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Sermon Message


"What Have You Done with Jesus' Great Works? "

Matthew 11:20-24
Theme: To behold Jesus' great works, and yet not respond with repentance, is to bring even more severe judgment upon ourselves.

(Delivered Sunday, April 23, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)

We continue our study of Matthew's Gospel this morning. And as we do, we come to a passage in this Gospel that marks a turning point in Jesus' public ministry. It's a shocking and serious turning point. In fact, I read one commentator that said you can draw a big dark dividing line between the nineteenth verse of Matthew 11, and the twentieth verse - and that "[T]ruth flows down to opposite oceans from this point".1

The transition between verse 19 and verse 20 involves a dramatic change in the way Jesus spoke to those who beheld Him in His public ministry. He turns from expressing Himself as the meek and lowly "Teacher", to expressing Himself as the strong and stern "Judge" of all those who rejected His teaching.

And what was the key reason for this change? It was because of the fact that, even though people saw Jesus' miracles and listened to His teaching, they did not repent because of what they saw and heard.

* * * * * * * * * *

Let's take the time to consider the context of this morning's passage. Jesus had been introduced into the scene by John the Baptist - the bold preacher whose message was "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). Then, after John was thrown into prison, Jesus Himself took up that very same message; saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (4:17). He went all over Galilee, teaching and preaching this message - and establishing His identity as the promised King by the fact that He healed "all kinds of sicknesses and all kinds of diseases among the people" (4:23).

As we have studied the flow of events in Matthew's Gospel together, we've seen that Jesus - as the promised King of the Jews - taught the principles of His kingdom in what we call "the Sermon on The Mount" (Matthew 5-7). And then, after He had finished preaching that great sermon and came down among the people and into Capernaum, He validated His identity by performing one wondrous work after another. He healed a leper with but a word (8:1-4). He healed a centurion's servant from a distance - with nothing more than a command (8:5-13). He raised Peter's mother-in-law from a sick-bed (8:14-15); and then spent the evening healing all who came to Him at Peter's house (8:16-17).

Jesus displayed His superiority over the natural forces of this world by commanding a storm at sea to be still (8:23-27). He displayed His authority over the spiritual realm by casting demons out of the two demon-possessed men of the Gergesense (8:28-34). He even displayed His authority to forgive sins through the healing of a paralyzed man among many eyewitnesses (9:1-8). His miracles became more and more public - healing a sick woman in the midst of the crowd that pressed in on Him (9:20-22); raising the daughter of the synagogue ruler from the dead as a crowd followed Him (9:18-19, 23-26); restoring sight to two blind men by the side of the road as crowds beheld Him (9:27-31); and giving voice and hearing to a deaf and mute man that the crowds had brought before Him (9:32-34).

But we begin to detect the rumblings of rejection. Though the crowd said, "It was never seen like this in Israel!" (9:33), the Pharisees said, "He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons" (v. 34). They saw His works; but they were not responding as they should.

Then, in Chapter 10, He chooses His twelve apostles and sends them out to the cities of Israel to heal in His name, cast out demons in His power, and to proclaim Him before His people. But He was not received; and His call to repentance was not responded to. Even after all that He did before them - even after all that they saw - they still did not obey His fundamental call; "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Finally, in front of the people of His own home town - Capernaum - Jesus spoke of John the Baptist; and then declared:

"But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:

'We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not lament.'

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, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is justified by her children" (Matthew 11:16-19).

And that brings us to this morning's passage. You can consider the verses that I just read to be the end of one way Jesus dealt with those who resisted Him. You can consider the passage I'm about to read to be the beginning of another way. And you can consider there to be a dark, bold line drawn between them. From this point on, Jesus changes His basic emphasis from that of a gentle Teacher to that of a righteous Judge. He begins to speak differently. Matthew writes;

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" (Matthew 11:20-24).

* * * * * * * * * *

There is a question that I'm often asked. Perhaps you have been asked it too. Perhaps you have asked it yourself. "What happens to people in far-away lands who do not get to hear the gospel? What about those who never get a chance to hear about Jesus and believe on Him? What is God's plan for them?"

That's a good question. And I'm not sure that we can really know the answer to full satisfaction. I am comforted by the affirmation that the Bible makes; "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25). I may not know in a complete way what God's plan will be on the day of judgment for those people in other lands who haven't heard the gospel. But I know that God is a merciful and good God; and I am confident that, when all the facts are in, He will prove to have judged all people throughout the world in a way that is just and fair - according to the light they had, and what they did with it. No one will be able to accuse Him of injustice.

I believe that this passage - to some degree - reminds us of that fact. And what's more, I DO know - with absolute certainty - one aspect of God's plan for those in far-away lands who have not heard about Jesus. That is, that you and I must work to get the gospel message to them and make sure they do get the opportunity to hear!

But this passage, it seems to me, answers another question - one that most people aren't so eager to ask. It seems to me that the Lord is forcing upon us the question: "What happens to people who have had lots of opportunities to hear the gospel? What about those who receive an abundance of opportunities to hear about Jesus, to respond to His call, and to receive His saving grace - and yet, in the end, refuse to respond to the opportunities as they should? What about those who clearly perceive who Jesus is, who clearly hear about His mighty works, and who are clearly taught His call, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" . . . and yet, who still do not to repent? What is God's plan for them?"

I don't very often hear people asking that question; do you? And to be honest, when it comes to our own culture, it is a far more relevant question than the other! Well; the Lord answers it for us in this passage; and His answer is a surprising and sobering one indeed! Here, the King of kings and Lord of lords teaches us that, to behold His great works, and not respond with repentance, is to bring even more severe judgment upon ourselves than if we had never heard at all!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now I hope you know me well enough to know that these aren't the kind of themes I enjoy preaching on. I do so, not because I delight to; but because, if I didn't, I would not be true to God's word. But to gain a proper perspective of this very hard rebuke from the lips of our Lord - among one of the hardest rebukes, I would say, in the Bible - let's first go back and consider carefully what proceeded it.

Jesus came to His own people, knowing in advance that they would not receive Him or His message. He even told His disciples, before He sent them out, "You will be hated by all for My name's sake" (Matthew 10:22). So much of His instructions to them concerned the fact that they would be persecuted, and hated, and rejected for their association with Him. And of course, here in this morning's passage, we see that He finally condemns His own people for their rejection of Him.

But even though He knew of this rejection in advance, we need to notice that He didn't begin His public ministry to His own people by bringing a sever rebuked down upon them. Instead, He began - not with rebukes and harshness - but with mercy. He healed them, and taught them, and was good and gentle toward them. When He looked out upon them, He was moved with compassion for them; "because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). And when we glimpse ahead in the story, we find that even when He finally drew near Jerusalem - the city of people who would then crucify Him - He looked over it and wept (Luke 19:41-44).

Jesus was compassionate. He never compromised His fundamental message of the call to repentance. But He always first issued that call in the context of mercy; and not first in the harshness of a rebuke. His rebuke was proceeded by much mercy and grace.

I believe there's a lesson for preachers in this. Sometimes, we preachers are a little too eager to bang on the pulpit and shout out rebukes. But this causes me to think that we should be very careful about doing that! Shouting and banging is not the way our Savior and Lord first presents Himself.

I think there's a lesson in this, in fact, for all of us who seek to obey His great commission, and to present the message of the gospel to this world. We shouldn't hesitate to rebuke the sin of hardness toward the gospel, and of unrepentance toward sin, when it's time to do so. But our Lord's example teaches us that the time to do rebuke is after a good measure of grace and mercy and compassion had been first put into action.

That's our Savior's way with sinners. Let it be our way too.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; let's consider this passage. What do we learn about those before whose eyes our Savior's great works are displayed?

I see five key principles in this passage. And the first is that . . .


Look at how Matthew begins. "Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done . . ." Those initial words mark-out for us that a new time had come. Something new began to be done that had not been happening before; and that is that He began to rebuke the cities in which His mighty works had been done.

He rebukes those cities that had a great and rare privilege - that is, that Jesus had walked bodily in them and publically did many great and mighty works in the midst of them. And the reason that He rebuked them is because they saw all these things, they did not repent because of what they saw.

* * * * * * * * * *

I'd like to take just a moment to explain that word "repent". We tend to have an idea that comes to mind when we hear that word; and it's usually an idea that involves a radical change of behavior - a radical turning away from sin. I believe that a change of behavior is included in the idea of "repent"; but I believe that the word - as it's being used in this verse - means much more than just that.

The word itself, in the original language is the result of putting two Greek words together - meta , which means"with"; and nous , which means "the understanding", or "the mind", or "the attitude of heart", or even "the opinion". The combination of those two words gives the idea of "understand after" or "with"; and thus, the word metanoeġ came to mean "to change one's mind" or "understanding" or "attitude of heart" or "opinion". It usually involved the idea of "remorse" or "regret" for having had the wrong thinking in the first place.

"Repentance", then, certainly involves the idea of a change of action - a change on the outside. But it first of all involves a change of attitude - a change on the inside. I think a good clue to the intention of this word is found in the invitation Jesus gives just a few verses away - in verses 28-30. He says, "Come unto 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."

I suggest that "to repent" - in this context - means much more than simply changing one's behavior. It means that, from the heart, you have seen who Jesus is and what He is like. You have come to understand that - by His glorious works - He has proven Himself to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. And now, understanding that truth, you cease from trying to live independently of His rightful lordship over you. You take Him up on His invitation; and you "come to Him" as a sinner who is laboring and heavy laden under the burden of your own sin; and trust in His cross as the payment for those sins. Instead of trying to go your own way, you "take His yoke upon you" instead - which is an expression of willing submission to His lordship over your life; and you "learn from Him" - which is an expression of a willingness to become His disciple and to be taught by Him how to live.

In short, "to repent" would mean that you change your mind toward Jesus. You cease to be independent of Him; and you surrender to Him from the heart; and you become one of His totally devoted followers. You cease to make yourself the central, controlling authority of your life; and you yield your life to His lordship. Obviously, this will involve a change of action. You will, by necessity, have to turn away from sin. You will change in your behavior. But it is, first and foremost, a change of mind - a change of attitude.

* * * * * * * * * *

Jesus performed many works and miracles before the people of His own land. And they enjoyed the benefit of it. They marveled at His works. The flocked around to watch them occur. But they didn't change their minds about Him. They didn't repent of their independent attitudes of heart. They didn't cease from counting on their own righteousness to earn God's favor. They didn't turn from their own ways, and from their own thoughts, and from their own independent spirits; and they didn't come to Him as Savior, or take His yoke upon themselves as their Lord, and they didn't seek to learn from Him how He wanted them to live.

I have come to learn that the same thing happens in church. Some people can attend church for years. They can know and love and sing all the old hymns. They can enjoy the fellowship. They can watch with delight the things that God does in the lives of others. They can even grow to know the Bible well. They can behold His marvelous and great works - both in hearing them taught, and in seeing them displayed before their very eyes. And yet, they can do it all without ever surrendering themselves to the Lord Jesus. They can look at it all with a disconnected interest - as if from afar - and still remain the same on the inside. They can enjoy being "consumers" of the good things that church has to offer; and yet never truly repent from within the heart..

And as this morning's passage teaches us that the intention of Jesus' mighty works being displayed among people was to bring them to the place of genuine repentance - that they would change their minds toward Him, allow Him to save them, and become His obedient followers from then on. The purpose - the intention of it all - is repentance! As Titus 2:11-14 tells us;

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).

So let's be honest about the situation. Have you come to the point in your life where you have truly experienced a heart-felt "repentance"? Have you "changed your mind" about Jesus Christ, and are you now surrendered to Him as your Savior and Lord?

If not, then you have spent all this time encountering Him in the pages of Scripture and in the preaching of the gospel, and have badly missed the whole point! May God lead us to respond to the mighty works of Christ with genuine"repentance"! May we obey His clear call: "Repent . . .!"

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, look at what Jesus goes on to say in His severe rebuke. He says, "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" (vv. 21-22).

Chorazin and Bethsaida were cities along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee - not far from Capernaum, where Jesus lived and ministered. He had apparently done mighty works in those cities - even though we have no record of them in the Scriptures. The Bible suggests to us elsewhere that there were many works that Jesus did which are not recorded for us in the Gospel accounts (John 20:30); and perhaps these works in these two cities are among them.

These cities were privileged. Jesus walked in them in person; and performed works - mighty works - in them. But these cities also received a sever rebuke from the Savior because the people living in them did not repent as a result of those works. And so, Jesus compares these cities with two other cities - notorious cities in the Old Testament times as proverbial enemies of the people of Israel2. Jesus lets the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida know that if the same works that had been done in them had been done in Tyre and Sidon instead, those two notorious cities would have repented! They would have repented long ago and would not have become considered the notorious enemies of Israel that they were known as in history. In fact, they would have repented to the greatest possible extremity - that is, to repent in "sackcloth and ashes"3.

Now perhaps, when Jesus spoke these words against Chorazin and Bethsaida, the people of Capernaum were listing in and nodding their heads. Perhaps they thought of their city as an esteemed and elevated city - far above the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida; because Jesus Himself lived in Capernaum and performed so many of His works there. The citizens of Capernaum were proud of being able to claim that Jesus was their own "celebrity" citizen. They imagined that they were sure to be exalted to heaven. After all, on the sign along the road that said "Welcome to beautiful Capernaum"; it said in bold letters below, "Hometown of Jesus - the worker of many mighty wonders!"

But Jesus then turned to them and said something utterly unexpected; "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" (vv. 23-24). Far from destined to being exalted to heaven, Capernaum was doomed to be cast down to hell! Jesus had performed those mighty works before their very eyes; and yet, they did not repent because of what they saw.

In fact, Jesus gives them the greatest shock of all. He mentions Sodom - a city notorious to the extreme in the Old Testament for its wickedness; a city that came to be proverbial because of of how God destroyed it for its sinfulness4. And He lets the people of Capernaum know that if the same mighty works that had been done in their city had been done in Sodom instead, Sodom would have remained as a city even to that very day - instead of having been destroyed by God.

* * * * * * * * * *

The key theme in all of this is the failure to respond to the call for repentance. And the first principle we've seen is that the intention of those displays of Jesus' mighty works among His own people was that they would then respond with that very repentance that was called for.

Well; they did not. And this leads us to consider a few other principles that we find in this passage. We see, for example, that . . .


Do you notice in this that, as the divine Son of God, Jesus knows perfectly how other people groups in other times would have responded to His mighty works? He says that if those works had been performed long ago in the ancient, pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. It would have resulted in a marvelous spiritual revival.

And what about Sodom? God had once made the promise that if only ten righteous people could have been found in it, He would not have destroyed it (Genesis 18:32). But the only righteous people that could be found were Lot and his tiny family. And today, the ruins of Sodom cannot even be found. And yet, Jesus lets us know that if His mighty works had been performed in that wicked city, the people living in it then would have been spared destruction; and the city of Sodom would have remained even until the day Jesus spoke these words.

As the Son of God, Jesus knew perfectly how those people, living centuries before that time, would have responded to His works! And yet - in the wisdom of the Father - the very works of Jesus that would have led them to repentance were not revealed to them. Instead, those same works were revealed to people who would not repent. What a mystery of God's sovereignty this is!

I believe that the only way that we can understand this is by what Jesus says next;

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 (Matthew 11:25-27).

It's not for us to ask why Christ isn't revealed more often to people who will respond. That's a matter of God's sovereign choice. Instead, we need to realize the fact that His mighty works have been revealed to us. And once we do, the question becomes, "What a privileged time I live in! I know of His works! But what have I done with the fact that Jesus' mighty works have been revealed to me? Have I responded with true repentance? Have I trusted Him?"

* * * * * * * * * *

A third principle is that . . .


Chorazin and Bethsaida saw His works. Capernaum saw them too. They had an advantage over all of the cities and people groups that have existed in history, because they actually saw Jesus and beheld His mighty works with their own eyes and in their very midst. Others who did not see what they saw would have repented if they had. But these who saw what others were not granted to see did not repent.

The character of one's heart is not revealed by the having the privilege of seeing the mighty works of Jesus with one's own eyes. Today, it's not the possession of many Bibles and an abundance of the preaching of the gospel that reveals our character. Rather, its the impact those things have on our hearts that makes the difference and reveals the truth about us. These cities thought that they were elevated to the heavens because of what they were privileged to see; but Jesus let's them know that they stand condemned - not because of what they saw, but because of what they did not do BECAUSE of what they saw.

Later on in this Gospel, Jesus will say;

"The men of Nineveh [that ancient, wicked city to which Jonah was sent] will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South [that monarch of ancient Ethiopia who heard of Solomon and sought out his wisdom] will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12:41-42).

These never saw Jesus' mighty works. They saw lesser works of God - through Jonah and Solomon. And yet, they responded with genuine repentance and a true seeking after God because of what they saw. And their response to what they saw revealed the character of what was truly in their hearts. And yet, those of Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum who had a clearer blessing from God - the blessing of seeing the mighty works of Jesus firsthand - did not respond with genuine repentance. Their response revealed the character of what was in their hearts.

You and I have the testimony of Jesus in an even clearer way than they did. What does our response reveal to be the condition of our hearts?

* * * * * * * * * *

A fourth principle is that . . .


Jesus uses a word that sounds like what it means - " Ouai !" It means "Alas!" or "Woe!" It's an expression of deep sorrow and compassion. Jesus is saying, "How terrible it will be for you, Chorazin! How terrible it will be for you, Bethsaida!" The Living Translation has it, "What horrors await you . . .!" What a chilling thing for anyone to say; but how much more chilling when it is the Son of God who says it!

And to Capernaum - who thought that it was "exalted to heaven" - He says, "And you . . . will be cast down to Hades . . ." Far from exalted to the highest place, it would be instead thrust down to the lowest! And when we realize that these words are spoken in the context of Capernaum receiving greater judgment than Sodom - the city that was utterly destroyed by fire and brimstone falling upon it from the very heavens - we can only say, "What horrible judgment is it that awaits Capernaum at the day of judgment? What unspeakable woe?"

This underscores the dreadful seriousness of failing to respond to the works of Jesus as we should. Those works reveal His identity and His authority. To not respond with repentance from sin, and with a sincere trust in Him, is to disregard the Judge of all the earth - and then to be destined to stand before Him in judgment!

* * * * * * * * * *

And that leads us to a final principle . . .


Jesus says to Chorazin and to Bethsaida, "But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you." And He says to Capernaum, "But I say to you, that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." And the reason is because Tyre and Sidon and Sodom could not repent! They never heard. But Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum heard much - and saw much - and yet, never repented.

Do you realize what this means? It means that, of course, that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right and just toward those who sinned but never heard. But it also means that He will do what is right and just toward those who heard and refused to repent! It means that the experience of Jesus' presence without, repentance of heart, brings a greater damnation upon the soul than will be experienced by those who sinned but never heard.

This means that there will be those who this world now admires and applauds for their outward show of religion; but who will then be a cause of inexpressible astonishment and horror in the day of judgment - because, in spite of all their outward religion, they did not and would not repent in their hearts.

It means that there will be those on that great day of judgment who knew of Jesus mighty works - but who did not repent when they could - who will then wish that they had been among those who had never heard at all!

* * * * * * * * * *

And so, I hope you can see that the real question to ask is not, "What about those who never get a chance to hear about Jesus and believe on Him?" The real question that the Lord makes us ask this morning is, "What about those of us who have lots of chances to hear - but who refuse to do what we should do with what we hear, and repent from the heart?"

You and I, you see, stand in an even greater place of advantage than the people who heard Him speak these words. The truth of who Jesus is and what He has done has been presented to us in a far more clear way than even those who heard Him speak these words; because we have those things recorded and explained fully for us in the pages of Scripture. What will you do with the mighty works of Jesus that the Scriptures tell us about?

The best thing to do is make sure - make very sure - you have responded to the offer He has made after issuing the words of this sharp rebuke;

"Come unto 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" (Matthew 11:28-30).

To obey those words from the heart - that's a true response of repentance!

1Donald Grey Barnhouse, His Own Received Him Not, But . . . (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1933), p. 77; cited in Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold The King: A Study of Matthew (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1980), p. 155.

2See Isaiah 23; Ezekiel 26-28; and Amos 1:9-10.

3See 2 Sam. 13:19; Jonah 3:6; Esther 4:3; and Jeremiah 6:26.

4See Genesis 18-19; also Matthew 10:15; Mark 6:11; Luke 10:12; Romans 9:29; 2 Peter 2:6; and Jude 7.

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