11th March 2023
Read (Matthew 11v16-24)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
One of the errors we can make is imagining Christ's ministry as a universally popular affair. We tell ourselves that it was only the "baddies" like the Romans and Pharisees who couldn't be bothered with Jesus. But this statement isn't accurate and the truth is somewhat different. Jesus compared His generation to children in a marketplace playing a game of weddings and funerals (v16). These children called out "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn." (v17).
How are we to understand this image? When John the Baptist came he lived a simple lifestyle neither eating nor drinking and the people of his day said he was demon possessed (v18). When Jesus came eating and drinking they called Him a glutton and a drunkard and criticised Him for spending time with tax collectors and sinners (v19).
So Jesus characterised His generation as children who were never happy. They gurned about John's fasting and they gurned about Christ's feasting with sinners. They missed what was in front of their faces and the majority rejected the message of the Gospel. Rather than receiving the message of the Kingdom, Christ's generation played a foolish game of criticising the lifestyle of both John and Jesus.
But the deeds of both men put the wisdom of God on full display (v19). Neither played games in order to draw a crowd and neither pandered to their generation by striving to keep everyone happy. Instead both John and Jesus declared the Gospel by the foolishness of preaching and Jesus underlined it with mighty acts. Tragically it still wasn't enough to convince the critical crowd.
Therefore Jesus called "woe" upon the cities where He had performed His mighty works. He said “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you." (v21-22)
Tyre and Sidon were cities often denounced in the Old Testament for their worship of the false god Baal. Amazingly Jesus said it would be easier in the final judgement for such pagan cities than for cities like Chorazin and Bethsaida who had witnessed Christ's ministry and rejected Him. Jesus was certain that the pagan cities would have repented in response to His ministry whilst the Jewish cities preferred to criticise and critique the Lord.
Similarly Jesus compared Capernaum with Sodom. The famous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were known centres of wickedness. Indeed as Lot welcomed two angels into his home, the inhabitants of Sodom came to his door wishing to rape the angelic visitors (Genesis 19). Nevertheless Jesus said that if He had done mighty works in Sodom then the city would have remained to His day (v23). Sodom wouldn't have been destroyed because Sodom would have repented in response to Christ.
Sadly Capernaum did not repent and instead of being exalted to heaven Christ predicted that they would be brought down to Hell. It will be easier for the land of Sodom on the last day than for Capernaum who witnessed the mighty acts of Christ and turned their backs on the Son of Man.
To let ourselves off the hook we might be tempted to say that if we had the earth shattering ministry of Christ in Ballynahinch then we would surely have repented. But brothers and sisters, Jesus speaks in our town every single week. He sets His table for us and He pours out the waters of baptism. He has torn the curtain in two and we can draw near in prayer.
What is our response to such a bounty? We gurn that the sermon is too long. We complain that we don't like the hymns. We moan about the issue of the day before moving to something else tomorrow. We reject the true use of the Lord's day and we go climbing the Mournes instead. We have become bored with the things of God and like little magpies we are in search of the latest shiny thing.
My friends we have not been left starving. Jesus is at work in our churches in wonderful ways that sadly we have decided to reject. I fear that our generation are like little children in a marketplace playing silly games when we have the serious things of God at our fingertips.
May God have mercy on our rebellious hearts and on the final day may we not be found in Chorazin, Bethsaida or Capernaum but Zion.
Q98 What is prayer? Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.