A Generational Divide; Miracles
Still in Matthew 11 (also mentioned in Luke 10, but in a slightly different manner and context):
“Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. “Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. “Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
Is this the same people to whom Jesus was previously speaking, or are these collective sayings of Jesus that Matthew, who has the liberty and ability, combines together? While both are possible, I am inclined to believe the former, based on the context. However, I am sure Jesus said these things more than once to more than one group of people. In Luke 10, it appears, based on the context, that Luke summarized this scene. But here in Matthew, I believe he is still speaking to the people left, from all these cities, after John’s disciples depart, based simply on Matthew’s writing and based on the context. Yet, it is of little consequence when and where Jesus speaks, but the audience is important–this generation.
“Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.” Jesus may have gone to each city to reproach them in their cities but let’s not lose sight that a city is made up of people and he has been speaking to people, from various places, who are part of his earthly generation. When we think of cities, we often think of their skylines and landmarks. One may say, I love New York City, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty off in the distance, going to Broadway and taking in a show. But that is not what Jesus is talking about when he says, cities. He’s not talking about a landmark like Central Park, he’s talking about the people. Notice the context, “because they did not repent.” Buildings, food, drink, landmarks and streets need not repent, people do.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Once again, Jesus does not have to be in the cities to reproach the people from the cities. Most likely, the people went out to him, which is interesting in assorted aspects. First, as we will, and have seen unfold, Matthew paints the picture of a transition from a “come and see,” religion, to a “go and tell,” discipleship lifestyle. Remember back a mere several sentences where Jesus asks the people, “what did you go out to see?” This generation is still in a come and see type of pattern. Come and see the temple, come and see John the Baptist, come and see the miracles of Jesus. And even though they saw the miracles, they didn’t repent, according to the context. That is another interesting aspect, that they did see the miracles, they heard, left home, saw the miracles and didn’t repent. It still reminds me of Jesus questioning what and who they went out to see. It’s clear in the context Matthew’s aspiration to his audience. This generation didn’t go out to see a reed shaking in the wind, they went out to see one who is “more than a prophet.” They went out to see one who is more than a miracle maker. Yet, they came, they saw and they didn’t dance, mourn or repent.
Jesus compares this generation’s cities, to cities of old, including Tyre, Sidon and Sodom. Time to take some Vitamin E, Expository Exegesis of Examples, the E from the acronym CAGED; Context, Author’s Aspirations to Audience, Genre, Expository Exegesis of Examples, Divide Rightly the Word of Truth. Much is written in the Old Testament about Tyre and Sidon, and not all of it bad, but most is, particularly this passage in Ezekiel; “Now it came about in the eleventh year, on the first of the month, that the word of the LORD came to me saying, ‘Son of man, because Tyre has said concerning Jerusalem, ‘Aha, the gateway of the peoples is broken; it has opened to me. I shall be filled, now that she is laid waste,’ therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. ‘And they will destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers; and I will scrape her debris from her and make her a bare rock.'” And like all prophecy from God, it happened. Slowly but surely, Tyre was pummeled persistently until nothing but ruins remained.
For time’s sake I can’t give all the context but notice the context I did give–notice the reason for the persistent pummeling. A quick summation; because God is giving Israel and Judah over to their respective enemies, of God’s own choosing, Assyria and Babylon, Tyre was thinking, “hey, let’s get in on the plundering.” More literally, “Aha, the gateway of the peoples is broken; it has opened to me. I shall be filled, now that she is laid waste.” She being personification of Israel, even more specifically, Judah and Jerusalem, Tyre was going to be like the proverbial vulture, and plunder what was left after Babylon sacked the city. Problem; God said in Jeremiah 27, “Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him.” Judah went into captivity by Babylon by God’s decree; not Tyre. For more on Tyre and Sidon see, Isaiah 23, Jeremiah 25 and Amos 1-3.
As for Sodom, I hope we all remember that story well, it’s found in Genesis 18+19. One quote from Genesis 18, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave.” And after Abraham bargained with the Lord to spare the city if 10 righteous people were found, the city was destroyed because 10 righteous people were not found…And Jesus tells this generation that they are worse.
Well, not worse per se, other than Capernaum which is called worse than Sodom, but that if the miracles were done in those cities as were done in these cities, and amongst those people as amongst these people, they would have repented and remained. The context of Matthew 11 all fits together. You came, you saw, you didn’t dance and you didn’t mourn. But mostly, Jesus is performing many miracles but the people won’t repent. Look closely at the context again; “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” If that generation saw what this generation has seen, they would not only have repented, but they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes! Our Old Testament tutor has much to say about sackcloth and ashes, from death and disaster to rebellion and repentance, the Old Testament is replete with imagery of sackcloth and ashes. It is a symbol of deep mourning and repentance towards the Lord. It symbolizes inner reflection, and when coupled with the word, repent, the context is clear. It is a change of heart and a hearkening to the Lord.
I have to admit that I feel like fasting in sackcloth and ashes. As I was writing this, news broke that the Senate of the United States of America, couldn’t get enough votes to pass protection for botched abortion survivors. I usually refuse to talk politics and I truly believe I am in keeping with that self-set-statute. This should not be political! Yet it was almost entirely split along party lines. But I have hope. I truly believe that we are hanging on by a thread but luckily for us that thread is scarlet and it runs throughout the Bible. Therefore we must learn from that generation and this generation and mine the Bible for all it’s worth. We must not be a mega-church come and see type christian but a go and tell disciple maker. It’s extremely sad but literally, lives are at stake.
The other option is to descend into apostacy. Sings songs louder and less Biblical than the protest songs of the sixties. Sit for sermons saying security and peace, peace and security, then standing up to play. This sort of sermon is available 24 hours a day on satellite radio. Tune in anytime today or tomorrow to tantalize and tickle your ears. But be cautious–just as I cannot trust any politician who would not protect the life of an infant, I cannot trust a pastor who rips tiny pieces of Scripture out of context and then tells recycled stories of woe and want turning into peace and prosperity. How can we trust a pastor who claims that the disciples became successful because they did it Jesus’s way? He quotes Luke 5, sort of. (Paraphrasing but a very accurate account) “The disciples were doing it their way fishing on the wrong side of the boat. But then Jesus told them, do it my way and put that net down on the other side. And when they did, when they stopped doing it their way and did it Jesus’s way, they enclosed so many fish that the nets began to break. They had the greatest, most successful catch of fish of their lives because they did it God’s way. That’s how they got paid, by fishing.”
Problem, not even close to the context and he didn’t finish the story. They left the nets and everything behind and followed Jesus. Read Luke five for yourself and see if his story corresponds with the context. It sounds good–it tickles the ears, of course we should do it Jesus’s way. But according to the context, that means leaving everything behind, including the successful catch of fish, and following Jesus.
Who is worse, Tyre or Bethsaida? A crooked politician or a crooked pastor? Sinners sin, it’s what they’re supposed to do. But we are going to lose this experiment in freedom if we as christians can’t consider the context in the Bible. It’s where the downfall began. And as an aside, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus is coming back (see my missive on Revelation), but it does mean we will lose this experiment of individual liberty. The good news is that God works more magnificently among the oppressed because they seek him. If we fail, it doesn’t mean that the word of God has failed. On the contrary, it confirms the context. It’s sad to say but it won’t be crooked politicians that ruin our freedom, it will be because the church was chasing fool’s gold rather than mining for true gold. If the miracles that have happened in America happened anywhere else, I bet they would dance.