Three towns, two observations, one clear conclusion

On Sunday, we were looking at Matthew 11:20-30. Whilst the sermon was pointed in a particular direction, two observations that I didn’t labour seem worth noting.

First, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum – despite the many miracles done amongst them – did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. It is not a particularly earth-shattering observation – and I’m not sure even the main point (Matthew is pointing us to see the link between knowledge and judgement) – but it remains true, many saw Jesus’ miracles, more than any other town, and yet rejected him. We have to conclude from this that some people, no matter what evidence they are presented with, simply will not ever trust in the Lord Jesus.

Second, Jesus praises his Father for the fact that he has hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to infants. He praises God that it is, indeed, his sovereign choice that causes anyone to see Jesus and respond to him. This is not an embarrassing doctrine which Jesus wants to skip over, but one that leads him to praise his Father specifically because of it. As much as Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were responsible for their own rejection of the Lord Jesus, they ultimate reason they rejected him is because the Father chose not to reveal it to them, he blinded them to the truth so that they would not respond. There is much we could say about that, but for now, let us just note the observation.

Given these two observations, I am minded to think about how we get about our evangelistic efforts. Several things seem to follow that are worth thinking about. Here they are:

First, if even Jesus’ many undeniable miracles were not enough to convince three towns about who he was, we have to be realistic about the evidence that will convince people to believe today. Some insist if they saw Jesus do an undeniable miracle they would believe in him. There is enough evidence of those in scripture asking Jesus for more miracles and yet still rejecting him to show us it simply is not so. But more to the point, Jesus isn’t here on earth to do any such miracles at any rate; he has other work he is doing in Heaven for us instead. If people rejected his miracles done before their eyes, we can’t be that surprised when they reject the less obvious historical and textual evidence.

Second, if Jesus is adamant that it is God who chooses to whom he will reveal the truth of the gospel, we have to accept that there are some people for whom no amount of evidence will be enough. We similarly have to be conscious that merely presenting the evidence, no matter how logical we may believe it to be, may well not be enough. After all, none of us believe anything through the exclusive use of cold, hard logic, no matter how insistent we are that we are “logical thinkers”. We all believe things using a range of tools and cannot expect people to necessarily be bowled over by the sheer power of logic and reason alone, for very few ever are in any sphere. Whilst the Lord may choose to work through our logical presentations of the gospel, and our solid apologetics, ultimately these are not the main means or cause of anybody’s salvation.

Third, it seems evident that unless the Lord reveals these things to a person, nobody will believe. Which means perhaps we ought to spend more time praying for him to work than in preparing our clever presentations and logical arguments. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t prepare and do our best. But I suspect most of us spend many hours in preparation and, often, a few minutes in prayer. Given the basis on which anyone might believe, and given the Lord could choose to save anyone entirely apart from our doing anything whilst still recognising he typically works through particular means of people sharing the gospel, Jesus’ teaching here suggests that spending more time in prayer and bit less in preparation might be a wise move. We, of course, want to acquit ourselves well and do our best for the Lord, but it is ultimately the Lord who will reveal anything to anyone and in whose hand the gift of faith resides. Many hours in prep and a couple of minutes in prayer seems to be a poor split of time and a particularly ineffective one.

My own disposition, and temptation, is always to do much prep and rely on my carefully constructed talks and presentations. I sometimes think I’m quite good at them. I frequently fool myself into thinking that Jesus is more likely to work because of something extra-clever or worthwhile that I have done. Prayer, when I do it at all, often becomes a perfunctory cherry on the top of all my work making an excellently prepared cake. But if even Jesus’ miracles weren’t enough to lead Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum to believe I’m not quite sure what I’m hoping my little talk a spent a few hours preparing is likely to do. But the almighty God of the universe can do as he wills; I suspect my time might be much better used asking him to do what only he can do and relying more on that than anything I might do for him.