"Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they did not repent." [Mt 11:20]
In the eleventh chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel, he records a stern warning given by Christ Jesus our Lord to the unrepentant men and women who lived in the cities of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Jesus preached the good news in these cities. Not only this, but He performed many wonderful miracles right before the eyes of the people. The people who lived in these cities had been exposed to both the Word of God and the power of God as well, a power that was demonstrated in miracles, healings, and the casting out of demons. Yet, in spite of this exposure, the people still refused to repent. Their lives remained unchanged. They went right back to living as they’d always lived.
In denouncing these cities, Jesus cried out as follows: "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. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down into Hades. 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." [Mt 11:21-24].
Jesus is saying some pretty hard things. If we don’t take the time to reflect on what He is saying, we might be tempted to think that He is referring only to the people who lived in those towns at that time. But the warning Christ gave to them is a warning that He also gives to us. A sobering warning. A warning that never ceases to send chills up my spine whenever I read this account.
Simply put, God is looking for one thing and one thing only: repentance. When all is said and done, the only individuals who will be received into Heaven are those individuals who repented. God isn’t looking for church attendance on Sunday morning; He is looking for the fruits of repentance.
One has to wonder at the hardness of the Jewish hearts in Jesus’ day. Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum were not Gentile cities; they were Jewish cities. They were filled with men and women who professed to believe in the One True God. Yet, when the One True God sent His Son into their midst to preach anointed messages and perform incredible miracles, they still did not believe. They still did not repent. According to Jesus, if the miracles that were performed in Israel had been performed in Gentile cities, the people would have responded in faith and repentance. Sodom would not have been destroyed. It would have remained to this day!
In these verses of Scripture Jesus makes it very clear that those who have been exposed to the Word of God will be held more accountable to God than those who have never heard it. According to Christ, it will be more bearable for an unrepentant man who has never heard of Christ and His Gospel on the day of judgment than it will be for the unrepentant man who heard it week after week, yet refused to apply that Word to his life. Brothers and sisters, this is a hard saying, but it’s time for many to wake up in this season of Lent in order to hear what Christ is saying to His Church.
The Church of Jesus Christ in the United States of America (both Catholic and Protestant) is rife with sin, carnality, and all manner of uncleanness. Our churches are filled with men, women, and young people who hear the Word of God being preached week after week, yet refuse to repent of their drunkenness, greed, fornication, adultery, selfishness, bitterness, gossiping tongues, materialism, and overall love of this world. It’s not enough that we believe in Jesus. It’s not enough that we attend church week after week. The Lord is calling us to repent. Only when we repent of our wrongdoing and start lining our lives up with the Word of God does our faith in Christ or our church attendance have any value.
Jesus made it very clear that those who have been exposed to the truth of God’s Word will be held more accountable to Him than those who have never heard it. Not only this, but elsewhere, Jesus taught that on Judgment Day, there will be varying degrees of punishment executed against those who refused to repent. According to the Son of God, the greater punishment will go to the one who was exposed to the Truth, yet refused to yield to it. "The servant who knows his Master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his Master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." [Lk 12:47-48].
Let’s suppose that Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones both die on the same night. During Mr. Smith’s lifetime, he attended church services on Sunday morning, but that was pretty much it in the way of ‘devotion’ to God. Week after week, he heard the Word of God being preached. He was exposed to the truth. He knew how God wanted him to live, but he just didn’t want to do it. He didn’t want to make any changes in his life. He lived for the devil all week long, while playing religious games in the church pews week after week. One night, he died of a massive heart attack and entered eternity.
Mr. Jones lives in a part of the world where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has never even been preached. In his little village, the people worship spirits, nature, and anything else that crosses their paths. They live like this because they’ve never even heard of the One True God and His Son Jesus Christ. That night, Mr. Jones also dies and enters eternity.
According to Christ, the one who will receive the greater punishment is Mr. Smith because Mr. Smith was exposed to the truth week after week, yet refused to apply it to his life. "Woe to you, Mr. Smith! It will be more bearable for Mr. Jones on the day of judgment than for you!"
The Lord is calling us to repentance, not church attendance. He wants our lives to line up with the truth of His Word. If I attend Mass week after week, yet refuse to put into practice anything that I hear at the Mass, how can I expect to be received into Heaven when my time for departure comes? Will I be rewarded on the basis of my church attendance or my obedience to Christ and His Word?
In America, we have become so politically correct that messages like this are preached few and far between. People become offended when exposed to the hard truths of God’s Word. As a result, many church leaders refuse to preach these messages for fear of losing people and money from their congregations. But the truth must be proclaimed. The Word of God must be preached - the hard messages as well as the soothing ones.
Christ is coming back. The day of God’s judgment is near, and many will not be able to stand before the Lord on that day. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on Judgment Day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" [Mt 7:21-23]. Not everyone who goes to church will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father and repent. Many will say to Christ on that day, "Lord, Lord, I went to church week after week. I put money into the offering plate. I even taught CCD!" But because that individual refused to repent of his sin by lining his life up with the Word of God, he will not be recognized by the Lord Jesus Christ as one of His own. Christ is looking for repentance, not church activity.
This message is not directed toward those in Christ’s Church who truly love Him and are making a sincere effort with the help of the Holy Spirit to live according to the eternal truths of God’s written Word. It is directed toward those individuals who hear the Word of God being preached week after week, yet refuse to put it into practice in their lives because they simply do not want to repent. They like living as they do and have no intention of changing.
Brothers and sisters, those whom Christ loves, He rebukes and disciplines. Now is the time for repentance, not tomorrow. If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. Repent, yield, and be saved!
He who has a listening ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
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