There are times when we read Scripture and it can feel so foreign to us given the stark differences between a particular biblical setting or custom and our own. But there are times when we read Scripture and it can feel so contemporary and timeless. And when this happens it’s a reminder that though times may change, people don’t. Each generation struggles with fallen human nature in which even as believers we testify with Paul that that which we want to do, we do not do and that which we don’t want to do we end up doing. And God, by his Word and Spirit, ever seeks to address and help us.
This morning’s passage is one of the timeless ones. In it Jesus reflects upon the generation of his day starting with verse 16: “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:17 ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” Just before he said this Jesus had been speaking about John the Baptist. At the beginning of the chapter we find the account I referenced a few weeks ago in which John, while sitting in prison, sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was, indeed, the Messiah promised in the Scriptures. Jesus answered by quoting those very Scriptures, known so well by John, and connecting his deeds of healing with those which Isaiah had prophesied Messiah would do—giving sight to the blind, the ability to walk to the lame, clean skin to the leprous, hearing to the deaf, life to the dead, good news to the poor (v. 5). Then Jesus went on to reflect upon John whom he referred to as “more than a prophet” in verse 9. Jesus states that John the Baptist is the one about whom the prophet Malachi had prophesied when stating, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” As God’s messenger, John had prepared the way for the coming of the Lord; that is, he had prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ. What is more, whereas Jesus after rising from the dead told the disciples on the Emmaus road that all Scripture had been written about him, here he states about John in verses 13–14 of Matthew 11 “13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” As Jesus’ coming had been prophesied so had John’s. He is the last in line of the prophets and he came preaching in the spirit of Elijah, the greatest of prophets. And John’s message was in keeping with that of the Old Testament prophets, as he, too, pointed to Messiah. But unlike them, John knew the Messiah personally, he knew this Christ who in fulfillment of the ages had arrived in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
This context addressing the relationship and connection between Jesus and John helps us understand the meaning here of the children in the marketplace to whom Jesus is likening this generation. Neither Jesus nor John conformed to what the people expected. They didn’t behave as the people desired them to behave, dancing and mourning at their beckoning. As Jesus explains in verses 18–19: “18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man”—that is, Jesus— “came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’”—and keep in mind that Matthew, author of this Gospel and one of the chosen twelve apostles, was himself a tax collector!
Now apparently at this time associating someone with the demonic was a way of dismissing—and well, of demonizing them. Last week we saw Jesus warn his disciples that if he had been called Beelzebul, the prince of demons, so too would they. Here John, whose ministry pointed to and proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, as the promised Messiah, was similarly accused of having a demon due to his austere lifestyle—he came “neither eating nor drinking.” And as John didn’t meet people’s expectations of him, neither did Jesus for though he did come eating—drinking—and hanging out with those known to eat and drink, he was rewarded with being called, “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But here’s the thing. Ultimately what matters is that we proclaim and live out God’s truth and this has nothing to do with what we do or do not eat. It has nothing to do with what we do or do not drink. As Paul similarly affirms, “…whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This is Jesus’ conclusion at the end of verse 19, “But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” In the end both he and John will be proved to have been right in what they taught and in the way they lived for they proclaimed and lived out God’s truth. As Paul states elsewhere, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This is the message of the Old Testament prophets, of John the Baptist, of Jesus himself, and of all his disciples, past, present, and future.
In verses 20–24 Jesus moves from a general comment about “this generation” (v. 16) to specific towns that had rejected him, verse 20: “Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.” Again, John the Baptist had borne witness to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. And when John sought reassurance from Jesus, he provided it by reminding John that he, Jesus, was doing the very deeds the Scriptures prophesied Messiah would do. This is worth repeating for through Jesus’ ministry “The blind receive[d] sight, the lame walk[ed], those who [had] leprosy [were] cleansed, the deaf hear[d], the dead [were] raised, and the good news [was] proclaimed to the poor” (v. 4). Jesus did all these miracles and more. Think about it. What if Jesus were to come into our midst this morning and heal, by merely a word or a touch of his hand, all who were suffering physically—and emotionally—and spiritually? Wouldn’t that catch our attention? Wouldn’t such news spread? Wouldn’t that make us want to learn more about him? Shouldn’t those deeds, combined with his words of testimony and teaching and preaching, convince us that he was indeed the promised Messiah? That he was indeed Jesus Christ who was God, Son of the eternal and everlasting Father? The purpose of the miracles Jesus performed was that people might believe that he was God and so turn to him, repenting from their godless ways—that is, repenting from seeking to live their lives apart from God, on their terms rather than his—and seeking instead the forgiveness that he ever and always so freely bestows. Yet instead people rejected him and refused to repent. They refused to believe that he was who he said he was and so they continued to live according to their own values and beliefs rather than living according to the values and beliefs God had disclosed by his prophets, in Scripture, and ultimately in his Son.
This is why Jesus, who as God is also Judge, announced judgment on the towns that rejected him for these were the towns “in which most of his miracles had been performed” and still they did not repent (v. 20). Starting in verse 21 he begins with the towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities in Phoenicia that had often been involved in the worship of Baal. Consequently, during Old Testament times God sent his prophets to condemn them. Yet Jesus states here that even these Gentile cities would have turned to him had they witnessed the miracles Jesus had done in Chorazin and Bethsaida.
Next Jesus turns to the town of Capernaum in verse 23: “23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” Unlike Tyre and Sidon, Sodom is more familiar to us. In the Old Testament, when God saw the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah, he told his servant Abraham that he would destroy them. But Abraham took his courage in hand and asked God if such destruction would occur should fifty righteous be found and God promised that if fifty righteous were found there, he would refrain from harming these cities for the sake of the fifty. By the time Abraham was done talking with God, he had asked him what he would do if ten righteous were found and God reassured him that these cities would be spared for the sake of ten. The fact that God went on to destroy them indicates just how wicked these cities were. And here in Matthew Jesus implies that had those living in Sodom and Gomorrah seen the signs that Jesus had done—had seen the many miracles that those in Capernaum had seen him do—even the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented—and turned to the one, true merciful and gracious God for forgiveness—and their cities would thereby have been spared and remained to Jesus’ day.
Again, throughout Scripture, whether in the Old Testament or the New, the purpose of miracles is to demonstrate the truth—and reality—and power of the one true, God that people might repent from their ways and know and receive his love. That they might know God, maker of heaven and earth, as the source of miracles is their intended end. Conversely to reject, or discount, or dismiss, or explain away miracles is to reject the God who allowed them to be performed. This rejection is the reason why Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are being judged because though they witnessed both Jesus’ teaching and miracles, they nonetheless didn’t acknowledge him as the Christ; they didn’t acknowledge him as God who had entered history in the flesh for the salvation and redemption of all who would turn to him.
Having proclaimed his judgment upon those who had rejected him, Jesus next turned his gaze heavenward as he spoke to his Father in heaven—which is to say as he prayed to his Father in heaven. And he begins with a word of praise in verses 25–26: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.” Jesus is expressing gratitude here and affirming the truth that God’s ways aren’t our ways. His message, in fact, is similar to that which Isaiah brought when he said,
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
From the time at which he first made us, God made us to know him. And when our first parents, Adam and Eve, turned away from God at the time of the Fall, this didn’t result in any change in God’s intention for us. The Fall may have complicated our ability to know God—prior to their disobedience Adam and Eve spoke openly and freely and unashamedly with God—but since knowing him is the purpose of our creation, of our being, God never gave up on us despite our disobedience. Again, whereas previous to the Fall knowing God came naturally since there was no sin or guilt separating us from him, after the Fall knowing God became difficult and required seeking him. But the good news is that the One who has made us desires to redeem and sanctify us—to make us as he is. This is why Isaiah says, “6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” And this is the message not only of Isaiah but of all the prophets, including John the Baptist. And this message is also the one Christ came to earth to bring. But the price of ignoring this message is nothing less than Christ’s judgment for having rejected the One God sent to live, suffer, die, and rise that we might know our loving Father in heaven by means of his indwelling Holy Spirit.
When Jesus praises his “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children,” he is affirming the latter part of what Isaiah states, “9 As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Whereas we tend to value and esteem those who are wealthy, those who are confident, those who are self-important, those who are independent, those who are powerful, God values and esteems those who know their needs—and shortcomings—and wrong motives—and selfishness—and weakness—and thereby see their need for God and seek to depend upon him. The “wise and learned” Jesus prays about to his heavenly Father are those who are self-sufficient. The “little children,” on the other hand, are those who understand and act upon their need by turning to their loving and heavenly Father who loves and cares and desires to guide them.
As the One is who is Son of his heavenly Father, and is one with him since he is also God, Jesus goes on to pray in verse 27, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” As we keep seeing again—and again—and again, as God’s only Son, Jesus is the only way to the Father. As such, his very life and existence confronts us with a choice: either we accept that he is the eternal Christ incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, sent from the Father that we might turn from our sins and death and turn to him who offers us eternal life, peace, and union with him and the Father by his Holy Spirit, or we reject his teaching and miracles and thereby cut ourselves off from knowing our heavenly Father for “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
The possibility of such a relationship is extended to all who would accept their status as God’s little children for the chapter ends with an invitation, starting in verse 28: “28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus’ invitation is to all who are weary and burdened. This is an invitation to have a relationship with him. The context here is that the religious leaders of the day had burdened people with oppressive and detailed requirements and expectations. Jesus is contrasting that burden with the joy of knowing him, God in the flesh, and allowing him to help us live out our lives. Being a follower of Christ isn’t simply a matter of “dos” and “don’ts.” No, being a follower of Christ is about coming to him. Turning to him at any and all times and talking with him. Seeking his wisdom and his understanding for our lives. And maybe I’m projecting but it seems to me that the “weary and burdened” includes anyone who is breathing. Don’t we all feel weary at times? Weary from work; weary from our responsibilities; weary from worrying; weary from our routines. And don’t we all feel burdened at times? Burdened by money concerns; from concern for others; from health concerns; from concern for ourselves; from concern for our nation. Who among us isn’t weary and burdened? Yet for all who are, there’s good news: Gentle and humble Jesus Christ—our Maker—our Savior—our Redeemer—our Brother—our Friend will give us rest for our souls, not only now but forever. He will refresh us. He will help us recover our strength. He will sustain us. He will help us to persevere. Notice that he doesn’t promise that life will be easy or that we’ll always be happy. But he does promise to be with us, come what may. For as the psalmist also foresaw and knew, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, our Good Shepherd will be with us.
And the means of providing his rest is that he offers us his yoke in exchange for our burden; his righteousness in exchange for our sin. Those who have turned their lives over to knowing and following Jesus Christ are thereby united with him by his Holy Spirit and enabled to learn from him. It is in depending upon and learning from Jesus that our weariness is addressed and our burden is lightened and lifted. Our circumstances may not change but we are changed as we realize that we are never alone and that we are and ever will be the objects of his eternal love; as we realize the depth of Christ’s love for us; as we realize that he is with us in every circumstance in life and that even in death he provides us his eternal life in and with himself.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to learn from gentle Jesus who is humble in heart. And if we turn to him, he will give rest to our weary souls for his yoke is easy and his burden light for he is God. So let me ask you: What burdens are you carrying this morning? What are those things that are causing you to be weary and heavy laden? Give them over to Jesus. Don’t assume he is too busy; don’t assume he has better things to do with his time; don’t assume that your concerns are too small to bother him with. He wants to be bothered by us. He made us for himself. And as God, he can handle it all—from upholding and sustaining and providing for the universe he has made, to knowing the sparrow that falls and the number of hairs on our head. So on this communion Sunday, let us heed God’s words spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
Let us pray.
 Romans 7:14–25: 14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
 Malachi 3:1: “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
 Luke 24:27: And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
 Matthew 10:2–4: 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
 Matthew 10:25: “It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!” Sa, Matthew 12:22: “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Parallel in Luke 11:14–16: 14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, “By Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. Sa Mark 3:22: 22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
 I Corinthians 10:31.
 Philippians 2:10–11 paraphrased.
 Mentioned only here and in Luke 10:15 in Scripture.
 Modern Lebanon.
 Genesis 18:16–33. The account of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction is recorded in Genesis 19:1–29. The fact that Lot and his family are spared demonstrates how God refused to destroy the righteous among the wicked. Implied is that had lot and his family not left, Sodom and Gomorrah would not have been destroyed.
 Isaiah 55:6–9.
 Compare Genesis 2:25 (Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.) with Genesis 3:8 (Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.)
 Psalm 23:4: Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[Or the valley of the shadow of death] I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.