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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 11, 2015
A few weeks ago we examined the doubts that had arisen in the mind of John the Baptist and how he properly handled them by sending two of his disciples to Jesus to find out the truth directly from the source. Just like John, there are many things that can be a source of doubt arising in us as well such as difficult circumstances, incomplete knowledge, the influence of those around us and unfulfilled expectations. Just like John, we need to deal with our doubts in the same way. We must go to the source of truth, the Scriptures, and find the answers that will enable us to trust God and therefore bring us peace. You may not find the answers to the specific questions you are asking, but you will always find the foundational truths that enable us to overcome any doubt. For example, my situation may be hard, I may not understand why it is happening, others may be disparaging my faith and I might even feel let down, yet I can stand firm in my faith in God because I know with absolute certainty that He loves me and He will keep all His promises. He proved both of those when Jesus Christ took my place at Calvary and died for my sins and then rose from the dead on the third day. What I can know for certain helps me continue to have faith when my life is filled with uncertainty. (See: Dealing with Doubt)
Then last week we examined Jesus’ commendation of John to the multitudes. There was the possibility that John’s doubts could have caused others to doubt as well, so Jesus commended him as the greatest of men who was more than a prophet because he fulfilled Elijah’s role as the forerunner who prepared the way for Messiah. The people needed to continue to hold John in high regard and believe his message for the Messiah was now present even if John’s imprisonment did not make sense according to their expectations that Messiah would come as a conquering king.
I also took the time last week to point out the character traits of John that made him a great man. He is an example to us of what is needed in our own lives in order to be commended by the Lord. Those who are great are truth seekers, they have strong convictions based on truth, they are humble, they are self-disciplined, they know their calling from God and they are faithful to that calling. I trust that was an encouragement to you to pursue the development of those qualities in your own life, and even more so since every true Christian can be greater than John since we have the full gospel. John could only announce the coming of the Messiah. We can proclaim that Jesus the Messiah has come and fulfilled the ancient prophecies to redeem man from his sin. We only need to believe His claims and trust His promises and God will reckon our faith as righteousness so that we are reconciled to Him. (See: Marks of Greatness)
This morning we continue in the same passage as Jesus turns His attention to the response of the religious leaders and the people to the message of John the Baptist and the miracles that Jesus has performed. Recall that just prior to John’s disciples coming to Jesus to ask him John’s question, Jesus had been ministering extensively in the region of Galilee by teaching, preaching, healing the sick, casting out demons and even raising the dead. Jesus did some of these same miracles in the presence of John’s disciples as part of His message to John that He was fulfilling the many prophecies concerning the Messiah that He would be a miracle worker. John got his answer. Jesus is the Expected One. John’s situation would not change, but John could be confident and at peace.
There is a mixed response by the multitudes to Jesus’ commendation of John. The reaction of those present reflects the mixed response people had to both John and Jesus throughout their ministries.
The Immediate Response – Luke 7:29-30
29 When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.
Jesus had said that He did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Those who recognized that they were sinners in need of the mercy and grace of God to be forgiven responded positively to John’s message. They now respond in the same way to Jesus’ message. The NKJV translates Luke 7:29 a little better saying, “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John.” The word “justified” in this context means “declare the righteousness of” God. Those who had been baptized with John’s baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of the kingdom of heaven understood Jesus’ message about John and they recognized God’s righteousness in it. John had made it clear that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 as the voice crying in the wilderness to make ready the way of the Lord (Matthew 3:3). Jesus now reveals that though John is not the prophet Elijah himself, he is the one that fulfills the prophecies in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5 that Elijah would precede Messiah as His messenger to prepare the way for Him. It is as the angel Gabriel had revealed to Zacharias in Luke 1:17 that his son John would come in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children (Malachi 4:6). These people did not waver in their belief that John was a prophet, and in seeing the miracles Jesus had done and hearing the message that Jesus had sent back to John, it appears they also accepted the evidence that Jesus was the Expected One.
Who were the people that declared the righteousness of God at Jesus’ revelation? They were those that had responded earlier to John’s call to repentance in preparation for the coming of the kingdom of heaven and had been baptized by him. Luke 3:2-18 records that crowds of people had gone out to hear John, but for the most part, it was the common people along with some tax gatherers and some soldiers that responded to his message. These same people now respond to Jesus’ message the same way they had responded earlier to John’s. They are those who are humble and seeking the righteousness of God.
But not everyone that went out to hear John accepted his message. Many rejected John being the forerunner of Messiah and so refused his baptism of repentance. Now they also reject what Jesus says even though Jesus warned them “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15). Jesus affirmed that John’s message was true and they should take heed to it. Luke specifically points out that it was the Pharisees and the lawyers, a synonym for the scribes, that rejected “the purpose of God for themselves.” How ironic. These men were the religious leaders who were the experts in the Mosaic law and the traditions of Judaism and so should have been the first to recognize and accept both John and Jesus, yet their pride blocked them from accepting what was plainly evident before them.
Nothing has really changed for God still resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). It is still sinners that are humble that will hear and heed the message of God while those who should know better fail to understand and heed the message of the Scriptures for which they claim to be experts. But it is not just the religious leaders that reject Jesus’ teaching. Jesus continues on as recorded in Luke 7:31-35 and Matthew 11:16-24 to give additional warning to those who reject Him. This includes not only the religious leaders that were so critical of Him, but also the people that saw the miracles He had performed and yet remained apathetic.
Keep in mind as we examine these passages that if people treated John the Baptist and Jesus with such attitudes and responses, then you can certainly expect be treated the same way yourself as you live for Christ. Pay attention as well to Jesus’ response to them so that you might be careful to follow His example.
The first reproach is given to those who are critical of Jesus and they are separated into two groups. There are those who are childish in their behavior and those who falsely accuse.
The first group Jesus rebukes are those who behave like spoiled children. 31 “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 “They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
Jesus begins with a rhetorical question of how could He describe the nature of this generation that had been privileged to see and hear both John the Baptist and Jesus and yet still reject them and their message. What could He compare them too? How could He describe their behavior? Jesus chooses a comparison that demonstrates their self-centered childishness.
Children like to play games and Jesus described two games that were often played by the children who gathered in the market place while their parents transacted business in buying and selling their wares. If you have watched a group of children for any length of time you have seen what Jesus describes here occur even though the children play different games in the present time. Some children want to play one game, but others do not want to play that game so they criticize it and will not participate. Then another game is suggested, perhaps by the same children or by other, but some of the children do not want to play that game either so they criticize it and refuse to participate.
The two games described here are “Wedding” and “Funeral.” The reference to the playing of the flute and the dancing describes the wedding while the singing of the dirge and the mourning refer to the funeral. Now perhaps you might think those would be strange games to play, or at least playing funeral would be strange. Perhaps you can imagine children playing wedding since it is such a joyous occasion, but a funeral would seem so depressing. However, children like to imitate in play and weddings and funerals were the big social events of the time, and there were many things in them that could be imitated.
Weddings are still important social events with many social activities involved in them. There is a bridal shower, a bachelor party, a rehearsal dinner and then the wedding ceremony and reception. All that is usually done in a few days in our time, but back then in Jewish culture a wedding would take a week or more. In addition, weddings are now generally held so as to minimize inconvenience to the guests. That is why Friday evenings and Saturdays are the most common since most guests will not have to miss much work. However, in that time and culture weddings were usually on either Wednesday (for maidens) or on Thursdays (for widows) in order to not interfere with the Sabbath worship. Weddings were also never held during a festival. Most wedding processions now involve a short walk up from the back of where people are seated up to the front whether that is in a church, a hall or even outdoors. After the ceremony we either walk to a nearby hall or drive off in our cars to the location of the reception. In that time and culture a wedding included walking in a procession from the house where the bride lived to the home of the groom. After the wedding ceremony, there would be various activities including the wedding feast that could extend the time of celebration for several days. And since children like to imitate adults in their play, you can see how much rich material there is in a wedding for children to imitate in play.
In the same manner the Jewish funeral contained much for the children to imitate. After a person died, mourners would come play lamenting music and wail. The body would often be buried the same day borne on a brier or an open casket through the streets to the cemetery. The procession would be lead by wailing women, then the body with the pall bearers switching off with others so many could have a part in the honor, then the family and the rest of the mourners. Funerals were noisy affairs with people wailing, crying and beating their breasts. There would be sad music played and dirges sung. At the burial site there would be a short message and ceremony as the body was laid to rest. There was much in a funeral that children could imitate in play.
I think we can easily imagine the scene that Jesus is painting for us. A group of children gather in the market place while their parents are busy. Someone says, “Let’s play wedding – Simon, you be the groom; Hannah, you be the bride; Joseph can the be friend of the groom; Abigail, you be the bride’s attendant. Play the music, lets dance!” Then some of the other children, I can think of 9 & 10 year old boys saying, “We don’t want to play wedding, only sissies want to play that.” Another group of children then say, “Okay, lets play funeral. Zacharias, you be the dead person. Simon, Joseph, Saul and Michael can be the pall bearers. Miriam, Naomi and Martha can be the wailers. Play the music, lets all sing a sad song and mourn.” Then other children say, we don’t want to play funeral, its too depressing, you have to be sick in the head to want to play that.” Back and forth the arguments go.
Jesus explains to the multitude that their generation was like these children. Some want to play, but others will not participate. Some understand the message of John and Jesus and are heeding the call to repent and follow. Others are critical and refuse to participate. Jesus becomes more direct in Luke 7:33-35 (Matthew 7:18-19) in rebuking those that are rejecting Him with their false accusations.
33 “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees, lawyers and their followers for acting like children who are never satisfied. John came with a very serious message of repentance while living an austere life as a Nazrite. He did not eat or drink the pleasant foods common to most people. Instead, John ate locust and wild honey. The religious leaders concluded that John was too harsh and unsociable and accused him of being demonized to speak and live that way.
Jesus came as the opposite. If John was the funeral, then Jesus was the wedding. Jesus and John both had the same message of “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” but Jesus was sociable and would eat and drink the common foods along with people. Jesus even reached out to the outcasts of society with His message of grace and mercy that extended from God’s love. The religious leaders concluded that Jesus could not be a holy man from God for He was not ascetic enough as if being holy required denying yourself the foods commonly eaten by everyone else. They then went further and falsely accused Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard. Then they castigated Jesus for being friends with tax-collectors and sinners, something they believed that no holy man would ever do. They were completely blind to the fact that their prideful self-righteousness was a greater stench in the nostrils of God than the sinfulness of the publicans and harlots.
The critics of Jesus were not interested in the truth. They could only see with their myopic, short-sighted eyes and think with their perverted minds. They were childish people demanding their own way even though their demands were inconsistent. They would not be satisfied with either the asceticism of John or indulgence of Jesus. Since they could not make any reasoned arguments against either John or Jesus they resorted to what people always do when they have nothing logical or sensible to say – they made false accusations and called them names.
Jesus’ response was simple. People may say and claim whatever they want, but the truth will be demonstrated for, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” The corrupt human wisdom of the self righteous religious leaders was manifested in twisted teachings and deeds of self righteous hypocrisy. We saw those things in our study of the Sermon on the Mount. They twisted the Mosaic law in order to justify their many sins including hatred, lust, adultery, lying, revenge, greed, pride and materialism all the while thinking themselves to be holy because of their practices of alms, prayer and fasting.
The wisdom of John the Baptist and of Jesus was manifested in their message that resulted in changed lives. Lives that were turned from sin to righteousness. Lives of despair turned into lives of hope that left a positive effect on the world.
You may be – will be – opposed by the enemies of Christ the more you become like Him. They will falsely accuse you and call you names (Matt. 5:11), but the truth is not judged by their thoughts. Wisdom is not determined by what they value. Truth and wisdom are manifested over time and are judged by God.
The Apathetic – Matthew 11:20-24
Jesus reproved the people for their childish response to Himself and John, but Jesus had much stronger words of reproach for those who were apathetic toward the Lord’s message. Matthew 11:20-24 picks up the narrative in which Jesus points out their lack of response and pronounces a woe upon them. Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
It seems amazing that Jesus has a stronger reproach for Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum than he did for the religious leaders that were actively opposing Him. However, it must be remembered that to this point most of Jesus’ ministry had been done in the region of Galilee where all three of these cities were located. According to Matthew 4:13, Jesus had settled in Capernaum during the period of His Galilean ministry. Capernaum was also where Simon Peter and Andrew lived (Mark 1:21,29), and James and John may have also lived there or close by (Matthew 4:18,21) as did Matthew for that was the area in which he was a tax-collector (Matthew 9:9). Capernaum was located on the North-West shore of the Sea of Galilee. Chorazin was a small village nestled in the hills about 2 1/2 miles north of Capernaum. Bethsaida was located farther north and to the east in the plains of Gennersaret and was the original home town of Philip, Andrew, and Peter (John 1:44).
Not only had Jesus been to each of these towns teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness (Mt. 10:35), but Capernaum was the site of many of the Lord’s miracles including: the healing of the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13), the healing of the nobleman’s son (John 4:26-54), the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14,15) and the healing of the paralytic (Matthew 9:2-8). Matthew 8:16 records that it was in Capernaum that “they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill.” It was also probably in Capernaum that Jesus raised Jarius’ daughter from the dead.
Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida would have no excuses for not responding to the Lord. They had heard His message with their own ears and seen His miracles with their own eyes. Yet there was a serious lack of response. Certainly they rejoiced at being physical healed, and they were amazed by the many miracles Jesus did, but there was little to no personal commitment to Jesus. They were fickle like the crowds that followed Jesus after He had fed the five thousand. They liked the miracles, ate the food and enjoyed the show, but when the call to follow in Jesus’ footsteps was made, they were quick to retreat (John 6:66). Because there was no true belief on their part, there was no repentance, no change in the way they were living. They quickly returned to their normal way of life with only a passing interest in Jesus.
Their Condemnation – Matthew 11:20-24
Jesus’ condemnation of them is strong. Consider that Tyre and Sidon were two Gentile cities inhabited by the Phoenicians. These two cities epitomized pagan Gentile corruption and moral worthlessness. They were centers of Baal worship and were noted for their immorality and godlessness even by pagan standards. In the past they had sold Jews into slavery (Amos 1:9), and one king was so wicked that he was used by the prophet Ezekiel as an illustration of Satan (Ezekiel 28:11-15). God finally destroyed Tyre as the prophets said would happen (Ezekiel 28:16-19, cf. Jeremiah 25:22; 47:4). Yet here we find that Jesus says that Tyre and Sidon would have repented in dust and ashes if they had experienced the miracles Jesus had done in Chorazin & Bethsaida neither of which repented. Therefore it would be better for Tyre and Sidon – meaning their inhabitants – in the day of judgment than for Chorizin and Bethsaida
In the same manner Capernaum would also be judged for their indifference to Jesus’ teaching. The people of Capernaum were proud and thought themselves worthy of being exalted to heaven. Instead, Jesus says that they would descend to hades – they would be destroyed. He states it would be better for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum because they would have repented and remained if they had experienced the miracles that had taken place in Capernaum. That is an amazing statement because Sodom was and is the synonym for moral depravity. Its name is used in the description of the most extreme forms of homosexuality and bestiality. Genesis 19 describes their utter corruption. Even after the men of the city were supernaturally blinded by angels, they still “wearied themselves trying to find the doorway” in order to satisfy their perverted lusts. God totally destroyed Sodom and its sister city of Gomorrah through a rain of fire and brimstone which came out of heaven (Genesis 19:24). Tyre, Sidon and Sodom were Gentile cities well known for their wickedness, yet it would be worse for Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida in the day of judgment because they had been given so much, yet remained indifferent.
Heeding the Message
The reproach that Jesus gave Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida continues as a warning in the present. Those who have received much from the Lord have a much greater responsibility to respond. The adage, “To whom much is given much is required” comes from Luke 12:48 and is true. These cities had seen Jesus perform many miracles and they had heard Him teach, yet they remained indifferent to His message. They did not reject Jesus outright. They tried to live moral lives and follow the Mosaic Law, but they did not respond to what Jesus was teaching. They did not follow Him.
You have been privileged as well. Not only have you heard the truth this morning, but you have copies of the Holy Scriptures in you own language so that you can understand God’s message. God will hold you responsible.
If you are not a Christian, this means that today is the day to repent and get right with the Lord. It is time for you to get right with the Lord by confessing your sins to Him and placing your faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and begin a life of following Him.
If you think you are a Christian, it means that obedience to Jesus’ commands are important. You cannot claim from Him what you want while ignoring what you don’t like. Being a Christian means to be a disciple of Jesus which occurs through regeneration by the Holy Spirit. You yield yourself to the Lord by doing what He tells you to do and He changes you. You submit your will, and He supplies the power and the ability.
If you are living for Christ the way you should and are criticized for it, then take heart and remain faithful. John the Baptist and Jesus were also rejected being criticized by some and ignored by others. Remember that wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. May your deeds vindicate your godly wisdom as you follow after the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength so that you hear from Him at the judgment, “Well done, though good and faithful servant.”
John the Baptist had ______________, but he dealt with them properly by seeking the truth from Jesus
Jesus commended John to the multitudes and revealed that he fulfilled the prophecy about ____________
John had the character traits of ________- truth seeker, strong convictions, humble, self-disciplined, faithful
_____________ turns His attention to the response of the religious leaders and the people
The Immediate Response – Luke 7:29-30
Those who had repented at John’s preaching and been ______________ respond favorably to Jesus
These were common people, tax gatherers and soldiers who were ____________ and repented of their sins
Those who rejected John’s message also _____________ Jesus and “the purpose of God for themselves”
These were the ______________leaders that should have known better: Pharisees, scribes, lawyers, priests
God still resists the _______________, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5)
Don’t be _________________ when people treat Jesus’ followers the way they have treated Jesus
Jesus compares that generation to self-centered __________________
“Wedding” and “Funeral” were imitation _______________of two very important social events of that time
__________________were and are very important social events with many elements that could be imitated
_______________of that time were also important social events with many elements that could be imitated
Some children try to play “wedding,” but other children _________to play – likewise with playing “funeral”
Like the children, some understand and follow John & Jesus while others ________and refuse to participate
Jesus _____________ the Pharisees and lawyers for acting like children who are never satisfied
The religious leaders criticize _____________ for being too ascetic (funeral)
The religious leaders criticize _____________for being not being ascetic enough (wedding)
The religious leaders were not interested in truth – like ____________, they their own way or they name call
Claiming something does not make it _________ – wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
The wisdom of John and Jesus was manifested in their _____________ that changed lives and gave hope
The Apathetic – Matthew 11:20-24
Jesus has a stronger reproach for ____________ than He did for those that were actively opposing Him
Jesus had settled in ________________ during the period of His Galilean ministry
Jesus taught in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida and performed many _______________in those cities
The people of these cities were fickle – rejoicing at healings, amazed by miracles, but still did not ________
Their Condemnation – Matthew 11:20-24
Tyre and Sidon epitomized pagan Gentile _______________and moral worthlessness
They would have ______________if they had received the miracles done in Chorazin and Bethsaida
The people of Capernaum thought they were ___________to be exalted – Jesus said they would be destroyed
Sodom is the synonym for moral ___________- but it would be better for them in judgment than Capernaum
Heeding the Message
To whom much is given much is ______________ (Luke 12:48)
God will hold you ______________ for what you have been given
Today is the time to repent, believe and ______________ Jesus Christ
Now is the time to ___________ to the Lord and let the Holy Spirit empower you to live a godly life
Remain faithful even when criticized / persecuted – we are here to _________the Lord as did John and Jesus
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times John and Jesus are mentioned in the sermon. Talk with your parents about why people had different responses to their preaching. Talk with them about your own response to the message of Jesus.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why did John the Baptist have doubts? What did he do about them? What can you do when you have doubts? What character qualities of greatness did John possess? What is the significance of Jesus commending John as the one that fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi 4:5 concerning Elijah preceding the Messiah? What were the immediate responses by those that heard Jesus that day? What characterized those who responded positively? Who were these people? What characterized those who responded negatively? Who were these people? Have you ever seen children play games of imitation? What kinds of games have you observed? What was the importance of a wedding in ancient Jewish culture? What elements in a wedding would be attractive for children to imitate in a game? What was the importance of funeral in ancient Jewish culture? What elements in a funeral would be attractive for children to imitate in a game? Why reasons can you think of that would cause some children to refuse to participate in such games? What is Jesus’ analogy between children who refuse to play these games and the response of that generation to the preaching of John and Himself? Describe the lifestyle of John. Why would the religious leaders accuse him of having a demon because of that? Describe the lifestyle and social interaction of Jesus. Why would the religious leaders accuse Him of being a glutton and drunkard because of that? What does the phrase, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” mean? Where are Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum located? Describe the various ministries and miracles Jesus had performed in those cities. Describe the moral characteristics of ancient Tyre and Sidon. Why does Jesus say it would be better in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for Chorazin and Bethsaida? Describe the moral characteristics of Sodom. Why does Jesus say it will be better for Sodom in the judgment than for Capernaum? What does this tell us about God’s view of apathy and indifference? Is there anything that needs to change in your life? When will you change it?
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