Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:…
Having illustrated by one or two sayings of our Lord what was his judgment of John and of those who heard John's teaching, Matthew sets alongside of these others regarding the towns which had enjoyed exceptional opportunities of forming an adequate idea of his Person and work. The complaint against these cities was that "they repented not." They were not sinners above other men, as Sodom and Gomorrah had been. But when Jesus came exhibiting the kingdom of heaven, and inviting men to enter it, they were expected to repent of having chosen any other object as their chief good, and to welcome the kingdom as the Father's best gift. They were summoned at once to repentance and faith. In our Lord's judgment, then, that is the most damning condition of human life, in which a man has seen the kingdom of God but not felt drawn to it above all else. In the case of Capernaum there is an additional element of woe. For some months Jesus had made it the centre of his operations. And it may not unnaturally have occurred to the inhabitants that, as Jerusalem had rejected the Messiah, this town might be exalted to the high position of metropolis of the kingdom. But when he definitely enounced the pure spirituality of his mission, intense repugnance and resentment at once took the place of admiration, and from a heaven of Messianic expectation they fell to a hell of disappointment, bitterness, and godless despair. Such transitions are of not infrequent occurrence. Religious enthusiasm has been kindled under false impressions of what our Lord offers, and when it becomes apparent that he does not bestow an easy conquest over sin, but only grace which enables a man through painful self-denial to win self-mastery, bitter murmuring takes the place of hope, and he turns in fierce resentment against our Lord, as if he were accountable for the misconceptions of his kingdom which a worldly, weak, and self-seeking nature cannot but make. In what spirit and temper did our Lord accept this sad result of his teaching? Admitting frankly and without any sneer that the wise and prudent had discountenanced him, he finds his solace in the fact that the babes had received him, and that, if earthly authorities disowned his claim, his Father knew him. The wise and prudent in his day were the trained teachers, the leaders in religion, the men who had been at much pains to ascertain the meaning of Scripture, and to maintain the kind of character which they considered acceptable to God. They had their minds made up already about all things human and Divine, and to minds thus filled with preconceived ideas Jesus seemed either unintelligible or blasphemous. Sadly, therefore, he turns to those who were unsophisticated by centuries of systematic teaching, but could by their native instincts discern between good and evil. The law illustrated by our Lord's experience is again and again referred to in Scripture, as if all religious teachers had been brought into practical contact with it. Paul e.g. says, "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called;" and this not as if God were jealous of the wise, or had some special dislike to men of education, but because the mind of the educated man has difficulties in the way of his acceptance of the gospel from which the uneducated is happily exempt. When we are introduced to truths which the intellect is too small to comprehend, we are tempted to reject them because the ordinary methods of inquiry fail us. Few men of intellect escape the mental perplexity and suffering which this entails. There are truths which we must accept in faith, on the word of him who is better informed than we, and whom we know to be true. Intellect has its place and its function in connection with Christian truth; but in point of fact and as matter of history intellect has not discovered God. Christ has done so, and that man makes best growth in Christ's school who has humility enough to accept his teaching. But while our Lord was thus on all hands met by repulse and unbelief, he had one unfailing source of comfort. The Father knew who he was - that he was no misled enthusiast, no pretentious blasphemer, but God's own Son. Again, men might despise his unconventional teaching, mistaking genuine simplicity for ignorance of high matters, they might upbraid him with contradicting the received teaching about God, but he could say truthfully, "No man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." By this consciousness did he stimulate himself again to return, and once more to seek to convince men of the Father's love. And there was a third element in this sustaining consciousness. Judged by his present success, he seemed feeble and of small influence, yet he reminded himself that "all things were delivered unto him of his Father." He was to be God so far as men and this world were concerned. Men might ignore him and deny his teaching, but they could not prevent him from raising the dead, from rebuking the winds and waves, from returning their contempt with compassion, their hatred with love, from living righteously and lovingly so as to be a light to all generations. They could not prevent him from accepting God's Spirit and living in his humanity as the perfect image of the Father, and thus exercising an influence on human affairs that deepens as the world grows. But the practical outcome of our Lord's experience of the hostility, suspicion, and contempt of men was not merely to confirm his own consciousness of his fellowship with the Father, but also to lead him confidently to invite to himself all who found life laborious and burdensome. And that he does this at the very moment when we should have naturally expected to find him most hopeless, is not without significance. He has been compelled by the cold reception given him to revise his claims, to cross-examine his own consciousness of a Divine commission, and the result of this is the tenderest and most assured invitation to weak and weary men that ever fell from his lips. It is not the cheerful and over-confident utterance of a happy moment; it is the sober, weighty, reasoned deliverance of one who has pondered the matter all round, and who promises only what he knows he can stand to and make good. He bids you consider that you may have rest. However defeated and soiled with the dust of conflict, however paralyzed and dismayed your heart, however weary of the little that comes of all your striving, to you he offers partnership with himself. He will make all things a school, in which you will be encouraged by his presence, and from which you shall pass into that full maturity and fitness for all the future which begin in meekness and lowly carrying of his yoke. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: