Matthew 11:20-24

Revelation chapter six, verse six, refers to the “wrath of the Lamb.”  Now, the sound of that seems paradoxical, doesn’t it?  “The wrath of the Lamb.”  You would think that a concept such as “wrath” would go better with Biblical images such as “the Lion of Judah” rather than with “the Lamb of God!”

But it doesn’t seem that God hesitates very much in using that kind of imagery.  The world objects to it, but God doesn’t hesitate to use it.  It was the Lamb of God Who protected all the firstborn in Egypt when His blood was signified on the doorposts.  And it was the Lamb of God, then, Who killed all of the firstborn of those who didn’t signify His blood.

As we get closer to the crucifixion of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew, we’ll all become perplexed with why anyone who calls themselves Christian, and who has read the Gospel from the Scriptures, could ever object to Christ being provoked to indignation toward His enemies!  To know that - and to understand it - is one of the steps toward being meek and poor in spirit!  It is the single most humbling experience that a man can have - that God is provoked to destroy us all!  But that Christ has come to pursue the Father’s electing love for His Own people.  The fact is that God is justified in inundating all of us in His fury, and then casting all of us far away from Him in outer darkness!  And although we mourn our rebellion against Him, we who are in Christ exist in a state of joy because of His eternal love for us.

And even if Christ loved us so much that He sacrificed Himself to secure God’s election, that in no way abrogates the hatred and fierceness which He both feels and exhibits toward those who retain their proud and defiant attitudes toward God’s authority.

It seems, as we read these five verses for this morning, that God’s justice is called into question by those who would wish to snatch away the Word of the Kingdom.  Here we have the entire Old Testament Scriptures foreshadowing the coming of God’s Messiah to redeem the world!  The entire Law and the Prophets are specific about it!  The Law is about Christ, and He is the fullness of it.  And prophet after prophet was sent by God to the nation of Israel to warn it of impending abandonment if it refused to submit and obey.  And all of this was given to Israel by direct inspiration of the Spirit of God!  They were the recipients and beneficiaries of the book!

§       And when the Anointed King came, He did all the things which were prophesied for Him to do!  He gave the blind sight - a miracle indicating the blindness of the whole world in its depravity - and manifesting for all to see that He was God’s remedy for that depravity!  

§       He made the lame to leap as a hart - a sign to the world that, in Him, the world would walk in the ways of God.

§       He made the deaf to hear - revealing to the world that it could not hear the truth, and that He was sent from God to cause them to hear. 

§       He cleansed the lepers, evidencing the fact that all men were unclean and could not approach God, and that, through Him, men become clean! 

§       And He raised the dead, indicating that the world needed to become a new creation, and that the resurrection unto life was in Him! 

§       And He preached the Gospel of the Kingdom to the poor in spirit, and the dregs of the earth clustered around Him by the thousands to receive His mercies and hear Him speak. 

All this - and the whole nation was so dead in its depravity it didn’t understand any of it!  And, in fact, it tried desperately to snatch it away so it wouldn’t happen!  And so the covenant law-suit, that was filed before the judge of all the earth, was brought to sentencing and executed by the Lamb of God Who didn’t see any blood on the doorposts of Israel!

And who should wonder about His wrath and fury?  Who should take issue with the justice of God?  Who has the authority, and the goodness, and the wisdom to call God into question about His burning anger?  Yet it stands as a favorite method of snatching.

And who among us this morning isn’t stricken to the marrow of his bones that the unbridled violence and vengeance of God is inflamed toward those who remain in rebellion?  Should you not be glutted with fear of the One Who can destroy both soul and body in hell?  I will call your salvation into question to your face if you say you have no dread of God, the One Who takes vengeance!  For it is from Him that we flee to Christ to be resurrected from the dead!  It is from Him that we flee to Christ to be cleansed, and made whole, and receive sight and hearing!  And in Whose body we have safety and refuge!  And in Whom we can approach God with boldness.

Up until the time of their destruction, the cities of Israel had no fear of the prophesied awful Day of Jehovah.  And they not only had no fear, and not only did they not recognize the Messiah when His work proved who He was, but they detested it - principled antagonism, adversity and hatred!  The more Christ said and did, the more adamant was their rebellion!  The more He preached, and the more signs to the world that He gave of their depravity, the more infuriated they became!

As we see in these five verses (twenty through twenty-four), as Jesus goes from town to town with His apostles, preaching the Word of The Kingdom and performing the signs to the world of the arrival of God’s salvation, he condemns the cities that they did not repent!  And He uses the three in which many of these signs were manifested in order to condemn the whole.

One of the initial questions we might ask is, “Why the cities?”  Why name cities?  Why not pronounce judgment on the nation, or on the people, or on an area, or even on a lifestyle?

And there are several answers to that - maybe all of which have some merit:  First, the Hebrew word city means a walled enclosure.  A city was a very close group who lived that way for protection.  And although there were some unwalled villages in Israel (not called cities), most of the population lived in cities.

Secondly, cities were governmental units which were almost completely independent.  Although there was a national character to all the people of Israel, there were clear distinctions in each city.

And for that reason, thirdly, the cities became known for their distinctive character because of the peculiarities of the people who lived in them!  And they were all different!  It was their leadership which determined their direction - their representation.

And lastly, and this is very shallow due to the time limitations, lastly, the Scriptures sometimes use the word “city” when the language clearly refers to the inhabitants.  And, therefore, in the Biblical language, the city in question actually takes on a “personality!”

Let me give you some examples of that (and I have specific references for each of these if you need them) - A city can cry, a city can be stirred up, a city can be righteous, faithful or holy; it can experience joy and stimulate trust.  A city can also be proud, oppressive or bloody.  So, therefore, if these things are true about cities, then they are subject to divine blessings and curses!  They are established and destroyed depending upon their obedience to God.

A city that’s oppressive produces a weak and poor population that sighs under that oppressive weight; and God hears the sighs of his people who are treated unfairly and are used because they have no influence.  But a city with just leaders and judges (representatives) who set examples of righteousness are caused to flourish by God.

But here in verses twenty through twenty-four Jesus pronounces woe on three cities.  And, as I said, these are representative of the whole.  And the context makes it very clear that these are “woes” of condemnation - for the cities did not repent when the mighty acts of the Messiah, signifying the Day of the Lord which was coming in salvation and judgment, were manifested among them!

All the sin, and the killing of the prophets, and the other events involved in snatching away the Gospel, had been heaped up upon the cities of Israel, and the Messiah comes and demonstrates in them the Day of judgment, and the cities are either indifferent to Him or they are provoked to antagonism!

As I was thinking through these things I found myself wondering about what the effect would be on the nation - or on the world - if just one city in this country was cut to the quick by the Spirit and the Word, and all of its leadership turned out publicly for confession and mourning over sin; and the whole city posturing itself in humility before God - begging for His forgiveness; and then repenting in some very specific ways, to do righteousness for the glory of God!  What a glorious day that will be when the first one does that!  Maybe when Christian people are again made aware of the Kingdom of Christ from pulpits everywhere, we can elect Godly mayors and councilmen and judges.

As far as I can tell, Tyler nor any other city nearby has inclinations in that direction yet.  As a matter of fact, I can’t recall even one person saying that the new superintendent of Tyler Independent School District ought to be a godly man! - or the new judge of the supreme court!  A search firm is consulting with the people of Tyler right now, and the leader of the education of the children isn’t expected to be godly!  It’s not even one of the criteria!  How can any institution be Godly if its head (representation) isn’t?  Every qualification in the world will be required of this person - except one!  And the characteristic which is most important is the one that’s left out!  And, therefore, if it’s possible, the school system will get even worse.  It will become as Chorazin, and Bethsaida, and Capernaum - abandoned of mercy and worthy only of destruction.  That’s what happens to any institution which becomes indifferent to Christ and antagonistic to Christ!  And it happens in history.

The Word that Matthew uses here in verse twenty is very “telling.”  I have it translated upbraid - the same as KJV -  “…and He began to upbraid the cities…” - the sense of which is to revile.  And the reason for the reviling is shame and disgrace.  They were apathetic and antagonistic to the God-Man - the Fullness of the Law!

Matthew says that Jesus had worked “mighty works” or “power deeds,” if you will, in these cities; and then the awful truth about them comes out in solemn words (verse twenty) … “they did not repent.”

And before we get to some of the Theological issues here in these verses let me just say that the city of Chorazin is only mentioned once in all of Scripture, although a number of times in other books.  Apparently it was very close to the other two, somewhere on the Northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee.  No trace of it can be found.

Bethsaida was an important, walled city; and it was the home of Peter and Andrew.  Apparently very close to Capernaum.  No trace of it can be found.

Capernaum was the city chosen to be home base for the Lord.  Many of His mighty works were done here.  No trace of it can be found.  It’s as if it never was - or as if it descended into hell intact.

Tyre and Sidon, two cities pretty close to one another on the Mediterranean Sea (about twenty miles) are compared to Chorazin and Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee.  It might be interesting for you to know that the great city of Tyre, which still exists, is only about eighteen or twenty miles from Nazareth where Jesus was raised.  Although it was a Phoenician city which is now within the boundaries of Lebanon, it is still very close to Galilee, which is in the far northern part of Israel.

But Tyre and Sidon both were described in the Bible, and in a huge volume of other material, as beautiful and important cities on the Mediterranean.  Sidon is the older of the two, dating back at least fifteen or sixteen hundred years before Christ.  Tyre was only slightly newer than that, but it eventually surpassed Sidon in its importance.  The accounts which I read concerning these cities show that they were pagan, Gentile cities with wicked reputations - idolatry, debauchery, pride, hedonism and lush contentment.  They both worshipped Baal, the male sun god, and Ashtoreth, the female goddess.  Jezebel, the wickedest queen in the history of Israel was born in Tyre.  She was supposed to have been destroyed.  She was the one who had many of Israel’s prophets killed, and she pursued Elijah to have him killed.  Biblical condemnations of Tyre and Sidon flow from many of the pages of the Old Testament.

Now, in addition to the comparison of Chorazin and Bethsaida with Tyre and Sidon, there is also a comparison between Capernaum and Sodom (verse twenty-three).  Sodom was the worst of the three pagan cities (nothing remaining of it either), so Jesus is also saying that Capernaum was the worst of the three Galilean cities.  They were the worst with the worst.  And, as I’ve stated already, that’s because Jesus made His home there, and most of the early mighty deeds were manifested there.  And even though Sodom was destroyed in a hail of fire and brimstone, Capernaum’s fate was worse!

Now.  The Theological issues which can arise from this passage are kind of “sticky” if you read it “straight up.”  Richard was commenting one day about the “potential” repentance of these pagan cities.  And when you read the words, as I said - “straight up,” that is, as they appear on the surface and without context, then it appears that God somehow knew that there was some kind of potential repentance within the hearts of these three cities!  In other words, it looks as if God looked forward in time and concluded that if He had provided mighty works in these three cities (Tyre, Sidon, Sodom), which He did not do, then, somehow, they would have been able, more able than the cities of Israel, to understand the mighty deeds and repent!  And I’m sure that you understand that the basic issue here is whether, by the manifestation of miracles by the Lord, a pagan culture has enough light to understand the Gospel and repent.  (Our Lord Himself once made the comment to the Pharisees that if they didn’t believe Moses they wouldn’t believe Him, no matter what He did!)

So, in analyzing what looks to be a Theological dilemma, the first thing we might say is that the possible pronouncement of potential repentance in Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom is cast in the Light of the context, which we saw last Lord’s Day is the dragon snatching the Kingdom away, and the deep apostasy of the nation resulting from that.  Even the light of nature had been disintegrated in the open sin of the people of Israel!  You see, there was no “snatching away” of anything in Tyre and Sidon.  But even what they did not have was taken away in Israel!  That made their condition much worse than any surrounding city or nation!  So Jesus could have been simply comparing the ultimate condition of pagan cities and Jewish cities.

But, and I think that this is an even better explanation, every statement of our Lord doesn’t have to be analyzed as to all of its potential, certainly the case in the parables.  Rather than the fullness of all of the words here having to be shown at their maximum values, why couldn’t Jesus be giving the predominant weight to the lack of repentance of Chorazin and Bethsaida?  Why is it necessary that the potential repentance of Tyre and Sidon be considered at all?  If the emphasis is on His Own three cities and their lack of repentance, why raise speculative thought about the others?  And, as I said, the clear context is the snatching away of the Kingdom from Israel - not Tyre and Sidon!

I know it’s fun sometimes to follow Theological lines of thought, as long as speculation doesn’t replace “reasoning-with-the-mind-of-God!”

Here’s what Calvin said about it:  “Lest any should raise thorny questions about the secret decrees of God, we must remember that this discourse of our Lord is accommodated to the ordinary capacity of the human mind.”  This is not an issue having to do with the decrees of God at all!  In Calvin’s opinion, in comparing the cities, Jesus isn’t reasoning with what God foresaw would be done, but this is a simple judging of what each party would have done as far as could be judged by the facts!  Then Calvin goes back to a point made earlier:  the hardened state in Israel prompted its despising of Christ’s work.  But, at the same time, Tyre and Sidon (and Sodom) had never seen any miracles of God!  And, given the same set of circumstances, humanly speaking and for comparison’s sake, they would have repented!  But these three cities go beyond Tyre, Sidon and Sodom in malice and contempt of God and His Anointed King.

And even though we could have some fun with this and say that God’s omniscience includes all possible actions, and that He includes all options in His providential care of history, this passage is just one of those instances where there is just a comparison for the sake of emphasizing the terrible state of abandonment that had settled over the nation of Israel.

But that’s just a smaller issue in these verses.  Now comes the explanation - the meaning of this event - of the passage, which is very simple and very brief.  And we must see the bigger picture here - the one having to do with the Old Testament shadows, actually, the whole Bible; for without acknowledging them as a major part of the context, we can’t grasp the full point that our Lord makes here!

But the fact is that there is a very clear, close and distinct parallel between the book of Exodus and Matthew’s Gospel.  That parallel follows through in Revelation, too, but we’re not going to deal with that today.

But both Exodus and Matthew describe what happened when Christ came!  Exodus in shadows and Matthew in its fullness!  And the parallel is a natural! - because Christ is the fullness of the Law and the prophets! - the Law and the Gospel!  Jesus is both the true Moses and the greater Joshua!

Just as Moses leads the people out of Egypt (described in Scripture as salvation), Christ saves His people from bondage!  Later on as Joshua conquers Canaan, establishing the Kingdom of Israel, so Christ establishes His Kingdom by conquering the nations!  See the parallel?  Joshua was to lead the armies of Israel to destroy the Canaanites and the Phoenicians, down to the smallest child.  All of them.  But he didn’t do it.  He was compassionate with the people whom God said to destroy totally!  (The Canaanites had filled up their sin and were to be annihilated.)  They were to be annihilated by God’s command.

So when Christ comes to establish His Kingdom, the cities of Israel then received the pronouncement which God had made upon the cities of Canaan! - back in Exodus and Joshua.  Nothing is to be preserved!  And Christ fulfilled the Commandment which God made to Joshua, and which was not carried out, proving Himself again to be the fullness of the Law and the Prophets.  Israel had proved itself to be “as Canaan” was in Joshua’s time - it had filled up its sin and it had to be destroyed!

Then, as Moses sent the twelve tribes into the promised land, Christ sends twelve apostles into the nations to submit the Gentiles unto Himself.  And that was the beginning of a new nation - a new Israel - the new Kingdom of Christ.

Was there any injustice?  Was there any dilemma? 

Our God is one of order and faithfulness and completion.  There is not wavering in Him, and there is no dilemma.  There is no instance where His Word proceeds from His mouth without completion.  And He will not allow even one instance in His creation and in His history to stray from the perfection of His will and his providential control.  And if He sees fit to annihilate entire cities without a trace, completing His own command, who is there who can question His justice?

And now, as we have seen God’s faithfulness in the completion of His original command to destroy the cities, and as His “Greater Joshua” perfectly obeyed the Father’s command and wins a total victory (unlike the former Joshua), we are now honored to witness and partake in the sign and seal of that faithfulness!

It is a fact, grounded in the eternal Word of God, that God the Son took on the flesh of man.  And that man now has absolute life in His body!  This is a faithful sign from God that we are united in Him, and resurrected in Him, and ascended to the heavenlies in Him.  There is no injustice, no dilemma, no paradox, no mystery.