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The Bad News and the Good News

Matthew 11:20-30 -  Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:  “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 

But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.  All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.  Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Background Notes:

The Gospel of Matthew is “the Gospel of the King and His Kingdom.” In the first 9 chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, the credentials of the King are given: His birth, His baptism, His testing in the wilderness, His preaching, and His miracles. But in chapters 10-12 a major transition takes place, because the King and the Kingdom are rejected. In Matthew 10, the Lord sent His disciples out with the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom. They were to go only to the cities of Israel and preach the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom. They were to proclaim, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” That is, the Messianic Kingdom that was promised in Old Testament prophecies was at hand. The Messiah was here! The disciples were given power to do miracles in order to back up this genuine offer of the kingdom to Israel.

However, the religious leaders of the nation rejected the King and His offer of the Kingdom. They hated the King who denounced them for their sin and hypocrisy, and they did their best to stir up the common people to reject their true King and the Kingdom that He offered. They wanted a political kingdom of their own making. In Matthew 11, we learn that the Galilean cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum rejected the King and the message of the Kingdom. In Matthew 12, we see that the religious leaders of the nation went so far as to attribute our Lord’s miracles to the power of Satan. This was unforgivable! This was “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 12:31-31).

The Kingdom that was rejected would now take a different form. In Matthew 13, we see for the first time that the Lord began to talk of the Kingdom in parables. The present form of the Kingdom would include the wheat and the tares, the good and the bad fish, the wise and the foolish virgins---until the King returns. And the gospel of Christ would go out to the whole world, as commanded in the Great Commission---not just to Israel, but to the whole world. The Church would be formed, and it would consist of both Jews and Gentiles.

At the end of Matthew 11 we have a prophetic glimpse of the Gospel of the Great Commission going out to the whole world, now that that offer of the Kingdom was being rejected by Israel.“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (v28). This was not the offer of the Kingdom that had been made to Jews only---and rejected. This was the offer of salvation to anyone who will believe.

  Doctrinal Points

1. Judgment was pronounced upon the unbelieving towns of Galilee.

This was the bad news. Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were doomed because of unbelief. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (v21).

“And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day”(v23).

Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were all towns in the Galilee area. Bethsaida and Capernaum were located right on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and Chorazin was located a short distance from the Sea to the northwest. Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of all three of these towns, and you can visit the ruins of these ancient towns in Israel today. The evidence of the Lord’s pronouncement of judgment on these cities is clearly evident. Some of the buildings have been restored, but scattered piles of rock remain to give a vivid reminder of the Lord’s prophetic announcement of judgment.

It is significant that Tiberias was a fourth city situated on the Sea of Galilee at that time. Judgment was not pronounced on Tiberias, and Tiberias is still standing today as a modern city. This fact certainly emphasizes that the ruins of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum today are evidence of the fulfillment of the Lord’s pronouncement of judgment on those villages.

Judgment was pronounced on these towns of Galilee because they rejected the King and His message of the Kingdom. Even though many wonderful miracles were done in these towns, giving the citizens overwhelming proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the people would not receive their King. The Lord said that if the same miracles had been performed in Sodom and in Tyre and Sidon, the people of those cities would have repented!

Tyre and Sidon were pagan cities of Phoenicia, and the wickedness of Sodom is well known. Those cities of Old Testament times were destroyed under God’s judgment because of their idolatry and wickedness. The Lord said that if the people of those wicked cities had seen the miracles that the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum had experienced, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes, and their cities would have remained to this day.

Therefore, Jesus said, that it would be more tolerable in the day of judgment for the people in those wicked cities than for the citizens of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Notice that this passage of Scripture indicates that there will be “degrees of punishment” in Hell. There are other passages of Scripture that indicate this as well. Consider, for example, what the Lord said in His parable about the unbelieving servants in Luke 12:42-48.

“The Lord answered, Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds so doing when he returns. 44 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”

“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

The teaching in these Scriptures is: the greater the privilege and the greater the light that is rejected, the greater will be the penalty. What does this say then about people who reject the truth in America today, in a land where the Bible is sold in every bookstore, and the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ is readily available? Quite a heavy thought, isn’t it? The bad news is that judgment was pronounced upon the unbelieving cities of Galilee then, and is still pronounced upon unbelieving people who reject the clear evidence that Jesus is Lord and King.

2. Rest is promised to those who are weary and worn. 

Praise the Lord, the Scripture of Matthew 11 does not end with the bad news of verses 20-24, but with the good news of verses 25-30. In verses 28-30, we read about “rest” and that’s good news for everyone! “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (vs 28-30).

In these well known verses the Lord promises two “rests”---the “rest” of salvation, and the “rest” of soul. Anyone who is weary and weighed down with the load of sin and its guilt can come to the Lord Jesus Christ and receive the “rest” that comes from salvation. No payment or works are necessary -- just come! Believe in the Lord Jesus as your Savior, because He died on the cross to pay for the penalty of your sins. The heavy burden of guilt and sin will be lifted, and you will experience “rest” as a result of salvation.

In verses 29-30 we also have the “rest” of soul. You may be a Christian and experiencing relief from your burden of sin and guilt as a result of your salvation, but your soul is not at rest. You’re anxious and worried about many things. You’re never satisfied or content. Perhaps you’re jealous of people around you, and thus you’re not at rest. Your soul is always in a state of turmoil and unrest. Do you want to experience “rest” for your soul? How do you get it? The answer is right here in verse 29: submit to the yoke of Christ.

Exactly what is the yoke of Christ? A yoke is a wooden neck harness for two oxen or other draft animals. Thus the yoke of Christ speaks of discipline and submission. Are you willing to submit to God’s sovereign ways in your life? Are you willing to submit to His discipline, so certain areas of your life can be corrected and changed? Or do you chafe at the yoke, and question God’s ways in your life? When we are willing to humbly submit to the yoke of Christ and learn the lessons that He has for us -- both in our easy times and in our hard times -- then we will find “rest” for our weary and troubled souls.

And guess what? We will find that the Lord’s yoke is not difficult, and it’s not heavy! In verse 30 He promised us, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” As we submit to His yoke, we learn that the Lord is gentle and tender with His pupils. Furthermore, we learn that the yoke of Christ is not unbearable because He is there beside us sharing and bearing the labor of any heavy load we face. Have you discovered the good news of this truth? Rest is promised to those who are weary and worried.

Practical Application

Praise the Lord in the midst of rejection and sorrow!

Can you praise God in the midst of rejection and sorrow? Our Lord did! Look at verses 25 and 26 of Matthew 11. “At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight” (vs25-26).

How do you think the Lord felt when He was rejected in the cities in which He had spent so much time and done such wonderful miracles? Certainly He felt the sorrow and pain of rejection. Yet the Lord, as the perfect Man, was able to praise the Father in the midst of rejection and sorrow, because He knew that all that was happening was under the control of the Father and was part of the sovereign program of God.

Furthermore, in verses 25 and 26 we see that the Lord was thankful for all those who had received the message of the Kingdom, like the disciples and other humble believers. In addition, the Lord was thankful for the intimate relationship that He had with His Father (v27).

“All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (v27). Think of the mystery of the complete intimacy within the Trinity! The relationship between Father and Son is unique, but God in His grace has made it possible for us to be brought into fellowship with Him. No one can know God except through the Lord Jesus. He is the only way to the Father. “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (v27). People can know about the one true God, but to really know Him is only possible through a relationship with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of these great truths were reasons why the Lord was able to praise the Father in the midst of rejection and sorrow, and they certainly have application for us. We too can praise the Lord, even in times of great disappointment and sadness. Those we love may be suddenly taken away from our presence. Friends may turn away from us. We may suffer great loss. We may be left in the lurch and stranded by people on whom we had depended. But because of our intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, we may praise the Lord in the midst of rejection and sorrow!
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