Now comes some uncomfortable hearing for those who had been following Jesus’ career so far, listened to his teaching, and even witnessed his miracles. These towns in Galilee—Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum—had not repented at Jesus’ presence, teaching or miracles (11:20). How could such a thing be! How could the Son of God walk and his people not follow where he walked? He came to his own and his own received him not (John 1:11). By contrast, says Jesus, those Gentile, pagan towns of Tyre and Sidon, and even that city of ill-repute, Sodom, would have repented if they had heard Jesus preach and seen Jesus do miracles (11:21).
The application of this series of startling “woes” is quite readily apparent with a moment’s thought. What is our response to all that we have heard? It is easy to let familiarity breed contempt, and sneer at the opportunities we have to repent from our sin and trust in God’s grace—or if not sneer, at least ignore them and keep on going without changing our lifestyle. For a person who is used to being well-fed and having meals of sweet delicacies, a hunk of bread can be readily ignored. But for someone who is hungry, a piece of bread is eagerly devoured. Often, we who read books, listen to sermons, are regular in church circles, develop such fine-tuned tastes towards our spiritual diet that we will not swallow what is given to us unless it is well-seasoned and cooked to perfection. Even then, we may just enjoy the meal, listen to the music as if it were just entertainment rather than to the words being sung, rather than be impacted and repent. How dangerous it is to receive many opportunities and refuse to take them! Let that not be the case with any of us. Let us be quick to receive and earnestly desire the food of God’s Word—not just to hear it and make no difference to our lives, but to hear it, inwardly digest it, and put it into practice. We need God’s help to live lives in accord with his truth, the truth that we know.
Then in verses 25-30, having given such stern warnings, Jesus offers comfort for those who do follow him, and reveals a deeper principle regarding those who follow him and those who don’t. First of all, it is God’s way to hide these things from the wise and learned and reveal them to little children. That does not mean that only people under the age of two years old or so, literally in a physical sense, believe in Jesus, nor does it mean that there are no learned in a literal sense who follow Jesus. Paul tells the Corinthian church that there are not many wise and learned among them (not that there are not any wise and learned among them).
That said, the point is that those who think they are already wise and learned, that they already know all there is to know about God, those people will not be taught. As all teachers know, the person who is hardest to teach is not the unlearned, or even the unintelligent, but the arrogant. The only person that no teacher can teach—whether he be Socrates or Plato or Jesus himself—is the one who does not want to learn. There is no force feeding truth into the human mind; there must be a receptivity to some extent at least to begin with. And if the person on the receiving end of the teaching thinks they are wise and learned, wiser and more learned than the teacher, and do not need anyone to teach them, then that person will find that they learn nothing (as they fully intend already to learn nothing, thinking they have nothing to learn). The greatest principle, then, of any follower of Jesus, of anyone who wants to be a true teacher of God’s Word, of anyone who wants to grow and learn more about God, the greatest principle is simply to want to learn. Or to put it in a nutshell: humility.
But there is a deeper layer yet: even this is not the bottom of the spiritual principle being taught here. As Jesus says in verse 27, these things are revealed by the choice of the Son himself. Spiritual truths must be spiritually discerned. As much as we in our human pride rear up against it, the plain teaching of Scripture is that Jesus calls those whom he wants to call to himself, and that God’s sovereign choice is behind and at the back of every step of faith or insight. That should make us humbly ask God to reveal himself to us through his Word. A student of the Bible is, if he or she is to learn anything, to study on his or her knees before God, asking God to show wondrous things in his Word.
Verses 28 to 30 are glorious comforting promises. Come to Jesus and you will find rest. Jesus models the kind of humility he has been preaching: I am gentle and lowly in heart. His yoke is easy; his burden is light. He has not come to make our lives worse, but better, saved, to give us rest from our sins, from our labor and anxieties and fears and from our heavy load of sin and guilt. If we are wrestling with sin, anxiety, fear, doubt or confusion, if our lives feel overburdened with insurmountable responsibilities and difficulties, take the first step towards relief and rest. Go to Jesus. Now go to him. Come to me, he says, and I will give you rest. Go not to alcohol, go not to numb your pain with entertainment, to dull your fears with Internet searches and social media interaction. Come to Jesus. And he will give you rest.
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