Bible Studies, The Gospels

The Condemned and the Accepted (Matthew 11:20-30)

            Today we will be dealing with a very difficult passage.  In this passage, we see that there are people that are condemned and some are accepted.  We will be looking at the warnings the condemned receive and the promises that the accepted receive, and then discussing the importance of making sure that we are in the accepted crowd.

First in verse 20, we will be looking at the Condemned.  Jesus gives a very stern warning to the cities in which he had ministered.  Woe to you, literally means warning of doom upon you.  Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were the cities in which most of Jesus’ miracles were performed, and yet their occupants rejected Jesus’ mission and remained unrepentant.  Jesus did not denounce these cities for their vicious opposition, but because they had not repented.  These cities are where most of Jesus’ miracles occurred, miracles that demonstrated that Jesus was the messiah, yet they still chose not to respond.

The people in these cities had seen Jesus, they had been amazed by Him, they had even admired Him, but they did not turn from their sin in response to His summons, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Think about this, the city where Jesus did more miracles than any other place during His earthly ministry.  The people of Capernaum had seen Him give sight to the blind, deliver demon-possessed men, heal paralytics, He had brought the dead back to life, they had seen it!  And yet, in the end, they did nothing in response.  And Jesus says that is worse than the immorality of Sodom, for they would have turned from their sin and they would remain to this day.  Oh, their hearts were so hard, spiritually indifferent to Jesus and unrepentant in their sin.

This was a shocking statement, first of all, because if you remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Old Testament, they were destroyed because they were cities of wicked and great sinners (Gen 13:13) that practiced sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desires (Jude 1:7).  This would have been shocking for a group of devout Jews to be compared to Sodom and Gomorrah.  Secondly, this statement is shocking because if God knew Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented then why did he not spare them, rather than wiping them from the face of the earth?

We get the explanation of these shocking statements in verses 21-22, we see that Jesus reminds us that not everyone has the same exposure to the Gospel.  This is an indisputable fact.  Jesus indicates that some would have repented had they had more light.  The question is why do some repent and others do not?  That is why in this passage we see that there are three theological intentions that are accepted by Jesus for the day of judgment.  First, is that the Judge has knowledge: he knows what Tyre and Sidon as well as Sodom and Gomorrah would have done under different circumstances.

This knowledge by God has a big fancy theological term called providence.  Providence is God’s holy, wise and all powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.  This passage is about a special kind of providence, the providence of God in Salvation.

Do you think that this doctrine is very popular today?  It is not very popular today, because people tend to think if God is in control of actions and outcomes, that interferes with our freedom.  The assumption behind this thinking is that our freedom is an absolute reality.  So you are left with three options, believe that God has some influence but not in control, or that God is not in control at all and is adjusting things as he goes, or you can believe what the Bible teaches that God is Sovereign over all things.

Now you might ask the question, is it important for us to learn about such theological terms like providence, sovereignty, and man’s responsibility.  Well, the answer is yes, it does matter.  Jesus taught about it and thought it was significant enough for His disciples to believe.  In fact, in this passage we learn five things about the providence of God:

  1. God’s providence is sovereign (v. 25-26).
  2. God’s providence is constant (v. 20-24).
  3. God’s providence evokes praise (v.25).
  4. Jesus is the steward of God’s providence, including the saving knowledge of God (v. 27)
  5. God’s providence is consonant with the free offer of the Gospel (v. 28-30).  (Duncan, 2001)

The second theological intention of this passage is that God does not owe revelation to anyone, or else there is injustice in withholding it.  We do not want what we deserve, because what we deserve is Hell because of our Sins.  God would still be just if he sent all of us to Hell.  However, because he is gracious (meaning that he freely gives to us what we do not deserve) and merciful (withholding what we do deserve) to us we can come into his presence through his son Jesus Christ.  And third, is the punishment on the Day of Judgment takes into account opportunity.  There are degrees of torment in hell.  Basically, when God comes to judge, things will go worse for the cities that have received so much light than for the pagan cities.

In verses 2024, we see that God’s providence is in agreement with the most urgent calls and warnings of judgment.  Bible-believing Christians will not deliberately oppose two clear teachings of scripture, in order to argue one against the other.  We must be the supreme examples of believing in God’s sovereignty and being urgent in pleading with sinners.  God’s sovereignty is not an obstacle to evangelism; it is the vehicle of energy for it.  It motivates.

In verses 20-24, we saw how Jesus described the condemned, now as we look at verses 25-30, we will be looking at the accepted.  In verse 25, we receive another very surprising statement to these first century Jews.  This is because the wise and learned were considered to be the Pharisees and teachers of the law, but Jesus says the accepted are like little children.  The contrast is between those who are self-sufficient and deem themselves wise and those who are dependent and love to be taught.

Also in verse 25, it is clear that God remains the one who reveals and conceals.  Is this a problemIs God revealing himself to some, but concealing himself from others a problem for youDoes that sound unjustGod is just because he is dealing with a race of sinners, whom he owes nothing.  Therefore, to conceal “these things” is not an act of injustice but of judgment, the very judgment we all deserve.  Therefore, the astonishing part is not that God reveals and conceals, the astonishing part is that He reveals Himself to us at all.

However, God’s predestination is not at random, there is a pattern.  Those who pride themselves in understanding divine things are judged, but those who understand nothing are taught.  However, it is not us that seeks to be humble, but Christ working through us to make us humble, so our salvation is of no merit of our own.  Now this does not mean that education and intellect are unimportant, but that these are not what qualifies you to know the Father.  The only way to know the Father is through the Son.

Therefore, we can conclude that we do not come to the father through our self-righteous religion or prideful intellect, but in the humble trust of a child, acknowledging our total dependence on the Father.  This is salvation, and it leads right into this last portrait of Jesus.  He is the promised Messiah, the authoritative Judge, the sovereign Son, and he is the gracious master.

How does Jesus respond to God’s revealing and concealing, does he find it unfair?  No, at the end of verse 25 we find him rejoicing in it.  Jesus thanks God the Father for hiding the truth from some people.  However, Jesus also invites all to the table.  This balance mirrors the balance in scripture.  Jesus could simultaneously denounce the cities that did not repent and praise the God who does not reveal; for God’s sovereignty in election is not diminished by man’s stubbornness and sin, while man’s responsibility is in no way diminished by God’s good pleasure that sovereignly reveals and conceals.

Verses 25 & 26, emphasizes God’s sovereign power.  Jesus emphasizes God’s sovereign power.  He says God has hidden spiritual truth from some (those who are proud) and has revealed it to others (the humble).  This is because of God’s good pleasure.

However, objections may be raised.  Some would say this interferes with our freedom, God concealing and revealing is not fair, it is not loving.  Think, though.  Christians FIRST need to deal with the question, “What does the Bible teach?”  before asking, “How can that be?”  Behind the thought that God may be unfair or unloving is the suspicion that WE are more fair and loving than God.  But this is not a possibility.  We know, however, that we ourselves are unfair and unloving.

In verse 27, we see that Jesus is the steward of God’s providence, including the saving knowledge of God.  This verse is a introduction to an evangelistic call to accept the Gospel.  In this invitation, Jesus is asserting His authority to issue the call.  He is making it known that the Lord of providence is Jesus Christ.  Without this being true, Jesus saying come to me, makes no sense.

Now in verses 28-30, we also see that God’s providence is in agreement with the free offer of the Gospel.  I want you to imagine the person that you are the most afraid of.  Whether it be a terrorist, a gang member all inked up, a big bad biker dude, or a teacher, or your grandmother.  Whoever it is, imagine yourself sharing the gospel with them.

Are you still afraid, are they beyond reach?  No, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to save even the most fearful of people and in fact often that is who God calls us to share the Gospel with is those that are outside of our comfort zones.

Do we underestimate the gospel’s ability to change what we think are the worst of sinners, the hardest of hearts?

I am afraid that we fall failure to this all the time.  Is there a reason that most of look alike, come from a similar background?  We have to assume two things when we become a church that is very similar in age, race, and in social class.  We can either assume that God is not powerful enough to reach people that are different from us, that we are his favorite kind of people.

Or, we should rightly assume that we are doing something wrong in our evangelism, because God is a God that calls all people, not just white middle class people.  He calls poor people, rich people, white people, black people, Hispanics, Asians, rednecks, Yankees, geeks, freaks, nerds, athletes, tall people, short people, intelligent people, dumb people, and even people with mental health disabilities.  God has the power to save Samaritans, prostitutes, homosexuals, drug addicts, alcoholics, people that have committed adultery, murders, rapists, farmers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, government officials, firemen, and policemen.  God has the power to save anyone and there is no one that we should not witness to because the gospel is powerful enough to reach them all.

We are to be no more restrictive in our offer to unbelievers than was our Lord.  Christ promises rest, spiritual rest, to all those who come to Him, rest from the burden of sin, with a peace of conscience in a sense of God’s love.  Are you experiencing that rest?  The only place you can find rest is in Christ, by believing Jesus is who He says he is, by repenting of your sin and turning from trust in yourself to trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord, Savior, and Treasure.

Christ calls us to service.  Christ’s heart is called humble.  Though rulers will position themselves before Him, He humbled Himself even unto death for you.  Unburden yourself from your attempts to make your own way and take His yoke.  Why?  Because Jesus is gentle and humble, and He will give you rest.

We must put these truths into practice. Labor to know that you may do.  Do not merely speculate on God’s providence, Do not wonder if God is revealing or concealing himself to you, run to Him.  Jesus is the one who invites.  Not the wise and learned, but the weary and burdened.  The Son reveals the Father, not to gratify learned curiosity or to reinforce the self-sufficiency of the arrogant, but to bring the little children (v.25) to know the father (v.27) and to introduce the weary to eternal rest (v.28).

In verse 28, we receive an invitation.  Jesus says, Come to me.  Jesus wants for you to know him personally, not merely to believe historical facts about him.  All who labor and are heavy laden refers in the immediate context to those oppressed by the burden of religious legalism imposed on people by the scribes and Pharisees.  However, the wider application is that Jesus provides “rest for your souls” (v. 29)—that is, eternal rest for all who seek forgiveness of their sins and freedom from the crushing legalistic burden and guilt of trying to earn salvation by good works.

In verse 29, we get an image of what this eternal rest looks like.  The yoke was a wooden frame joining two animals (usually oxen) for pulling heavy loads was a metaphor for one person’s subjection to another, and a common metaphor in Judaism for the law.  The Pharisaic interpretation of the law, with its extensive list of proscriptions, had become a crushing burden.  (Carson, 1995)

Now in a shared yoke like this, one of the oxen would most often be much stronger than the other.  The one was stronger, more experienced, more schooled in the commands of the master, and that animal would then guide the other according to the master’s commands. So by coming into the yoke with the stronger ox, the weaker ox could learn to obey the master’s voice.

This is exactly what Jesus does for us, he invites us to rest through simple commitment to him.  This yoke is a welcome relief to legalistic understanding of the Old Testament.  The rest Jesus promises is not only for the world to come but also for this one as well.

These last 3 verses, verses 28, 29, 30, I am convinced give one of the clearest, most powerful, most compelling, most beautiful pictures of Christianity the way Jesus designed it to be.  And at the same time, these verses give one of the most clearest, most powerful, most forceful rebukes of what we have created Christianity to be today.  I want you to see two simple life changing truths that emerge from this text that I believe sum up what Christianity is.  That depicts the radical nature of Christianity and what separates Christianity apart from every other religious system in the world.  And I want for us to see two simple life changing truths that I am convinced that we have a dangerous tendency to completely miss out on their meaning in the church today.

Truth number one: We give up all we have to Jesus.  In this passage, we see a people who had a religion that was dominated by all the things that they were supposed to do.  And that is what he is talking about with this burden that is heavy that has made them weary.  You had people who were living under all these rules and all these regulations and they felt like they never could measure up. And they were constantly getting more laws and more rules and more regulations put on them.  The Pharisees made rules to keep them from breaking rules.

However on the contrast, Jesus takes the full weight of our sin. This is what it means to come into the yoke.  We give up all we have to Jesus. This is something we want to give up to him.  We give him the full weight of our sin.
This is the beauty of Christianity.  We do not have to bear the weight of our sin anymore.  And this is what Jesus is calling us to, but this is not where Christianity stops.  I am convinced it is where most of our Christianity has stopped.  Most of us view Christianity as giving Jesus our sin and that is it.  The only problem is, what do you do now?  I have said a prayer, been dunked in the baptistery, what now?  Now that you have given Jesus your sin, how are you going to live your life?  How do you live the Christian life once you have given Jesus our sin?

If you stop there, we have still got a lot of questions unanswered. And we are missing out on a lot of what Jesus is calling us to.  So I want you to see that when we talk about giving up all we have for Jesus, being a follower of Christ, giving him the full weight of our sin, that is not where Christianity stops, it is where Christianity starts.
Besides our sins, we also give Jesus our complete and utter inability to obey God.  The yoke in this passage that Jesus is talking about, that he is contrasting his yoke with, it all revolves around the Jewish law. You have got the law on you, he is telling them.  But here is the deal, Jesus is not saying that the law is a bad thing.  Jesus believed the law was a good thing.  In fact, he said back in the Sermon on the Mount, remember, I came not to abolish the law, but to what? To fulfill it.
The law is a good thing.  Remember the illustration of the game of baseball and how without rules, the game of baseball would be total chaos.  Therefore, if we are going to get the most joy out of life we have to play by the rules, just like how we get the most joy out of the game of baseball.

Jesus is not saying you come to me because the law is not important, so you come to me and live however you want.  That is not what he is saying.  What Jesus is saying is you come to me because you have got his law on you and there is no way that you can fulfill the law on your own.  He says you have come to me because without me you will never be able to obey God and you will never to be able to please God.

However, the danger of contemporary Christianity, is that we think we can.  We think we can obey the law.  We think we can please God.  I am convinced the majority of us who have come to faith in Jesus have taken it upon ourselves to try and live the Christian life on our own to the point that we are in danger of missing the point of Christianity altogether.
To prove this point, How do you define the Christian life?  Most often we define the Christian life based on what we do.  If you are a Christian and you pray, you study the Bible, you share the gospel, you watch decent movies, you do not smoke, you do not use profanity, you do not have sex outside of marriage, you do not get drunk or high, you do not do all the things the world does, this is what makes you a Christian.  And the majority of us begin to believe that God’s pleasure in our lives is based on what we do or do not do for him.

And if we do enough then God will be pleased with us and if we do not do enough or we fail him, then we have this sense that God is disappointed in us.  However, the truth is that we will never be able to please God with what you do. You will never, ever be able to please God with what you do.  Legalism is living as if you can earn the grace and forgiveness and pleasure of God with your personal performance.

The religious man or woman in this room who is trying to please God by going through a checklist is just as far from God as the atheist is.  Let me give you an example of how this thinking creeps in.  Let me give you two scenarios.

The first scenario: Your alarm clock goes off in the morning and you wake up immediately because you know you have got quiet time ahead of you.  And so you get out of bed and you go and you spend some time in prayer and you spend some time in the Word and things are going good from the very beginning of your day.  You are off to school from there.  It seems like everywhere you go you have got things planned out.  The presence of God is so real in your life.  Things are going well.  You are walking with him, living in communion with him, and you get to the end of your day and on your way home, you have the opportunity to share the gospel with somebody else.  That is Scenario Number 1.

Scenario Number 2: The alarm clock goes off the in the morning and you hit it about 6 or 7 times.  Snooze, snooze, snooze until there is not chance you are having a quiet time, the morning is anything but quiet for you.  You get up, rush, get ready, and you are off to school and everything is disorganized.  Nothing is working out the way it was supposed to.  You are going throughout your day and you do not have anything planned and the presence of God seems anywhere but near your life at this point.  It is nowhere close.  You are running through trying to get things done.  Finally you get to the end of an exhausted day.  You get to the end of your day and you head home and you have the opportunity to share the gospel with someone.  Now with those two scenarios, in which of these scenarios is God more likely to bless you in leading that person to Christ?

Our tendency is the majority of us would say definitely the first scenario.  But why do we even think that?  Here is why we even think that.  Because we really believe that God is blessing our lives is somehow based on our performance during the day.  Why would God be more likely to bless here than there?  And our answer might be because over here, I was walking with him. Over here, I just would not feel worthy.  I have ignored Him all day.  I would not be where I need to be spiritually in order to be ready for that, so he probably would not use me as much.  That is uncovering the hidden truth at the core of our Christianity.  We have got to weed out this idea that God’s blessing is based on our performance.  It is not.  It is not based on our performance.  God’s blessing in either one of these scenarios is based on His grace and nothing else.  It is not based on what you and I have to bring to the table.  The whole point of Christianity is the best that we bring to the table, is still not good enough.

The whole point of Christianity is that we have given Jesus our complete and utter inability to obey God.  We cannot do it.  So stop believing that you can measure up and do enough to please and obey him.  Stop fighting the battle that you will never be able to win.  Even though you fight it your entire life, you will never be able to win.  Stop fighting the battle.  Praise be to God, He has already won for you!

You do not have to measure up to the law because Jesus measures up to the law.  You do not have to learn to obey God, and try to obey God and try to do all the right things because Jesus has already done that.  Jesus has accomplished it for you.  And the whole point of Christianity is coming to Him and giving up all we have and saying, “I cannot do it.”  And as a result, we no longer have to come into this setting and ever think that God is disappointed in us because God has taken all of your sin and all of your inability to please Him.  He has nailed it to a cross and when he looks at you, He sees you, not disappointed in you, but He sees you and delights in you.

Not because of one ounce of your performance this week, but all because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ his Son.  This is what Jesus is saying.  He is saying come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I give you rest.  It is not about what we bring to the table.  It is about what He brings to the table.  We give up all we have to Jesus.  We cannot do it.

And the beauty of it is the second truth: Jesus gives up all he has to us.  Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you. Learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart.”  This is the part that has always confused me about this text.  If Jesus is trying to free you up, then why is he putting another yoke on you?  The whole point is that we do not need anything else on us.  Right?  Remember back to the picture we have got of the yoke and you have got the stronger ox and the weak ox.  Now see you have got the one whose strength is infinite and perfect and the one who knows intimately the commands of the master and the one who is experienced in obeying them to the very end.  Jesus is the one who is inviting you to take His yoke upon yourself.  You come into the yoke with Jesus and see that the stronger ox now makes it possible for the weaker ox to produce all that Jesus does.  It is all based on Jesus being in the yoke.  Jesus gives up all that he has to us.

We are learning to trust in Jesus and not in ourselves.  And as a result, slowly, surely, we are relaxing in the yoke and learning to let Christ do in us what all along we have been trying to do for ourselves.  Now, rest in Christ is becoming a deeper and deeper reality on a day-by-day basis.  Why?  Because we are learning to let go of the strain of trying to do this Christian life on our own and we are learning to let him do it for us.

This is huge.  Does putting on Jesus’ yoke mean, “that we just sit back and do not do anything?”  That we just let God and let go?  Absolutely not.  It is not a passive picture, it is learning, it is following, it is going after the law.  It is not because the law does not matter anymore which is what many people have done.  And the emphasis that the church has had on legalism they say we do not have to follow the law.  On the contrary, we are not free not to forget the law; we are free to obey the law.  And now we have in us, Christ himself who enables us to follow the law.

Here is the beauty.  What makes Christianity not just another religion, not just another ethic that we live up to, is the picture of Christ Himself in us, enabling us to follow the law, enabling us to please God, enabling us to obey God.  And now when we live our lives and it is Christ in us living through us, then we bring great glory to our Father because Jesus is doing it in us.  And it is all saturated in Christ and the one who is giving us the grace moment by moment, day by day, there is nothing, absolutely nothing in your Christian life that you are intended to do on your own.  It is all intended.  Every single prayer we pray, every single step we take, every single thought is intended to be saturated with Jesus Christ. (Platt, 2007)

And that is exactly what we learned with the beatitudes, remember?  We said that the beatitudes were not a check list that we had to make sure that we were doing to become Christian.  Nor was it a list we could pick and choose what we wanted.  It was a list of things that we should be seeing in our lives, if Jesus Christ is truly living in our hearts.

In conclusion here is Christianity explained, We give Him the full weight of all our sin.  These people were so burdened because they had failed over and over again to keep the law they carried.  And as leaders poured on more laws and more laws, the people felt more guilty and more shameful, and the weight of their sin became heavier and heavier, and they could not stand up under it.  And Jesus says, “Give to me the weight of your sin—not just some of it, but all of it—and not just the weight of all our sin.

However, that is not the whole picture, but also We give Him our complete and utter inability to obey God. Our utter inability to carry out the commands of God.  It is not that the commands of God are bad, they are good, but they cannot be carried out by men.  We are imperfect, sinful people, and we cannot, we do not obey the Master’s voice.  This is huge.  The call to come to Christ is definitively NOT a call for you to try to reform your life and do better in your life and be a better person.  That is not Christianity!

We give Him the full weight of all our sin, and He gives us full pardon for all our sin.  Enter into the yoke of Christ, and you, in all your sin, will be counted as righteous in Christ. He has carried the burden you could not carry. He has obeyed the law you could not obey. So come to Him, and rest in Him with… We rest with peace before God. Jesus says, “I will give you rest” – literally, “relief from bearing the load.” Praise God in Christ, we are free from self-effort, self-improvement, and a constant struggle to overcome the guilt and shame of our sin. In Christ, we are free to rest with peace before God. But that’s not all! That’s not where Christianity stops…there’s more!

Jesus not only gives us full pardon for all our sin, He gives us His complete ability to obey God. So we give Him our complete and utter inability to obey God, and He says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”  That word “learn” is huge – is the same word that is translated “disciple” in the Great Commission later in Matthew. Jesus is literally saying, “Learn what it means to be my disciple, and you will find rest for your soul.”  Why?  Because “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  What does that mean?  Don’t miss it, Jesus alone knows the Father, reveals the Father, and Jesus alone perfectly obeys the Father.  So come into the yoke with Him, and He will lead you in how to walk with the Father. “Come to Me,” Jesus says, “and I will enable you to do what that which you could never do on your own.”

And in the yoke with Christ, We work in peace with God.  In other words, we now live in obedience to God not by our own strength, but with the very strength of Christ.  Everything we do, it is Christ who is leading us, guiding us, enabling us, teaching us, literally living through us.  Martin Luther said: “Here the bottom falls out of all merit….Christ must do and must give everything.”

This is not about what you and I can do in and for the kingdom in our own effort.  That is a recipe for failure and burden.  It is about Jesus the Christ living in and through and for us on a daily basis.  In our struggles with sin. In our battles with temptation.  In our suffering in trial.  You are in the yoke with Jesus.  And the One who calls us to righteous living is the One who lives righteously through you.  The One who beckons you to trust the Father is the One who enables you to trust the Father.

So here’s the invitation, The invitation of Christ: When faith is hard and the burden is heavy, First and foremost, Repent of sin.  Be not indifferent, and be not unrepentant.  You do not need to bear the burden of your sin any longer.  Renounce yourself.  Like a child, come to the Father, throw aside your pride! And Rest in Christ.  Come to the One who is gentle and lowly in heart, and find rest for your soul.  And as you do, Rejoice forever in Him.  (Platt, 2012)

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