By J.R. Miller
"Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent." Matthew 11:20
It seems strange to hear Jesus upbraiding. His words usually were most gracious and loving. Here, however, we hear Him speaking in tones of sharpness and severity. Yet the phase of His character which is now revealed is not inconsistent with other representations of Him in the Gospels. We must not think of Jesus as having no capacity for anger. He was all love--but love can be severe, even dreadful. While He was a friend of sinners and went to His cross to redeem the ungodly--yet He hated sin. He was just and holy.
We should notice carefully, however, the reason for this upbraiding. It fell upon the cities in which Jesus had done most of His mighty works. These were not His first words to the people of these cities. There had been long months of loving ministry, with miracles of mercy, with words of grace, revealings of the Father-heart of God, and offers of eternal life--before He spoke the words of chiding we now hear Him speak. But the people of these favored cities had been unaffected by all this love. They had gone on in their sins, unrepentant. They had accepted Christ's gifts of love--but had not accepted Him as their Lord. They had taken His help, His kindness, the things He had done for them so lavishly--but they had rejected Him.
The upbraiding of these cities was because after all that he had done for them, after all their spiritual opportunities and privileges, they had rejected Jesus. It was not impatience on His part that made Him severe. He had not grown weary loving, even without return. But the fact that the cities had received so much Divine favor, made their sin in rejecting Christ far greater.
Tyre and Sidon, great commercial cities which had been denounced by the prophets for their sins, would have repented, Jesus said--if such Divine blessings as had been shown to Chorazin and Bethsaida had been given to them. Sodom was the great historical example of wickedness in the history of the world, and its destruction was a notable instance of judgment. But even Sodom would have repented, if it had received such calls and had enjoyed such privileges as had Capernaum. And Sodom's judgment would be more tolerable than that of Capernaum.
There is something startling in what Jesus says here about the doom of these Galilean cities, and the reason for it. They had had high privileges, and had disregarded them. What then about the places in our own day which have had exceptional privileges and have not improved them? What about those who have been brought up in Christian homes, amid the most gracious influences, who have seen Christ continually and have known the beautiful things of His love from infancy--and after all have kept their hearts closed upon Him, refusing His love! The question with which we are really personally concerned is not with Chorazin or Capernaum, but ourselves, our privileges and what we are doing with them.
"More tolerable." So we would better have been born and brought up in some heathen land, never hearing of Christ--than to have had the highest Christian privileges, and then to have turned our back on the Savior of men. We may perish with Christ at our door. Christian privileges will not save us. The question after all is, "What are you doing with Christ?"
The other part of our passage is in a different tone. Here we find mercy again in its most gracious mood. The invitation in the closing verses is better understood when we have studied the great words that precede it. "All things have been committed to me by my Father," said Jesus. All things had been put into His hands, all power, all mercy, all gifts, all life. This ought to be a great comfort to us, amid this world's mysteries and perplexities, when there are things which threaten to destroy us. It is Jesus Christ, the Christ of the gospel, in whose nail-marked hands are all our affairs.
There can be no revealing of the Father, except as Jesus Christ wills to reveal Him. It is very important then to learn how He dispenses the revelation which is in His hand exclusively. Will He impart it only to a few great saints, to a little company of wise men, to certain rare spirits? The answer is in the gracious invitation which follows, "Come unto Me, all who that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Yet there is a distinct class of people to whom the gracious invitation is especially given, "all who that labor and are heavy laden." This does not mean the rich, the noble of birth, the high of rank, the wise the great among men. It includes the lowly, the oppressed, the over burdened, the weary, those who are in distress. Need is the only condition. There is no one anywhere who desires the blessings of love, of mercy, of grace, to whom this wonderful invitation is not given and who may not claim it and accept it with all confidence.
Perhaps no other of Christ's words has given comfort to more people, than this promise of rest. It meets every heart's deepest longing. What is this rest? It is not cessation from work. Work is part of the constitution of human life. It is necessary to health, to happiness, even to existence. God works. "My Father works," said Jesus, "and I work" (see John 5:17). There is a curse on idleness.
It is rest of soul that Jesus promises. The life is at unrest. It is all jangled and can have no rest until it is brought into harmony. Sin is the cause of this universal human unrest, and rest can come only when forgiveness has come. And this is the first rest that is promised. Everyone who comes to Christ is forgiven.
There are two rests promised. "I will give you rest." This rest comes at once. Every weary one who comes to Christ in penitence and with repentance--is forgiven, reconciled and restored to Divine favor.
Then there is a rest which comes later and only through self-discipline and patient learning. "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me... and you shall find rest." To take Christ's yoke on us is to take Him as our Master, to let Him rule our life. The thought of a yoke is suggestive of bondage and humiliation. But the yoke of Christ is nothing galling or dishonoring in it. "My yoke is easy," He says. He is a gentle taskmaster. He requires entire submission to His will. He will not share our subjection with any other master. We must take His yoke upon us willingly, cheerfully, without reserve. But His commandments are not grievous, His burden is light. Then we will find honor and blessing in it.
A yoke implies two united, serving together, walking side by side under the same load. It is Christ's yoke we are to bear, which means that He shares it with us. His shoulder is under every load of ours. If we have a sorrow--it is His, too. In all our afflictions--He is afflicted. Thus it becomes a joy to take Christ's yoke. When He is our Master, we are free from all other masters. In bearing His yoke, we will find rest unto our souls. Our lives under His sway will be at peace.
Another step in finding rest is to enter Christ's school. "Learn of Me," said the Master. We are only beginners when we first become Christians. A good man said, 'It takes a long time to learn to be kind--it takes a whole lifetime." He was right--it does take as many years as one lives, to learn the one little lesson of kindness. Paul said, and said it when he was well on in life, "I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11). We would suppose that such a wonderful man as Paul was, did not have to learn the lesson of contentment. We can scarcely think of him as ever fretting about his condition and circumstances. But evidently he did, and it was a long, difficult lesson for him to learn to be content anywhere, in any and every experience. Even Jesus Himself had to learn life's lessons. In the Epistle to the Hebrews it is said that He learned obedience by the things that He suffered (see Hebrews 5:7, 8).
All of Christian life is a school. We enter it when we first come to Christ. We begin at the lowest grade. We do not have to wait until we know a great deal before we begin to attend school. School is not for finished scholars--but for the most ignorant. We may come to Christ when we know almost nothing. He is a teacher and He wants us to become learners. Gentleness is a lesson which we are to learn. One young girl said, "I never can get over being jealous. I cannot bear to have my friends love anybody else. I want them to love only me." But she must learn the lesson of generosity in friendship. She must learn to want her friends to love others. It probably will take her a good while, the lesson will be a long one--but she must learn it because it is in Christ's curriculum for all His students, and no one can get His certificate of graduation without learning it.
Patience is a lesson that has to be learned. An impatient person is not a complete Christian. Thoughtfulness is another necessary lesson. There are a great many thoughtless Christians. The poet tells us that evil is wrought by lack of thought--as well as lack of heart. Many people are always blundering in their relationship and fellowship with others. They say the wrong word, they do the wrong thing. They leave undone the things they ought to have done. They are always hurting other people's feelings, giving pain to gentle hearts. Yet it is all from thoughtlessness. "I didn't mean to offend him. I didn't mean to be unkind. I just never thought." There are few lessons in Christian life that more people need to learn than this of thoughtfulness.
We have to learn to trust. Worry is a sin. It is probably as great a sin as dishonesty or profanity or bad temper. Yet a good many Christian people worry at first, and one of the most important lessons in Christ's school, is to learn not to worry. Joy is a lesson to be learned. Peace is another. Humility is another. Praise is a great lesson. All of life is a school, and it is in learning these lessons--that Jesus says we shall find rest for your souls. Christ Himself is our teacher, and with Him we should never fail to learn, though it be only slowly. Then as we learn, our lives will grow continually more and more into quietness, peace and Christlikeness. All our questions will be in the faith that accepts God's will as holy and good--even when it is hardest.