DUNCAN/God’s sovereignty and the free offer
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 11:20-25. In this final section of Matthew chapter 11, we find in these words one of the clearest expressions of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, side by side, found in all of Scripture. Both of these reveal the majesty of Christ, because the real theme of Matthew 11 is not the greatness of John the Baptist, or the wickedness of Chorazin and Bethsaida, or even the wonderful invitation to salvation presented in the end. The real theme of Matthew 11 is the majesty of Christ. We will see three things from this passage. First, we must realize the danger of ignoring the gospel of grace. Second, we must realize the danger of refusal to repent under the gospel of grace. And third, we must realize the consequence of refusal to repent under the gospel of grace.
I. We must realize the danger of ignoring the gospel of grace.
In verse 20 we see Jesus’ denunciation, His reproach against these cities for their unbelief. We learn in that verse that we must realize the danger of ignoring the gospel of grace. Jesus sends out a very clear warning in his words there. Verse 20 says, “Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.” Jesus had been preaching in these cities for a long time. Capernaum had been His home base. So, the Lord Jesus’ words of condemnation here are not the words of someone who’s flying off at the handle.
Notice the words of Jesus to these people. He is very clear in His rebuke. In fact, He is going to tell Capernaum in just a few verses that they are going to hell. The Lord Jesus does not use these hard words to be mean. He doesn’t use these words to tear people down. He is trying to shake them out of their indifference because He loves them so much. The Lord Jesus Christ is trying to shake these people awake in the words that He says to them. His demand that all respond in faith to the message of the kingdom is an indication both that He is divine and that the message that He preaches is urgent. Indifference is no different than rejection as far as the Lord Jesus is concerned. This is a Christ who loves, but this is also a Christ with the courage to condemn when it’s time to condemn. This Christ is both loving and sovereign, and He brings condemnation against those who reject the gospel of grace. It’s a beautifully balanced picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not to be trifled with, even though He is the Christ of love.
II. We must realize the danger of refusal to repent under the gospel of grace.
Notice in verses 21-22 that Jesus pronounces woes against these unrepentant cities. We learn here that we must recognize the danger of refusal to repent under the gospel of grace. Jesus says in verse 21, “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.” These circumstances are directly applicable to us because we have more light than Tyre and Sidon did. We have more light than Bethsaida and Chorazin and Capernaum. We have the very gospel of salvation entrusted into our hands. We have had continual contact from people who preach faithfully the basic truths of the gospel; and if we have not embraced those things, then we are in precisely the same circumstance that Jesus is dealing with in these cities. We have tremendous spiritual advantages, but have we embraced Christ? Have we not just believed about him, but have we followed him? Is He our priority? Has your heart and your life been radically changed? Have you experienced the life change that only the Holy Spirit can bring about in the life of a man or a woman? It’s an inward and an outward change. It’s connected with our belief and trust in Christ. If that hasn’t happened, then the gospel has not come in power in your life.
III. We must realize the consequence of refusal to repent under the gospel of grace.
Notice in verses 23-24, He goes on to make a threat of judgment against Capernaum. He asks a question to the folks in Capernaum in verse 23. He says, “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you?” And the implied answer is, “No.” He goes on, “You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.” There He teaches us that we must realize the consequence of refusal to repent under the gospel of grace. Jesus, again, appeals to these folks’ relative sense of religiosity. He says to them that they will be condemned because they have not accepted the gospel. He is telling these citizens that they are ripe for judgment because they are indifferent to the gospel of grace. Notice that He stresses the fact that their sin is against the gospel, and He simultaneously pricks their consciences by mentioning Sodom, precisely because these are moral people. He’s stinging their consciences. He’s causing them to have the hair on the back of their neck raised up and say, “Wait a minute! What are you talking about?” Because He wants them to realize that the issue is they have not embraced the gospel.
I want you to notice two things which raise the issue of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in verses 20-25. First of all, isn’t it interesting that Jesus reminds us here that not everyone has the same exposure to the gospel? The folks in Bethsaida and Chorazin and Capernaum had more exposure to the gospel than did the people in the Old Testament in Sidon and Tyre, and in Sodom and Gomorrah. They had more opportunities in these cities where Jesus was preaching to hear the gospel than did these people to hear the prophets of the Old Testament. Also in verse 25, you’ll see that the Lord Jesus suggests that God the Father has actually hidden repentance from some people, even though Jesus invites all to come to Him.
Now let me apply these words of verses 23 and 24 that we’ve just looked at. Sitting under the gospel is an awesome thing. It’s an awesome privilege and it’s an awesome responsibility. When we are exposed to the gospel week after week after week, and if we do not embrace it in our hearts and lives, we increase our condemnation. We must actually lay hold on Christ and become one with Him. And until then, we are in awful danger. Embrace Christ just as you are, and He will give you rest.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.