We're turning in our Bibles to Matthew chapter 11, and I was given the title for the whole chapter really, down to verse 24, that "It's Not What We Expected" - it's a rather unfortunate title for a preacher, isn't it? "It's Not What We Expected" - well, I hope it is, somewhat, what you expect, what you're going to hear! But I want to take the reading up at verse 16 of Matthew 11 - and we will read through to the end of the chapter, even though we will be dealing with the latter verses next week.
Matthew 11 verse 16, I'm reading from the New King James Version. Jesus is speaking, of course, and He says: "'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'. 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'. 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. Come to 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'".
Let us pray together, and as we pray, pray for me, pray for one another - but I would ask you in particular that you would pray for yourself. Would you do that just now? Ask God that He would have something for you just now, a word, a touch from His hand to your heart. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you, to come near and make Himself real to you. I don't know if there's anyone here that is an unbeliever, you're not born again, you don't have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Well, I would invite you - even if you're the biggest cynic in the world - pray. What have you got to lose in praying and saying: 'Lord', and even if you want to qualify it, 'Lord, if You're there, speak to me'? I believe God is gracious, so please come to Him, and just open yourself right now. All of us, let's come in prayer to what the Lord might have to say to us: Father, we want to exalt You, we want to praise You as the Holy, Holy, Holy God of Heaven. We've been thinking about Your glory, and Lord, Your glory is beyond our wildest imaginations. We cannot conceive what You are like. Lord we, in awe and wonder at the mystery of Your Person and Godhead, we just bow down and confess that You are great and You are God, and Jesus Christ Your Son is Lord of all. Lord, we just pray now that He would be Lord in this place, in this moment, and in our lives. We invite You to come by the power of Your Holy Spirit, and that You would speak with a voice that wakens the dead, that you will speak with a voice that revives and renews and stirs up the spirits of Your people - that You will come, Lord, and You will find a welcoming place, a resting place for Your presence. We heard this morning about the Shekinah presence, the glory, manifest glory of God - we pray that You will manifest Your presence here this morning, and particularly, Lord, in conviction and conversion, that those signs would follow the preaching of the word. However You like, Lord, however You would like to show up, we would like You to come and meet with us today. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Someone has said that the epitaph for our society should be: 'This civilisation died because it just couldn't be bothered'. Really, what we have, I think, in Matthew 11 is a spirit of apathy towards Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah. He had come to His own people, but they would not receive Him. Of course, there was aggressive rejection of Christ which culminated in His crucifixion, but there was also this passive aggression, this apathy. The fool once said: 'Apathy, I'm neither for it nor against it'. Many people are like that when it comes to Jesus - His own kinsmen of His day - and yet today things are little different. A university professor noticed a student about to fall asleep in his class, so the teacher asked the student: 'What is the greatest problem in our society: ignorance or apathy?'. The student replied: 'I don't know, and I don't care!'.
Several years ago, I think it was more than several, over a decade ago, 2004 I think it was, there was a drama on BBC1 entitled 'Passer By'. Our own James Nesbitt played a radiographer by the name of Joe Keyes, and late one night he is travelling home by train, and he sees a young girl and there are a number of fellas start to chat her up. When the banter becomes threatening, Joe is faced with a dilemma - he is unsure whether he should intervene or not. When he reaches the station he glances across at this girl, Alice is her name, who seems to be appealing for help. He just doesn't know what to do, should he stay on the train, or should he get off and get involved, or should he just go home. In fact, after the two episodes of that drama, the viewers were invited to give their opinion. I don't know what the figures were of the percentage of people who said 'You should intervene, Joe', and those who said 'Leave well enough alone, don't get into trouble yourself'. I imagine that the sentiment was to help, but in practical terms, in everyday experience, we often find that people don't any more - they walk on by.
I remember years ago hearing the story of a New York City mail man who was shot by a sniper, and he stumbled into a hotel lobby and was ordered out of the building because he was dripping blood on the carpet. In Oklahoma City, a woman give birth unexpectedly on a footpath, and the bystanders turned their faces. A taxi driver looked and then sped away. A nearby hotel refused her even a blanket. In Dayton, Ohio, also in the States, a dozen people saw a woman drive her car into the Miami River, and they watched - totally indifferent - as she climbed onto the roof of the car, as the car was sinking, and she screamed that she couldn't swim, and that woman drowned as people watched her. You might say that those are extreme cases, perhaps they are to an extent, but nevertheless they are cases of how things are in our modern world. If you look at verse 16 that began our reading today, Jesus said: 'To what shall I liken this generation?' - and that was His generation - but how could we answer that today for our generation? To what shall we liken our generation?
There are many labels that we could put on it, but surely one of them is apathy. Recently graffiti was written in bold black letters on a university wall: 'Apathy Rules'. Now we can debate whether that is applicable to many facets of our society, but surely we have to say today in our Western world - particularly in our country - there is great apathy towards religion in general, but specifically to the person and claims and the message of Jesus Christ, who we believe is the Son of God. Man's attitude towards the Bible, towards the idea of God is: 'Well, if you want that, if you want to live your life by that philosophy and worldview, you go ahead - but I don't really care for that at all'. In verse 16 through to verse 19, if you look at it, the listeners in Jesus' day were thinking the same way, effectively, as many people today. Look at verse 16 of chapter 11: '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', that's John the Baptist, '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'.
In other words, the society to which Jesus came, His own people, they found fault with every prophet that God ever sent. In fact, in the contemporary moment here, John the Baptist came to them - and, of course, we know with hindsight that he was the greatest prophet apart from Jesus who had ever lived - and yet what was their commentary on him? He came preaching repentance, he was quite an austere, eccentric man, withdrawn, he spent his time in the wilderness, he wore strange clothes and ate funny food - locusts and wild honey. He lived an ascetic life, and yet the Jews' declaration over his ministry and life was: 'He's demon possessed'. So the greatest prophet that ever was in Israel and in Judah didn't satisfy them. Then there is Jesus - well, who could have a problem with Him? He preaches good news, He heals the sick, He does mighty miracles - and added to that, He isn't eccentric, He doesn't have the idiosyncratic traits that John the Baptist had. He lives normally, He sleeps on a bed in a house, largely speaking, and He eats normal food and He drinks and mingles with normal people. But did that satisfy them? What do they say about Jesus? Verse 19, look 'He's a glutton', because He enjoys feasting with outcasts, 'He's a winebibber', they called Him a drunkard, 'a friend of tax collectors and sinners', the untouchables of society, the publicans and the prostitutes. Really what Jesus is saying is: 'Look, everybody that God sends to you, you're not satisfied with - God can't win! He sends John, you don't like him, he's got a demon. Then He sends His Son, Jesus, and He's a drunk. You're like spoilt children who are never satisfied'.
Does anybody know what spoilt children are like? I have to be careful here - they're not here, my children, but I think all of us have been spoilt children - even if we weren't spoilt in the material sense, it is a childlike trait, isn't it, to not be satisfied? No matter how much you get, you always want more, or what someone else has. That's the way the Jewish people in Jesus' day were. They were like children, nothing would satisfy them. Jesus makes this statement in verse 17, as if quoting a saying, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; We mourned to you, and you did not lament'. Like children saying: 'When we play weddings, you want to play funerals; or when we play funerals, you want to play weddings'. Like children playing with their friends, and their friends won't comply and play what they want them to play. Well, it's the same today with God and with God's message. It was the same in Jesus' day, no matter who God sent, it would satisfy them - it's the same today. When we preach a message of salvation by grace - you know what that means, that salvation is a free gift, you can't earn it, you don't get it by being religious, you don't get it by praying all your life or reading the Bible all day; you don't get it from anything you do, it's because of what God has done in Jesus Christ, dying on the cross to forgive us our sins, and when we repent from our sins and turn from them, believe in Him, we get that free gift. When we preach that, people say: 'That's too good to be true! I mean, there has to be something for me to do, I have to contribute to this in some way'. That's largely the reason for the existence of religion, where people think they can get to God by what they do in good works. But, you see, the Gospel is good news that you don't need to do that! It's not that good works aren't important, they are, but it is by grace that we are saved - it is a free gift, we received by faith, it's not of ourselves, not of works otherwise we would boast.
So, 'That's too good to be true', then somebody else comes along and they say: 'Well, that is true, but we also have to repent of our sin - and do you know what that word means? You've got to turn from your sin' - now we don't have the power to do that without God's Holy Spirit, but when He comes upon our lives, He gives us the ability to turn from our sin and turn to Jesus Christ and believe the Gospel, but we've got to be willing to turn from our sin. God wants to save us, and we don't have to earn that, and yet He wants to save us to live a holy life. We're not saved to sin, and He receives us as we are, but He doesn't want us to stay the way we are, He wants to transform us into the image of Jesus. So when somebody preaches that: 'Turn from your sin, and live a holy life' - 'They're too strict!'.
Salvation by grace alone - it's too good to be true; repentance and holiness - it's too strict. No matter what is preached, it doesn't satisfy some people. There is a great hypocrisy in this, even when unbelievers look into the lives of people who are Christians - now don't misunderstand me, I fall far short of God's glory and the way I ought to live, and I know that many Christians do - you ought not to look at Christians, you ought to look at Jesus Christ, His person and His claims. Having said that, we ought to be reflecting more of God's glory. Nevertheless, if you're an unbeliever here this morning, and you judge Christians for not living the way they ought to live - that's rank hypocrisy. You're judging someone for the sins that are in your own life. You say: 'Ah, but hold on, they are meant to have a higher standard than I'. Well, that's true, to give you an example - and I'm not entering into the debate about whether you should drink alcohol or not - if a Christian decides that they shouldn't drink alcohol, then people in the world think they're a party pooper, they're boring - isn't that right? 'Come on, live a little! Let your hair down!'. But then, the first Christian that they see taking a drink or two, or a few more to many, what do they do? 'Some Christian they are! Look at the way they are, they're no different than we are!' - isn't that right? So, no matter what comes along, no matter what is said or communicated from God or God's people, there are certain individuals - not everybody who is not a Christian, of course - but there are some people, it wouldn't matter if the Lord Jesus Christ came down in human form and stood before them, they would not be satisfied. He stood before His own people in His day, and He didn't satisfy them.
Now, what was the reason for this? They had a spirit of apathy, and they needed to ditch it - why? This is why Jesus said they needed to get rid of it: they were going to be judged for it severely one day, because they had been exceptionally, in fact uniquely privileged. You know, with every privilege there brings a responsibility, and with every lost privilege and failed responsibility there comes consequence - it's just a fact. They had heard, and they hadn't heard from some second-rate preacher like me, they had heard from the Son of God manifested in human flesh. They had witnessed His miracles, they had heard, and yet they still remained laissez-faire, take it or leave it. Specifically, Jesus addresses in verses 20 through to 22, He mentions a number of cities, but He effectively condemns Bethsaida. Look at verse 20: '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''.
Now Bethsaida was a very privileged city. We know that at least three of the apostles - Philip, Andrew and Peter - came from Bethsaida, so that gives us an idea of the privilege, the opportunity that there was to embrace Jesus Christ and the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom there. Mark tells us there was a blind man that was healed and received his sight in Bethsaida. Luke locates the great miracle of the feeding of the 5000 in Bethsaida - what a place to be! There are more things that we don't know that must have happened there, many of His mighty works were done in Bethsaida and Chorazin, and yet Jesus said: 'Tyre and Sidon will be better off on the day of judgement than you'. Now Tyre and Sidon were powerful cities that the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Amos condemned, castigating condemnation - and yet if they had received the ministry of Jesus, as Bethsaida had, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes. Then in verse 23, Jesus then sets His sights on Capernaum: 'And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades' - hell - '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'. Now this is mighty, Jesus is comparing Capernaum to Sodom - you know what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah, God destroyed them with fire and brimstone from heaven, wiped them off the face of the earth. Now these towns were not necessarily more immoral than Sodom and Gomorrah, that's not the point Jesus is making. He says in verse 23: 'Capernaum, you were exalted to heaven'. They're not being judged because of the depths of sin and depravity that they went to, they're being judged because of the heights of glory that they experienced with the presence of Jesus Christ in their midst doing great signs and wonders in God's name - and yet they still remained apathetic, that's why they were being judged, and they would plummet to the depths of hell because of their Christ-rejection. They're being judged not so much for the breaking of the law, but judged on the privileges that they had, and their reactions to Jesus.
So my question is very simple here today: are you apathetic towards Jesus Christ? Are you? You may not be a churchgoer, this may be very foreign territory for you today, you might be a little uncomfortable - but you may have grown through the ranks of Scrabo Hall, or some other Bible-believing church, and yet you are apathetic towards Christ, towards the Gospel. You've just grown into it, but - you know what I'm getting at. How many times have you heard Scripture? How many times has the Gospel rung in your ears? Ten? I think it's more than ten. There might be someone here, and it's your first time, it could possibly be - but there are probably more who have heard a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, I don't know how many times. If that is the case, and you're still here this morning and you're not a Christian - this is a Gospel of love and grace that we preach, and I want you to understand that I am not condemning you, but you've got to understand the seriousness of your guilt, the privileges that you have had, and the responsibility that you have not taken; the opportunity that has been yours as Jesus, time after time, has drawn near to you and spoken to you. It doesn't matter how moral you are - just like Capernaum and Bethsaida - you will be, on the day of judgement, more guilty than an idolatrous Tyranian or a Sidonian, or even a Sodomite; because they didn't have the opportunities that you have in 21st-century Ireland.
In fact, Jesus said that if Sodom, if they had had Jesus Christ in their midst they might have repented in sackcloth and ashes - but Sodom didn't have an evangelical church. Sodom had no Bible, they didn't have Gospel literature, books, outreaches - and yet, if they had, their hearts might have been softened to the Gospel. Yet perhaps for some of you here, your heart has been in the full glare of the Gospel and yet it remains unmoved because of apathy. What was the sin of Sodom? Probably the most obvious answer to that is homosexuality, which has come to be known as sodomy. But, you know, Ezekiel gives us a commentary and tells us how Sodom got to that stage of depravity - it's very insightful, listen: 'pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit'. Was it just because of homosexuality? What led to that abomination? What led to the fleshly lust and sexual immorality in Sodom and Gomorrah? What led to it? What led to it was apathy, pride that said: 'I don't need God, I can go it alone. I've got enough food to eat on the table, and I've enough clothes in the wardrobe, and I have money to pay the bills'. Maybe it's even more than that, that you are 'well-heeled', as we would say, things are going well for you. Now I know you'll say: 'I'm no millionaire, David. If you knew the struggles that I have had this week making ends meet' - but listen, do you see in the Western world? We are all millionaires, OK? We are all millionaires. One of the reasons why we have debunked God in the West, and one of the reasons why God's blessings at times are bypassing us, is because we have this innate sense that God is an appendix if we want Him in our lives, that's a bit like a hobby of table tennis or golf: we don't really 'need' Him. We do. We do need Him.
I want to turn your attention, please, to one verse as I bring everything to a close. We didn't read it, verse 12: 'And from the days of John the Baptist', Jesus is speaking again, 'until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force'. What a verse! Now we could spend a lot of time on that, but is the impression you're left with after reading that verse: apathy? Is it? No. It's a violent pursuit of God and His Kingdom. James Denny once said: 'The kingdom of heaven is not for the well-meaning, it is for the desperate'. I want to ask you here today: are you desperate for God? Whether you're a Christian or not, are you desperate for more of God, for more encounters with God, for more of a depth of knowledge and an intimacy with God? There's one! Is there not more than one? Or if you are an unbeliever, are you desperate for meaning? Maybe you have all the trappings, but you know your heart is empty, there's no sense of purpose or being or worth in your life, and you know there's got to be more than all this. Your hearing all this secular media gobbledygook trying to brainwash us all into thinking there is no God, there's no eternity, there is no spiritual realm - but eternity has been set in your heart, and you know, instinctively you know; no matter what you hear, whatever you're even reasoning yourself, there's something in you that is telling you there's got to be more than this - and there is! But how desperate are you? Are you? How desperate are you?
Are you willing to take it by force? Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying - I said a moment or two ago, from the Scripture, you can't work for this, you can't earn it, yet you can communicate to God how much you want it. That's repentance and faith. The greatest test of all is if you go to the cross - I don't mean a wooden cross, or a symbol, though those things are worthwhile - but the actual, real place where Jesus was pinned, and where He suffered the ignominy of men, He suffered the shame of being stripped completely naked, having been beaten and torn and bruised and spat upon, mocked. There He is hanging, a human wreck, and you look on that and you're told: 'He was wounded for your transgressions, He was bruised for your iniquity; the punishment of your peace was upon Him, and with His stripes you are healed'. Then you see the darkness fall for three hours, and it was a supernatural darkness, I believe, that creation had never seen anything like of. We believe that in those three hours, whatever it means, for every sinner who has ever sinned, for every sin that they have committed to be judged in hell for all eternity without end, that was compressed into three short hours, and that punishment was placed upon Jesus Christ, and He was made an offering for sin. Then you're told again: 'It was for you, Jesus Christ loved you and gave Himself for you'. Listen, if you can walk away from that apathetic, I have to tell you: you're lost, and you're without hope. If that doesn't break you, if that doesn't melt you - OK - if that doesn't even draw you into inquisitiveness about 'Who is this Man? Did He do that for me?', does it even cause you to question 'Is this true?'. Surely nothing could be more important in all the world, and nothing could be more devastating or tragic than for you just to stick your head in some kind of secular materialistic sand and say: 'Well, everybody else thinks it's nonsense, so I will just go with the flow. There are so many gods and religions, I mean, how can we know that Jesus is anything special and your way is 'the' way?'. Are you willing to take that chance, and not diligently, desperately seek for the truth?
The violent take this by force. I'm looking forward, I haven't seen too much of it I have to say, but I'm looking forward to the day and the era - and I believe it's coming - when people will desperately seek. To get people converted - and you understand what I mean, I know it's God converts people - but to get people interested today, to get them into church, to get them interested, to get them to the point of realising they are a sinner and Jesus died for them, understanding the Gospel, to clear away all this secular stuff that's confusing people, and then to get them to that point of bowing the knee - it's hard work! Now I know it's God's work, but you understand that as we spread the Gospel, people are hard today. I'm looking forward to the day when people will run for Jesus, when people will beg, when people will be broken, when people will cry out in meetings: 'What must I do to be saved?'. I believe that can happen - but, you know, you could do that today if you're desperate enough, if you want your sins forgiven, and if you realise how glorified Jesus is now, because He's risen, and He's exalted, and He's at the Father's right hand. He is able to save you to the uttermost if you come to Him.
But, you know, it's not 'take it or leave it', it's not 'a little prayer with Jesus makes it right'. I'm not decrying childlike faith and simple acts of prayer that are sincere, God responds to that - but there can't be apathy. This is God's Son.
Let's pray. I want to take a moment before I close, and when I finish praying that will be the end of the meeting. But I want to give an opportunity for you to respond to the word of God. Even Christians - I will be honest with you, there are times that my heart can be apathetic. It's very easy, and it's very easy after Christmas time especially. We need Him, we need Him, every hour we need Him, every moment, every second. We can't live without Him, and if we have believed the lie that we can coast along without Him, we're missing out on so much. But if you're not a Christian here today and God has really spoken to you, maybe you have grown up in a Christian environment and this is so applicable to you - but even if you haven't been in a Christian home; in our country, in our nation, in Western Europe you have been so privileged for hundreds of years to have the word of God and the Gospel. I know we have not lived up to what we should have done, preaching it and living up to the claims of Jesus - guilty as charged - but still the truth is the truth, Jesus is who He said He is. What are you going to do? Will you take it desperately today?
If you want to do that, just where you are, just say these words in prayer - now it's not the words, it's the heart and the faith that is in the heart. Come to God desperately and say: 'Father, I come to You in the name of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ', just repeat those words, just in your heart, say 'I confess my sins to You, I repent of those sins, I renounce Satan and all his works, and I ask You to save me now and make me Your child through Jesus Christ who died for me. I confess Him as Lord of my life now, and I ask You to fill me full of the Holy Spirit'. If you have prayed that prayer, we want to help you, and we want to give you literature that could help you and encourage you. We're not going to pester you or buttonhole you or annoy you - but why not, at the door, tell me: 'David, I prayed that prayer, and I meant it'? If you're a backslider, that's the epitome of apathy, is it not? You need to sort it out, you need to sort it out. Are you lukewarm? Do you know what happens to lukewarm Christians? What Jesus says. You need to get red hot, red hot, desperate for Jesus and more of Jesus. Is that where you are? That's where we need to be, that's where you as a church need to be, that's where every church needs to be: pursuers of more, more of Jesus. All of us need to be stirred up daily, and we are to take up our cross - that means daily, but you just look at our apathy - and we are to die to the flesh, and to live in the power of Christ.
Father, I pray Your blessing upon these people today, particularly those who are seeking and searching, or those who haven't and just couldn't care less. May that be until now, that there will be an urgency through the power and weight of Your Spirit coming through the word to compel them to repent and believe while there is time. May we, Your people, take the warning, and take the Kingdom by force. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at Scrabo Hall in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "It's Not What We Expected" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
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