Tough Talk From Jesus

Title: Tough Talk From Jesus

Text: Matthew 11:20-24

Date: August 23rd, 2009


Today, we come to a passage where we hear some tough talk from Jesus, or it you prefer, tough love from Jesus. In Matthew 11:20-24, in only five verses, Jesus talks about three topics that are hardly ever heard in Christian churches today – repentance, Judgment Day and hell. Now you may hear one of these tough topics talked about on Sunday once in a while in church, but it’s very rare that you’d hear about all three. Today, there seems to be a strange aversion to these tough topics by preachers; they simply don’t talk about them very much. Why is that? Because people have told their pastor they don’t like to hear about such negative things on Sunday morning. Think about it. A family rises early to get ready for church. Then they all pack into the car and make the trip to church. Then they finally take a seat in the church and are ready to be inspired, uplifted, encouraged or in some way lifted up, rather than put down, depressed, discouraged or dealt with negatively. People have communicated in more ways than one that they’d rather hear positive messages of inspiration, rather than a negative message of warning. So pastors, always sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of the people, simply omit or neglect preaching on such negative topics as sin, repentance, judgment or hell. That’s the way the people want it, so that’s the way he does it; everybody is happy. Wrong! Everybody is not happy, because God, who is the most important church member or part of the Divine/human equation which is the church, isn’t pleased when pastor and people omit important aspects of biblical truth. If God communicates his will to people he expects them to listen and receive it, and he definitely doesn’t approve of churches omitting or neglecting some truths because they are too “hard” or “negative” or “difficult” for the sensibilities of modern people. Nevertheless, in most Christian churches today, the so-called hard truths of the Bible are rarely dealt with, and when they are mentioned they are usually watered down or soft-peddled or trimmed or softened so that people don’t get upset, or worse yet, leave the church for good. But the curious thing about all this is that Jesus never worried about offending or alienating people when he spoke or taught. He was more concerned about getting out the truth in order that people might be saved and enter into the kingdom of God. We have a perfect example of this in Matthew 11:20-24, where, like I said before, Jesus talks about almost all the modern day church taboo subjects of repentance, judgment and hell. He didn’t seem too overly concerned about offending or alienating his audience as he warned them of the consequences of sinful disobedience. Maybe we should follow the example of Jesus in our churches today and present the plain truth no matter who might take offense. After all, in the end, isn’t God the one we should most fear offending and not so much our fellow human beings? With that as an introduction, let’s listen to some tough talk from Jesus concerning repentance, judgment and hell. Matthew 11:20-24 (read).


First, God has a requirement of repentance. Matthew 11:20-21, “Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 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.’” The populations of these small cities either rejected the teachings of Jesus or showed indifference to the teachings, but either way it was counted as unbelief. So then what specific sin was Jesus denouncing these people for failing to repent? Like I talked about last week, stubborn unbelief – that was the primary sin they were guilty of. But of course, from that root sin of unbelief came the continuation of their many and diverse sins; they were also being called to repent of their specific sins as well. We need churches today to do what Jesus did – call people to repent of sin, all sin, every sin. Yet today in churches from pastors in the pulpit we rarely hear calls to repent, because after all, won’t that offend people? Think about it. What is repentance? In the original Greek language of the New Testament, the word for repentance is a compound word, meaning it comes from two other words, meta-noia, or change mind. But it not only means to change one’s mind, it also means to change one’s life. In respect to sin, it means to give up sin. In respect to unbelief, it means to change to belief. Jesus was literally calling people to stop sinning and turn to him in faith. Now why is that such a controversial message to preach in churches today? Because it’s telling people what to do, it’s also judging people as guilty of sin and in need of reform. And as we all know in modern America today, free people don’t like to be told that they are wrong or that they need to change or told what to do. Today, people react with their pride when called to repent or change. But doesn’t that just underscore the need more urgently that they do in fact need to repent? If we are so proud that we can’t be taught what is right and called to change from doing wrong, then we simply reveal the sin of pride – and we need to especially repent of that! But people today want to be free, free from being judged by anyone — even God or God’s Word. Freedom has been so distorted today that is has come to mean “freedom from accountability,” or “freedom to do whatever I want and be left alone doing it.” Now they weren’t as sensitive as we are today, but those ancient people were also proud and I’m sure they didn’t like being told to change their ways either. But Jesus went ahead doing it, and so did the disciples and those who followed them, and so have all faithful church leaders and faithful churches down through the ages. We can’t stop teaching and preaching the Word of God because people will be offended by it. So what about you? Are there sins in your life you need to stop doing? If so, repent, change, give them up! You may not like to hear that, I may not like to hear it either, but it’s a fact. We all need to repent of our sins, and we’d better take it seriously because Jesus and the Apostles took it seriously. Yes, repentance is tough talk, it’s not easy to hear, it’s hard to receive. But let’s just get over that it’s hard and do it! 


Second, God has a day of Judgment coming. Matthew 11:22, “But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgment than for you.” Now if calling people to repentance isn’t hard enough, things just got even harder when Jesus talks about the Day of Judgment. This is another topic that people have communicated to their pastor that they don’t want to hear about — Judgment Day. Now the Jews at the time of Christ all had a pretty clear idea about the judgment to come at the end of time. In fact, most Jews believed in divine judgment, not just at the end time, but also in history. For example, there is Sodom, mentioned later in the verse. Jews understood that it was destroyed by God’s judgment because of its sins. But Jews also understood that there was coming a final Judgment Day when God judged the good and the bad. Now the difference between the ancient people here and the people of today is that the ancients believed in God and God’s judgment but people today, while professing a belief in God don’t really believe there is a day in the future where their sins will be judged – or if they do believe it, they optimistically believe they will pass the judgment with approval, because after all, most people today don’t believe they are bad. This is one of the most striking differences between our time and the ancient times: today we are overly optimistic about ourselves, especially here in America, while the ancients were more realistic about themselves, their faults, and God. Remember how when John the Baptist started preaching his message of repentance how the Jews all flocked to repent and be baptized? That’s acknowledgment of sin, that’s humility, that’s realism, because it’s true. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and “There is none that is righteous, no not one.” But today, because we’ve turned to psychology instead of biblical morality, we see ourselves as victims rather than guilty. We look for wholeness rather than holiness. We only judge ourselves by ourselves, instead of comparing ourselves to God’s holy standards. The only really bad people are the Hitler types. Only the really bad people deserve judgment, but not the rest of us – that’s what we think today. But it’s totally wrong. According to God’s Word we all deserve God’s judgment and we will all face it too unless we repent. Unless we confess our sins (not just flaws, faults, failures, mistakes) and repent, or turn away from them, we will face the judgment of God and face his condemnation. Now that’s a hard message today, especially in our feel-good, therapeutic, psychology-saturated society. You will not hear that message if you go to 99.99% of counselors today. You’ll hear a very accepting, easy, affirming, message that separates you from your morality. You won’t be called to repent. But repentance is exactly what God is calling us to do, as we see here through the words of Jesus. The people of these small cities didn’t repent of unbelief and sin, they kept right on with business as usual in life. But they failed to realize that Judgment Day is coming and unless they turn around God’ll judge them. I hope you’ve repented of your unbelief and sin. I hope you’ve trusted in Jesus and his atoning death on the cross for forgiveness of sins. I hope you have the righteousness of Christ by faith. Because if you haven’t repented and if you haven’t trusted Christ, you will face God in judgment and you’ll not pass the judgment either. Don’t take it for granted. Make sure of it today.


Third, God has a place of damnation in hell. Matthew 11:23-24, “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you.” Now if repentance and Judgment Day weren’t bad enough, Jesus completes the trifecta by adding the damnation of hell to his preaching points. He’s definitely not seeker sensitive with his messages, which should cause us to wonder why churches are scrambling to be seeker sensitive if Jesus himself wasn’t? Are we really advancing the kingdom of God by hiding from people the full Word of God? Now I would like to mention the fact that the word here translated “the depths” in the NIV Bible is actually the Greek word Hades – which can sometimes be translated “the grave” or sometimes translated “hell.” Which is it here? Well, that all depends on whether you think Jesus is talking about temporal or eternal punishment? Is the Judgment Day some natural or catastrophic disaster that will come upon the cities and bury them to the ground like Sodom? Or is Jesus talking about the souls of the people of these cities? Well, it’s a little bit of both probably, because we know from history, especially biblical history, that God does in fact judge cities and their populations with disaster. He judged the Jews in Jerusalem for their sins by allowing them to go into exile and their city destroyed. Now is Jesus only talking about these historical, temporal judgments? I don’t think so because Jesus was much more concerned about the spiritual condition of the soul than the well being of earthly cities. He was using these cases of judgment and destruction as illustrations as to what can happen when people fail to repent of sin and face the wrath of God the Father. But the point of him using these examples was to call the people to repent of their sins and avoid Judgment Day and eternal damnation. But today, just like Judgment Day, most people are prone to disbelieve in hell or eternal punishment or damnation. Why? Because it’s such a terrible idea, it doesn’t feel right, it’s not a positive idea – and in our therapeutic age most people feel that holding to such ideas are unhealthy mentally. But what a flimsy basis for belief, what a lousy test for truth – it doesn’t feel right. People today really have a high opinion of their own gut instincts and intuition. Again, here’s where the ancient people show a lot more maturity and wisdom than we do in our so-called educated age. They had the fear of God in them and they believed in judgment and hell. They all may not have understood what the Bible teaches but they had a natural understanding of it and a healthy fear of it. Today, in our arrogance, we think we can write things off because we don’t like the idea of it. How arrogant! It’s easy to see why pastors don’t teach much about hell, because people don’t like to think about it. But again, we’ve got to follow Jesus and not the collective wisdom (or foolishness) of people today. In fact, to counteract the doubt and denial about hell, we should teach about it more often in order to balance out the equation. That’s going to call for some pastors with very thick skin.


I like to think of hard or difficult topics found in the Bible as bad tasting medicine. I have to thank God that I’ve lived a pretty healthy life and I haven’t had to take a lot of medicine, especially bad tasting medicine. But I have had to use some pretty bad tasting mouthwash because I was raised on Listerine and I still use it. I’m talking about the original formula. Just as it’s always been, it’s pretty bad tasting stuff, it burns, it feels really bad in my mouth, but it works, so I keep using it. It kills the germs, it eliminates bad breath, it leaves my mouth feeling fresh. In other words, it does its job. Well, I like to think of the hard truths found in the Bible, truths like repentance, God’s Judgment Day, eternal punishment or hell, for example, as the bad tasting medicine that we all need even though we hate to use it. Now the absolutely worse thing we can do is stop taking the medicine because then we can’t get the positive effects of its treatment. That’s what a lot of churches are doing today and I’m afraid that it’s most churches sadly today that are doing it. They are omitting or neglecting or down playing or watering down or trimming or editing out these hard truths because nobody likes to hear them. In all honesty, who really enjoys hearing about eternal damnation? If you were someone who really enjoyed thinking about souls perishing in eternity forever, if you really liked that topic, you’d have to be some kind of masochist, I think that’s the word they use, someone with a tortured mentality. But we do have to teach and preach about hell even though we don’t like to hear about it, because God wants us to be reminded of it whether we like it or not. Like the awful tasting medicine, it’s good for us. The same with Judgment Day. Who likes to think about having our sins exposed and judged by the perfect and just God? Now a true believer, one who has confessed their sins and repented of their sins and placed total trust in Christ for forgiveness, that person won’t face the general judgment of the unbeliever. That’s a relief. But we need to continue to teach about it because there are plenty of people, even people in churches, who really aren’t saved yet. There are plenty of people who think they are saved, but really aren’t. We need to let the tough talk of Jesus warn them that this is serious stuff. Another temptation for churches today is to get too casual and loose and almost flippant on Sunday morning during the church service. The idea is that most people don’t like to be intimidated, so we need to make sure church isn’t too serious that it might turn people off with its intensity. Well, Jesus didn’t seem to follow that rule of church growth either. He talked about all kinds of things including “heavy” things that could intimidate people. No. We need to simply teach and preach the truth and not worry too much about how it will turn people “on” or “off.” That’s up to God to control that. Our assignment is to faithfully present God’s Word and it is that we should focus on. Everything else will take care of itself.


One Response to “Tough Talk From Jesus”


    thanks for the message

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