Date: February 24, 2019 Transcript:
In the mid-20th century (1940-1970), Hollywood produced over 1,000 westerns. In almost all of these movies, there were good guys and there were bad guys. In some of the films, it was real easy to tell them apart because the good guys wore white hats, and the bad guys wore black hats.
Starting in the 70’s and continuing to today, western plots are a little more complicated. There are still heroes, but those heroes are often rather flawed. There are still villains, but these people are frequently not that much different from anyone else, except for some bad choices they have made. And in some movies, it is not clear at all, even in the end, who is good and who is bad.
Friends, this morning, our journey through the gospel of Luke brings us to Luke 10:10-16 (page 868). Here we find Jesus clearing up some confusion about who is good and who is not. Let’s pause and pray the Lord would use his Word to help us see clearly some very important truth.
In our text last week, we saw Jesus send out seventy-two unnamed, ordinary disciples with the assignment of telling people about him – about Jesus, his kingdom, and the salvation only he provides.
Jesus warns, however, that they will face opposition. For a variety of reasons, not everyone will be happy to see them; even though they are, indeed, bearers of good news. As followers of Jesus, they would face rejection, ridicule and even violent persecution. With that in mind, Jesus gives these instructions:
Luke 10:10-11 – When you enter any town, and they don’t welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “We are wiping off as a witness against you even the dust of your town that clings to our feet. Know this for certain: The kingdom of God has come near.”
Now, this seems like kind of a strange thing to do, but it apparently was something the Jews often did when leaving a Gentile region – basically saying, “We are glad to be out of here!” For Jesus’ disciples, it served as a sign of judgment against those in Jewish towns – supposedly good guys. Yet, if the people refused to listen to the great news about Jesus’ kingdom, if they rejected the gospel, they would be in big time, eternal trouble.
A few years ago, my brother had a couple come into his pastor’s office, take off their shoes and shake them off in front of him, which was their way of announcing they were leaving the church. I am not sure that is a proper application of this passage.
And then, Jesus makes this statement:
Luke 10:12 – I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
Sodom. In first century Israel and throughout the history of western civilization, that name has been equated with wickedness. It is the original “sin city.” These would be the worst of the bad guys. The sexual perversion practiced in that town (Genesis 19) is reflected in the English language which describes homosexual acts as “sodomy.”
God punished Sodom and its twin city Gomorrah severely by destroying those cities 2,000 years before the time of Christ. Some recent archaeological discoveries point to a catastrophic event in that region at about that time. It is certainly possible that event was the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
When the Day of Judgment comes at the end of time, surely the people of Sodom will be judged harshly. Yet, Jesus says, the judgment will be even worse for those living in good Jewish towns that reject the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus continues his warning:
Luke 10:13 – “Woe to you, Chorazin! (That is a town in northern Israel, located on the north side of the Sea of Galilee.) Woe to you, Bethsaida! (This is another village along that shore, near where Jesus fed the 5,000. These were supposedly good guys, good Jewish people). For if the miracles that were done in you (such as feeding the 5,000 and healing many people) had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes!”
Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities. They were located north of Israel in ancient Phoenicia or what is now modern Lebanon. These are the bad guys. They should have been wearing black hats.
Yet, Jesus says that if the pagans there would have witnessed the great miracles he had performed in Israel, they would have certainly repented of their sin and turned to the Lord. The fact so many of the Jewish people in these towns had witnessed spectacular miracles, but still refused to embrace Jesus as Messiah and Lord, was incomprehensible. That is why Jesus warns them:
Luke 10:14 – It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you.
And then Jesus turns his attention to Capernaum, the village which had often been Jesus’ base for ministry and where he had performed so many wondrous miracles.
Luke 10:15 – And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will go down to Hades!
Hades is where the souls of the wicked are consigned after death.
So many of the people of Capernaum had an opportunity to see Jesus the Messiah up close and personal. They were eyewitnesses to extraordinary miracles. They were supposed to be good guys. Yet, most of them chose to either reject or ignore Jesus. Because of that, he warns, they will face eternal consequences.
The basic theme of Jesus’ statement is that greater knowledge or awareness means greater accountability. The people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum knew so much more about the Lord than those in Tyre, Sidon and Sodom. They had so many more opportunities to see and hear what God was doing through Jesus. Yet, they were just as disinterested and ambivalent toward the things of God as the people in those pagan cities. Thus, Jesus says, they are more responsible and accountable for their sin. Their punishment will be greater. Jesus then spells out the specific nature of their sin:
Luke 10:16 – “Whoever listens to you listens to Me. Whoever rejects you rejects Me. And whoever rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”
The line of thinking is very clear. The seventy-two disciples, and all faithful followers of Jesus, represent him. To reject Jesus’ followers and their message is to reject Jesus himself. And to reject Jesus is to reject God the Father. You cannot be against Jesus and be for God. That is why Jesus says:
John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.
OK, that is our text. So, what is the Lord saying to us today through this portion of his Word?
#1 There appear to be degrees of punishment in hell. Those curious about what happens after death sometimes ponder this.
In 1320, Dante Alighieri wrote The Divine Comedy. In it he describes nine circles of hell. They are concentric circles in which the level of punishment gets worse with each one.
The first circle, which he calls limbo, is reserved for virtuous non-believers who have not had the opportunity to hear the gospel.
The second circle is reserved for those guilty of lust, and their souls are violently blown about by strong winds, and thus, are never able to find peace and rest.
The sins and the punishments get worse until the ninth circle, which is reserved for those guilty of treachery. These are deserving of the worst form of punishment, which Dante describes as being frozen in a lake of perpetual ice. Perhaps this is his picture of “hell freezing over.” Or some have suggested maybe he was thinking of January in northern Minnesota. No, not really!
Dante said the worst sinners, guilty of the worst treacheries, are at the bottom of this frozen lake. There were four individuals there – Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Julius Caesar, Judas Iscariot, and Lucifer himself.
Now folks, The Divine Comedy is purely fictional. Dante relied on speculation and his imagination, not the Bible, in forming his description of hell. Dante’s speculations are often interesting and sometimes insightful, but I am pretty certain there is no lake of ice in hell.
As far as different levels of punishment, I am not certain; but in our text today, Jesus seems pretty clear that those with greater knowledge and opportunity will pay a higher price, will suffer more for their rejection of Jesus and his gospel. This seems to coincide with C.S. Lewis’ suggestion that: Part of the essence of hell is regret.
Two people caught in a torrential rainstorm may be equally miserable as far as their physical condition. Yet, the one who purposely left his umbrella in the car because he didn’t think he would need it will likely be more emotionally miserable. Why? Because he knows he had the opportunity to do something which would have kept him from getting so wet. He regrets his poor choice.
Those who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, but have chosen to ignore or reject it, the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, may not suffer more physically than the wicked who never heard of Jesus. They will likely, however, suffer more emotionally because they will eternally regret their decision to not embrace Jesus as Messiah, Savior and Lord. This is one implication of our text this morning.
#2 Good people who reject or ignore Jesus are not really good. (I think this implication should be our main focus.) The words Jesus speaks in our text are intended to shock his hearers. The thought that people in the Jewish towns of Galilee, the good guys, would experience greater punishment than the sexual perverts of Sodom or the pagans of Tyre and Sidon, the bad guys, seemed ridiculous.
The people in those Jewish towns were good people! Oh sure, some were more devout and religious than others, but they were not bad folks. After all, they were God’s chosen people.
Yet, there was one big problem. When Jesus and his disciples came to these towns preaching the gospel, healing and helping people, performing spectacular miracles, and proclaiming Jesus as Messiah and Lord, only a few folks chose to trust and follow Jesus. Most either rejected that claim or simply ignored it because they were too caught up with their own lives.
And remember Jesus’ words in verse 16 – “Whoever rejects me, rejects the one who sent me, God the Father.” Because these supposedly “good folks” reject God, the Creator and Sovereign of the universe, they really are not good folks. Their rejection of God makes them just as bad as people in places like Sodom, Tyre and Sidon.
And the fact they had so many more opportunities to hear and see Jesus actually means that, in a way, they are worse than those bad guys, those ungodly pagans.
Good people who reject or ignore Jesus are not really good. That is a tough truth for folks in the 21st century to swallow.
Let me try to illustrate what I mean:
I think of my friend, Joe. Again, not any Joe you know. Most people think he is a good guy. He works hard at his job and gets along with his coworkers. He doesn’t waste his money and faithfully provides for his family. He loves his wife, Jane, and treats her pretty well. He tries to be a good dad.
Joe believes in God. He goes to church with Jane and the kids on Christmas and Easter and maybe a couple of other times during the year. Joe is a “moral man.” He is faithful to his wife and thinks that same-sex marriage and all the transgender stuff is just crazy. And though he doesn’t think it is a man’s place to say much about the topic, he finds the thought of aborting unborn children disgusting.
Joe served in the military after high school and is definitely patriotic. He is a good guy. Many of us in this room would think of him as a great guy.
Only one problem – If you talk to Joe about Jesus, it gets a little confusing. Joe would never say anything bad about Jesus. He is actually glad Jane is committed to trusting and following Christ. It is just not for him.
He wants to be responsible for his own life, to be the captain of his own ship. Yes, he would call himself a Christian, but this trusting Jesus stuff is just not for him. And besides, he is a good guy. God will certainly let him into heaven, even without Jesus, won’t he?
Or I think of my friend, Ellen. Most folks think she is a good person. She thinks of herself as a good person. A big part of Ellen’s life is good causes.
She has devoted many hours to saving the rain forest, the whales, and now she is intent on getting people to stop using Round-Up and plastic straws. Once a week, she volunteers at a shelter for abused women. At her church, Ellen is in charge of the food pantry, which provides food for those in need.
Ellen goes to church most Sundays. It gives her a good feeling to do so. It bothers her, though, when some people in the church talk about Christianity being the one true religion. She believes all religions are basically the same.
As for Jesus, Ellen thinks he was a good man, but she can’t buy the idea that he was God. Though she doesn’t like to put it this way, she rejects Jesus’ claims and really rejects Jesus.
Now, a lot of folks, including maybe some in this room, would say, “Pastor Dan, I don’t get it. OK, so these people are wrong about Jesus, but they are still good people!” I have friends like Joe and Ellen, and they are wonderful friends. I think you are maybe making too much of this believing in Jesus stuff.” Folks, I don’t think so. Remember what Jesus said:
Luke 10:16b – “Whoever rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”
Though Joe and Ellen both treat other people pretty well, they don’t treat God well. They may be very kind and generous individuals, but by ignoring or rejecting Jesus and the salvation he provides, they are committing a very serious offense against the Creator and Sovereign of the universe. That is not something a truly good person would do.
Maybe this analogy will help: Tom is one of the best-liked people in the office. He does his job well. He is always looking to help out when someone needs a hand. The jokes he tells are funny and clean. And every Friday, he buys a dozen doughnuts and brings them to the office to share. Tom is a great guy. All his coworkers are convinced of that.
But then one Monday, there is a picture of Tom on the front page of the newspaper. He has been arrested for beating his wife. This apparently wasn’t the first time. There are also allegations he has sexually abused his two daughters.
All of a sudden, everyone’s opinion of Tom changes. Now, no one at the office thinks of Tom as a good person. He seems like a horrible man. Yes, he treated his coworkers well, but his treatment of his family is totally disgusting. We don’t consider someone to be truly a good person unless he treats both his coworkers and family well.
In a similar way, I would suggest someone is not truly a good person unless he/she treats both other people and God well.
Remember, there are two great commandments: Love God and love other people. If someone does only half of that, loves God, but doesn’t show love to other people, we certainly would not consider that individual a good person. If someone loves other people, but doesn’t love God, why would we consider him/her a good person?
Friends, our text this morning points us to a reality many folks in 21st century American culture find really difficult to swallow. It is what the Apostle Paul spells out:
Romans 3:10, 23 – There is no one who is righteous, not even one. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
In other words, none of us are really good. None of us! All of us fail to love God and the people around us as we should. I suspect every day we fall short of loving God with our entire being and loving others as we love ourselves. That is the standard the Lord has for each of us. Because we all fall short, Jesus was correct when he said:
Mark 10:18 – “No one is good but God alone.”
So, whether we are from Sodom or Capernaum, whether we are like Joe or Ellen, we need to get over the idea that we are the good guys, a good person. We may make better choices than most people around us. We may believe a lot more truth than many other folks, but we still fall short of God’s standard of goodness. For that reason, all of us need the grace God provides through Jesus.
All of us have a failing score beside our name. We need that score to be erased and Jesus’ perfect score to be written beside each of our names. That is the only way any of us can be “good.”
It is only the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, his righteousness credited to us as our own, which makes us a good person. We receive this righteousness through faith, when we stop trusting in ourselves and place our confidence in Jesus Christ, receiving him as Savior and Lord.
Nothing is more important than knowing that God considers us a truly good person through Jesus. So, if you are not sure you are trusting in the Lord Jesus or not sure what that means, please talk to me or Pastor Mark.
And friend, remember there is no one, no matter what horrible things that person has done, who is beyond the reach of the amazing grace God has for us through Jesus. And there is no one, no matter how many wonderful things that person has done, who doesn’t need that same grace.
We are all in the same boat. We need the magnificent salvation the Lord Jesus provides. That is what makes each of us one of the good guys and gals.