Matthew 11:20-24 New International Version (NIV)
Woe on Unrepentant Towns
20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 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.22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[a] For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Jesus is still addressing the question asked from John the Baptist, whether or not he is the coming Messiah. Now we have seen over the last few weeks that Jesus appeals to Scripture and reality to back his claims, last week we saw how Jesus affirms that we must go to him as He is not as we want Him to be. Tonight we will look at the reality that Jesus addresses our presupposition that if God would just show me that He is real, if He would just perform a miracle I would believe.
This is a common assumption of man, that if we would just see a miracle, or something spectacular we would believe. The reality of the situation is that we would not, our world is understood primarily on our presuppositions. Therefore, even if God was to show us a miracle, we would because of our beliefs explain it away. This is why, even though Jesus did many miracles in these times they simply did not repent and believe.
So, tonight we are going to tackle how we believe, in three ways, taking from the issues that Jesus tackles in these verses; the issue of miracles, hell and our belief.
So, let’s start where Jesus starts with;
1. The question of miracles
Jesus calls attention to these three towns Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, and condemns them because, because in these three towns most of His miracles had been performed.
We must remember that in the gospel of John, he writes and says if everything that Jesus did was written down it would be too much to read, so there were maybe hundreds of miracles performed in these town.
Now, there are two things I want to address here, the first is the myth of the primitive ancient (their minds were predisposed to this therefore they simply propagated the myths). And the second is that if we would see something miraculous we would believe.
In terms of ancient people they didn’t simply believe every story, and in fact, right here in this passage we see the natural scepticism of people. Jesus had performed the most miracles here in these three towns and yet they refused to believe him.
We convince ourselves that if God would simply show us a sign, give us proof of His existence, then we would abandon what we believe and we would commit our lives to him. The truth of the matter is that, if we are honest with ourselves, we would not.
We have all heard the statement seeing is believing; but here people saw and yet refused to come the logical conclusion of the matter, because often it is the exact opposite; often believing is seeing.
Often our presuppositions; our preconceived ideas of the matter will blind us to the obvious reality right in front of us. These people couldn’t see Jesus for who He was, because they didn’t want to see Jesus as who he was. Nothing would convince them otherwise. And so, often, the real reason for our disbelief, or distrust in God has nothing to do with God, but everything in what we want to do.
We don’t want to accept the truth of God because of what it will mean for us in terms of how we can act and if we can control our lives. Therefore, we chose our ‘evidence’ to support out presupposition of God, and no interaction, no manifestation of God would actually change, we wouldn’t let it, we don’t want to let it.
Next Jesus speaks of…
2. The question of hell
Jesus says it will be better for the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah than for you for you will be cast down to hades, to Hell!
In these verse we get a great insight in the nature of hell and how it is driven directly from unbelief. Most people in the 21 century have this idea of hell that was actually formulated from Dante more than it was formulated from the bible. We have this almost cartoonish idea that there will be devils with pitchforks revelling at the pain that they are inflicting on the writhing suffering of people. While people scream out of mercy, God sits looking down from heaven with his arms crossed saying no.
The idea of hell scripturally is that it is a letting go of God to the selfish desires of people who do not want him. Hell is a place (as Scripture teaches) prepared for the devil and his demons. A place of pure self, or pride unbridled. So the first reality of Hell is that Satan doesn’t rule in hell, he is as enslaved and imprisoned to himself as everyone else.
The second question is will there be people who just long to get out and God simply refuses to let them. The reality of hell is that the people who end up there hate God, want nothing to do with him and would rather suffer for all eternity that submit one day to God.
As Milton says in his poem Paradise Lost, “Better to rule in hell that serve in heaven.” The problem is because it is pure unadulterated self, there is no rule, there is simply enslavement to yourself. You will be let loose, all the darkness that we can hide, all the depravity that is hidden within us will be let loose and will be enslaved to the darkness that is us.
C.S. Lewis in his book the great divorce says
“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others... but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God "sending us" to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud. ”
Someone who is wholly addicted to drugs is a good description of the foretaste of hell, they are enslaved to there need for self-satisfaction; they know it is bad, they don’t care, and in fact grumble and blame everyone else for their state, the only thing they see is the self and the need for the next hit. They are completely self-absorbed.
Well hell is the full expression of that, coupled with the shame and regret that on some level you knew that you were wrong. This is why Jesus says, on Judgment it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah, because where there is more knowledge there is more guilt. Imagine being bound to eternal damnation; knowing that you saw the True King, and realising that even when you saw Him a part of you knew.
There will be a growing hatred of yourself but more a growing hatred of Him as you try to justify yourself and so spiral out in guilt and self wallowing.
Now for us tonight, what does this all mean? We have believed, we trust God. Well, when we get into the heart of belief, we will see that the journey of the Christian faith continues on the same path that is started, we must surrender ourselves if we are going to see God for who He is.
So, let’s look at
3. The question of belief
Our trust in God will drive our experience of him, this is critical for us to get if we are going to walk with Jesus.
Even as Christians we get this wrong. Most of the pain we experience as Christians, and much of the angst of our faith comes down not to God, but how we perceive Him. Effectively our belief drives our experience.
One of my pastors growing up use to say, no-one has ever been disappointed by the God of the Bible, many people have made their own god and so been disappointed, but no-one has been disappointed by the God of the Bible.
What drives our experience of God is do we perceive him for who He is; not what we want to see how he is, or how we experience him. Do we know Him?
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
It is not the confidence of what we experience, or the evidence of God. It is the confindence of what we hope for.
Is this hope illogical, no, but sometimes it means we have to push through our experiences to see that God is who he says he is.
Sometime life seems like everything is going wrong, and we have to hope that God will work all things for Good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rom 8:28), and you will discover that the hope you have in God will be the endurance you need to go through the tough time.
Our faith in God drives our experience of Him. This is why Scripture says that no-one can please God but by faith (Heb 11:6). Our faith (that which we base the hopes of our lives) drives the experiences of it.
If your faith, if what you believe about life is that all we have is this life, and when we die then that is it. how would you experience the death of a loved one? It would be excruciatingly devastating. Because your belief about life is that that is it. they are gone, there is no hope! In fact my experience so far, is that it is generally at this point the most irreligious people will still say they are in a better place now. Because to actually go to the believe that they simply do not exist anymore is too brutal.
But the Christian experiences something completely different; Pauls says 1 Thess 4:13 “Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death , so that you will not grieve like the rest, who are without hope.” Our experience of death is directly impacted by our perception of it.
This applies to God, and more deeply how we relate to him, how we interact with Him, and how we love him is driven by and directed by our faith in who He is.
If we perceive God as a God who is a strict rule keeper, who is just waiting for us to break the rules so that he can hit us, well our experience of Him will be different, if fact I would argue we at this level don’t know the God of Scripture and so therefore, we don’t love Him we secretly, loath Him. He is just out there to spoil our fun.
But Scripture paints a picture of God who is just, he will not let the guilt go unpunished, but also loving as He will lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. And yet forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. (Ex 34:7)
How can we maintain and experience a God who will not let any guilty go unpunished yet will lavish unfailing love and forgive sins? Well church our primary experience, and our primary hope (belief) in God comes from the cross, it is found in the gospel.
Jesus paid the sins we deserved to pay, God did not let the sins of the guilty go unpunished, but because of the cross, God can lavish unfailing love on us!
Is your faith in God wobbly, you don’t know if He loves you? Look at the cross! He so loved you that He died for you!
Do you worry that there is no justice in the world, that God is not in control? God judged sin once and for all on the cross! All evil was poured out on Him and He rose again! What evil could stop Him now!
Does your sin and guilt overwhelm you? Do you wonder how God could love you? He loves you because Christ died for you! Not because of your merit, or goodness, but because Christ died for you!
Do you struggle to see what all this is for, why am I here? You are here, because God ordained you to be here, and has died for you so that you might know Him! He has called you and equipped you and sent you into the world to tell them of His great love!
This hope, this belief is what drives our experience of God; church the gospel is not the start of the Christian faith it is every day, it is every moment, it is everything we do! What else is there but to live in the light of the mercy of God!