A Sober Warning, A Loving Invitation
Judgment, grace, Matthew
Friends who will not tell you hard things but only flatter you with what you want to hear are not real friends. A true friend tells you the truth even when it isn’t pleasant.
When Jesus taught, He often ended his teaching with the words, “He who has ear to hear, let him listen and understand (Matthew 11:15).” And if there is one area where people close their ears, it is in a discussion of a day of Judgment. We want to hear about a God of love but not a God who judges wickedness.
We are often like little children. When someone tells us that we can’t do something or that we did something wrong we cry and get angry. The idea is: “How dare you tell me I am doing something wrong.”
Listen to these words Jesus speaks about Judgment. Try to have ears that listen and hear what the Lord says to us. Jesus had just talked about the fickleness of people. They condemned John for being too conservative and condemned Jesus for being too liberal. This “impossible to please” attitude is what provokes the following words,
20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns where he had done so many of his miracles, because they hadn’t repented of their sins and turned to God. 21 “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse. 22 I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on judgment day than you.
23 “And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today. 24 I tell you, even Sodom will be better off on judgment day than you.”
In this text Jesus mentions some cities that are foreign to us. Jesus did many more miracles than the ones recorded in the gospels. It only makes sense that miracles also took place in Korazin and Bethsaida because of their proximity to Capernaum which is where much of the ministry of Jesus was centered. They were all within 5 miles of each other. Peter, Andrew and Philip all came from Bethsaida (John 1:44). So undoubtedly Jesus and the disciples were in this town several times.
Jesus denounced all these people because they witnessed the miracles but they did not repent of their sin and turn to the Lord. They had great advantages but they were unmoved by them. In this text Jesus teaches us several important (and hard) truths:
The Reality of Judgment
In this passage Jesus talks about the unpopular subject of Judgment. First: There will be Judgment.
This is not a popular concept. We want to hear that since God is good, He will send no one to Hell. That only is not true, it does not make sense.
If God is truly loving, He will right wrongs. If He is just, He will punish the wicked. If He is Holy, then He cannot compromise with evil. So, to affirm the good things about God, there needs to be some manner of judgment.
There is coming a day when we will stand before the court of Heaven. The foolish idea that sin has no consequence will be shown to be very misguided. God’s truth will be upheld and honored. There will be dire consequences for those who spurn or ignore Him.
There are degrees of punishment. Jesus said the Judgment against Capernaum, Korazin and Bethsaida would be greater than the judgment against Tyre, Sidon, and even Sodom! The judgment against the second group was severe. These communities were destroyed! Jesus said judgement would be worse for those who saw the miracles of Jesus and did not repent.
Again, this makes sense. Justice demands that one who sins more should be punished more severely. If someone stole a piece of gum from a store and another person shot and killed people in a terrorist attack would it be right and just to punish them the same? Of course, not! If our system of justice understands this, doesn’t it make sense that God would also function this way?
We are judged more based on how much information we had. In other words, every time a non-believer hears the Word of God and resists it, they make their judgment greater! For those of us who live in the United States we will be judged more severely because the message of the gospel is everywhere! We cannot plead ignorance. I believe Jesus might tell us that the people of Capernaum, Korazin, and Bethsaida would have repented and followed Christ if they had the information that we have. That fact should be extremely sobering.
This doesn’t mean that Capernaum, Korazin and Bethsaida are “off the hook”. They still rebelled against God! It doesn’t mean the “innocent native” is off the hook. They turned away from what is clearly evident in creation. They are still guilty of sin. I don’t know what “more severe Judgment” means but I know I want to avoid it. All Judgment will be devastating. Some will be more devastating.
The worst sin of all is unbelief. We make a fatal mistake when we assume that our unwillingness to believe is not a big deal. To say someone has rejected Christ but is a “good person” misses the point! Unbelief is a capital offense. We would say today that unbelief is treason! It is to deny and disown what God has provided for us! It is to rebel against His authority and to refuse His command to repent and believe.
Parents realize that defying the authority of the parent is the worst of sins. The reason is that an attack against the authority of the parent is an attack against the very foundation of right and wrong. In other words, if you do not learn to respect your parents, you are likely to respect no one. That lack of respect and honor will be a cancer in the soul that will lead to many other problems. When we rebel against the Lord by refusing to repent of sin and avail ourselves of the Savior He has provided, we are rebelling against God’s authority. That is the worst sin of all.
There are a couple of practical implications to the reality of degrees of punishment.
- All sin is not the same! You may hear people say “all sin is the same” but it is not true. All sin separates us from God and puts us in a position where we need a Redeemer, but all sin is not the same.
- Because all sin is not the same, we should stop sinning as soon as possible to mitigate God’s wrath at our sin. Here’s what happens sometimes: someone thinks: I am already guilty for lusting after someone and since it is just as bad as committing adultery (and it is not!) then I might just as well follow through on my passions. Adultery will always be worse than lusting after someone even though both are sin. To continue the progression of sinful behavior only increases the nature of the judgment you will receive.
Is There Any Hope?
25 At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. 26 Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!
27 “My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Jesus points us to some important truth: God is not obligated to save anyone. We have all rebelled against the Lord. As Paul said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Therefore, every one of us deserves God’s judgment. Some may deserve greater judgment than others, but we all deserve judgment.
God does not grade on a curve. In classrooms when a teacher uses a “bell curve” whatever the average score is becomes a “C” grade. Then there are a certain number of people who will get over that amount for an “A” or “B” and a similar percentage will get a lower grade “D” and “F”. An average could be 50 and the students who received a 70 (or of 100) might be given an “A”. God has no floating standard! PERFECT is passing. Everything else is failure!
Salvation is not given to those who feel they deserve it or have earned it. Jesus says God has hid salvation from those who feel they are entitled to God’s mercy. No one who thinks they deserve salvation will be saved! The reason for this is: salvation requires a humble confession of sin and a dependence on the work of Christ on our behalf. Those who feel they have earned salvation will take pride in themselves instead of giving thanks to the Lord.
Salvation is through Christ alone. The only way we can truly know God is through the Son, and we can only know the Father through the Son if he chooses to reveal Him to us. In other words, we are completely and ultimately dependent on Christ alone for our salvation.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) Many will call this narrow-minded. It is no more narrow-minded than saying “without oxygen you will die”. I don’t know what you would say to someone who says, “it is narrow-minded to say we have to have oxygen.” I think I would be inclined to say, “Call it what you want but if you don’t have oxygen you are going to die!” You may not like a truth but that doesn’t change the truthfulness of it! Our only hope of salvation is Christ!
A Loving Invitation (28-30)
The point of this entire discourse is for Jesus to extend an invitation:
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
This is a cherished promise from our Lord. The people were burdened with laws, regulations and more that were laid down by the Scribes and Pharisees. It seemed like the more they worked, the more they were required to do. People were trying hard to earn their salvation but they knew deep down that they were failing. Jesus offers a better way. Notice the invitation:
Come to Me. The answer to the problem of sin, the way to be right with God and escape His wrath is through Christ alone. The invitation is not limited to a certain group of people. Anyone can come to Him. The invitation is for all.
John Bunyan wrote one of the world’s best sellers: Pilgrim’s Progress. At the beginning of the book he pictures the main character, Christian embarking on a journey to the Celestial City (Heaven). As he travels he is weighted down by this great burden on his back. He climbed up a hill that brought him to a cross. He hurried as best he could to get up the hill, And Bunyan writes,
So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulcher, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, “He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.” Then he stood still a while, to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked, therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks.
It is an amazing invitation! Jesus will take away the burden of our guilt. All we have to do is come to Him.
Let Me Teach You. The second step of the Lord’s invitation is: allow me to teach you. He will teach us about salvation, life, truth, and help us understand the nature and character of God. Jesus invites us not simply to come to receive a pardon; he calls us to a brand-new life. In other words, Jesus didn’t come merely to pay for our sin; He came to set us free to live in a new way. Imagine being an inmate and you are told that you have been pardoned for your crime. Would you stay in the cell even though you could now leave? I can’t imagine that you would.
Becoming a follower of Christ is not simply saying a prayer . . . it is asking for forgiveness and then living the new life which He equips to us to live. It is leaving the life of sin and walking into the new life of God’s grace.
Jesus tells us to take his yoke upon us. In ancient times when people carried a load, they would carry a wooden yoke. They could, for example, carry two buckets of water on each side of the yoke making it possible to carry burdens they could not have carried otherwise. Two oxen would sometimes be yoked together to help plow a field. Combining the strength of the two animals made the planting much easier for everyone.
Jesus invites us to walk with Him and share His yoke. In other words, we tap into His strength to face and combat the trials of life. With Him at our side we can face anything.
Experience Rest. There is a great contrast here. Those who are trying to earn their way to Heaven can never rest. They are always looking over their shoulder. They are never sure if they have done enough. Those who put their faith and trust in Jesus can say, “Jesus has paid the price for my sin. My salvation has been purchased with His blood.”
The word rest is wonderful, isn’t it? No more anxiety (things are in His hands), no more feeling like we are a drowning person trying to stay afloat in the hope someone will rescue us (we have already been rescued). We can rest in His peace, relax in His love, and know calm as the rest of the world wrings its hands. It is a wonderful invitation.
We have reached the conclusion of this sometimes-painful discussion. And the question that screams at us is this one: Are you ready to stand before the Lord on the day of judgment? This is a day when there will be no excuses. Mankind will be judged for what they did and what they should have done. Every person who has not embraced Christ will be declared guilty. Not even one person who has ignored or rejected Christ will be granted access to heaven! The punishments will all be just and varied. Those who have boldly spurned Him will face a harsher judgment than the one who just did not act on the knowledge before them.
Some people will plead ignorance. It is a defense that the court will throw out. God has revealed Himself plainly in many ways. Refusing to hear is not a defense. The only way to be spared judgment is to confess your sin and call on Jesus to save you. In a sense, you must RSVP to His invitation. It means recognizing that He is Lord and has given His life to pay your debt. It means recognizing that He has risen from the dead and now reigns as Lord over all. You can begin that process with a simple prayer. The words of the prayer are not important . . . the heart of the prayer is.
Lord, I admit that I am a sinful person and I deserve your judgment and your wrath. Today I take hold of the way of salvation that you have provided through Jesus. Today I claim Him as my Savior and I vow to follow Him (with your help) as my Lord. Thank you for your mercy and your grace. Amen.
If you are a believer you may feel this is a good message for the unbeliever but has little for you. Not so fast! The Bible tells us that the Lord disciplines those He loves. Just because you love your children and even that they love you doesn’t mean there won’t be times when discipline is necessary. Sometimes we only learn through negative reinforcement. In other words, there are still consequences to our choices and behaviors!
We will not be sent to eternal punishment (because of Christ), but God will not stand by and watch you mock His way. The true Judge is also the loving parent who will guard and guide His children. We must never take grace for granted.
So, if you are playing with sin, you would be wise to repent and return to rest that comes from walking truly with the Lord. The Lord takes our behavior seriously. We ought to as well,