What’s the worst thing that could happen to you? In Matthew 11:20–24 Jesus takes the judgment that fell on Sodom, and warns that the inhabitants of Sodom will be in a (relatively) better position in the day of judgment than those who reject him.
Responsibility accompanies privilege. The towns of Galilee witnessed Christ’s powerful works. Much of Jesus’ ministry had been focused in Galilee. The miracles of which Jesus speaks are specifically works of power. As Jesus overcame blindness, healed the sick, cast out demons, and even raised the dead, the dynamic power of his kingdom confronted and overcame the kingdom of darkness and its effects. These miracles were powerful enough that, had they witnessed them, the inhabitants of the notoriously wicked cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have repented. (These words are spoken by the One who is the God-man, and knows all things.) Those cities were wicked, and had experienced God’s judgment. These inhabitants of the towns of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum had witnessed these miracles. Their failure to turn from their sins and acknowledge the messianic King made them liable to judgment.
You have heard the good news. Don’t just point your finger at the towns of Galilee. The notoriously wicked aspects of our culture deserve judgment. However, the sin of rejecting the Messiah deserves even greater judgment. Jesus makes the statement (shocking to his hearers) that in the day of judgment it will be more bearable for those cities than for those who have seen his miracles but have not repented. You might argue that we have not seen Jesus heal the sick or raise the dead. Thus are you as accountable as those who lived in Capernaum? You have the fullness of God’s revelation in his Word. You have not just an earthly Messiah trudging the paths of Galilee, you have the complete record of his preaching, his miracles, his suffering and death, and his glorious resurrection. You are even more accountable.
Beware of hardening your heart. Don’t look for excuses to avoid Christ. Jesus ironically compares his generation to children playing in the market place. Some, musically inclined, invite others to join their play. But neither a joyful dance nor a dirge brings a response. (Jesus noticed the children at play!) Jesus’ generation responded the same way to John the Baptist and to Jesus. John, with his ascetic life style was rejected as being possessed by a demon. Jesus, who ate and drank normally, was rejected as a glutton, drunkard, and associate of sinners. Jesus is making it clear that his generation is failing to respond, not because of some circumstances outside themselves, but simply because they do not want to turn to him.
Your situation will be worse than Tyre, Sidon, or Sodom. Tyre and Sidon were cities on (Tyre just off) the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, north of Israel. It was from Sidon that Jezebel, the wicked queen of Ahab came with her Baal worship. The cities were the subject of denunciations by God’s prophets for their wickedness (Isaiah 23). And they were destroyed by the Assyrians. Sodom’s immorality resounded in God’s ears, and he told Abraham that he was going to bring judgment on it, Genesis 18:20,21. Genesis 19 contains the account of that judgment. Neither the presence of Lot (who is described as righteous in 2 Peter 2:7, despite the compromise and failure in his life), nor the bargaining intercession of Abraham, spared the city from fire and brimstone. Instead, its destruction became a proverbial anticipation of the fate of the ungodly, 2 Peter 2:6. The citizens of Galilee were among the covenant people, but they refused to respond. Their judgment would be worse than that of the wicked cities. For God’s people today to ignore the call of their covenant God to trust in the Redeemer, for them to refuse to submit to his sovereign rule, brings God’s wrath. Having been close to God and having enjoyed the privileges of being his people is no comfort if you do not turn to the Lord.
Repent! Now is the time to turn to Christ. Now is the time to turn to Christ. The towns of Galilee deserved Christ’s denunciation. He could have justly brought judgment upon them at that moment. Instead of fire, what they experience are words—words of woe and denunciation, to be sure, but a warning of judgment mixed with sorrow. By speaking instead of pouring out brimstone, Christ is giving opportunity for repentance. (Some took that opportunity. Some of Jesus’ disciples were from that area. It was not yet beyond repentance.) The day would come when it would be too late for those towns. The destruction of Jerusalem and of the rest of the land in 68-70 A.D., like the Assyrian sacking of Tyre and Sidon, and like the brimstone on Sodom, all anticipate the final judgment.
Christ still extends his grace to you. The text is a sad, grim text. It’s not the kind that makes for an enjoyable, uplifting, “feel good” sermon. But wrapped in that warning is God’s grace. Jesus reveals himself as the great Judge, but he reveals himself to you now, while there is still time to repent. He shows you, not only the record of his powerful miracles, but of his entire saving work. He calls you to repent. Repentance involves a turn around, a change, not just of your mind (though it may start there) but of your entire life. The fact that Jesus held out the possibility of repentance for even Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, means that there is hope for you. Repentance also involves a turning to Christ, a trust in him, a commitment to him. There is no such thing a repentant sinner rejected by the Lord. His words of stern warning, directed even to you, his covenant people, summon you to turn to him, turning from sin, and trusting in him, as the great Redeemer sent by the Father.
What is the worst thing that could happen to you. May I suggest that it would be to enter eternity as an enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ? Listen to his call to repent. Trust him today!