Second Sunday after Trinity June 21, 1998

INI

An Ungodly Generation Teaches Us What Not to Do

Matthew 11:16-24

Hymns

20, 347, 334, 457

But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children. Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, 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 unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. So far the Holy Word.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, for us the Rock of Ages, but for the unbelievers a Rock of Offense, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

When you’re trying to teach someone the proper way to do something, sometimes the best way to do it is with a bad example. Do you know what I mean? For instance, in driver’s education class they teach students to always be alert, unimpaired and in control when they’re driving. How do they teach this? By showing movies of what happens when people drive under the influence of alcohol. Some of those grisly scenes are pretty hard to forget. It’s a very graphic way of demonstrating what not to do.

Our text presents us with another bad news example. Jesus’ subject is “this generation”—the Jewish people who were living in Israel at that time and heard Jesus speak. He especially mentions the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, where much of His ministry was carried out. This generation of people Jesus holds up for our inspection. He tells us to look at them carefully. Why? Because they’re a perfect example of what not to do! They were an ungodly generation that rejected the offer of God’s grace and forgiveness. What’s especially frightening is that they bear a striking resemblance to the generation in which you and I are living right now! This is the worst case scenario; a “bad news example” by which the Holy Spirit would lead us to the Good News, and salvation. Join me in considering the theme:

An Ungodly Generation Teaches Us WHAT NOT TO DO

  1. Don’t make up your own rules—go by God’s!
  2. Don’t squander the grace of God—repent and believe!

I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression. It’s not that the Jews of Jesus’ time weren’t religious. They were extremely religious. The problem was that their religion didn’t come from God; for the most part, they made it up themselves! They pushed God’s Word further and further into the background, and for it they substituted “tradition”—their own petty rules and regulations. On one occasion Jesus said, “You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’—Mat 15:6-9.

Particularly silly, Jesus said, was the way in which they set aside God’s Word. They were just like spoiled children, who insist that they get to make up the rules of the game, or else they won’t play. But the Scribes and Pharisees couldn’t even decide which game they wanted to play—joyous wedding, or somber funeral.

But whereunto shall I liken this generation? said Jesus. It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. The Jews were like petulant children whom nothing could satisfy. They thought John the Baptist was too conservative. He lived in the desert, he drank no wine, and he ate very little. They criticized him for this: “We played happy music, and here you come all gloom and doom!” What they actually objected to was that John confronted them with their sin and told them to repent. On the other hand, the Jews thought Jesus was too liberal. He ate and drank freely, and proclaimed the joyous Gospel of the kingdom. For this they criticized Him: “We played a sad music, and here you come with Good News!” What they really hated was that Jesus preached the Gospel to tax collectors and “sinners”! Neither John nor Jesus was willing to play by their rules—and like stubborn children, that made them angry.

It was a childish and ungodly generation, Jesus said, because they set aside God’s rules and substituted their own. For us Christians, this is a perfect example of what NOT to do. It’s a warning—that when you make up your own rules you’re bound to go wrong. But in a reverse sense, this is also a promise. Jesus is telling us that when you go by God’s rules—when you base your faith and your life on God’s Word alone—you cannot go wrong!

Years ago I was arguing religion with a guy I roomed with at the University of Wisconsin. “You Christians are pitiful,” he said. “The rest of us spend our lives searching for truth. All you do is look in a Book! Whatever the Book says, that’s what you do!” Well, he meant that as an insult, of course. But the more I thought about it, the happier I was with that statement. It really is easy for us Christians! We don’t have to struggle to find the truth. God’s word IS truth! The Psalmist says, “Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” For Christians, there’s no such thing as “situation ethics.” The Bible tells us very exactly the difference between right and wrong; the Bible clearly identifies the narrow path that leads to heaven, as well as the broad and well-trodden path that leads to hell. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; he who does not believe shall be condemned.—Mk 16:16.

Our Lord said, “Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and do it.” How that simplifies our lives! No searching, no guessing, no making up our own rules as we go along. No need to try and save ourselves. We simply trust in God’s plan of salvation. A plan so wonderfully simple, Paul said, that “…Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.—1 Cor 2:9. You don’t have to do good works to be saved; Jesus did all the good works necessary for your salvation. You don’t have to make up for your past sins; Jesus made up for them already when He died on Calvary’s cross. Forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, a quiet conscience and a cheerful future, peace with God now and the promise of everlasting peace heaven—all these are free gifts from God to you. All you have to do is reach out the hand of your faith and receive them. Oh, and if that’s not enough, the Holy Spirit gives you the faith, too!

So let’s be grateful to that ungodly generation for showing us what NOT to do. We won’t make up our own rules, thank you very much—we’ll just go by God’s! His plan for getting us to heaven is a lot better than anything we could ever come up with!

So from one point of view, you see, the way people reject God’s plan of salvation—and substitute their own—is kind of like a child’s game. But from another point of view it’s not like a game at all. When children get done playing war, the losers can get up off the ground and go home. When you lose out on salvation, however, the consequences are quite a bit more serious.

Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were cities along the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was here that Christ carried out much of His ministry. Here in these cities Jesus had preached the coming of the kingdom. “Repent of your sins and believe in Me for forgiveness” was the message He brought to them. “I am the Messiah who was promised you.” To back up that message He performed countless miracles—healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, feeding the five thousand. Just think how privileged the people of those cities were! Opportunity was knocking at their door. God’s grace was being offered to them by the Son of God in person!

How did they react to the offer? They refused to repent. They rejected their Savior. They squandered away their only chance of salvation! So Jesus pronounces their verdict: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, 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 unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.

Tyre and Sidon were Phoenician trading ports on the Mediterranean, known for their wickedness and idolatry. They were the last people you’d expect to listen to God’s Word and repent. But even they would have repented, Jesus said, if they had seen the mighty miracles that were done in Chorazin and Bethsaida.

And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.

Sodom and Gomorrah you know about. The people of those ancient cities led lives so sinful and depraved that the Lord rained fire down on them from heaven and destroyed them. But if they had seen the wonders Jesus performed in Capernaum, they would have repented and escaped destruction. Not Capernaum. They hardened themselves against Jesus. They even tried to kill Him once, by throwing Him over a cliff.

—Pastor Paul Naumann

Sermon Preached June 8, 1997
Ascension Lutheran Church, DuPont WA


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