Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matthew 11:24 (Holman) “But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the
land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Sodom will someday settle the score with Capernaum. The latter was guiltier because it had, yet rejected, Jesus, the brightest light of God humans will ever see. Those who reject more light fare worse than those who reject less light. God measures guilt based on opportunity neglected, the quantity of light rejected.
The implications of this for Gospel-saturated Westerners are staggering. Where are we on God’s responsibility gauge? Our living in the freest nation ever, and having “all things Christian,” may undo us. Tremble, dear USA. More light has shined on us than on anyone else in history. We live after the cross and resurrection, know them, and have for 400 years been free to openly discuss them.
We have a completed New Testament, and unlimited access to it, but having and believing the Bible is no substitute for reading and obeying it. The Holy Spirit has come upon us in full power, causing us to know God answers prayer.
We have churches aplenty and multitudes of preachers boldly proclaiming God’s Word. Perk up our ears. Always try to hear the message of God as if we have never heard it before. Listen as if our life depends on it, for it does.
We enjoy it all. What Matthew Henry said of his generation also applies to ours. People “of this age, whether they go to Heaven or Hell, will be the greatest debtors in either of these places, if to Heaven, the greatest debtor to divine mercy for those rich means that brought them thither; if to Hell, the greatest debtors to divine justice, for those rich means that would have kept them from thence.”
Every spiritual opportunity we encounter brings us potential benefits and dangers. We cannot stay the same when we read the Word or hear it preached.
We are either more blessed or guiltier, lifted up or dragged down. Every spiritual encounter expands our capacity, either for reward or for punishment.
Believers are worse off if they do not take advantage of opportunities to be better. Unbelievers, if they ignore the call to repent, stumble deeper into unbelief.
Jesus, seeing the distant future, warned of a coming Judgment Day. How should we respond and best prepare? What God requires of believers isn’t hard to discern. We don’t have to be rocket scientists to know our duty. God made what He wants of us very plain and simple to us, giving us the great commandment, love God first and others second, and the great commission, go find the lost.
Worship. Serve. Go. Attend church, pray, and daily be in the Word, poring over Scripture. Minister to the poor, sad, or hurting. Tell the lost about a Savior.
Our duties are simple to state, but not minor matters. We have opportunity to do them, and will answer to God someday for responsibility fulfilled or rejected.
Unbelievers who in this life reject Jesus as Savior will face Him as Judge. Someday every knee will bow before Jesus, admitting He is Lord. The only hope for attaining Heaven is to bow before Him willingly and joyfully before we die.
Our text yields one more truth. We will be judged not only for sins, but also for how much more good we could have done, had it not been our own fault.
Self-reproach will be one of Hell’s worst torments and tortures. In His every decision, God will be vindicated. In perdition all blame is self-borne.
Abraham said to the rich man in Hell, “Son, remember” (LK 16:25). A huge punishment will be knowing we had ample opportunity to go to Heaven, but wasted it. Don’t let the story end here. We appeal to you to come to our Jesus.
Matt. 11:25a “At that time Jesus said, I praise You,. . .”
These words grant us a deep look into the psychological bent of our Savior. The initial heady days of popularity were ending. Rejection from His hometown and its nearby towns was a precursor to opposition about to begin coming in like a flood. From our view, Christ’s situation was beginning to look bleak and urgent.
In our imaginations we stand next to Jesus and grieve with Him over the many who reject the Gospel as compared to the few who receive it. Sharing His burden, we are all disappointed when more don’t respond. We sadly marvel at people’s ability to reject Christianity’s overwhelming evidence.
We tend to blame ourselves for the unbelief of others. “What did I do wrong, what could I change, should I preach harder, how could I do a better job?”
Introspection helps, but needs to be tempered. Our text grants consolation here. Listeners rejected truth from Jesus’ own lips. Don’t expect all to believe us.
Our text grants us a glimpse of Christ’s mental state of being. We need to imitate how our Savior handled the burden of repeated, painful discouragements. He modeled how we should respond when confronted with a sad state of affairs.
First, Jesus did not expect any special treatment. He not only took our flesh. He experienced our frail, broken, sad condition. Jesus felt what we feel. Our King faced difficulties and setbacks. Let’s not expect to fare better than He did.
Second, Jesus remained calm. He stayed serene at the center of a hurricane. Jesus stood in the peaceful, calm eye of the storm. Furious gales make it hard for us to retain our composure. Too often circumstances tend to control our attitudes. When winds and rain begin to blow, let our first response be steadiness, not panic.
Third, Jesus remained sweet. Though spurned by many, Jesus did not turn bitter or cynical. When shadows cross our path, we tend to whine and give up.
Jacob said, “All these things are against me” (GN 42:36). Moses said the load was too heavy to bear. Elijah complained bitterly to God and asked to die. Jeremiah wanted to flee. Jesus, though, never frustrations turn Him sour.
Fourth, Jesus gave thanks. He here foreshadowed and demonstrated Paul’s admonition, “In everything give thanks” (I Thess. 5:18). This does not mean we should be happy about painful events and bad days in and of themselves. We are rather being promised God will so order our lives that we can always, however dark the occasion, find things to give thanks for. We can become so obsessed with the burden at hand that we forget God’s gracious providence always surrounds us.
Thanksgiving is a proper response to perplexity. When flood waters begin to rise, and we can’t think of anything else to do, hasten to find what can prompt thanksgiving from us. There will always be something we can thank God for.
Our Lord used thanksgiving to vent inner pressure. By giving thanks, He relieved grief over His hometown rejecting Him. On the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion, right after His betrayer was dismissed, Jesus thanked God for food (MT 26:26).
Offering thanks while in adversity can help mental well-being. We may for a moment be overwhelmed with a problem, unable to bring it into spiritual focus.
If we focus on something else we can give thanks for, by putting our hearts in a spiritual mode we may begin to pull into the time of prayer the problem which had eluded spiritual help. Thanksgiving about one thing may provide a gravity pulling something else into the vortex of our spiritual walk. What was at first viewed an impossible burden, becomes manageable as part of our life before God.
Thanksgiving helps us have a spiritual perspective on everything. William Romaine says, “Gratitude makes even a temporal blessing a taste of heaven.”
Fifth, Jesus took the position of a worshiper. Experiencing rejection and ill-treatment, Christ turned His eye from people to God. Jesus worshiped the Father.
We too need to live in a mood of worship. Thoughts about God should always be buoyant within us, ever bubbling to the surface of our minds.
The Psalmist, when contemplating his need for help, wrote, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills” (PS 121:1a), referring to the mountain range God’s temple sat on. The Psalmist found solace by lifting up His eyes and looking toward God.
This is our best hope for mental stability. Ivor Powell says, when we look back, we are ashamed; when ahead, we are scared; if within, we are disappointed; when around, we are apprehensive, but when we look to God, we are safe.
Even when we cannot interpret God’s purposes, we retreat into His love. When we don’t understand His hands, what He’s doing, we trust His heart, what He is. This is a basic, bedrock, elementary aspect of our faith. We are made to worship God, to love Jesus more, but we can not worship someone we do not trust.