God’s gift which comes with faith and forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38)
If we are to blaspheme (speak against, reject, turn away from) the Holy Spirit then we are rejecting the very transformative power of God. If we reject the work of the Holy Spirit then we reject the gift of God… Jesus. At that point, there is no other way we might be saved.
What does this have to do with the crisis in Ukraine? What I see Jesus teaching in Matthew 12 is that you cannot separate God’s love from his justice. God can forgive anything. Jesus’s sacrifice is enough! God also must exact justice for sin. So, I find myself this week praying for the people of Ukraine to come to know the insurmountable love of God. I pray that the Church in Ukraine would shine a light for hurting people. I pray that Jesus followers everywhere would be an example of love, compassion, forgiveness, and generosity. But I also pray for God to deal with evil. I pray for God, by all possible means, to protect his people and to not allow these atrocities to go unchecked. Justice is God’s domain. I trust him to do what only he can do to end this war.
I still struggle a bit with Jesus’s words in Matthew 12. That’s ok. I struggle with what’s happening in Europe, too. I just keep praying and trusting God to insert his power into this situation that he would receive glory and praise for his great acts of love and his powerful acts of justice.
Praying with you,
Lead Pastor, White Oak Christian Church