Spiritual Childishness

16"To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: 17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

20Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 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. 22But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

In chapters 11 and 12, the Gospel writer Matthew is presenting episodes in Jesus’ life where He asserts His authority as the Son of God. Earlier in chapter 11, Jesus answered John the Baptist’s query whether Jesus is "the one who was to come" (meaning, the Messiah and Savior of the children of Israel). Jesus answered in the affirmative, and gave as evidence works from His life that fulfilled prophecy. Beginning in verse 20 of chapter 11, Jesus will assert His authority as the Son of God by denouncing those who reject Him.

First though, in preparation for that denunciation, Jesus speaks of the fickleness of the people: "To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions" (vss. 16-19). Jesus finds fault with the people for criticizing both Him and John the Baptist. The people criticized John because he was too reclusive; they criticized Jesus because He was not reclusive enough. In this way, they were childish. Essentially, because they did not get their "way", they criticized. God’s servants did not live up to the peoples’ expectations, so the people rejected God! Nothing could please them.

And attitudes towards God’s servants have not changed. "Let a minister, or other active Christian, be grave and serious, and people will at once complain of him as sour or dull; let him be cheerful, and they will say, ‘Entirely too much levity’" [Broadus, 246]. When a minister speaks out against sin, he is a prude. When he shows love towards sinners, he is a hypocrite. No matter what he does, he is misjudged and rejected. Ministers must keep in mind that they will not be judged by God based on the criticism by the people. As Jesus said: "But wisdom is proved right by her actions" (vs. 19).

Jesus’ rebuke of the people’s childishness becomes sharper, as He denounces those who have not repented: "Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 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. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you" (vss. 20-22). "Gracious as is the Son of man in His exhibition of Himself as the friend of publicans and sinners, He can also insist upon repentance, and threaten judgments upon the impenitent as severely as John himself; yea, more vigorously and severely than he, since He is Himself the judge" [Spier, in Broadus, 246].

Jesus goes out of His way to denounce the cities "in which most of His miracles had been performed." His emphasis on these cities reinforces the fact that knowledge brings responsibility. "It is clear that Jesus had performed a number of miracles, mostly works of healing, and He expected those who saw them to recognize them for what they were, signs that God was at work in their midst" [Morris, 287]. "Some cities were more favored with the Lord’s presence than others, and therefore He looked for more from them… The more men hear and see of the Lord’s work, the greater is their obligation to repent. Where most is given most is required" [Spurgeon, 140]. For those of us who live in America, we should take special note of this. Our nation was founded by Christians, and we have no shortage of Christian churches. If we choose not to repent, will we not be judged all the more severely?

The importance of knowledge in determining the extent of judgment is underscored also by the cities Jesus compares to those He denounces. "Tyre and Sidon" were regarded by the children of Israel as wicked "despisers of God" [Calvin, 15]. They are mentioned often as recipients of God’s judgment due to their idol worship and other wicked deeds (see Isa. 23; Ezek. 26-28; Joel 3:4; Amos 1:9-10; Zech. 9:2-4). And then "Sodom", of course, is well known to many people, Jews and Gentiles, as an archetype of sin. Many Jews of Jesus’ time thought "themselves safe for eternity because they were Abraham’s descendants, and looked down with contempt upon all Gentiles" [Broadus, 248]. How shocking it must have been for them to come out on the short side of a comparison to the worst of Gentile cities!

What also is surprising in this passage is what Jesus, who is all-knowing, tells us about the response the wicked cities would have had to seeing these same miracles. Tyre and Sidon "would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." And Sodom, wicked Sodom, would not have been destroyed in judgment, but "would have remained to this day." The question one might ask: why then did not God reveal Himself to Tyre, Sidon and Sodom in a way that would have brought about repentance? This is the mystery of God’s sovereignty in election. "According to our Lord’s declaration, God gave the opportunity where it was rejected, and it was not given where it would have been accepted. This is true, but how mysterious!" [Spurgeon, 141]. Though God’s choices in election may be mysterious to us, there is nothing unjust about them. God does not owe special revelation of Himself to anyone. And indeed, God is revealed day by day, even minute by minute, to us all in a myriad of ways through His creation.

One more thing: as mentioned, the cities denounced here are the ones where "most of His miracles had been performed." We know a fair amount about Capernaum, which was essentially Jesus’ home town (see Matt. 4:13), and we also have a record of some of the miracles that Jesus performed there (see Matt. 8:5ff; Mark 1:21ff; John 4:46ff). We know a little about Bethsaida, which was the home town of Philip, Andrew and Peter (see John 12:21), and we have a record of a few miracles that Jesus performed there (see Mark 8:22; Luke 9:10). However, we know absolutely nothing about "Korazin", and yet by Jesus’ own words, many of His miracles were performed there. This underscores the fact that the narratives in the Gospels describe but a small portion of the great things Jesus did on earth. As the Gospel writer John tells us at the end of his book: "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them was written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written" (John 21:25).

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