20 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which 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 which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Last Sunday we saw how the modern expectation of Jesus as the sweet and nice guy who would never say or do anything that would upset anyone is not the Jesus that is contained in the Gospels. As we continue into the next following passage in Matthew’s gospel, this theme continues. We see that Jesus issues a powerful, passionate rebuke of three Galilean cities. Jesus is far from the “nice guy” people assume and expect. He is a king. He rewards those who are loyal to Him and punishes those who disobey His will. Yes, He is merciful and gracious to those who most need mercy and grace. But He has red, hot fiery wrath to those who need it as well. When we begin to see Jesus as the king that He really is, we can understand what His kingdom is like, and what our role is in His kingdom.
The King’s Rebuke
Jesus rebukes three Galilean cities in these verses. Why does He rebuke them? Because these are the places where His signs that reveal who He is have been done the most. When He answered John’s disciples in the verses above, he told them the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. This is where all of that stuff was done. And it was done with a purpose. What was that purpose? To show these people Jesus has authority and they must listen to Him. God doesn’t have to do this. We do not deserve God showing us any sign. But God is extremely gracious. He gives the people of these rural Jewish cities sign after sign after sign that Jesus should be listened to. The problem is, Jesus doesn’t tell them nice things they want to hear. He tells them that the way they are living is sinful, it will incur God’s wrath, and they must repent. And Israel was a place with wicked, heart-hearted people who refuse to hear him. This is the way men are. When we love our sin, no amount of signs from heaven that we need to change will be enough to persuade us to stop loving it. So many people think, oh, if Jesus came back to earth and started doing signs and miracles, then I would believe. Or, mockers will say, “why didn’t Jesus appear during our day, when we have high definition video cameras in every pocket? Then the whole world would have seen His miracles and believed.” The only answer to such foolishness is, most of the people who saw Him heal the blind and raise the dead with their own eyes refused to believe Him. Why would a video change that? Galilee, his home country, rejected Jesus. And Galilee’s rejection of Jesus is honestly one of the most powerful apologetics that the Bible is true. Where have you seen a more accurate picture of what people are like?
Later on in His ministry, Jesus goes to Judah and Jerusalem and condemns them, too. But Jesus is nearly a foreigner to them. In Galilee, He is one of their own. If anyone would listen and obey, it would be them. That is why Jesus issues this harsh rebuke. It is a rebuke they deserve, and even this rebuke is an act of grace. And what is the substance of Jesus’ rebuke?
If the mighty works, the signs that He has done in these cities had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. “What are Tyre and Sidon?” You might ask. These are two Canaanite cites not far from Galilee on the coast of the Mediterranean. They were extremely wealthy cities because they had fleets of seagoing trading vessels. These people founded the great empire of Carthage in North Africa, the great mortal enemy of Rome. Tyre was a city that had a king named Hiram who feared Yahweh and helped Solomon build the temple. At that time, these Canaanites repented of worshiping their demon-god, Baal, and aligned themselves to Yahweh. But it did not last. They apostatized and returned to the wicked ways. Throughout that latter part of the Old Testament, the prophets condemn Tyre, and even prophesy the day of judgment coming upon Tyre where she would be destroyed. People often confused these various “day of judgment” passages in scripture, and assume they all are always talking about the final judgment. This is a mistake. In the case of the prophecy against Tyre, it did come true in history. Alexander the Great destroyed that city. The day of judgment came.
Everyone listening to Jesus knew about Alexander destroying Tyre. And Jesus tells them a similar day of judgment is coming to them. In fact, a worse day of judgment than what Alexander did to the Tyreans. And that day of judgment Jesus warned of came. Just as Alexander’s armies swept through and destroyed Tyre, the Roman General Vespasian came and slaughtered as many Galileans as he could. Within one generation, these cities where Jesus’s great and mighty works, these cities Jesus walked through and taught in. They would be filled with blood and flies buzzing around corpses. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are a warning that to whom much is revealed, even more is required. The Son of God did not appear in the flesh to the Tyreans, the Sidonians, or the Sodomites. Had He appeared to them, they would have repented. But to the Jews, His own people, He appeared, people who already had been given far more clear revelation of who God is than any other people on the planet. If anyone should have heeded Him it would be them. But instead they choose their sin over Him. And Sodom, the place notorious for its wickedness. A place who treatment of guests was to gangrape them. That place is better off than a place where the Son of God comes to them and they reject Him. Israel’s sin was worse than Sodom’s. Let that sink in.
That should terrify lethargic Americans.
We have all the opulence and love of mammon of Tyre and Sidon. We have all the hard-heartedness of the Jews. We have all of the brutality of the Sodomites. And we also have 2000 years of Christ and His church doing mighty works revealing God to us.
We have absolutely no excuses.
I am not a prophet. I make no claim to be. But it is not hard to see how this turns out.
But what does Jesus do next after issuing this stunning rebuke? He prays. And His prayer is a prayer of praise. He doesn’t ask for anything. He just prays to His Father and thanks Him. He thanks Him that the Father has hidden His kingdom from the proud, and revealed it instead to children. This prayer is the key to understanding why Jesus so often tells people not to tell anyone what He has done. That is Jesus participating in His Father’s hiding of the kingdom. God the Father has made the preaching of Jesus to appear as foolishness to the Jews. God is doing exactly the same thing He did to Pharaoh as those signs were being given to him—the ten plagues. What does God say to Moses He is going to do to Pharaoh? I will harden His heart. The same thing is happening to the Jews. They are proud and haughty. And God is giving them over to it. He is saying “you want to be proud? Okay, you are gonna be as proud as it gets, then. Here you go.” And this hardening is what causes them to both reject Jesus and reject the Spirit. It is a rejection that caused the gospel to be preached to the Gentiles, to all the nations of the earth.
But Jesus also reveals something else in this prayer. He gives us a glimpse into the life of the Trinity. The relationship The Father has with The Son is unlike any other. No one knows The Father but The Son and vice-versa. But there is an exception. The Son wills to reveal The Father to people. To human beings. To those who believe, to those who pledge their loyalty to The Son, He reveals The Father to them. This should astound us. The inner-working of the Godhead is something you are invited into. The Love and self-giving of The Father and The Son is something He chooses to reveal to us because that pleases Him. Weak, sinful, frail creatures are invited by God to enjoy the life that only He knows.
The Light Yoke
It is within this context that Jesus’ famous command “come all ye who are weary and heavy-laden…” comes from. God The Father has revealed Himself through God The Son and The Son calls us to Him, to cast off the heavy burdens that weigh us down and to take up His yoke. Yes, we still have to carry something, but by comparison to every yoke out there we don’t even feel it. The world weighs us down with demands we cannot hope to fulfill. People think the Bible is full of dos and don’ts. People think the Bible is a heavy yoke. It is a yoke of feathers compared to what they demand of you. “Oh being a Christian means you have to follow a bunch of rules” Oh like a laundry list of possible ways to offend people that you live under? Yeah, walking on eggshells every day of your life where if you step on one and say the wrong thing to the wrong person your career and life is over? A list of expectations about how hard you must work, how successful you must be, how big and snazzy of a house you have to have, how fancy a car you must drive, etc. all in order to be “someone who matters,”? All of these yokes are mountains placed upon your neck, but the world that demands them thinks Jesus’ way of life is a burden. No, his yoke is light, He is gentle, and He gives us rest that we desperately need.
That is what we see here in our passage, that gets marred so much by popular conceptions of who Jesus is. Our culture likes the Jesus that says He is gentle, because such a Jesus doesn’t seem to interested in requiring anything of us. That conception of Jesus neglects what He just said to the cities who rejected Him only a few verses earlier. The contrast could not be more stark. If you accept Jesus, you heed His words, you will find your burdens are lifted and this gentle king invites you into His kingdom and gives you rest. Or, you reject Him, you cling to your pride and plug your ears at every undeserved warning He gives you and you will know nothing but pain and misery. There is no middle ground with Jesus. So take up His light yoke. Enjoy the rest that He offers. Enjoy the kingdom that has been revealed to you.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!