The Critical & The Apathetic – Matthew 11:16-24

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

July 25, 1993

The Critical & The Apathetic

Matthew 11:16-24



Turn with me to Matthew 11. We have been examining this chapter the last couple of weeks and will be continuing in it this morning. One of the things we should have already noticed in our study is that Matthew is now presenting a new chapter in the ministry of Jesus.

The theme of the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus is the king. Matthew documents that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ. In the first several chapters of the book, Matthew introduces Jesus as the king. Jesus was born according to prophecy with His genealogy as the Son of David, His conception in the Virgin Mary, His birthplace in Bethlehem. The wrath of evil King Herod and Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt were also in fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus was preceded by John the Baptist who heralded His coming. All of this was according to the Old Testament prophets. (See: Jesus the Messiah The Messiah’s Herald).

What Jesus did as he began His ministry also demonstrated that He was the Messiah. He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, and the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus with a voice from heaven calling out, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  (See: The Baptism of Jesus) . Jesus withstood the temptations that the Devil put against Him. (See: The Temptation of Jesus, Part 1). Jesus’ ministry was one of compassion while calling for the people to repent, for the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

Matthew then documented the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Such a sermon could only have come from Jesus. It was in complete contrast to what the Scribes and Pharisees had been teaching – both in content and in manner, for Jesus taught with authority that true righteousness is from the heart and not outward conformity to man’s rules and regulations. Jesus describes what kingdom citizens should be like and how they should live, but the life He describes is impossible for man except through the power of the Holy Spirit. (See: Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount).

In Matthew 8-10 give further documentation that Jesus is the Messiah by showing that He has power that can only come from God. Jesus has the credentials of the king. Jesus has authority over disease and sickness, nature, the supernatural, death, and even the authority to forgive sin which only belongs to God Himself.  (See: Jesus’ Authority Over Sin). Jesus also had authority to commission representatives for Himself, and in Matthew 10 we saw that Jesus gave instructions and warnings to His Disciples before they were sent out as Apostles (ones sent with His authority to proclaim the message that the kingdom of heaven was at hand and to perform attesting miracles to backup that claim). (See: Instructions for Ministry).

Matthew 11 records a change in Jesus’ ministry, and from this point on we are going to see continual challenges to Jesus’ authority. There had been some minor questioning of Jesus before, but from this point on it will be an under lying theme. Some of that challenge will be as we saw in John the Baptist who was beginning to have doubts and sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him, "Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" John wanted to know if Jesus was really the Messiah or had he been mistaken. John’s challenge was not confrontational, but a questioning search for the truth. Remember that one of John’s marks of greatness was that he was a truth seeker. John handled his doubts properly by going to the source of truth – Jesus – and he came away assured by what his disciples reported Jesus was doing in direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Messiah. (See: Overcoming Doubt) .

Last week we spent our time examining John the Baptist because Jesus said in Matthew 11:11 that "among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist." No one prior to John was greater – not Abraham, not Moses or Joshua, or any of the judges including Samuel, not any of the kings including David, not any of the prophets including Isaiah and Daniel. No one prior to John was greater. Part of that was John’s character as a truth seeker, a man of strong convictions based on the truth, humility, self-sacrificing for the sake of the kingdom of God, and faithfulness to his calling. Those are marks that could be true of any of us.

But John’s greatest mark of greatness was the unique position he held as the herald of the Messiah. John’s message gave him a position of greatness. The law and the prophets told of a coming king. John proclaimed that the king is now present! (Matthew 11:13). And as I mentioned last week in reference to the end of verse 11, those who are in the kingdom of heaven – true Christians – are greater than John because our message is that Jesus the Messiah has come and redeemed us from our sinful estate paying the price of his own life on the cross of Calvary as our substitute. Our message is greater than John’s.

But the emphasis in the passage goes back to John and his message because Jesus’ message is built upon John’s. Using the alternate translation of verse 12, "and from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is pressing forward vigorously, and vigorous men are eagerly taking possession of it." John’s message was that Messiah is here, the kingdom is at hand, the kingdom was moving forward, and people were entering into it. Those who understood John’s message recognized that he was the fulfillment of Micah 4 that Elijah would precede Messiah and they accepted him as the one coming in the spirit and power of Elijah preparing the way for Messiah. (See: True Greatness).

But not everyone accepted John’s message. Many are those that rejected him being the forerunner of Messiah. Jesus warned them in verse 15, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Jesus affirmed that John’s message was true and they should take heed. In Matthew 11:16-24 Jesus describes some of those that would not take heed to John’s message or to Jesus’ message. There were those that were critical and those that were apathetic.

If people treated John the Baptist and Jesus with such attitudes and responses, then we will certainly be treated the same as we live for Christ. Pay attention as we examine this passage to see how you can expect people to treat you, and for how Jesus responded to them so that you might be careful to respond in the same manner.

The Critics

Matthew 11:16-19, "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children and say, ‘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, ‘Behold a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."


Verse 16 begins with the statement "But to what shall I compare this generation?" How can he describe the nature of this generation that has been privileged to see and hear both John the Baptist and Jesus, and yet still reject them and their message? In what way can Jesus describe their behavior? Jesus chooses a comparison that demonstrates their childishness.

"It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance, we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’" Children like to play games and what is being described here are two games that were often played by the children who gathered in the market place while their parents transacted business of 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. Some children want to play one game and others do not want to play that game so they criticize the first game. Then other children think of another game and some of the children do not want to play that game so they criticize it.

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. We may think that a bit strange, or at least we think playing funeral would be strange. I think we can imagine or may have even played wedding when we were children. But weddings and funerals were the big social events of the time. Events full of things for children to imitate in play.

Weddings are still important social events with many social activities involved in them including the bridal shower, bachelor party, rehearsal dinner, and then the wedding and reception. But all that can be done in a few days. In Jesus’ time weddings would take a week or more. In addition, weddings are now generally held so as to minimize inconvenience to the guests – i.e. Friday evenings and Saturdays are the most common so the guests will not have to miss much work. Back then weddings were held on either Wednesday (for maidens) or on Thursdays (for widows) in order to not interfere with the Sabbath worship. They were also never held during a festival. Wedding processions now involve a short walk up to the front of a church and then driving off in our cars to a reception hall. Back then it included walking in a procession from the bride’s house to the groom’s house. After the wedding ceremony there were also various activities, including the wedding feast that would 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 and 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 led by wailing women, then the body with the pall bearers switching off with others so many could have a part in that honor, then family, and townspeople. At the burial site there would be a short message and ceremony as the body was laid to rest. Again, there was much for the children to imitate in play.

I think we can easily imagine the scene that Jesus is painting for us. A group of children saying, "Let’s play wedding – Simon, you be the groom; Hannah, you be the bride; Joseph can be the friend of the groom; Abigail, you be the bride’s attendant. Play the music, let’s dance!" Then some of the other children (probably nine and ten year old boys) saying, "We don’t want to play wedding, only sissies want to play that." Another group of children then say, "Okay, let’s 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, let’s 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.

False Accusations

In verses 18 & 19 Jesus applied the analogy to the way they treated John and Him with false accusations. The Pharisees and their followers were are acting like children who are never satisfied. John came with a very serious message of repentance while living an austere life as a Nazirite. He did not eat or drink the pleasant common foods, but instead ate locust and wild honey. Their conclusion was that John was too harsh and unsociable therefore he must be demonized to say what he says and live that way.

Jesus came as the opposite. If John was the funeral, then Jesus was the wedding. Verse 19 says, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Behold a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!’ Jesus came with a message of hope for those that would repent. A message of God’s everlasting love. He was sociable, eating and drinking the common foods along with them. He even reached out to the outcasts of society with his message of grace and mercy. The result was they said that Jesus could not be a holy man from God. They did not think He was ascetic enough in denying himself, and since He ate and drank with anyone including, including those unrighteous tax-collectors and sinners, then He must be a glutton and drunkard.

Jesus’ critics were not interested in the truth, but only in their own shortsighted and flawed thoughts. They were childish people demanding their own way even though their way was inconsistent with itself. They would not be satisfied. Since Jesus and John could not be reasoned down, and the truth cannot, it was shouted down and false accusations were made against them and they were called names.

Jesus’ response was simple. They 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 their deeds of self- righteous hypocrisy. Many of those deeds we have already seen in our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Their twisting of the Mosaic law in order to justify their many sins including hatred, lust, adultery, lying, revenge, greed, pride, and materialism.

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.

We may be, and will be opposed by the enemies of Christ the more we become like Him. They will falsely accuse us and call us names (Matthew 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

Jesus reproved the people for their childish response to John and Himself, but Jesus had much stronger words of reproach for those who were apathetic towards Him. Matthew 11:20-24, 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 sack-cloth 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."

Their Behavior

It was the apathetic behavior of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum that drew such a strong reproach from the Lord. Remember that a large portion of Jesus’ ministry was done in Galilee where all three of these cities were located. Capernaum was the town that Jesus had chosen to be His home during the period of His Galilean ministry. Matthew 4:13 tells us that Jesus had left Nazareth and "settled in Capernaum." It was also the place where Simon, Peter, and Andrew lived (Mark 1:21, 29). 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 northwest 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 west in the plains of Gennesaret 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 king of sickness (Matthew 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 Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida would have no excuse for not responding to the Lord. They had heard His message with their own ears and seen His miracles with their own eyes. Yet their response was largely apathy, indifference. Oh, they rejoiced when they were physically healed, and they were amazed by all that 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, they 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). There was no true belief on their part, only a passing interest in Jesus. Life went on and they quickly returned to their daily activities with no further thought of Jesus.

Their Condemnation

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 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 destroyed Tyre according to the word of the prophets (Ezekiel 28:16-19, cf. Jeremiah 25:22; 47:4). Yet we find here that Jesus says that these cities would have responded better than Chorazin and Bethsaida to the Lord’s ministry. Therefore it would be better for them, meaning their inhabitants, in the day of judgment.

In the same manner, Capernaum would also be judged for their indifference to Jesus. The people of Capernaum were proud and thought themselves worthy of being exalted to heaven. Jesus says that instead they would descend to hades, here a reference for eternal hell. It would be better for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum. Sodom was and is the synonym for moral depravity. Its name is used in the description of the most extreme forms of homosexuality and sexual bestiality. Genesis 19 describes their utter corruption in that even after they were supernaturally blinded by angels, they were so enslaved to their homosexuality that they "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). There are degrees of punishment in hell and the Lord’s words here to Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida demonstrate that apathy and indifference are high on the list of things that the Lord hates and will punish.


The Warning

That leaves us with a warning. This last passage was written to emphasize the fact that the responsibilities of those who have been specifically privileged are greater by far than are those of the people who have not been so favored. The adage, "To whom much is given much is required," is true. These cities had heard the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and seen His many miracles, yet they remained indifferent to His claims on their lives. They did not reject Him outright. They even lived moral lives and tried to follow the Mosaic Law. But they did not respond to what Jesus said to them. 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 your 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. Confess your sin to Him, ask for His forgiveness, and that He would come into your life so that you will no longer live sinfully.

If you think you are a Christian, it means that obedience to Jesus’ commands is important. We cannot claim from Him what we want and ignore what we don’t like. Being a Christian means to be like Christ and that comes through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. You yield yourself to the Lord by doing what He tells you to do. He supplies the power and the ability while you supply the will.

If you are living for Christ the way you should and have received the kind of criticism that John the Baptist and Jesus received, then take heart and remain faithful. Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. May your deeds vindicate your godly wisdom as you follow after Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

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