bible-wornContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 10:13-15

Woe to Unrepentant Cities

 13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.

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In order to put this passage in context, it is helpful to look at the first 12 verses of Luke 10, where Jesus sent out 72 disciples to teach and heal in His name, just as the Apostles did in Luke 9. The Apostles were not part of this group; Luke 10:1 says: ‘seventy-two others’.

Jesus gives the disciples the same instructions He gave the Apostles but adds a warning about every town which rejects them (Luke 10:10-12):

10But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

In other words, whoever is exposed to the Gospel — and these towns would have had the marvellous bonus of miracles and teaching from those whom Jesus directly taught — cannot respond with indifference or rejection if he hopes to be saved. True then, true now.

So many Christians think that everyone will be saved. Not true; take time to reread John’s Gospel with care, especially chapters 5 through 9.

Others believe that it is easy to be a Christian. In a sense, it is, because Christ helps us carry our burdens and does not prescribe legalism. However, we cannot say we are saved yet embrace serious sin because everyone else is doing it and our churches approve of it. Nor can we say that we’ll sin now and postpone repentance for our deathbeds.

There is another aspect to the Christian life in that it will cause us to lose relationships with those who actively reject the Lord. Many believers have experienced this. Matthew 10, which describes Jesus’s sending the Apostles out to preach and heal, contains His warnings about the difficulty of following Him. Please take a few minutes to read and digest it; it is particularly important today where everyone seems to worship his family. When a parent dies, a middle-aged son or daughter is angry, often at God; that death goes on to determine the rest of their lives and sometimes leads to atheism. (My stars! Some of us lost one or both parents when we were still minors; by God’s grace we survived in faith.)

And there is another aspect. In this reflexive worship of family over God, I personally know women who are afraid of praying and exploring the Bible because their husbands are atheists. If they become Christian or return to church, they know they risk divorce.

Furthermore, what happens when one sibling in a family of agnostics or atheists embraces Christ as Saviour?

This is what Jesus says (Matthew 10:21-22). Some will find this alarming:

21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

It works similarly with friendships. I personally have lost friends because of my faith. Similarly, a few other longstanding friendships of mine are now irreparably strained.

Are our unbelieving friends and family going to save us? Will our worship of a parent or spouse? It is time for us to put Christ first and foremost in our lives.

Before going into today’s passage, it is also useful for us to look at what happened when the 72 disciples returned. Like the Apostles, they, too, reported to Jesus the miracles they worked in His name, including subduing Satan. Yet, Jesus says (Luke 10:20):

20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:19, incidentally, might well tie in with the snake handling churches in pockets of southern America. Note that, given the context, this divine gift applies to these disciples and not to believers in general:

19Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.

Now on to today’s verses. In Matthew 11, Jesus speaks against the towns who reject Him when He addresses John the Baptist’s followers. He rebukes them for following John and not Him. In Luke 10:10-12, He gives them a warning to give to communities who turn them away — much stronger than what He said to the Apostles in Luke 9 (emphases mine):

10But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Jesus refers to Judgment Day, which is coming ever nearer. Even if it does not come in our lifetime, the hour of our death will be the last possible time to repent. Of this, we should be mindful and take care not to wait until the last minute. If we love Christ, we will follow Him now.

He elaborates in today’s passage, all of which points to this fateful day when we shall all be judged. No one will be exempt.

In short, Jesus says that the Gentile towns will have an easier time in their judgment than those who heard and saw Him teach and heal. In fact, Matthew Henry posits:

There was reason to think, morally speaking, that, if Christ had gone to Tyre and Sidon, Gentile cities, and had preached the same doctrine to them and wrought the same miracles among them that he did in these cities of Israel, they would have repented long ago, so speedy would their repentance have been, and that in sackcloth and ashes, so deep would it have been.

As for rejecting godly clergy who preach the Word of God, he says:

they who despise the faithful ministers of Christ, who, though they do not hate and persecute them, yet think meanly of them, look scornfully upon them, and turn their backs upon their ministry, will be reckoned with as despisers of God and Christ.

Now to the identity of these cities and why Jesus singled them out for condemnation. According to John MacArthur:

we don’t know much about Chorazin, it’s just a little town, a little village, really two and a half miles from Capernaum. Capernaum was the main town at the tip of the northern part of the Sea of Galilee, sort of toward the northwest part of the northern end of the sea. Chorazin doesn’t exist today, it’s long extinct. But Chorazin was very close to Capernaum and Capernaum was the headquarters of Jesus during His Galilean ministry. Chorazin was exposed to Jesus Christ, to His miracles, to His power over disease and death and demons and nature. Chorazin heard His preaching and heard it from the Apostles. And He says, “Curse you,” woe means to curse.

Then there was Bethsaida, which featured in the feeding of the five thousand. That link has the whole story about what happened the following day with those people. Jesus chided them for expecting another miraculous feast and told them to focus on His flesh and blood. At that point, John 6 tells us that many of His followers turned away permanently. This is why Jesus gives it a mention in Luke 10:13. MacArthur adds:

Woe to you, Bethsaida.” Well that’s another little town on the northwest of Capernaum, up at the tip of the Sea of Galilee. You can’t find it today either. It’s gone. Once located out on the Gennesaret plain which is a little flat area, sort of at the northwest part of the Sea of Galilee … You had so much revelation and you rejected.

Of Tyre and Sidon — twin cities in a sense — MacArthur explains:

Tyre and Sidon were bad places. Sidon is first mentioned in Genesis 10 as a Canaanite city, idolatrous, cruel, wicked, sinful. Later it’s called the great Sidon, it had reached prominence and power because it was where the Phoenicians were and the Phoenicians were the mariners of ancient times and they ran the shipping business out across the Mediterranean. They were powerful. They were rich. They were corrupt. It was basically through Sidon and Tyre that the great shiploads of wheat grown in Egypt were transported to the rest of the Mediterranean even as far west as the city of Tarshish which is in Spain. It became a very powerful and a very pagan and corrupt city.

Tyre, also in Judges 19 mentioned, is called a fortified city, close neighbor to Sidon. They would today be in Lebanon, north of Israel right on the coast. They were Phoenician seaport cities. Tyre was about 35 miles north of Mount Carmel, about 30 miles west of Mount Herm[o]n. And there had provided some things for Israel. They provided the cedars of Lebanon, you remember, the timber for Solomon’s temple. And they also provided some sailors for Israel’s navy. But they were wicked places, full of idols. And God pronounced destruction on Tyre and Sidon. And maybe in some ways the most amazing denunciation in the Old Testament of any city … Prophecies of the destruction of these cities occur in two places, Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 28 ...

Tyre was associated with the devil himself. Sodom was associated with a wretched kind of perversion. But Tyre is associated with the devil himself so that the king and the devil are almost the same.

As for Sodom, MacArthur tells us:

Just one verse to define the sin of Sodom, it’s the twentieth verse of Genesis 18 … “And the Lord said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great and their sin is exceedingly grave.'” What was their sin? Well they were Canaanites, Canaanites were wretched to start with. They were cruel, murderous, idolatrous. But there was more than that. There was not just the normal sin. There was an exceedingly great sin there. And what was it? It was the sin of homosexuality to the extreme. In fact, if you follow the story, two angels come to Sodom in the nineteenth chapter of Genesis and they come there to warn Lot that God’s going to judge. And the homosexuals in the town see these angels and they are the most beautiful creatures they’ve ever seen and excite their perverted passions. And so they come to Lot’s house to rape the angels. And Lot, trying to protect the angels of God from this, offers them his daughters…which, of course, they didn’t want. God then strikes all of them blind and having been stricken blind you would think it would alter your course a little, change your direction. But it didn’t change anything. Having been completely made blind, it says they wearied themselves to find the door to get in to attack the angels. Just the most amazing consuming passions of perversion. And God, you know, brought about the greatest destruction of any city in the Old Testament when He drowned that city in fire and brimstone.

The upshot of today’s three verses is particularly pointed. Jesus is cutting the Jewish unbelievers down to size by saying, ‘Don’t think you are better than Sodom or Tyre and Sidon. You’re much worse.’

The Jewish people were the Chosen, those to whom the Messiah was promised in the Old Testament. Now that He is among them, they condemn Him for being a wine-bibber, associating with the dregs of society, being a blasphemer and saying that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Jesus is saying that they have far too high an opinion of themselves — and that there is a price to pay for such personal, legalistic pride.

To say that they were worse than the sinners from Sodom, Tyre and Sidon — whose curses they would have known — was unthinkable. Particularly unthinkable because their penalty would be much worse.

Finally, we have Capernaum. We wonder why Jesus would have singled His own headquarters out. MacArthur explains:

They tolerated Him. Indifference is as damning as hostility. To reject the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ will render you as guilty as if you pounded the nails into His hands. The destruction and judgment of Capernaum came, came physically. If you go there today, there’s no Capernaum there. Thriving city in the time of Jesus, not now. And the disappearance of Capernaum was so complete that for centuries it was impossible to know where it even was. And the people in that city who perished are going to stand before God and receive a severer judgment than those who never knew the message of Christ.

Therefore, before we as Christians become too comfortable, we would do well to measure ourselves against the Jews of Jesus’s day. Are we prideful and self-righteous? Are we indifferent to Him? Where do we place Him in the priorities of our life?

Next time: Luke 10:21-24

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