The Woe of Kingdom Rejection
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 10:12-16
The Woe of Kingdom Rejection
August 11, 2019
We’ve been studying the sending of the Seventy-Two, so if you’re in Luke 10—that’s where you should be—we’re going to wrap up today Jesus’ instructions to the Seventy-Two that he sent out ahead of him as Kingdom heralds to go before him to announce his soon arrival to all the towns and places where he intended to go in Judea and Perea. Last week we saw the implications of the message that these messengers proclaimed for those who receive and those reject the implications of hearing the message and the receiving it on the one hand or rejecting it on the other.
Those who receive the kingdom will partake of Kingdom power; they will benefit from the King’s favor. But those who reject are going to fall under the worst judgment; they will take their place in the lowest parts of Hell. As Jesus said in Luke 10:12, “It will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town that rejects his messengers that he sends before him.” Amazing, amazing statement! To reject Christ’s messengers, to reject the message that they bring—better for you to have been destroyed in the fire and brimstone of Sodom. And that’s because to reject the message is to spurn a gift from God, a gift that is of infinite value, and it’s not just because that gift is the key to escaping eternal damnation, the key that opens the door to eternal reward instead. To reject the messenger and his message—the issue there is that that’s rejecting Christ, and to reject Christ is to reject the God who sent Christ (verse 16).
I really think that many Christians today don’t feel the weight of the message that they carry to the lost. I just think they don’t feel it. I know that I can sometimes struggle to feel the weight of that. I pray that the Lord gives me at all times a sober-mindedness about the work that I’m doing. The Gospel is of inestimable worth, and the consequences of receiving or rejecting it are so grave that it makes us sober-minded and serious as Christians. So our concern is really—when we go out, when we preach the Gospel, when we talk about truths—our concern is always to be clear, to be biblically precise, to be biblically accurate in our preaching because we don’t want anybody confused about the the Kingdom of God—not through us. That’s one reason why we study the truth; it’s one reason why we study our Bibles—so we’re clear when we speak, because we must speak. The Kingdom has come, as we talked about last week. And that means salvation to those who believe, but it also means judgment to all those who reject Christ. And that’s accompanied by a warning. Whenever we preach the Gospel, it’s accompanied by a warning of a coming day of reckoning for those who reject the message.
Today, we’re going to think about another side of this for those Christians who really do understand the weight of the message they carry, for those Christians who really do comprehend something of the gravity of the consequences of those who receive and those who reject. And after we learned what we learned last week, that’s really all of us, isn’t it? We’re all brought into that number of Christians who understand the weight of the message, understand the gravity, the seriousness, the consequences. For all of us who are in that category, there is really an opposite danger that we need to avoid. On the one hand, we can take the message too lightly—we don’t want to do that. On the other hand, sometimes those who see the significance of the truth, who truly fear the Lord and love the truth, who want to see God honored, who want to see God’s Kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven—sometimes we can come across in holding those things as harsh and unfeeling toward lost sinners rather joyful heralds of the Gospel. People like that can become angry prophets of doom.
Our message is serious, beloved. Nothing in the world could be more important than this eternal truth. That said, though, we need to make sure that our Gospel preaching is conveyed always in a spirit of kindness and compassion because that is the manner of our Lord’s preaching as well. That’s the purpose of verses 13-16. As we enter into this section of Jesus’ instructions, you’ll see there’s no minimizing the tone of seriousness and sobriety; in fact, there’s going to be much seriousness and sobriety from the examples we see of the Old Testament. But you’re going to see how this starts—and is saturated and is accompanied always by the mournful sound of sorrow, which is the word that starts in verse 13, the word “Woe.” “Woe.” Listen to verses 13-16 as we read. Jesus says in verse 13, after telling the Seventy-Two that it’s going to be more bearable on that day—the Day of Judgment—for Sodom and for any town that rejects the messengers:
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to Heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
Jesus spoke of Sodom in verse 12, and now he adds Tyre and Sidon, more recent examples for them of divine judgment. The Seventy-Two, you need to know—and it might seem obvious—but the Seventy-Two didn’t know anyone in those cities who fell under divine wrath and judgment. Likewise, they won’t know many of those who live in the cities and the towns and the villages that they’re about to visit, either. They don’t know the people who fell under ancient judgment, and they don’t really know well the people who may fall under future judgment.
But that wasn’t truth of Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum. Those three Galilean cities were full of people whom Jesus and his disciples knew personally. The people of Chorazin and Bethsaida and especially Capernaum—those people are family, those people are friends. Those are people whom they knew personally, whom they loved deeply, with whom they did work, lived life. They are the last people whom they want to see fall under divine wrath. At the same time, they are the people who are in the most danger of doing just that.
That’s why the word “Woe” here is so, so appropriate. Literally, it sounds like it’s read. It’s a word of lament. One scholar described this word “woe” as a transliteration of the Hebrew “Oi!” or “Hoi!” It’s sort of an onomatopoeic word, a cry of pain or terror or indignation. It’s a declaration as well of misfortune, and it’s true that there is a judgment tone to the word “Woe!”—but it’s not a judgment that’s aloof and distant, as we might feel about those Sodomites back then, or about those Christ-rejectors we’ve never met. It’s easy to feel distant emotionally and relationally from those kinds of people. What about the people who live in your town? What about the people of your own family? That’s where the sense of sorrow and sadness and compassion comes—in even a judgment word like the word “Woe!” It’s in this word “Woe!” where we see Christ’s sober-mindedness, yes, but we also see that sober-mindedness tempered by compassion. The “Woe!” expresses his sobriety about coming judgment—certainty about that—but also it expresses his heartache over those who reject the free offer of the Gospel. Listen—it is that same Christ-like sobriety mixed with compassion and sorrow that should soften the heart of every Christian as well. It should temper our language. Whenever we preach the Gospel, we need to be bold and humble. We need to be meek but also firm. We need to be serious and also compassionate. And that’s what this part of Jesus’ instructions here—verses 13-16—is intended to do for the Seventy-Two—to teach them sobriety and sorrow, boldness and compassion. And that’s what it’s intended to do for us as well.
So everything in this sermon, everything that we’re going to talk about, has to do with trying to reinforce in you that sense of heaviness of heart and sadness for those who are lost. Even those who reject the Gospel to your face and react and act with insolence and anger and scorn toward you, making a mockery of you. Let the Lord fill us with tenderness toward those people, knowing that while there’s life and breath, there’s hope. Let’s not write anybody off—because God never wrote us off.
That’s why we’re here, to promote that spirit of sobriety and sorrow when we go out preaching, there are two very basic Christian doctrines that we need to understand. They are the doctrine of hamartiology and the doctrine of soteriology. And you’re, like, “harmarta- what?” Just write down “ology” and we’ll fill it in.
So we need to understand hamartiology. That refers to the study of sin. The effect of sin on our minds. The effect of sin on our dispositions, our personalities, our thinking, our hearts, our wills. The word “hamartiology” comes from a Greek word for “sin,” which is hamartia—that’s why it’s called “hamartiology.” But it’s how sin affects us; it’s how affects sinners, and the more you understand that, the more compassion you’ll have toward sinners, the more you’ll understand the rejection, the more you’ll understand their—in some cases, you know this—their unbearable pride. But you’ll have sensitivity and softness toward it because such were some of you, right?
We also need to understand soteriology; that refers to the study of salvation, from the Greek word for salvation, which is soteria. So the word “soteriology” will help us in the study of soteriology—how salvation happens, what it takes for a sinner to be saved. We need to understand the desperate condition of the sinner, which is hamartiology; and on the other hand, we need to understand the power, the initiative, and the will of God to save, which is soteriology.
It’s the tendency of every human heart in its lost condition to promote man and demote God. To promote man and to demote God. Those are the two main errors ironically that we tend toward when we preach the Gospel as well. We tend toward the same errors, that the sinners to whom we preach are blinded by. We tend to expect more of sinners, promoting man, and we expect less of God, demoting God. That’s what sinners do. We need to be doing the opposite of that. Sinners are enslaved in their sinful condition because they have way too high a view of self and way too low a view of God. And all too often when we Christians preach the Gospel, we, too, are prone to fall prey to those same errors, having too high view of the sinner and too low a view of our God.
So getting right to it in the first point—hamartiology, the study of sin, the doctrine of sin. The chief consequence of the Fall and the most profound and far-reaching effect of sin in the heart is that it makes mankind proud. Sinners have way too high a view of themselves, of their own power and wisdom and ingenuity. They don’t see themselves as the Bible sees them, as God sees them; they see themselves as pretty good, getting by, doing pretty well, getting better. I don’t know how many people I talk to today who are trying to be the best version of themselves. Have you heard that? That’s hopeless—when Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 64.6, “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” Good luck with that! People don’t see themselves today as spiritually bankrupt. They don’t see themselves as beggars of God. They don’t see themselves as needing wisdom from above, as needing his salvation or help. Oh, maybe a boost here and there, maybe a little bit of extra money in the bank account. “I could use that from God, the ‘Big Guy’ coming to my aid to get that promotion, to give me favor with so-and-so…but I’ll take care of the rest.” Look, whether we’re talking about the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah or the sinners of Judea, whether we’re talking about the sinners out there in “Hollyweird,” or whether we’re talking about the sinners right here in Greeley, Colorado—no matter what the external expression, there’s a blinding pride that keeps the sinner from repenting and also gives the sinner a false sense of assurance. And that’s really the point Jesus makes about Chorazin and Bethsaida in verses 13 and 14; they were too proud to repent. And then he comes to Capernaum in verse 15 and shows how pride created for them a false sense of assurance, too high a view of the self in both cases. Let’s look at the first example in verses 13 and 14. Jesus said,
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
Chorazin was a small town about two miles to the north of Capernaum. Bethsaida was a bit larger, about three miles to the east on the east side of the Jordan River from Capernaum. Neither city—even in Jesus’ day, and even by history’s standards—was prominent. Not much is known about Chorazin. In fact, if it weren’t for this verse and one verse in Matthew 11:21—a parallel expression there—we’d hardly even know of Chorazin’s existence. Seems to have been associated with grain production, which some commentator found in the Babylonian Talmud, of all places, but not much else is known about Chorazin from history at all.
Bethsaida—we’ve talked about that city—is the name of a very small city that literally means “house of fishing” or “house of hunting.” So if you’re hunting by the water’s edge, you’re fishing, right? So that’s Bethsaida. Bethsaida was a bit better known even in Jesus’ day, but it’s mostly because of the miracle Jesus performed near Bethsaida—the feeding of the 5,000, which we’ve studied. Bethsaida was also the home of Philip, one of the Twelve—John 1:44. We also know that Andrew and Peter, the brothers, before they moved to Capernaum, were originally from Bethsaida as well.
But Jesus was saying that there were multiple, mighty works done in those two cities. Not just in Bethsaida, but also in Chorazin as well. Do we find that in the Bible? No! We don’t know much! And that’s just another hint, isn’t it, of what John wrote in John 21:25, “There are many of the things that Jesus did which have not been recorded in Scripture.” But Jesus tells us here that “many might works” were done in those cities. Such privilege, right? For these two little towns—insignificant, unknown—to witness the miraculous power of God in Jesus Christ. There’s no more pivotal figure in the entire history of mankind that Jesus Christ. Whatever people say about him, whatever misconceptions they have, they know about Jesus Christ. He visited those towns. He visited there. He performed mighty works. What an honor! What an honor bestowed on these two towns, totally unimportant! But they hosted the Son of God. It’s an opportunity that was theirs not only to see the mighty works that he did, but for them to hear the glorious truths—eternal truths, weighty consequential truths—that he taught right there in their towns. The saving Gospel!—that the guilty sinners can be reconciled to a holy God.
In contrast to that privilege and honor and opportunity, none of the mighty works that Jesus did in those two little towns made a dent. Not a dent. This is the indictment on Chorazin and Bethsaida in verse 13. The grammar is very clear here: “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon”—oh, but they were not done there. But if they had been done there—then “they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” Implication by contrast: Jesus’ mighty works were performed in Chorazin and Bethsaida—a privilege and honor, an unparalleled opportunity—and they did not repent. Oh, how tragic! More to the point, how utterly unconscionable to fail to repent at the mighty works of God in Christ, to not see as Peter saw in the face of Jesus Christ—he said, “Depart from me, O Lord! You are holy, and I am a sinner.” He fell on his knees. They didn’t. They stayed on their feet, chests puffed out, chins high. Failure to repent in the face of Christ’s mighty works is evidence of these two cities having way too high a view of self. They saw no need for repentance, and therefore, woe to them!
Now when Jesus mentioned Tyre and Sidon, that’s all he needed to say—just those two cities’ names. He could have just said Tyre; the Seventy-Two knew exactly what he was talking about. Be we—ignorant here in the 21st century, with all our scholarship—we need to get a refresher, don’t we? So let’s go back to the Old Testament. There are a number of places in the Old Testament that we could look at about God’s indictment against these two Phoenician cities. We could look at Isaiah, Jeremiah—a large section in Ezekiel which we’ll look at—we could look at Amos. But we’re going to start with Joel, Chapter 3. Turn there if you will.
While you’re turning there, I’m going to bring you up to speed a little bit on these two ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon. In contrast with the relative anonymity of Chorazin and Bethsaida, Tyre and Sidon enjoyed great notoriety—really prominent cities built by the ancient Phoenicians. If you know anything about history, you know that the Phoenicians were credited as one of the main sources of our English alphabet, a very important people group. And these cities—the ancient Phoenician cities—had a world-wide influence through trade and commerce. They developed massive wealth and influence and power. Tyre and Sidon in particular passed on methods of metal-working and textiles and dyes. Especially, there was an expensive dye that was extracted from the murex shellfish. Once source notes that as many as 12,000 shellfish were used to produce a single gram of dye. That’s a lot of squeezing fish, isn’t it?—to get a single gram of dye, a luxury product in demand all over the world that became known as Tyrian purple. It was known—very expensive.
As seaport cities, Tyre and Sidon were exposed to the ideas and the cultures of the entire world. Historian Will Durant tells about Tyre and Sidon that they passed on to Greece “the Semitic form of the alphabet that had been developed in Egypt, Crete, and Syria.” Sharing language is sharing ideas, and sharing ideas is sharing culture. So from language to ideas to culture—that’s how you enculturate people, that’s how you socialize people, that’s how you train people to think. If you control the language, you control the ideas; if you control ideas, you control the entire direction and trajectory of a culture. That’s exactly what we see happening today. Durant says, “The enterprising merchants of Tyre and Sidon acted like circulating medium in the transmission of culture and stimulated every Mediterranean region with the sciences, techniques, arts, and cults of Egypt of the Near East.” That’s a description that fits perfectly with Scripture, particularly in Ezekiel 27:12-25, which describes the extent of that trade network developed by these two cities.
The commercial influence of Tyre and Sidon spanned the entire Mediterranean Sea, all the way to the farthest edge of Spain from a Mediterranean perspective. Biblically, it’s represented by the city Tarshish, which you may know from Jonah. So again—massive influence in trade, commerce, culture—and that’s what made these two cities the cultural center of the world. In the interests of trade, it became adept at syncretizing ideas, blending ideas together, or at least they would try in the interest of trade to minimize distinctions among competing cults and religions. Why? Because, after all, when there’s money to be made, no sense in dividing over religious differences, right? We know a lot about that in America, too, don’t we? We might best describe the cities of Tyre of Sidon as culturally and religiously promiscuous. It began as Canaanite in culture and religion, and if you know your Bibles, that’s bad; that’s not a good beginning. They started with the worship of the fertility god Baal. Tyre actually added a Baal deity to their pantheon and made it the chief deity of their city, a deity named Melqart. Their religion practiced ritual prostitution, sexual immorality, and even infant sacrifice. Again, not unlike American secular religion, with its moral revolution and babies on the altar of that worship.
So when you think of these two cities, think of our own time, of our own place; but also think of Tyre and Sidon as being on the same level as Sodom and Gomorrah in the practice of wickedness, in the depth of immorality, in licentiousness—the same level of depravity. In their pursuit of wealth and influence, in their pursuit of commercial interests and ambition, the love of money led them into all kinds of evil. They were the center of a massive slave trade, which was abhorrent to God, and especially so since it was so cruel and pitiless, and additionally because it preyed upon the people of Israel. Tyre and Sidon were absolutely vile. Look at Joel 3, verse 3. God indicts them because they “have cast lots for my people and have”—look there—“traded a boy for a prostitute and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it.” Let me interpret that for you, folks. That’s what we today refer to as sex trafficking. Verse 4 says, “What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia?” That takes it all the way down the coast—those Phoenician cities. “Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will return your payment on your own head swiftly and speedily. For you have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried my rich treasures into your temples”—that is, for their idols Melqart and gods of Baal—“You have sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their own border. Behold, I will stir them up from the place to which you have sold them, and I will return your payment on your own head.” That’s about to come true. Tyrians and Sidonians took the people of Judah and Jerusalem—even the children—and sold them into slavery. And some of them they used for ritual prostitution, a practice in Baal worship. And not only did they cast lots, basically gambling with human souls, but they engaged in the cruelest forms of slavery, trading little boys, little girls, and then indulging in vile forms of immorality, drinking the wine that they sold.
And again—the same level of sinfulness as Sodom and Gomorrah, which means God would turn to them in judgment as well, as we find in Ezekiel 26. Go ahead and turn over a few pages to the left, to Ezekiel 26 verse 3: “[T]herefore 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.’” Okay, that’s a word picture that would be easy for the Tyrians to grasp, being on the seacoast,—the old city of Tyre and the mainland and the new city, the citadel of Tyre, on a little island off the coast. They watch the waves coming and going every single day, and God says “I’m going to bring conquerors, nations against you, like waves coming up against your shore.”
And those waves of invasions from the many nations started with Babylon and the siege of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., which lasted 13 years until 573 B.C. His invasion is actually described in Ezekiel 26.7-11—which we’re not going to read—but all the singular pronouns in that section point back to King Nebuchadnezzar. After Nebuchadnezzar came the Persians under Cyrus the Great and then the Greeks under Alexander the Great. (Why do all those guys like to call themselves “the Great”? Interesting.) Anyway, these nations brought successive waves of invasion and conquering, which literally reduced Tyre to a pile of rubble. Look at verses 4-6 in Ezekiel 26, and then we’re going to look at verses 12-14:
They shall [these waves of invaders] destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers [That’s a reference to the huge walls of the fortress built on the island], and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock. She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets, for I have spoken, declares the Lord God. And she shall become plunder for the nations, and her daughters on the mainland shall be killed by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
Down at verse 12—this is after talking about Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction, his siege against the mainland, especially, and all those singular pronouns, and now reverts back to plural pronouns referring to the multiple invaders. Verse 12:
They will plunder your riches and loot your merchandise. They will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses. Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters. And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock. You shall be a place for the spreading of nets. You shall never be rebuilt, for I am the Lord; I have spoken, declares the Lord God.
Listen, that prophecy—fulfilled to the letter! After the Babylonians, the Persians recognized an opportunity there; they came into that area—Phoenicia—and they reorganzied Phoenicia into four separate kingdoms: Tyre, Sidon, Biblos, and Arwad. They divided the strength of Phoenicia. They reduced their wealth and influence by forcing these cities to pay tribute back to Persia.
After the Persians, the Greeks under Alexander the Great came into these same cities on the Phoenician coast. Biblos and Sidon surrendered to Alexander without a fight. He hoped to take Tyre in the same relative ease. He came, they were intractable. He sued for terms of peace. Alexander wanted to enter the city and sacrifice to Melqart, to the god of Tyre. It’s the same god, by the way, worshipped by the Greeks under the name Heracles. Now, Alexander claimed to descend from Heracles, so the Tyrians rightly interpreted Alexander’s request to sacrifice as his asserting his sovereignty over Tyre, and so they refused. Alexander didn’t like that—not a bit. He was furious at being spurned. He promised to enter Tyre, besiege the city. Tyre felt confident in its strength—assured, proud, safe. They counted on their wealth, countered on their connections, counted on what their wealth could buy—friends, allies.
The old city of Tyre, as I said, located on the mainland, had been conquered by Babylon and Persia, but the King of Tyre had long since taken refuge in a citadel located on that small island just off the coast. The Tyrians turned the island into this impregnable fortress—very high walls—basically surrounded almost the entire island. Attackers were unable to cross the channel between the mainland and the island because of the sea coming in there. They couldn’t mount an effective attack; they couldn’t siege or support any kind of a naval blockade from the other side long enough to outlast this well-supplied, well-fortified, well-connected island city. So the king of Tyre and its citizens felt themselves to be invincible. They withstood Nebuchadnezzar; they resisted Cyrus. Now they would resist Alexander; though “great” he is, they would resist him, too. They would hole up in their island fortress intending to wait it out, and they’d watch Alexander leave like all the other invaders, going back to his homeland in frustration.
That didn’t happen. God raised up Alexander the Great for his own purposes, one of which was to fulfill Ezekiel’s prophecy against Tyre. One source that describes Alexander’s remarkable determination. Obviously, this guy—he died when he was 30-something years old—so this was the energy and determination of a very young, determined man. He’s got the strength and tenacity to do something like this. The source says, “Demolishing the ruins of mainland Tyre, Alexander had the stones thrown into the sea at the point where the distance between the mainland and the island of Tyre was the shortest. His forces began to build a massive causeway to the island.” Who does that? This is obviously a guy who’s driven by God— right?—to do this. “So his soldiers became engineers and construction workers. They used timber from the cedar forests of Lebanon, and the abundant stone and even soil from the old city of Tyre that had lain in ruins since its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar over two centuries before.”
So as this causeway stretched farther and farther from the mainland, where the water was deeper, work obviously had to slow down, and the Tyrians took the opportunity to taunt Alexander’s men, floating little skiffs and boats nearby and shouting insults to them and trying to discourage them in the work. That only infuriated Alexander further and made him even more determined, so he enlisted tens of thousands of people from the surrounding regions to come in and work on the causeway. He didn’t pay them well; he enslaved them. So when all these workers came within bowshot of the walls of Tyre, the Tyrian archers rained down arrows on top of the workers. That only sent Alexander to find more allies. He got 120 ships from Cyprus, got 23 from from the Greek city-state of Ionia, had 100 of his own ships, and they kept the archers busy on the other side and blockaded the city effectively. So by the time Tyre fell to Alexander’s forces, oh, he was good and mad. He killed 6,000 Tyrian soldiers in battle. He crucified another 2,000 Tyrian citizens on the walls of the city to make a public statement, to make an example of their arrogant and insolent resistance against him. And then he took 30,000 Tyrian citizens and sold them into slavery. Exactly what they had done to others God returned onto their own heads. And as for the proud and impregnable city of Tyre, one writer put it this way, “Tyre was razed to the ground.” It was standard practice for a victorious army to reduce the walls of a conquered city to rubble lest the city be refortified again and be used against them. This was the case with Tyre. Stripped of its impressive defensives and denuded of its citizens, proud Tyre, no longer even an island, was for a time only fit for fishermen to dry their nets on the bare rock. Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled with terrible accuracy. Ezekiel 26:4: “They shall destroy the walls of Tyre and break down her towers, and I will scrape her soil from her and make her a bare rock.” Verse 12: “Your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters.” And so it was fulfilled to the letter.
Now, as devastating as that judgment was—like the judgment on ancient Sodom and Gomorrah—Jesus has this to say about Chorazin and Bethsaida in Luke 10:14. Jesus said there, “It will be more bearable [more bearable—more bearable] in the judgment for Tyre [more bearable in the judgment] and Sidon, than for you, Chorazin and Bethsaida.” That’s sobering. That’s sobering because you want to think about where you put yourself. Do you put yourself as one of the proud, arrogant, indulging-in-sin kind of people of Tyre and Sidon or Sodom? Or do you think of yourself more as a law-abiding, good moral citizen, like those people in Chorazin and Bethsaida? If you want to know whether there are or are not degrees of punishment in Hell, there’s your answer. The punishment upon those cities in Jesus’ day that reject the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, that reject the Seventy-Two messengers—their punishment will be greater—more unbearable on Judgment Day than the punishment of Tyre and Sidon.
Why is that? Because in spite of the pagan idolatry of Tyre and Sidon, in spite of their degraded forms of worship and deplorable sexual immoralities, in spite of their arrogant self-sufficiency—in spite of all of their cruelty—if Jesus had gone into their midst and performed his mighty works, his power, they, like Nineveh before them, would have “repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” That’s not to say that Tyre and Sidon were innocent—they were not. Again, the same level of sinfulness as Sodom and Gomorrah was found in them, and yet Jesus says—Luke 10:13—if his works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, “they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” This picture, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, is a picture of abject humility, public repentance. And it’s not just any picture of humility and repentance. Jesus wants the Seventy-Two—and he wants us as well—to call to mind a very specific biblical scene.
Remember Jonah? Go to the little book of Jonah—Jonah Chapter 3. You remember that God sent a single prophet to the wicket Assyrian city of Nineveh. What did Jonah do? He said, “I don’t want go to Nineveh.” So he boarded a ship to Tarshish, tried to go to the opposite side of the Mediterranean, all the way to the opposite side of Spain, that he might take in a little bit of Spanish cuisine, see the coast, see the ocean out there. And God had a big fish swallow him, spit him up on the shore—said, “Nope. You’re going to Nineveh.” He didn’t wanted to go to Nineveh because the Israelites hated the Ninevites. They hated Nineveh. Nineveh was the ancient city of Assyria. The Assyrians were in the same category as Sodom and Gomorrah, the same category as the Babylonians, same category as Tyre and Sidon. The Assyrians were so wicked and cruel—frighteningly so. When they came in to conquer a town, they used to impale bodies up on top of poles around a city just to show everybody, “Don’t mess with us, and don’t resist us ever again.” They’d stack decapitated human heads near the gates of the city just to send a message. Very cruel. So Jonah said, “Let ‘em die. God, I know you’re compassionate, gracious, and merciful, and I don’t want any of that for Nineveh. I’m going to Tarshish.” He’s a funny guy—Jonah is—because if you look really carefully, he’ll remind you so much of yourself, right? Jonah hated Nineveh, he hoped the city would be destroyed. God sent him there—Jonah Chapter 3, verse 4—sent him there with one message: “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” and Jonah preached the message and went up on a hill and sat down and thought, “I’m going to watch it happen.”
What happened, to his chagrin? They repented. Look at Jonah, Chapter 3, verses 4-10:
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe [This was unthinkable in the ancient world], covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
What a story of mercy! For rejoicing! And especially if we see ourselves not as good people but as Ninevite kinds of people. We rejoice in that!
And that is really the lesson of Jonah, isn’t it, summarized in the final verse—Jonah 4:11—that God is a God who cares for people. God is a God who desires to show pity upon entire cities—even great and wicked cities like Nineveh itself. God desires to show compassion upon their people—look, even on their animals. And yet, even though God desires to show compassion, even though Jesus knows for certain that even if he had performed his mighty works in Tyre and Sidon, and that they, too, like Nineveh, would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes, Jesus said—Luke 11:32—“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.”
Folks, we need to think about that, don’t we? Here in northern Colorado, we need to think very carefully before we cast aspersions on California, or Denver, or Boulder, or any other places we think are less conservative than ourselves. These places are certainly not innocent—incredible guilt before God. But you need to know this: The more light, the more exposure to the truth, the greater the accountability before God. Are we living according to the light we have received from God? Do we think we can escape the same judgments? Listen, there is a greater condemnation, there is a more severe degree of punishment and torment for anyone, anyone who enters into God’s judgment from Grace Church. And that’s what Jesus is saying here, to these cities in Galilee—good Jewish cities, full of good Jewish boys and girls and good Jewish people. They considered themselves so far above those immoral pagans who lived over there in Tyre and Sidon way long ago. They’re too proud to repent. But that’s what Jesus’ works and words demanded: self-examination, self-abasement, self-humiliation, sitting in the dust and ashes of repentance. When people don’t see themselves as wicked sinners before a holy God, when people don’t see themselves as deserving of only his wrath, when they have a warped hamartiology, a diminished view of the blinding power of sin and pride—you know what? They don’t see their desperate need for grace. The Cross of Jesus Christ makes no sense to people like that at all.
So—too proud to repent, which takes us to a second error represented there by Capernaum, who was too proud to repent, but that led also to them being at ease, a sense of ease and of being at peace under a false sense of assurance. Jesus said in Luke 10, verse 15: “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to Heaven?” In other words, “Do you really expect to be lifted up to Heaven just because I visited you, just because I spent time in your town, just because I lived there for awhile? No, that’s no going to happen. You shall be brought down to Hades.”
The word “Hades” literally means “the unseen place,” referring to the place of the dead, of the underworld. Hades was actually the name of the Greek god of the dead, the supposed king of the underworld, and that name came to stand for the place itself, the abode of the dead, Hades. Hades was the right word in Greek to translate a Hebrew word, which was Sheol. Biblically, Hades and Sheol refer to that temporary underworld holding cell. You might think of it in law enforcement terms, or in civil court terms, as jail. That’s where they go—jail. The souls of the ungodly go to this jail called Hades or Sheol, and they await judgment and final sentencing, which takes them into eternal Hell. Hell is an eschatological term; it’s pointing to the future. So Hades is technically not Hell, though it’s not completely wrong to mix the two together because they really are going to relate to each other. But Hell refers to that lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels. It’s going to be shared by all whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. So if the term “Hell” refers to the final sentence, then the term Hades or Sheol refers to jail, when guilty sinners are awaiting judgment and final sentencing.
So for the residents of Capernaum, they had trained their minds, they had silenced their consciences, and they had trained their hearts to ignore Hades for themselves. Hades is for the pagans, Hades is for the really bad people, the non-Jews. But not for them, though. The people of Capernaum actually believed they would be exalted on high, lifted up to Heaven, simply because Jesus used their city as his home base for his itinerant ministry to the rest of Galilee. “Don’t bother listening to his message; we must be fine if he’s launching from us.” Not true. They wouldn’t be lifted up to Heaven. They would be cast down to Hades.
We’ve seen through our study of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus performed so many mighty works of compassion in their midst. He cast out demons, he healed the sick, he made the lame to walk as they cut open the roof and lowered the man down, he raised the centurion’s servant from the dead, he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. He showed compassion, compassion, compassion. In fact, that was his way to show compassion, as it says in Luke 4:40 early on, “…all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them….” What does that mean? He made personal visits to people and touched them—yes, even lepers—touched them all, healed them. He loved these people—loved them. He’d invested in them, he’d exhausted himself for them. And they never repented. Didn’t think they needed it. Didn’t think repentance applied to them.
Well, why would that be? Because they rested in a false sense of assurance. All these Galilean cities were like that, tended toward that—Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. They prided themselves in not being corrupted by the “city,” not being corrupted by the wealth and politics of Jerusalem. They assured themselves that they were—oh, yeah—they were better, they were purer, they were more moral, living a more wholesome life out there in the country of Galilee. In one sense that was true, externally. There’s no evidence that any of these Galilean cities were known for idolatry or pagan-like immorality. These are Bible people; these are politically conservative. You and I could move there and feel very little difference—well, once we learned the language and wore sandals…. They’re just like us. And that’s why Jesus says here, in the spirit of Ezekiel’s prophecy against Tyre—same spirit: “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to Heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” It’s like Tyre—safe in its island fortress. Capernaum, too, had a false sense of assurance in its fortress of religion, in its fortress of spiritual and cultural heritage—and now in its fortress of having hosted Jesus Christ.
If you have that finger over in Ezekiel, I want to take a look at a couple of points of connection between what Jesus just told Capernaum and Tyre. Look at Ezekiel chapter 28, verse 2, a prophecy against the Prince of Tyre:
Thus says the Lord God: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god,
I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas’” [What’s that? That’s a false sense of assurance, same as Capernaum, same attitude. And look at the downfall.] “yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god.”
Skip down to verse 6 of Chapter 28:
[T]herefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you make your heart like the heart of a god, therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you, the most ruthless of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. They shall thrust you down into the pit, and you shall die the death of the slain in the heart of the seas.”
Then verses 11 to 19—this is a remarkable passage that likens the King of Tyre to Satan himself, making the comparison to that pre-fallen angel in his exalted privilege. He was the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and beauty—“perfect in beauty,” verse 12. But because of unrighteousness—verse 15—because of violence and sin—verse 16—God identifies the defining sin—verse 17: “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground….” Listen, it’s going to be the same fate for outwardly moral, law-abiding, self-righteous Capernaum. False cause for assurance creates high, even heavenly expectations about outcomes. How tragic, isn’t it, from such great heights of expectation to be cast into the ground of reality, into the very heart of Hades itself.
Woe to those with a high view of self. Woe to those who are proud and unteachable, never self-reflective, never contrite, never remorseful, never humble, blinded by a good upbringing, by their morality, by inherited opinions and judgments, thinking they know everything and can judge everything from their throne—too proud to repent because they are blinded by a false sense of assurance.
Beloved, as Christians we understand that problem. Whether we in our background come from Sodom or Tyre or whether we come from from Bethsaida or Capernaum, our problem is the same problem: We have a sin problem, blinding pride and an unwillingness to repent, and a false sense that “Everything’s fine. I’ve got this. I’ve got this. I’m good. Everything’s going to be fine in the end.” Our blindness may be worse if we come from a religious background, perhaps even worse if we come from an evangelical background. Tyre and Sidon—they would have repented. As we’ve just seen, Nineveh did repent. Very simple message: “Yet forty days Nineveh will be destroyed.” That was enough. It floored them. But for these Galilean cities, their religious pride blinded them to their true condition, blinded them to their true need for the Savior. They didn’t count obedience to Christ as important, like it mattered. “I’m good. I’m good, I don’t need to do any of that.”
Listen, when you and I know that—about the people we’re talking to—it helps us to be patient and gentle with whatever kind of sinner we encounter, right? Even as we are direct and bold and firm about the truth, we can be soft and gentle with people. We have a very sober message to proclaim. “Repent or die” is what we’re saying to people. Unless they repent, they will suffer God’s judgment. That judgment will be worse, more severe, more painful for those with more light. So beware.
So with a biblical hamartiology, we really do have low expectations that any sinner—any sinner—is going to respond to the Gospel. Except for this one fact: God. God. God is sovereign over salvation. Nothing prevents God in his almighty power and his purposeful will from saving. Nothing stops him.
Which takes us to our second point—a very short point. Soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Armed as we are, now, with a right view of sin, we can come with a right view of God and how salvation happens as well. And we’re going to be ready to preach the truth to people with sobriety and compassion both. We know this is God’s work, this is God’s Word, so we’re sober. Because we know this is God’s work, we’re going to be compassionate toward sinners, and that’s what Jesus points us to in verse 16. Those who receive the messengers and their message is evidence that God has given them ears to hear the truth, eyes to see Christ, a heart to respond to the truth, to embrace the Gospel as saving truth. First part of verse 16: “The one who hears you hears me.”
I want to have you turn to John, Chapter 10. There are four times in John 10 when Jesus gives some variation of this truth. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Those who hear—they hear because God has taken a gracious initiative. They hear because God has sent his Holy Spirit to cause them to be born from above—spiritual rebirth, new birth, regeneration. And that enables them then to put their hearts toward faith in Christ and embrace his saving Gospel. They can make a new decision because they’re new creatures. On the other hand, those who reject the Seventy-Two messengers—they really don’t know whom they’re dealing with, do they? “The one who rejects you,” Jesus says, “rejects me. The one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” J. C. Ryle says there’s probably no stronger language than this in the New Testament about the dignity of the faithful minister’s office and the guilt incurred by those who refuse to hear his message.
Listen—to hear and receive the word of the preacher is to hear and receive the word of Christ. To hear and receive the word of God. And by a chilling contrast, to reject the word of the preacher is to reject the word of Christ and to reject the word of God himself. And that’s you, preacher! As long as we stay right in line with this book—it’s the very words of God. So when Jesus calls us, when he authorizes us to speak, when he commissions us to speak and sends us out into the world to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything, obey everything that Jesus said—when he sends us out inasmuch as we speak the word of God, we speak with divine authority. We speak with an authority here that is not to be disregarded. Those who reject it then are facing an eternal judgment.
And as we know the power of sin because we have an accurate, biblical hamartiology—as we know the power of God to save because we have an accurate, biblical soteriology—those truths really do enable us, ready us as messengers of Jesus Christ, as Gospel preachers, heralds of the Kingdom of God. Those truths really do temper and soften our hearts and our words because of the blinding power of sin and pride which is going to be worse for those poor souls who have been steeped in bad religion, worse for those poor souls who’ve been steeped in cultural religion. We need to be clear and compassionate, firm and meek, in hope that they, too, will awaken to the fear of the Lord and see their desperate condition and repent. Because of the omnipotent power of God, in the knowledge that he is absolutely sovereign over salvation, we need to go forth in confidence and kindness. We need to go forth handling his truth with care because his Word saves.
Well, we’re out of time, but Christ has, through this instruction in Luke Chapter 10, equipped us very sufficiently and adequately to go out and preach his Gospel, amen? Well, let’s ask for his strength to do that.
Our Father, we do ask that by the Holy Spirit and because of the words of Christ and his finished work, you would enable us and strengthen us to do exactly this: to understand the power, the strength, the sobriety, the weight of the message that we carry of the Gospel, that that it would never harden us or make us harsh with people—ever. Those who are harsh with people really do not get the grace of God. So we pray that, on the other hand, even as we are firm and bold and clear, unwavering, steadfast—we pray at the same time that you would make us tender, compassionate souls who care for people. We don’t need to argue people into the Kingdom. We need to be clear, bold—making a defense for everyone who asks about the hope that is within us. Yet let us do so with gentleness and respect, knowing that you, Jesus Christ, are Lord of our hearts, and we will give an account to you. Help us to be more and more like you as we worship you, as we gaze upon your beauty and your holiness, as we gaze on all your perfections. We long to be like you, to be made like you, and we are growing in that day by day. So help us even as we preach your Word and your Gospel, to be like you in that, too. In Jesus’ name. Amen.