Repenting to Find Rest

Posted: April 2, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 11:20-30, “Repenting to Find Rest”

Everyone has a response to Jesus.  That may seem strange at first, because there would seem to be many people in the world who go out of their way not to have ANY response to Jesus.  Those who follow other religions would say that they don’t give any thought to Jesus, so how could they give a response?  People who don’t give the things of God a second thought would especially make the same argument.  Yet no response is still a response…and it’s just as telling as those who either knowingly reject or knowingly receive Jesus as their King.

That’s the way it was for the cities in Galilee.  Jesus had spent much time there ministering in the area.  He had sent His 12 apostles throughout the region (and indeed the whole land of Israel) to minister & preach the gospel.  Some had received the message with gladness.  Some had encountered doubts (even John the Baptist).  Some would outright reject the news & persecute those who delivered it.  And some would simply ignore it.  All are distinct responses, and Jesus has much to say about them.

There is a rebuke – a praise – and an invitation.  The rebuke was given to those who rejected the gospel.  The praise was given to God thanking Him for those who had received the gospel.  The invitation was made available to all to still respond to the gospel.  When it comes to the good news concerning Jesus Christ, there can only be two true responses: rejection or repentance.  We’ve all got to make the choice – what will be yours?

Matthew 11:20–30 (NKJV)
20 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:

  1. Jesus rebukes.  There are a lot of ideas many people have about Jesus, but it’s not very often that people think of Jesus rebuking someone.  We think of His grace, gentleness, and compassion.  If we do think of His rebuke, we might think of Him rebuking the Pharisees & hypocritical religious leaders.  Yet here, Jesus is rebuking the everyday citizen who lived in the cities He visited around Galilee. 
  2. Whom did He rebuke? “The cities in which most of His mighty works had been done.”  These cities (that were spread throughout the region of Galilee) had been given a testimony regarding the Son of God: the “mighty works”. δυνάμεις – often used in reference to supernatural power or ability.  This is the same word used by Jesus to the apostles when He told them what the Holy Spirit would bring them on the day of Pentecost (“you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” Acts 1:8).  This is a plain reference to His miracles as He went from city to city “healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt 9:35).  He had cleansed lepers, cast out demons, healed paralytics, gave sight to the blind and speech to the mute, and even raised the dead.  All of it was done in plain sight of all the people, testifying to the fact that the King of Israel was among them, the true Son of God in fulfillment of prophecy.  He had given proof upon proof – and yet, they still did not believe.  To the messengers who had come on behalf of John the Baptist, Jesus had pointed to His miracles as direct proof of His identity as the Messiah (Mt 11:5-6).  If they were enough to relieve the temporary doubt of John, they should have been more than enough for the cities in which they were performed & for those who were first-hand witnesses to them.
  3. Why did the rebuke come?  Matthew tells us plainly: “because they did not repent.”  They had the proofs they needed to know that Jesus is King; they did nothing about it.  They heard the news that Jesus is God & saw the evidence that the message was true, and they ignored it.  Doing nothing is not an option – complacency is a response in itself.  The right response to the miracles and compassion of Christ is repentance.  The right response to the gospel of the kingdom is repentance.
    1. What is repentance?  It’s a turning – a change of mind and a change of direction.  We change our mind in how we think about ourselves & our sin, turn away from it (forsaking it), and turn to Christ for forgiveness & His new direction.  It’s an “about face” for how we live life.  Sometimes we think of repentance as just confession & contrition – that people would realize their sin & say “sorry.”  That’s certainly part of it, but it’s not the whole picture.  Someone can say “sorry” & still go back to doing the things they used to do.  That’s not repentance.  Repentance is making a conscious decision to turn away from those former things & follow after Christ.  That’s not to say we’ll do so perfectly, but that is where our intent is going to be.
    2. Who should repent?  Anyone and everyone.  When Paul was preaching to the Athenians, he told them that the resurrection of Jesus shows that God is calling “all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)  That includes the people who have directly heard the gospel (such as the cities in Galilee), and the rest of the world who still needs to hear the gospel (such as the cities of Phoenicia).  All have sinned & fall short of the glory of God – all are in dire need of forgiveness from the wrath of God due to sin.  All need to repent, and all have been invited to repent.
  4. Jesus’ miracles & compassion have a greater purpose than the immediate healing: they are provided to bring people to repentance.  This destroys the concept of the so-called “social gospel.”  Some people teach that we’re to be good to everyone around us because Jesus was good to everyone around us & that’s the only thing we ever ought to concentrate on as a church.  They basically say, “Don’t worry about proclaiming the message that people are to actually turn away from their sin to follow Christ – all that really matters is that we’ve done some good works in Jesus’ name, and that ought to be enough to bring them to Christ.  We’re bringing the kingdom of God just through our actions.”  Jesus shows plainly that without repentance, the people missed the point of the mighty works.  Repentance was simply expected of the people; it was the only right response to the miraculous.  Of course we’re to preach repentance from sin in addition to the good works that we do & the compassion that we show – what else would we do?  We’re just following in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus!  Good deeds are nice, but people can feel good and remain dead in their sin.  Jesus didn’t come for people to feel good about themselves on their way to hell; Jesus came to grant life and forgiveness in His name.  That only comes when we repent.
  5. Not only does this do away with the social gospel, it also ought to do away with the various “miracles & signs & wonders” circuses that pop up from time to time.  Again, Jesus didn’t hesitate to do the miraculous, but His miracles had a purpose.  When the roadshows come up promoting “signs & wonders” for the sake of “signs & wonders,” then people have missed the point.  People weren’t cleansed of leprosy & freed from demons to just get excited about the miraculous & keep seeking more & more miracles for a greater spiritual “high” every time.  People were cleansed, freed, and healed in order that they would repent from their sin & entrust themselves to Jesus as their King.

21 “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.

  1. First of two comparisons.  Chorazin & Bethsaida vs. Tyre & Sidon.  We know what happened in Chorazin & Bethsaida through the Galilean ministry, but what about Tyre & Sidon?  These were off & on enemies of the nation of Judah who were well-known for their false worship of the Baal gods.  Repeatedly through the OT, God uses the prophets to denounce them, call them to repentance, and proclaim judgment upon them for their actions.  Chorazin & Bethsaida were cities in Israel; Tyre & Sidon were not – they were north in the region of Phoenicia off of the Mediterranean coast.  Yet they (as with all nations and peoples) were still held to account by God for their actions and rebellious sin against Him.
  2. Although Tyre & Sidon had much interaction with the Jews, and the word of God given to them through the prophets, Chorazin & Bethsaida had an advantage that Tyre & Sidon never dreamt of: the Son of God walked in their midst & personally performed supernatural miracles testifying to His power & His person.  Chorazin & Bethsaida responded with indifference; Jesus tells us that Tyre & Sidon would have repented. 
  3. The sign of their repentance?  Humility – “sackcloth and ahses.”  This was a custom common throughout the Middle East.  When people showed true humility and grief, they would take off their comfortable clothes & put on coarse garments – instead of cleaning themselves up, they would sit in ashes from the burnings.  Obviously anyone could partake in a ritual or do something without sincerity, but the general idea was that someone who showed themselves in outward humility was truly inwardly humble and contrite as well.
    1. Today, we don’t necessarily need to dirty ourselves up, but we do definitely need humility.  It’s impossible to be proud & repent at the same time.  To repent inherently means acknowledging that we were wrong about the way we were going & we need to turn around & go a different direction.  That cannot be done in pride.  Too many Christians are proud in their so-called repentance & attempt to show it off as a badge of honor.  Whatever it is, that’s NOT repentance.  Repentance is humble & sincere.  If we’ve truly humbled ourselves before God, then we’re going to be humble towards other people as well.

22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.

  1. What exactly Tyre & Sidon would face as opposed to Chorazin & Bethsaida isn’t known.  What IS known is that Chorazin & Bethsaida would be held accountable for the testimony they had received.  They had received so much more regarding the Christ & thus they were guilty of a greater rejection than Tyre & Sidon.
  2. People often have many questions regarding how God may judge nations and peoples that have so little access to the gospel.  The bigger question is: what have we done with the incredible access that God has given us?  We will be held accountable for the testimony that we have received.  Very few people living in the United States do not know at the minimum that the Bible proclaims Jesus to be God & that He died upon the cross for us.  Many others know quite a bit more & even some atheists could recite back more detailed theology than some born-again, baptized Christians.  What many of these people (including Christians) do not realize is that we will be held accountable for the truths about Jesus that God has revealed to us – including the truths that we knowingly rejected.  (Spurgeon) “Those who perish with salvation sounding in their ears perish with a vengeance. Assuredly the day of judgment will be notable for surprises.”
  3. Don’t miss the fact that there is indeed a day of judgment coming.  This is a reality for every single person who has ever lived.  We WILL one day stand before God and give an account for our lives, and we will be held to account for what God had revealed to us.  There are likely some of you listening today who have heard the gospel time & time again.  You’ve heard & know the basic truth that Jesus is God in the flesh who died for your sins & rose from the grave, this same Jesus who is the King.  And yet you still have not humbled yourself before Jesus, asked for forgiveness, and received Him as your Lord.  Know this: you are committing the same mistake as Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, and in fact even committing worse because you have received more revelation about Jesus than they have.  They had not yet seen the cross & resurrection, but you have.  Do not be one who perishes with salvation sounding in your ears!  Do not face the judgment of God with the full knowledge that you could have received grace!  Come to Jesus today!

23 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.

  1. Second comparison: Capernaum vs. Sodom.  Capernaum was a city frequently visited by Jesus, seemingly His home base of operations while in the Galilean area.  Sodom was one of the most famous cities in the OT.  It was a city known for its debauchery (as demonstrated through its infamous homosexual attack upon visitors to Job – Gen 19), as well as its general corruption (Ezekiel specifically points out their injustice towards the poor & needy – Eze 16).
  2. Jesus’ charge against Capernaum was its pride.  Other translations view the phrase “who are exalted to heaven,” as a rhetorical question, but the idea is the same.  The people of Capernaum were full of themselves – they thought they were the best city on earth & had a heavenly view of themselves.  Jesus tells them that one day they are going to experience a harsh wake-up call & come crashing back down to earth (and worse).
    1. The language Jesus uses is very similar to the language God used to describe the king of Babylon, which itself is likely a description of Satan.  Isaiah 14:12–15, "(12) “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! (13) For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; (14) I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ (15) Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit." []  When we immerse ourselves in our arrogance & pride, we’re acting just like the devil.  That’s a rather sobering thought.
  3. Pride is an insidious thing!  It is the root of all kinds of evils & traps in our lives.  We’re not to have too high an opinion of ourselves either for the good or for the bad.  Sometimes people think so highly of themselves that they cannot even hear the concerns of others, much less give thought as to what the Lord Jesus wants them to do.  Other times, people think so lowly of themselves that all they can do is wallow in their own sorrow and complain to everyone they meet.  (And this isn’t limited to unbelievers – Christians can engage in both of these practices!)  Either extreme is still thinking too much of ourselves & is rooted in pride.  “We” are the center of our own thoughts, for good or bad.  In reality, “we” should not be the center of our thoughts; Jesus should.
  4. How bad can pride be?  After all, it’s not as bad as all of the more perverse sins, as such were happening in Sodom, right?  Wrong.  Sodom was truly evil.  People get hung up on the homosexuality aspect, but when reading Genesis 19, that was only part of what was going on.  The mob desired to rape Job’s visitors (the angels) as a group, and when they couldn’t get the visitors, they wanted to violently attack Job.  The men of the town were truly debauched and evil!  Yet even they would have repented if they had encountered the miracles that Capernaum witnessed.  That’s how bad pride can be: it can blind someone to their own sin worse than any perversion or violence.  Someone who is violent generally knows he/she is violent.  Someone who is arrogant & full of pride simply doesn’t care.
  5. What is the solution to arrogance?  Humble repentance.

24 But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”

  1. Again, Jesus makes it clear that Capernaum would be held accountable for the testimony they had received.  Sodom had already been judged severely; Capernaum’s judgment had not yet begun…but it was assured to come.
  2. The time to deal with our sin is NOW!  Jesus went to the cross for us specifically to take the punishment that we incurred because of our sin.  Because the wrath of God fell upon Him, it doesn’t have to fall upon you.  If you reject the work of Christ now, you can be assured to endure the wrath of God later.  It doesn’t have to be that way!  God truly loves you & sent Jesus to the cross in order that you would be spared & saved.  Take care not to ignore the gift of grace that is being offered to you.

25 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. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.

  1. At that time…”  There seems to be such a contrast in what Jesus is saying here versus His rebuke to the Galilean cities, yet there is definitely a connection.  They had been rebuked for rejecting the testimony of God concerning Jesus Christ, but not all had rejected the gospel.  To some, the truth had been revealed, and that was a reason to give God thanks.
  2. God hides the truth to some (the wise).  This isn’t speaking of general intelligence so much as it is self-righteousness.  To those who were wise in their own eyes, thinking that they were not needful of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, the good news of the kingdom was hidden from them.  They heard the message with their ears, but their heart was hardened to the reception.
  3. God reveals the truth to others (the babes).  The word actually refers to infants – those so tiny & helpless that they are fully dependent upon their loving parents for survival.  Those who are so humble that they cast themselves as fully dependent upon the grace of God are the ones to whom God reveals the truths of the gospel.
    1. Again, the difference comes down to pride.  Those who are proud in themselves find themselves cut off from the grace of God; those who are humble find the grace of God revealed to them.  The other writers of the NT tell us the same thing: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  (Jas 4:6, 1 Pet 5:5)
  4. This is a good thing.  That God would hide & reveal the truth of the identity of Jesus is something that Jesus thanked God for, because it was good in the sight of God.  Some people might have trouble with God taking the initiative to do such a thing. “That’s not fair!  How dare God hide the truth from someone?!”  #1: Be careful of jumping to such a conclusion without understanding the full theology here.  Scripture shows often that people engage in their sin & God is willing to let them remain there & even confirm their choice…but it was their choice to sin in the first place.  (Example: Pharaoh)  #2: God has every right to decide what IS and what ISN’T fair – He’s God.  He is the “Lord of heaven and earth.”  If God chooses to hide the truth from some, He is under no obligation to explain His actions and reasoning to us.  Just as parents of young children don’t explain all of their actions to their 3-year old, God doesn’t explain every little detail to us.  He doesn’t need to – He’s God & we’re not.  What we do know is that God is truly good & truly just (it’s a part of His basic character & nature).  If it seemed good to God to hide something from the prideful “wise,” then it must really be good – even if we can’t understand the fullness of God’s reason.

27 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.

  1. Much here!  Jesus gives us some insight in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, as well as how we participate in our own relationship with God.
  2. First, we see what the Father gives the Son: “all things.”  The context is that of the truths of the gospel kingdom, but the basic language is much greater.  All things = all things.  Jesus had been given the right and authority over all things because He is the Son of God.  Miracles were no problem for Jesus because Jesus was no mere man; He is the God-Man – the Son of God invested with the authority to rule over all things in all the universe.  Those who rejected the gospel message of the kingdom were rejecting the King Himself.
  3. Second, we see who truly knows the Son through experience: the “Father.”  This is interesting, in that Jesus had just condemned the Galilean cities for ignoring the testimony of God about the Son even though the Son was personally in their presence.  They should have known the Son, but they did not.  Even the 12 apostles who acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah didn’t truly know the Son – they just had the barest glimpse of who He is.  The only Person who truly knows the Son as He is (and was, and always will be) is God the Father.
  4. Third, we see who truly knows the Father through experience: “the Son.”  The Son has intimate & exclusive knowledge of God the Father that no one else has.  How so?  Because the Son is just as much God as the Father is God.  They share an eternal unity in relationship simply because they are part of the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Jesus is explicitly claiming His own divinity here.
  5. But that’s not all: anyone can know God the Father if Jesus simply reveals the Father to that person.  Isn’t that truly amazing?  Let that sink in for a moment.  At the time, even the disciples could not truly know Jesus in His fullness, because they only had a glimpse & Jesus had not yet gone to the cross & been resurrected.  They didn’t see the fullness of God’s plan in Christ Jesus.  But they could know God the Father through the work & grace of Jesus (even that which they didn’t yet fully understand).  What grace!
  6. Notice how exclusive this all is.  There is no true knowledge of Jesus except by God the Father & there is no knowledge of God the Father except by Jesus Christ.  Granted, God has revealed Himself to the general world through general revelation – people throughout history can look up to the skies & be amazed by the infinite reaches of outer space, and know that there is a God in heaven who created both the massive depths of space and the tiniest intricacies here upon the earth.  Yet they cannot truly know God in personal relationship through that; all general revelation can do is cause people to seek God and try to find Him.  They can know His general character & goodness & obey what revelation God has given them through their conscience, but ultimately we need specific revelation of God if we are to have a specific relationship with God.  That only comes through Jesus Christ (and thus through the Bible, the testimony of God about Him).  This is why other religions can never be sufficient…they cannot testify of God rightly.  We must receive the testimony God gives about Himself, or we cannot know God at all.  John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." []

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

  1. God did hide the truth from some – but truly the invitation is open to all.  To whom did Jesus call?  “All…”  Anyone could come, if they but humbled their heart and came as a child.  If they considered themselves wise, they wouldn’t see the need for coming.  If they were arrogant, they wouldn’t care about coming.  Yet if their heart was humble as that of a little child, anyone (no matter their education) would be invited to come to Jesus.
  2. Specifically, the invitation was to the burdened: those who labored & were “heavy laden.”  How so?  Contextually Jesus was speaking to the Jews, so this seems to be a reference to the Law & Jewish tradition.
  3. Question: does this only apply to those who are laden down by legalistic religious traditions?  No.  Those who understand the weight of their own sin are those who labor & are heavy-laden.  We labor under our own sins & we are laid up with the burdens others put upon us.  Simple life weighs us down with a massive anchor.  Like the main character in John Bunyan’s classic work, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” our sin is such a burden tied up on our back that it bogs us down in despondency.
  4. What’s the promise?  Jesus gives rest.  REAL rest!  Jesus frees us from the heavy burden!  Those who are bound up by legalism are set free by Christ.  We do not find salvation in dietary regulations or rituals or the traditions of men; we find our simple salvation in Christ.  Those who despair from the weight of sin, and the results of those who have placed burdens upon you find freedom & rest in the Lord Jesus.  Oh the wonderful rest that comes through the grace of Jesus!  The Old Testament Hebrews failed to enter into the rest of God provided in the Promised Land & wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  Today, people still fail to enter into the rest promised by God through Jesus Christ, but His rest IS available!  We rest from our labors as we find our rest in Christ.

29 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.

  1. What’s the yoke?  A yoke was a heavy wooden instrument used to help an oxen carry agricultural equipment (such as a plow), or to link a couple of animals together to pull a burden.  We don’t typically think of a yoke as being “light,” but Jesus’ was.  Trading one burden for another, but the trade is worth it!  Jesus bears the load for us because He is the one we’re yoked to.  As with a tandem bicycle, the one who is stronger at pedaling is the one who truly bears the load.  When we’re yoked to Christ Jesus, we’re linked with His burden & yoke, but He’s the one bearing the load.
  2. How would we take Jesus’ yoke upon ourselves?  By “learning” from Him.  The word is the same root word used to describe a “disciple.”  Thus, if we want to know the rest of Jesus & the yoke of Jesus, then we must become a disciple of Jesus.
  3. Quoting from Jeremiah.  Jeremiah 6:16–18, "(16) Thus says the LORD: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (17) Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen.’ (18) Therefore hear, you nations, And know, O congregation, what is among them." []
  4. What do we know about our Lord Jesus?  He is “gentle and lowly in heart.”  The same one that rebuked the cities of Galilee is still the gentle & lowly Savior.  The same one to crush the head of Satan and will later destroy the armies of Antichrist is our meek & gentle Christ.  Perfectly strong & perfectly gentle is our Savior.  Truly He is worthy of our trust!

30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

  1. Not only is Jesus gentle, but His yoke is as well. His burden may be light, but there is still a burden that comes with Jesus.  Coming to Christ for the forgiveness of sin is not freedom to go off & sin as much as we want to do; it’s coming alongside the Lord Jesus in discipleship & relationship with Him.  It is a light burden & joyful to carry, yet it is there.  If we were freed from one yoke & left unyoked, we would wander off into destruction.  Yet when we remain yoked to our Savior, we are kept safely next to Him, strengthened by His power, walking in His way.

Conclusion:
So what’s your response to Jesus?  There are some who rejected His message, and some who gladly received it.  Those who received Him by repenting from their sin & pride found rest – real rest, true rest.  Christian: do you walk in the rest provided by our Lord Jesus?  Too many people taste of His rest and proceed to bind themselves back up in legalism or take various other burdens upon themselves again.  We don’t have to do that – that’s not Jesus’ intent for us.  Yes, we’re to be holy & pure because we belong to Him – but we find our purity as we rest in Christ.  We stay yoked to Him, reliant upon His strength, and we find He does a work in us that we could never do in ourselves. 

Have you yet humbled yourself before God & been brought under the yoke of Christ Jesus?  Truly there can be no greater application than this!  You’ve heard the good news of how Jesus offers rest – and you’ve heard how you need to repent from your pride (and other sin) in order to find it.  The question is: how will you respond?  Will you humble yourself before God, forsaking your sin to receive Jesus as your King?  Will you believe the truth that God has revealed, trusting Jesus to be God the Son crucified for your sins & risen from the grave?  Or will you ignore the testimonies, reject the message, and find that God has hidden these things from you because you are wise in your own eyes?  You cannot be complacent to the person of Jesus Christ!  We simply do not have that option!  Humble yourself before Him today & partake of His glorious, restful grace.  He invites you to come, so come!

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