The Christ who reveals - Matthew 11:20-30

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 18th November 2001.

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I want to begin this morning by telling you about two friends of mine. The first friend is not yet a Christian. Many of us have tried to explain the gospel to him over the years. And on one occasion he actually came with me to a talk where I knew the good news about Jesus would be faithfully presented. So we went and it was. And yet what happened after the talk? Nothing. And this happened time and again. No matter often people would speak to my friend about Christianity, he would not budge. The second friend also heard the good news about Jesus on a number of occasions. He was very self assured, and would say now that he was very proud and arrogant. And yet over time he came to see that he must submit his life to Jesus Christ, and that is what he did. With everything else having been stripped away, he came to know God.

Well I guess those experiences that I had with my friends are pretty typical. All of us will have had mixed experiences in seeking to share our faith with friends and family. And perhaps the more frequent response has been the negative one. It may be that you feel like the fishermen who went fishing all day and yet caught nothing. So he trudged home and when he got back his wife asked him: "Did you catch any fish then, dear?" And he replied: "No, but I think I influenced a few". Maybe you feel that you have not caught any but you have influenced a few. But after a while that can be discouraging. Will any of my friends or family become Christians? How long is it going to take?

Last week, we saw that we who live this side of the cross and resurrection are truly great, not in our personal qualities but in the privilege and responsibility we have in pointing people to Jesus. Even the smallest and weakest of us is greater than John because we can point people to Jesus in all his glory. But in this ministry that God has given us, there is disappointment and rejection of the message, as well as sometimes the messenger. How do we cope? Well one way is to look and see what is going on behind the scenes, to see things from God’s perspective. And that is what Jesus is doing in these verses. He is showing us some of the behind the scenes workings in our responses to him both negatively and positively. So this morning let’s sit at Jesus’ feet and see what he teaches us from these important verses:

1) Jesus Condemns the Proud (vv 20-24)

2) Jesus Reveals the Father (vv 25-27)

3) Jesus Invites the Weary (vv 28-30)

 

1) Jesus Condemns the Proud (vv 20-24)

So first then, Jesus condemns the proud. Verse 20: "Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. Woe to you Korazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! 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." Now Bethsaida was where some of the disciples lived and is mentioned a few times in the gospels. And clearly these two villages had had many miracles done in their presence. But after all Jesus had shown them, still they had not listened. And Jesus comments that if had done a similar work in Tyre and Sidon, two cities that were routinely berated as being pagan cities by the prophets like Ezekiel and Amos, then they would have repented. And the same goes for Capernaum. She was Jesus’ base of operations when he was in Galilee. The gospels record many miracles being done in that town, and yet still they did not repent. And, says Jesus, if these miracles had been done in Sodom, then it would have remained to this day instead of being burnt to the ground because of God’s judgement. Sodom was a byword for every evil vice under the sun, as it is today. It was the place in which the men of the town had tried to rape Lot’s male visitors in Genesis 19. And even this town, with all it’s baseness and evil, would have repented had Jesus done his miracles there.

So what is Jesus saying? Well the point is this. Bethsaida, Korazin and Capernaum had far more of the light of God shown to them and they had far more opportunities to repent than the towns of Tyre and Sidon and Sodom, and yet they refused to repent. Jesus did all those signs and miracles in these villages, and yet they refused him. And that, says Jesus makes them more culpable. They have received more light, therefore they will be judged more severely. Verse 24: "It will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you." The greater the measure of light given to someone, the greater the measure of responsibility.

And what was their crime? Were they outwardly antagonistic to Jesus? Did they hound him out of town? Well we’re not told what the response was in Korazin and Bethsaida in the rest of the gospels. But one thing is clear from these verses. They were proud. That’s what Jesus is getting at in verse 23: "And you Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths, or as the original says, to hell." They thought they were great, but instead they will be humbled. Their crime was that they did nothing. They were arrogantly apathetic. And that says Jesus is a worse crime than Sodom’s. Can you believe that? Sodom with all her horrific sexual sinfulness is actually better off than these Palestinian villages who saw and rejected Christ! Sodom might plead ignorance, though God in his justice still punished her. Yet Capernaum, Bethsaida and Korazin cannot plead ignorance. They are guilty as charged. They saw Jesus’ miracles, and they rejected him. And so Sodom’s punishment will be more bearable on the day of judgement than theirs.

Now this is a very stern warning from the Lord Jesus. He was the one in the NT who spoke the most about judgement and he warns those who hear the gospel not to reject it. The more light you receive, the more culpable you are. That’s clear throughout the NT. And for those here today who have heard the gospel over and again and yet have not repented, then you need to take this very seriously. Well don’t be proud, or you’ll have to answer for it. As we’ll see later you must come to Jesus. It’s not a question of not enough evidence. It’s all there.

One of the most scary and chilling conversations I ever had took place some years ago when I was talking to a student. He seemed to have become a Christian- he went to all the events, he did Bible studies, and he even went on Christian holiday camps. And yet after a while it became clear all was not well. Something was terribly wrong. Although at first he had seemingly understood the gospel, yet now he had flatly rejected it and was openly hostile to Jesus. I showed him passages like this which explain how we are under God’s judgement if we reject him, especially when we have received so much light. And he just smiled and said: "I’ve heard it all before and I shall accept my fate." And Jesus will say to him: "It will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Sodom than for you." And I guess this explains the stubborn refusal of some of our friends to come to Christ. They are proud. We must pray that God would humble them and have mercy on them. And may none of us put ourselves in that situation by persistent pride and rebellion. Come to Christ and repent while there is still time. For Jesus condemns the proud.

 

 

2) Jesus Reveals the Father (vv 25-27)

But then secondly, we see that Jesus reveals the Father. Having read verses 20-24, we might be tempted to think why this is so? Why do people proudly reject Jesus and his good news of God’s forgiveness. Well Jesus shows us in these verses that it is all to do with revelation. Jesus prays in verse 25: "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." Now revelation is at the heart of the Bible. By this we mean the fact that God reveals himself to his creation. And without that revelation we would never know him.

I can tell you a lot about my brother this morning. I can tell you that he has blonde hair and blue eyes and that he lives in Watford. But however much I tell you about him, you won’t know him until you meet him and he begins to share something of himself with you. The point is that you cannot have any sort of relationship with anyone until there is some form of revelation on both sides. And that is supremely important with God. There is no way we human beings can know the invisible and immortal, holy God unless he decides to show us something of himself, and that, says Jesus, is exactly what he has done.

First, Jesus says, the Father reveals himself to the humble. Verse 25: "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." Jesus says that God has revealed himself to the little children. Jesus’ point is this: God reveals the truth about himself and his ways to those who know they are not worthy to be part of his kingdom. The children are not literally little ones, but those with a child like dependency on God. To those who realise they are paupers spiritually God reveals himself. But from the proud and self assured, they that believe they are OK, God keeps his ways hidden so that they cannot see. And that is part of God’s judgement. So the more you rebel against God and claim self sufficiency, the more the things of God will be hidden from you. The mark of the Christian is humility.

I came across a story recently about one particular church which had seen a number of marvellous conversions. One man was a burglar who had been sent to prison for seven years and had become a Christian on his release. Well one Sunday, the pastor was leading the communion and he noticed the burglar receiving communion next to a High Court Judge, the very same Judge that had sent the burglar to prison. Neither seemed to be aware of the other. After the service the Judge asked the pastor, "Did you see who I was kneeling next to during the communion?" "Yes," said the pastor, "but I didn’t think you’d noticed." There was a pause and then the Judge said, "What an amazing miracle of grace." "Yes, it is," replied the pastor. "Oh," said the Judge, "But I’m not referring to the burglar, I’m talking about myself." He went on to explain. "You see, it was natural for the burglar to receive the grace of God when he came out of prison. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him, and when he saw that Jesus was his Saviour he knew there was salvation and hope and he knew how much he needed Christ. But look at me. I was taught from the cradle to live as a gentleman; that my word was my bond; that I was to say my prayers, to go to church, to take Communion and so on. I went to Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a Judge. It was God’s grace that drew me; it was God’s grace that opened my heart to receive it. I’m a greater miracle of his grace." That judge knew he had to humble himself to know the Father.

But secondly, the Father reveals himself through Jesus. Verse 27: "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Jesus is talking here about the relationship between the Father and the Son. See how Jesus puts it. "No-one knows the Son except the Father." In other words the only person who knows Jesus inside out is the Father. But "no-one knows the Father except the Son." The only one that truly knows the Father is the Son. Jesus is talking about the relationship between the Trinity, between God himself. And it appears no-one can get it, no-one can have such a relationship with God except himself. But notice what happens next. "No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Can you get that? It is possible to be part of this amazing relationship between Father and Son because Jesus is willing to make the Father known to us. And it’s all through Jesus. Jesus is the way by which we can know God. It is Jesus only who reveals God’s character. No other way.

But notice before we move on that Jesus chooses in verse 27. He chooses to reveal the Father to people. And in the Bible we cannot escape the fact that it is God who takes the sovereign initiative to rescue. It is his choice to rescue sinners and reveal himself. And yet at the same time, human beings are responsible to God. Like the people of Capernaum we will be judged justly on our response to Christ. And that is a wonderful reassurance for us in evangelism. We cannot do God’s job of salvation, but we are to do our job of sharing the good news. We leave the rest up to God. John Wesley understood this well when he said: "I preach as if it were all down to me, but I pray as if it were all down to God." In other words he does his part, and he asks God to do his part. And let’s pray for our friends that God will. So understanding revelation is vital if we are not to get discouraged in evangelism. For God hides himself from the proud, but reveals himself to the humble, and that is his sovereign will through his Son. For Jesus reveals the Father.

 

3) Jesus Invites the Weary (vv 28-30)

But then lastly we find that Jesus invites the weary in verses 28-30. And we might be thinking, well this is all well and good. It’s interesting to see that Jesus condemns the proud and that he reveals the Father, but what does it mean for me? Well the application comes in these final three verses: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest." Because Jesus condemns the proud, and because Jesus reveals the Father, it is vital that we come to Jesus to find rest for our souls. Now notice who it is that Jesus calls. It is those who are weary and burdened. Those who are humble, not proud, those who know themselves to be sinners, those burdened by guilt and shame. That’s the only qualification you need.

And notice what Jesus gives us in return. In verse 29 Jesus asks us to take his yoke upon us and to learn from him. The yoke was what cattle wore to pull ploughs through fields. It symbolises discipleship. But the thing about Jesus’ yoke is that it is not burdensome or heavy. It is easy and light. For Jesus is gentle and humble in heart. Notice Jesus only demands from us what he already has- humility, which was shown ultimately on the cross. He humbled himself to death, even death on a cross. That’s the sort of Christ we are coming to. It’s not that his demands are not rigorous. We’ve seen from Matthew 10 that Jesus demands everything from us. Rather his yoke is easy and light because we are now under his gentle and loving authority. Jesus echoes Jeremiah 6 v 16 where the prophet says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." Putting on Jesus yoke is to walk in God’s ways and that is true joy and delight.

But not only does Jesus give us his yoke when we come to him, but also rest. And that rest is supremely the wonderful joy of being at peace with God, sins forgiven, the relationship repaired. And one day that rest will be seen in all its joy when we reach heaven and enjoy God personally forever, delighting that there really are no more worries or cares. So this invitation is for two sets of people. To the person who is not yet a Christian, Jesus says come to me and find rest for your souls. Nothing else will provide it, no-one else will give it. Only me. Only I can point you to the Father. But to those of us who are Christians Jesus says, come to me today to find rest and walk with me today, this week. Come to me when you are weary and discouraged in the gospel battle. Learn from me today for I am gentle and humble in heart. That is what we supremely need. To walk with the Saviour today and this week, this year, all our lives, serving with joyful gratitude him who reveals the Father to us and gives us rest. For Jesus invites the weary.

Well the task of the sharing the gospel with others can be a daunting one. But here Jesus takes us behind the scenes and shows us God’s perspective on the task. We should hear the warning that Jesus condemns the proud. We should rejoice in the fact that Jesus reveals the Father to us, and we should humbly come to Jesus, the one who invites the weary. For he alone can give us rest.

 


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