20 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent:
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.
22 “But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.
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.
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.”
In a discussion yesterday morning, we got to talking about how some pastors and teachers of the Bible forget to mention the opposite of the things they preach. While they preach about salvation and peace, they neglect talking about sin and wrath. When they talk about the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21), they neglect to mention those who are excluded from it. (Revelation 20:15, 21:27) In speaking of the love of God, they often do not mention His true mercy in saving us DESPITE who we are and what we’ve done. (Romans 8:28) In talking about the forgiveness of God (Psalms 103:8), they neglect teaching people about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.
32 “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”
In Jesus’ own homeland of Galilee, the people were offended by Him. (Matthew 13:54-58) He was reviled and mocked by the very ones He came to save. Even as people like the Roman centurion in Capernaum and the Canaanite woman near Tyre and Sidon showed great faith to which Jesus responded with blessings and healing and hope, the people of Israel were largely unrepentant and unbelieving. Our Lord performed many miracles in Capernaum alone, and yet it was at that place that many fell away from His hard teachings.
59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”
61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you?
62 “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?
63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.
65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”
66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
It is little wonder that Jesus pronounced woes upon the places where He had taught and done healings and driven out demons. Here He was performing miracles and forgiving sins and inspiring faith in unbelievers, and yet Israel still did not repent. The power of God was manifest before them in so many ways, and yet they still not see. The Son of God walked among them and taught them as one having authority, and yet they still did not listen. Jonah preached the shortest sermon on record and got the whole city of Nineveh to repent in sackcloth and ashes (Jonah 3:4-9), and yet the Lamb of God manifested the love of God through signs and wonders and the Jews still did not believe.
Even today, the Holy Spirit is alive and well and working through believers. The spiritual gifts are active and real: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith itself, gifts of healings, miracles and prophecy, discerning of spirits, and even the gifts of tongues and the interpretation thereof. (1 Corinthians 12:7-10) Yes, the Lord has designated only some as apostles and pastors and teachers of various sorts (Ephesians 4:11-12), but the gifts of the Holy Spirit are “given to each one for the profit of all” and distributed “to each one individually” as God so wills. (1 Corinthians 12:7, 12:11) And yet, even as so many in the world see these gifts at work, they still refuse to believe it is the Spirit of God at work in the world to His eternal glory. Even people who call themselves Christians refuse to believe that the Holy Spirit is still alive and active in believers today! Is that not the very “blasphemy against the Spirit” of which Jesus spoke?
Jesus pronounced woes against the cities of Galilee where He had lived and preached and worked wonders, because He did not see the outpouring of faith and repentance that God had asked. They had seen and yet they still did not believe!
27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So much of our faith is based in what we have heard and seen among fellow believers, and our primary knowledge of God comes from the Bible, and yet we have not seen even a tiny portion of what the people of Galilee saw during the ministry of Jesus. We do not know Him the way the people of Nazareth knew Him growing up in their midst. We do not know Him the way Simon Peter’s neighbors knew Him when He healed people in Capernaum with a word or a touch–including Peter’s own mother-in-law. We do not know Jesus the way the multitudes knew Him as they followed Him around the Sea of Galilee for days on end to hear all His personal teachings. We do not know Him the way He was known by those in whose homes He would sit down to dinner or spend the night. Jesus lived and breathed and ate and slept and walked and taught among these people for all His mortal life, and yet it is as if they had never seen Him. They marveled at some of His teachings and balked at others. They cried out “Hosanna!” on one day and “Crucify Him!” on another day. Yes, it is no wonder Jesus pronounced woes upon the cities and leaders of the Jews who saw and heard and yet did not repent and believe.
We who DO believe each have seen our own miracles, whether in our own lives or in the lives of others. We know and understand the amazing grace of God, His abundant mercy and gentle healing touch. We have not seen Jesus face-to-face, only in a mirror darkly, reflected as He is in the fruits of the Spirit we see in ourselves and others. (Galatians 5:22-23) We have acknowledged our sinfulness and God’s grace. We have opened our hearts in innocence to the teachings of God, and we have understood them far better than the supposed “wise” men of our own age, who cling to their logic and science and worldly concerns too tightly to see God manifest around them.
This world is far more like the cities of Galilee in Jesus’ time than we care to admit. Even as many here in America claim that this is a Christian nation, we see the United States behaving more like the people of ancient Judea: unrepentant, unbelieving, rebellious and sinful. The Holy Spirit is at work through believers right here in the most powerful nation on Earth, at work with power throughout the world, and yet we esteem Him not. Truly, as Jesus said, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon and Sodom in the day of judgment than it will be for this sinful and unrepentant nation who refuses to acknowledge the power and mercy and love of God.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot speak of grace without acknowledging why we NEED that grace. We cannot speak of salvation without speaking also of our SIN and our need for God’s mercy. We cannot speak of repentance without talking about what it is we need to repent. We cannot speak of the wonders of heaven and our final blessed redemption from this world without speaking of the fate of those who do not believe.
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
19 “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
21 “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”
Let us bring ourselves into the light. Let us call our brothers and sisters in all cities and nations out into the light of God. Let us love Jesus, the very light of the world, and hate evil and darkness. Let us believe in the only begotten Son of God and accept His Holy Spirit as dwelling within all believers. Let us bring all people to believe in the works and mercy of God so that they all might believe. The gospel of Christ is for all creatures, and we dare not sit on the sidelines and simply expect the world to believe, for on their own they will never do so. Let us speak woe to the cities and nations who do not believe, and call out to them that the day is coming when these places will be melted away, and that only the faithful will remain after that purging fire. Let us constantly call attention to the Holy Spirit and give glory and honor and praise and thanks to God the Father for sending His Son Jesus Christ, so that all men may see and know and believe in Him as our Savior and Lord.
Holy Father God, I wish I knew You half so well as did the patriarchs and prophets. I wish I’d known Your Son in those days so long ago. Would I have believed as I do now? Would His presence have touched off so great a fire of faith in my heart? Only You know, O Lord. But I believe, dear Lord, that today we stand on the brink of a revival in Your name, that this nation and this place will defy the model of Bethsaida and Chorazin and Capernaum who knew Your Son and did not believe. I believe, Father, that You will give the increase to the teachings of Your true pastors, that Your Word will ring forth in this land to bring us back from the destruction that came to Sodom for their many sins. I pray, Father God, that I can be Your servant in all You desire, that I will be faithful even in the face of mocking and persecution. Here I am, Lord. Send me into the cities to speak not only woe, but also salvation, to declare the acceptable year of the Lord when all men shall repent and believe in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.