St. Matthew 11:16-24
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” 20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “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. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Near the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus told a parable about a man who lent his vineyard to tenants. He sent servants to get his fruit. The tenants killed his servants (like God’s Old Testament people killed the prophets). He sent more servants; the same happened. The parable continues: Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son’ (Matt. 21:37). But they took this heir, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him (39).
Jesus speaks harshly to people in our text. “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….And you, Capernaum…if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
He’s saying that some of the most notoriously wicked cities in history compared favorably to the likes of them. God had destroyed Sodom with burning sulphur; but in comparison, it came out looking better than they did. That’s quite a statement.
It’s because Chorazin, and Bethsaida, and Capernaum had an even greater blessing from the Lord. His Son was among them. Jesus was preaching with heavenly authority, and was performing signs and wonders the likes of which the world has never seen. He was there to relieve them of the burden of their sins. The Old Testament Scriptures had amply foretold His coming.
Eh…They weren’t interested. They had a different plan; they would relieve the burden of their own sins by being good people who tried hard to obey the Law. By and large, they had rejected John the Baptist. He sat in prison now. They were rejecting Jesus.
Their behavior in the Temple is an example of it. Jesus goes into the Temple in our Gospel lesson to find sort of a business of religion thriving. He drives out those selling animals for the sacrifices, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” They were focused on something other than God’s coming Son. There was a worldliness about them. There was a works-righteous sense about them. God had sent His only-begotten Son that whoever believed in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16), and they were missing it!
Our theme this morning is renewed obedience.
Renewed. So we’re talking about God’s people who have wandered.
Tyre and Sidon, and Sodom hadn’t been cities filled with God’s people; they had been pagan Gentile cities. That kind of underscores Jesus’ harsh criticism of Chorazin and Bethsaida, and Capernaum, which were Jewish cities. They should have known how the Scriptures point to this Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. Their rejection of God’s Son represents a stunning mishandling of the precious grace of God. We think of Jesus’ parable. The land owner sends his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son' (Matt. 21:33-41). It wasn’t happening. The Jewish leaders were continually looking for a way to kill Him.
The reason we’re looking at a lesson like this is as a sort of self-check this morning. Are we wandering like they were? Are we mishandling the precious grace of God? Could Christ say the same to us? I’ve become fond of saying, What would it look like if we had become that?
It would look like is us being more interested in what the world says than in what God says. I was teaching a religion class in the high school the other day. In that study, we looked at a passage from Paul’s second letter to Timothy (4:3-4). He warns him: The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
It isn’t anything new. Eve became more interested in what the serpent was saying than in what God was saying. God’s people during the time of the Old Testament prophets heard God’s messengers, and then simply…eh… opted for a different message (Jeremiah 23:6). They didn’t like hearing that God was angry about their sins; so they just…turned the channel. They brought in the kind of prophets that would tell them what they wanted to hear. They brought in the kind of prophets that would say, “God doesn’t care how you live your lives. Do whatever makes you happy.” That’s this world’s message in a nutshell. Did God really say you have to do it His way, or else??? What about your way?
And our itching ears like to hear that message, don’t they?. We have the same sinful nature. We think that being free of God’s pesky commands will make us happy, like children who don’t want their parents telling them what to do.
Beyond that, we tire of the world hating us. We wonder what it would be like to just fit in and become part of the world, indistinguishable as God’s people. Nobody would be angry at us anymore. Nobody would be avoiding us. There wouldn’t be the awkwardness that people feel being around us, wondering if we’re going to lay some sort religious thing on them. We just join the crowd and stop worrying about it so much. Some Christian churches are doing that. Every time there’s some big issue in this world, they’re putting out some statement taking the world’s position on the matter. They’re saying, We’re like you! We don’t want you to think we’re like those Christians who are always pointing at the Bible. We understand the times! People have to be who they are! It’s like they’re saying, like us, like us, like us!!!!!!!
And we can’t be too critical of them; because that tempts us too, doesn’t it? We can understand why they’d want to sell out like that. They want to be liked! We wish too that we didn’t have to think anything was wrong. We’ve resented it, even, haven’t we? We’ve resented always having to be the ones saying, “But God’s Word says…” Maybe we’ve even resented it so much that we have opted for the easier way - the wide way of this world that seems to make us the good guys for once. And that sin is just as condemning as any other sin. Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Those are Jesus’ words (Matthew 10:33). If what matters to us is to be liked by the world, we have to consider ourselves to be with the world in terms of how God sees us too - still burdened by the guilt, that condemns us, and that Jesus died to remove from us; still facing hell’s punishment.
God be praised that our Savior never resented proclaiming God’s true Word, that He was never ashamed of the Gospel. We needed Him to be that way for us. We needed Him to accomplish perfectly what we could not accomplish.
He wasn’t swayed by others. That was said of Him in a mocking way one time, though the person was correct in the statement (Matthew 22:16). He couldn’t be persuaded that it might actually be smarter to go against what God says. We have been; but He couldn’t be. Doing God’s will was His priority; nothing was more important than it. His own comfort wasn’t more important. He didn’t care how awkward it could be. We do; but He didn’t. He put Himself in His Father’s hands, and He trusted in Him without fail.
As we think about renewing our obedience to God this morning, we rejoice in doing so. We are compelled by the Spirit because we know what our Savior has done for us. We know that it was God’s eternal plan to put Him in our place as the perfect one who carries the burden of our guilt. He is the One Who brought to the cross all of our sin and shame.
Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem in our Gospel lesson because they didn’t know the things that make for peace. We do. By God’s grace, we do. It’s this Savior, Jesus. “Peace on earth, good will toward men;” those words from the Christmas text are about Him. They are about the fact that He has put right what was wrong. He puts His perfection and His sacrifice between us and God Who was justly angry over our sins. Jesus is the One for Whom John the Baptist was preparing the way. He’s the One into Whom we are Baptized, and Who we receive for the remission of sins this morning in the Supper.
We are renewed by means of His powerful Word. This is the place we should be now, confessing our sins, and hearing His absolution (His pronouncement that every sin is forgiven in Christ our Savior). This is the right place for us to be, hearing this Word that strengthens us for lives in this world that can be difficult, hearing this Word through which the Spirit of God has enabled us to say “Jesus is Lord” for our salvation, and for the salvation of all who hear. God be praised. Amen.
Other Texts for the Sunday:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ 5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
St Luke 19:41-48
And when [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” 45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” 47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words.