Rejection and Invitation: Matthew 11:16-30

Who is Jesus? This is the main question that the evangelist Matthew is helping us answer. He wants us to see that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament history and prophesy, that he is the one who brings to ultimate fulfillment the promises given to Abraham, and that he is the one who will reign on David’s throne and usher in the Messianic kingdom. He is not just a prophet, he is the Son of God.

This means that Jesus is your King and my King. It means that our lives are lived under the auspices of his sovereign rule. It means that he has ultimate authority over our lives and that every word we speak, every decision that we make has to be weighed in light of his will and word. It means that we should bend the knee to Christ as King now, just as all the world will do so at the Final Day.

But it also means that Christ is King no matter what people think of him. Jesus is not just King for those who accept this fact. This is objective reality, just as gravity is objective reality. The Law of Universal Gravitation does not just work for those who choose to accept it; it is in force whether you like it or not.  At the same time and in the same way, Christ always rules. There is no person who is able to claim exemption from his rule. A failure to believe in him is not an out. Rejecting Christ because you don’t believe in him is like walking off a cliff because you don’t believe in gravity.

There is therefore an awesome responsibility that is laid upon every person who has come in contact with the gospel, the responsibility to own the Lordship of Christ over their life. And there is an awful culpability for those who do not. If Christ is who the gospels say that he is, then it is no light matter to reject him as Lord over your life.

The text before us has much to say about the responsibility and consequences of accepting and rejecting Jesus as the Christ. Remember that the overarching theme of these chapters (11-13) is the increasing opposition and hostility to Christ. I think one of the functions of our text is to give an explanation for this. Why was he rejected? And why is he still rejected by so many today? The text helps us to see why this happens, in verses 16-19. In these verses, our Lord tells us something about the depth of our depravity. However, our depravity – awful and enslaving as it is – is still no excuse for the willful rejection of the Son of God. So in the following verses (20-24), we are told something about our responsibility.

However, this is not the whole story. Really, if the text ended at verse 24, this would be depressing indeed. But there is more to the story than our sin and rebellion. In fact, left in our depravity, we would never take one step toward Christ. The entire human race would be condemned (and justly so) with the cities in which Jesus preached and healed. What then is the counterpoint to our sin? Note that in verse 25, we read, “At that time, Jesus answered and said . . . .” Answered what? Although some point out that this phrase is a Hebraism, I think nevertheless that there is significance to the fact that in this text, our Lord is said to be giving an answer. And the answer that he is giving is an answer to the question posed by rejection. How can you go on in the face of such rejection? Do you quit?

By the way, this is not an academic question meant for our Lord alone. Missionaries in hard places have often had to ask the question if their ministry is worth it when they are faced with little fruit. Many of the most famous missionaries in history, like William Carey and Adoniram Judson, went years before they saw a single convert. In those years, they often had opportunity to give in to the doubts and fears of failure that no doubt filled their minds and hearts. What did they do? Well, if you read their biographies, you will find out that what kept them going in the hard times was their confidence in the sovereignty of God. And it is this truth that our Lord turns to in this text (verses 25-27). In fact, our Lord does the very same thing in John 6 in the face of overwhelming rejection (a chapter that ends with many going back and walking no more with him).

Now God as sovereign does not have to save anyone. He is beholden to no one. “Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed again?” (Rom. 11:35). And the fact that God is not dealing with innocent humanity but with sinful humanity – and we must remember that sin is not to be thought of merely in terms of messing up or making our lives and the lives of others miserable, but in terms of the rejection of God’s rightful ownership of our lives, treason against our King – then it should surprise us, not that some people are condemned, but that anyone at all is saved. And yet, surprising though it is, our sin is met with God’s mercy. In a text that begins with sin and rejection, it is delightful to see it end with an invitation from our Lord to weary sinners – an invitation that is all of grace from beginning to end, an invitation to find rest and salvation (verses 28-30).

Thus, in light of who Jesus is, this text tells us something about four great truths. It tells us something about the depth of our depravity (16-19), it tells us something about our responsibility (20-24), it tells us something about God’s sovereignty (25-27), and it tells us something about God’s undying mercy (28-30).

The depth of our depravity (16-19)

We often measure wickedness by how it affects other people, especially those we consider innocent. However, the sin that is underneath every other sin that has ever happened in the world is the sin of Adam and Eve in eating the forbidden fruit. What was so bad about that? Eating fruit leads to death? I dare say that most people can’t even fathom that. But that is because we don’t consider that what makes sin so bad is that every sin is fundamentally and at its root a rejection of God. This is the poison that bears the fruit of murder and adultery and lying and greed and every other evil that has been committed in human history. So we should not measure sin primarily in how it affects my neighbor, but we should measure it in terms of our rejection of our Maker and King.

What the opening verses of our text tells us about human depravity is that we are so enamored with our sin and so hostile to God, that we will find any excuse to reject him, no matter how implausible that excuse is. Men love darkness rather than light – they don’t reject it because the dark has better claims upon them than the light – they reject it because they love it and they hate the light (cf. John 3:18-21). I was talking to someone the other day who told me that even if it could be proven that the God of the Bible existed, they wouldn’t want to worship him. You see, that’s the problem. Behind all the intellectual objections to the claims of Christ is the love of sin and autonomy. The apostle Paul put it this way: “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

Our Lord likens this situation to children playing games in the market place. He says that his generation is like that disagreeable playmate who refuses to play with the others, no matter what are the terms of the invitation to play. They ask them to play a wedding game, and they are rebuffed. So they ask them to play a funeral game, and they are rebuffed (16-17). In the same way, God had been calling out to that generation. He sent them John the Baptist, who came neither eating nor drinking, who came in the way of the ascetic, and he was rebuffed and rejected on account of his manner of life. So our Lord came eating and drinking, and he was rebuffed and rejected for manner of life. Note that though it is the message that is being rejected (both John and Jesus preached the same message), yet the reasons that are given have almost nothing to do with the message and everything to do with the messenger (18-19). The reason for this is that they just don’t want to hear the message at all, and so they reject the preacher as a way to justify their excuse for not listening.

Unfortunately, all too often the church has given people a reason not to listen to its message. All too often our sin and hypocrisy make the gospel of grace look cheap and fake. But it is also true that the reason why people are so ready to use the sins of the church as a reason for rejecting its message is because they just don’t want to hear it. In the end, it is just an excuse. They are so in love with their sin that they don’t want to be bothered. And so they look for quick and easy excuses to wiggle out of their responsibility.

However, the fact of the matter is that there was no reason to reject Jesus or John. Jesus was perfect, and John was a holy man. For the generation of Jesus, it was just one big excuse. This is how Jesus explained it at the end of his ministry: “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause” (Jn. 15:24-25).

But that does not mean that our generation is off the hook. The facts of the gospel are there for all to see, especially for those who live in the West. In the end, according to our text, God sees the rejection of Jesus as based on weak excuses if not open hostility.

The shocking nature of sin is seen in the sinner’s rejection of numerous appeals from God himself for the good of their own soul because they just love sin that much. Paul put it this way, in talking about the antichrist, “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:10-12).

The excuses we give are made easier because so many people give them. When most of the people rejected John and Jesus, it was easier to turn a deaf ear. And yet, “wisdom is justified of her children” [some manuscripts put “works” instead of “children,” but the meaning comes out the same]. What our Lord is saying is that the truth of the gospel preached by John and Jesus [the children of wisdom, in this context] will be shown to be right in the end. Right is not decided by the majority. Even if most in our day reject the gospel, that is meaningless in the light of eternity.

The extent of our responsibility (20-24)

If their (and our) rejection of Jesus was just based on excuses, then that implies that they were responsible for receiving him and his message. They (and we) are culpable when we don’t. How culpable? In these verse, we are told. Here, our Lord pronounces woe against the cities in which most of his might miracles were performed and yet rejected his ministry. He mentions three: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, all in Galilee. In these verses, Jesus pronounces a woe, gives an explanation for the woe, and then makes a comparison. He does this twice. To announce a woe is to give a solemn warning of impending doom.1 Here the impending doom is that which will be executed on the Day of Judgment (22, 24). “You shall be brought down to hell” (23) is a good summary of the doom they are to expect. There is nothing more sobering than the reality of what are Lord is saying here.

What is going to bring them down to hell? And what would bring anyone down to hell? Matthew explains the reason for the woe: “Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not” (20). I think it is very important to see this, especially given the prevalence of easy believism in our day, the idea that all you have to do to get saved is to say a prayer and accept some facts about Jesus. Jesus came preaching a message of repentance – a call to turn from sin and to turn to God in faith – and this is what they had rejected (cf. Mat. 4:17). They had not turned from sin.

The miracles were not meant to wow them. They weren’t meant to entertain them, as Herod later sought for them. They weren’t even primarily meant to meet physical needs. They were meant to be megaphones in their ears to wake them up to the reality of their need of repentance. These people didn’t wake up. They barely opened their eyes, yawned, and then went back to sleep. And the next time they opened their eyes, they opened them in hell.

My friends, these verses tell us that God gives you many opportunities to repent, even though he doesn’t owe that to you. The Lord “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Paul talks about the riches of God’s goodness and forbearance and longsuffering that lead men to repentance. But there is a limit. The miracles won’t go on forever. When you with hardness and impenitent heart despise that, you are treasuring up for yourself wrath (Rom. 2:4-5). There is a time when the barren fig tree gets pulled up by the roots. Are there pointers in your life, places in which God has been trying to wake you up, and yet you have ignored it? Wake up! Repent before it is too late.

Repentance is necessary. You aren’t saved by orthodoxy. Not that orthodoxy is unnecessary. It takes a proper grasp of the truths of the Bible to understand your need of repentance. It takes a Biblical view of God, sin, and salvation to move the heart to change. But it is possible to be doctrinally sound and go to hell. You need repentance. You not only need a change of mind, you need a change of life that is grounded in a change of heart and will.

These people had so much. Capernaum was exalted to heaven by the presence of the Lord. It was the headquarters of Jesus’ ministry. And yet they mostly ignored his claims. The same could be said of the West. We have had so much. We have been so blessed. The Bible is so accessible. And yet so many walk away. So many go on sleeping. The implications of our text are sobering in light of the frittering away of our opportunities.

The triumph of God’s sovereignty (25-27)

If this will not wake people up, what will? It is scary to think that the miracles of the Son of God left so many sleeping away in their sin, deaf to the call of God to repent. This is why the words of our Lord in the following verses are so encouraging. They underline the reality that men do not have the last word: God is sovereign. His kingdom will prevail. In light of this, despite the fact that so many had rejected him, despite the fact that his miracles had left many in their sins, Jesus rejoices (cf. Luke 10:21). He praises God: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight” (25- 26). Hear what our Lord is saying: he is saying that in the end the reason why his message fell on deaf ears was not because his ministry was unsuccessful. It is because God the Father willed it to be so: it was good in his sight. It was not because Jesus was not clear enough in his preaching, it was because God hid it from them. Now he didn’t hide the hearing of the gospel from them, because many of these people no doubt heard Jesus’ preaching; what was hidden from was saving insight into the gospel that would have led to saving faith and genuine repentance.

Some people have a problem with this idea of God hiding saving insight into the gospel from people. They say it isn’t fair. But you have to realize that fairness on God’s part doesn’t require him to save anybody. God is not dealing with innocent people; mankind is under sin and condemnation. Everyone. No exceptions. “There is none good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). If God chose, he could have left everyone in their sin. He could have left all of us in our blindness and hardness. God didn’t have to save anyone!

These words are even more significant, given the comparison our Lord had just made between pagan cities and the cities of Galilee. He claims that God has contingent knowledge, that God knows what would certainly have happened given a certain set of circumstances. He says that if the cities of Sodom and Tyre and Sidon had seen the miracles, they would have repented. God knew this, and yet he did not send them those miracles, which he could easily have done. Instead, he left them in their sin. In the same way, he has left the cities of Galilee in their sin. This was not in spite of the plan of God, but because of the plan of God.

God hides the gospel from some, but he reveals the gospel to others; that’s our Lord’s point in the next verse (27). He is neither surprised nor defeated by the sin of man. Jesus doesn’t just rejoice because it’s according to God’s plan to hide the truth from some; he also rejoices because it’s also according to God’s plan to reveal the truth to others. Knowing God – Father and Son – is eternal life (cf. Jn. 17:3). And according to our Lord, he chooses to reveal this knowledge to some and not to others: “neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” The word “will” in this verse translates a word which refers to “decisions of the will after previous consideration.”2 Those who have saving revelation are chosen to receive this saving revelation. Note the emphasis upon the sovereignty of this choice: “to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” No one knows the Father except those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

What does it mean to know the Son and the Father? It is eternal life, it is to be saved. It is therefore to be indwelt by the Spirit, and to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit in your life. All of this is therefore the consequence of Christ’s choice. The text implies that God’s choice of us precedes our choice of him and is what makes it saving. Again, this is exactly what our Lord said in John 6: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written, and they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (6:44-45).

Why does God choose to do this? The Scriptures don’t give us a complete answer, and it is wrong for us to pry into the decisions of the Almighty. The secret things belong to God (Deut. 29:29). However, we do get a hint in verse 25, when our Lord says, that God has hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them unto babes. In other words, God has chosen those so that it is obvious to all who gets the glory. Babies can’t do much. Human babies are powerless apart from the intervention of others. Jesus is saying that God reveals the gospel to those who are powerless in the eyes of the world. Of course, in truth every person is powerless in the sight of God. And God does sometimes save those who are powerful in this world. But it is not God’s normal way of operating: he loves to save those whom the world despises and whom the world rejects and counts as worthless. Paul put it this way: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

The sweetness of God’s mercy (28-30)

It is in light of both human sin and God’s sovereignty that our Lord gives this invitation. Our sin makes this invitation necessary; God’s sovereignty makes this invitation possible. Left to ourselves, no one would ever come to Christ. It is only those who by the grace of God have had their eyes opened to their miserable condition in sin that will take advantage of the offer of grace. It is those who know that they “labor and are heavy laden” who will see any reason to come to Christ.

And this invitation is so important for us to hear. For when we begin to see the ugliness of our sin and we begin to become tired and weary of our sins, it is precisely then that we begin to wonder if God will have anything to do with us. Many people get to this point in their experience and then spends months, if not years, spinning their wheels because they think that for Christ to accept them they have to be good enough. Now I do not want to imply that repentance is not necessary. But repentance does not merit God’s favor. Good works do not make you acceptable to God. Only Christ can do that.

Jesus does not tell you to clean yourself up first before you come to him. The hymn puts it well: “All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of him.” Do you feel that you are a sinner? Then Jesus says, “Come unto me.” Are you tired of your sins? Then the Savior says, “Come unto me.” Do you feel powerless and helpless? Then our Lord says, “Come unto me and find rest.”

Our Lord then says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Coming to Christ is not an invitation to libertinism. You cannot come to Christ rightly unless you take his yoke. You cannot have him as Savior unless you also have him as your Lord.

And yet, the invitation to take his yoke is not an invitation to replace the bondage to sin with bondage to Christ. Sin’s bondage is a miserable one and its only reward is death. But our Lord’s service is sweet. Even as we take his yoke we find rest. Service to Christ is true rest; it is in him that we truly find our Sabbath.

It is my responsibility this morning to invite you to Christ, to come and take his yoke. It is also a great and an exciting privilege. Sinner! Come to Christ and find rest!

1 D. A. Carson, Matthew 1-11 (EBC), p. 273.



Popular Posts