Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus Judged by ... His Neighbours

Sun, 15/05/2016 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

There’s no doubting it. Having young children is exhausting. Most parents of young children have a fairly long wish list; but rest is fairly high up the list for most of us.

The promise of rest

The Bible reading we had comes from Matthew chapter 11. If you’ve got the Bible open, just glance to the end of the chapter, the climax the chapter is heading to. Verse 28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” I defy any new parent to say to me that that is not immensely appealing.

Actually, we all experience what Jesus is talking about. The feeling of being weary and burdened is one that we all recognise. It’s not just the preserve of new parents. And for those of us who feel weary and burdened, Jesus invites us to come to him. Come to him, and he will give us rest.

We are going to come back next week to look properly at the closing verses of Matthew chapter 11. Today, we are just looking at verses 20 to 24. But we need to start with Jesus’s promise of rest at the end of the chapter, if we are to hear today’s verses correctly. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I’m afraid to say that Jesus is not promising time out to sleep-deprived parents. But that’s because  he’s promising something bigger, something far more wonderful. For those who are burdened with the cares of life. For those who are tired of our inability to be the people we want to be. Drained at the way we keep on hurting others, even those we love, with our selfish acts, with our thoughtless deeds. Exhausted from living in a broken world. Tired out from the way that even routine tasks can be so much effort. Weary of the treadmill of life.

If any of that is you, and I’m sure it is, then Jesus promises us rest. If only we will come to him. And as I say, more next week.

Can Jesus deliver?

But even the little taster that I have given us today of what Jesus is offering us here, true, real, rest –is enough to make us long for this to be true. And it’s also enough to make us wonder if he can really deliver. Is Jesus really powerful enough to solve the big problems of life, to move the obstacles out of the way, so that we can know true, real, rest?

You hear politicians promise you the earth. You see a TV advert for a new line of clothing, fragrance, gadgets, whatever it is. Your life will be so much better with this. And we rightly ask: “Really? Are you sure?” Anyone can claim anything. But are they for real?

God had promised over many centuries that one day he would send a hero. Someone who would come and fix everything that is broken in the world. Remove all the sadness. Making everything good and wonderful. And John was wondering: Is Jesus this promised hero?

A man called John the Baptist was wondering if Jesus was this promised hero. So he sent messenger to Jesus to ask him. And Jesus said this in reply: Verse 4: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Jesus’s miracles are the answer. Jesus had been doing exactly the things that the Old Testament had said God’s hero-rescuer would he do when he came. He is the one they had all been waiting for. He is the one to fix the broken world. He is the one who can bring the true, real, rest that we all long for.

If you want to know that Jesus is for real, look at his miracles.

But there’s a problem with that. We can’t. We’re too late. Lucky them! Living when they did, they got to meet Jesus in person. They were there when he fed the 5000. They saw him walk on the water. They could have lunch with someone that Jesus had raised from the dead only the week before. But that was then, and this is now. How are we supposed to believe? We don’t even get to see these miracles that are supposed to convince us!

Good question! The question that today’s Bible reading is going to answer.

We think they were the lucky ones. They got to see all the miracles. If we had been in their shoes, we would believe. But it doesn’t work that way. The people who saw most of Jesus’s miracles turned out to be the stoniest ground. The most stubborn. The most unbelieving. The most unconvinced. Verse 20: “Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.”

The crowds that saw more miracles than anybody else did not believe him, did not repent.

Worse for you than for them

So Jesus denounces those cities. “Woe to you!”, he says.

The word “woe” is one of those ancient sounding words, that I at least associate with weird religious enthusiasts. It’s the kind of word you’d expect to see carried down Oxford Street on a sandwich board.

It’s a very simple word, and a very powerful one. It’s simple. It just means “things are going to go very, very badly for you indeed”. But it’s a very powerful one. It’s packed with emotion. Jesus is not reading the football scores, careful to avoid any feeling or expression. He’d have had tears in his eyes as he said this. With deep sorrow, with real grief, he tells these cities just what trouble they are in for rejecting him. If only it were otherwise.

Jesus compares.

In Old Testament times, there were cities famous for how wicked they were. Tyre and Sidon were known for their arrogance. No time for God. They’re the greatest! Sodom was known for its endless pursuit of pleasure, for its violence and how inhospitable it was. God had warned and judged these cities. And rightly so.

And Jesus says that the cities of his day are in a worse place. “Woe to you, Chorazin!” “Woe to you, Bethsaida!” “Woe to you, Capernaum!” You’re in a very bad way indeed. Why?

Verse 21: “For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Verse 23: “For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.”

This means it will be wonderfully fair when God judges the world.

You watch trials in our courts here. Sometimes they collapse. Lack of evidence. A key witness withdraws. Sometimes someone gets acquitted when you’re sure they must have been guilty. But were they? Or someone goes down for a life sentence, and 5 years later there’s new evidence that clears their name. Criminal justice is such a complex thing. When is justice done?

Jesus tells us what it’s like with God. He’s totally fair, and he’s totally just. God knows each of us to the core of our being. He knows our thoughts and our attitudes. He can see what we would have done in a different situation. If Jesus’ miracles had been done in Tyre, Sidon, Sodom – they’d have repented, changed direction, and God’s punishment would have been avoided.

Not only does God know what we would have done in a different situation. God is also able to take all of that into account when he judges us, to make sure his judgement is totally fair.

So take the cities in Old Testament times: Tyre. Sidon. Sodom. God was right to punish them. They did some wicked things. But then take the cities of Jesus’ day: Chorazin. Bethsaida. Capernaum. They were even more wicked. They were stubborn. They were in a situation that would have led Tyre and Sidon to change tracks. But not Capernaum or Chorazin. Even then, they did not respond to Jesus.

And God’s judgement is fair. Verse 22: “It will be more bearable to Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgement than for you.” Verse 24: “It will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you.” When God punishes someone, it’s always exactly appropriate for what they’ve done wrong. God is never disproportionate. Which means that the cities Jesus spent his time in are in deep trouble indeed. Which is why Jesus weeps. It’s why Jesus says: “Woe!” “Woe to you, Chorazin!” “Woe to you, Bethsaida!”

Two people are pulled over by the police for using a handheld mobile phone while driving. One person has recently arrived in the UK. Originally from a country where it’s quite legal to phone whilst driving. The other is a high court judge, who knows the law inside out. Both have broken the law. Both need to face the consequences for their actions. But you hope they’d come down much harder on the high court judge. He knew what he was doing. Whereas the other guy – if he’d known it wasn’t allowed, he’d never have made that call.

Where that leaves us 1: Greater judgement

We need to turn to think where this leaves us today. We’ve come some way from the wonderful offer of rest that Jesus holds out to us. So let’s bring things back to where we began, and ask where we fit into all this.

There are two things to say.

Firstly, we’re in a place of greater judgement.

Jesus offered people rest. But, even though all the evidence backed up his claims, lots of people rejected him.

Just pause to think how blessed we are. We live in Great Britain. A country whose laws and customs have been shaped by the teachings of Jesus over many centuries.

Our Queen recently said this: “In my first Christmas broadcast in 1952, I asked the people of the Commonwealth and Empire to pray for me as I prepared to dedicate myself to their service at my Coronation. I have been – and remain – very grateful to you for your prayers and to God for his steadfast love. I have indeed seen his faithfulness.”

Every village, every town has a church within striking distance. Every Christmas, every Easter, we hear the Christian story in the plays and services put on by our schools. Most of us went to schools were hymns were sung, the Lord’s Prayer said, and Bible stories retold.

Many of us have been baptised. We’ve been signed up as card-carrying followers of Jesus since we were babies. Many of us come to church every Sunday, or maybe once a month. What a privilege to be here this morning, singing again of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, listening to his word, praying to him.

Jesus visited towns. Spent a few weeks there. Did some miracles. We have had Jesus’ influence in our lives every week, every month, every year – for decades of our lives. How privileged we are!

So let’s misquote Spiderman. With great privilege comes great responsibility. If we’ve been this exposed to Jesus and his ways, and yet we’re unchanged. Then we’re in deep trouble. Woe is us! We’re in a far worse position than the towns Jesus visited, to say nothing of the towns God punished in Old Testament times.

This life is not all there is. There is a judgement to come. We really don’t want to turn up at the judgement unforgiven. With the privilege we’ve had, with the exposure to the person of Jesus –we’d have no excuse at all.

We’re in a place of greater judgement.

Where that leaves us 2: Greater rescue

But that’s not the only thing to say about where we fit into this.

We’re also in a place of greater rescue.

You see: Where do we turn? There’s going to be a judgement, and it’s going to be perfectly fair. None of us can plead ignorance as an excuse. What chance have we got? How could any of us ever be good enough?

The answer is that we can’t. But Jesus was and Jesus is.

Having seen how we have no excuse whatever before God, it’s all the more wonderful when we see how he stepped in to rescue us. When Jesus died on the cross, he swapped places with us. The sky went black. He suffered in agony, because he was suffering in the shoes of everyone who would ever take him up on the offer.

The only question is whether we’ll take him up on the offer or not.

The towns of his day did not. They saw many miracles to prove that he was the one God had sent to rescue them from the judgement to come. But they refused to repent. They refused to turn their lives around, to go in Jesus’ direction. They carried on as if nothing had happened.

But we don’t need to repeat their mistake. Jesus says to each and every one of us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

He invites us to come to him. To repent. That means to turn around and go in the opposite direction. To live in line with the wonderful rescue that Jesus came to bring. And to allow him to take from our shoulders the burden of all the things we’ve done wrong. And to bring us rest.

We all long for a rest. We’re all weary of life in a broken world. We’re all burdened by our failures, to live up to our own expectations, never mind God’s.

Jesus is the one who came to bring us the rest we long for. All the evidence points to his offer being for real.

So, he says: “Come to me!”

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