Leaving the Knot Intact


Introduction to the Context: Jesus sent out the Twelve to preach in all the cities and villages of Israel. He gave them instructions about the manner of their travel and support while on mission (10:5-15), warned them about what hostility to expect (10:16-25), comforted them with the assurance of God’s purpose and presence (10:26-33), and removed the perplexity of surprise by pointing to the divisive character of the message of the Kingdom (10:34-42). In Chapter 11, Jesus’ labors in preaching and healing bring a question from the disciples of John the Baptist (11:1-3). When Jesus answered with a recitation of scriptural evidence concerning the activities of the Messiah (11:4-6), he began to discuss the ministry of John the Baptist (11:7-10), the surpassing excellence of the Kingdom of God (11:11-15), and to illustrate the maddening depth, entanglements, and fickleness of human sin. “This generation,” as Jesus called it, constituted the transition from the age of prophecy to the events of fulfillment. John the Baptist constituted the fulfillment of the last verse of the Old Covenant prophecies; the one for whom he would prepare the way stood before them. The teachers, scholars, and religious devotees of the covenant people could not rise above their petty narrowness, their self-centered posturing for religious dominance, and their self-righteous judgmentalism, their blindness to true spirituality, true righteousness, and to simple truth in itself. The summary statement of Jesus, “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds” (11:19) exposed all the superficial biases and sinful passions, not only of his religious opponents, but of all people everywhere. Now he sets forth the reality of human responsibility, the principle of judgment commensurate with opportunity, and the dependence of all on the sovereign purpose and effectual working of God. Because we are inexcusably responsible for our sin, we are utterly dependent on divine mercy, conceived in eternity and executed in time.

I. 11:20-25 – Jesus denounced hard-heartedness

A. Verse 20 – By any estimation, if people had responded fittingly to the implications of Jesus’ miracles, they would have heeded his message. His message, in summary form, was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The miracles showed Jesus to possess divine power, not derivatively, but naturally, showing intrinsic power and authority over nature, disease, death, demons, and even over the presence of sin (9:13). All realized that “Never was anything like this seen in Israel” (9:33).

B. Those cities that saw “most of his mighty works” in large part failed to heed his message. He first mentions Chorazin and Bethsaida. Though no miracles are recorded in these cites, this testimony by Jesus shows that many mighty works had been done, verifying the claim of John (John 20:30) that “Jesus did many other signs that are not written in this book.” In Capernaum (8:5-17) a large number and variety of mighty works are recorded.

C. He compares these cities to the most notorious cities of sin and rebellion in the Old Testament.

1. Broadus remarked, “Tyre and Sidon were doubtless chosen because they lay close by, had long been famous for the splendid wickedness which so often marks commercial centres, and were intimately associated with the Baal worship which had wrought such evil in Israel. Their wickedness was often denounced by the prophets, Joel, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and particularly that of Tyre by Ezekiel, Ch 26-28.”

2. Sodom presented an image of the epitome of rebellion against God’s righteousness in the Old Testament narrative (Genesis 18, 19). Even after Abraham pleads to God on the basis of God’s own perfect righteousness and equity, not even 10 persons could be found in the city to warrant its escape. Rather than spare the city (2 Peter 2:6-10), God spared four people, one of whom had affections for the city and was destroyed even in her reluctant escape, Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26). Even his sons-in-law ridiculed the idea of judgment and were consumed in the conflagration (Genesis 19:14).

3. That Jesus ranked the sins of these cities less culpable, and their final judgment thus more tolerable, than those of his day who had been recipients of his ministry implies several correlative truths.

Even under the category of eternal punishment of which all the unrighteous are worthy there are varying degrees of punishment, an exact retribution commensurate with the opportunities and aggravations under which people pursue their course of rebellion.

Even so, though none will be converted and have hearts changed apart from an effectual and secret operation of the Spirit of God in giving the new birth, the particular observable circumstances under which this occurs are various. Jonathan Edwards, in describing hundreds of conversions in the awakening of the late 1730’s entitled his description “The Manner of Conversion Various yet Bearing a Great Analogy.” They differed according to temperaments and circumstances but also moved toward the center of supernaturally altered affections and the entire body of revealed truth. Paul’s conversion from the standpoint of the necessity of a changed heart was no different from that of any true conversion in our own day, but the circumstances were aligned with the character of his mental commitments at the time. His blasphemous resistance to any testimony that Jesus was the Christ and was “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” called for a personal appearance of the resurrected Jesus in blinding messianic glory along with a particular verbal revelation of his name (Acts 9:3-6). For the occasion of the Lord’s opening of Lydia’s heart, only a clear exposition of Scripture was fitting (Acts 16:14. 15).

While, from the standpoint of external circumstances, Sodom would have responded to the appearance of the powerful miracles, God did not do it for he was under no moral obligation to do it. So with the wicked Tyre. God sovereignly withheld both the internal operation of grace as well as the external circumstance fitting for such a conversion. Given the realities of universal culpability and the absolute freeness (the completely non-meritorious nature) of mercy, God’s exquisite and pure justice may be fully displayed in any circumstance of his choosing. No one has any legitimate cause to reply against him for so executing the fullness of the glory of all his attributes (Romans 9:19-24; Matthew 20:15, 16).

He used this occasion to justify his eventual sending the gospel to the Gentiles as a manifestation of the new covenant. See the parable of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-15.

When Christ died for the sins of his people, he suffered in accordance with strict justice, for the Father “spared not his own Son” so that no charge can be brought against God’s elect. They shall not be condemned for Christ has died, has risen as the sure sign of having fully paid the wages of sin for his people (Matthew 1:21) and now intercedes for them (Romans 8:32-34).

II. 11:25-27 – Jesus gloried in the temporal opening of the provisions of the Eternal Covenant

A. The reality of the divine prerogative for mercy in the face of human sin and unworthiness brings about rejoicing in the heart of Jesus for his knowledge of the provisions of the eternal covenant of redemption.

1. He acknowledged the Father as the one from whom the provisions of the covenant originally flowed and that before his own eyes Jesus sees those eternal counsels unfolding. “You have hidden . . . and revealed.”

2. Those from whom these things were hidden were left to their own will and their own confidence in their wisdom, virtue, and perception of reality. No violation was done to them at all; they simply were left unbothered in their smug self-confidence so that the call for self-abasement, humility, poorness of spirit, repentance, and hunger for righteousness remained outside their moral purview and thus were hidden.

3. On the other hand, God’s revelation of the provisions of salvation come from an active operation in the soul to bring sinners to a state of child-like submission to God’s truth and to a full dependence on a righteousness not their own.

4. This all occurs in accord with the good pleasure, the gracious will, of the Father with the Son’s full concurrent consent and approval.

B. The covenantal provisions of salvation are committed fully to the Son in concert with the will and power of the Father.

1. Nothing in the arrangements of the eternal covenant of redemption are outside the knowledge and the purposeful intention of the Son to bring to fruition. – “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.”

2. We are allowed to catch a glimpse of the mystery of the Trinity in this statement, “No one knows the Son, etc” as Jesus opens for us by affirmation the fullness of his knowledge of the Father and the Father’s knowledge of him. This knowledge implies also a fullness and unchangeableness and inexhaustibility of love. The unity of essence as well as the distinction of personality both are intrinsic to this kind of knowledge. Subsumed under this, therefore, are all the provisions of the eternal covenant of redemption as a reflection of the perfection of the attributes of the triune God. The operations necessary for the unfolding of this covenant reveal the eternal distinction and subordination in personal relations coincident with the absolute unity of essence in God.

3. The Father’s will of distinguishing between persons according to his own will is fully shared by and approved by the Son so that he executes that will perfectly and thus reveals the Father to whomever he chooses (verse 27).

III. Jesus issued an invitation embedded with the character of the saving call of God.

A. The call is to come to him. No other can do. Jesus alone has done the work, performed the sacrifice, attained the needed righteousness that constitute right standing before the Father. “None comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).

B. Only those who are needy and in deep awareness of their need will come to him on the basis of how he is offered to them. They see that they labor under a load of sin—that they are heavy laden with all the debilitating corruptions of sin and fall under the just condemnation of it.

C. Jesus promised a yoke that gives rest.

1. The yoke of Christ is taken when we recognize that only in union with him can the burden of sin be shouldered by another. We cannot bear it ourselves –“I cannot bear this burden alone”—and dare not bear it for the end of this solitary labor of seeking to approve ourselves before God is death.

2. Nothing gives rest to the weary soul like the assurance of eternal life. This assurance is founded upon nothing less than the person and work of Christ. He is God in our nature whose obedient life and death fully answered any just claims of the Father against us and whose present life of intercession has provided the presence of our resurrected nature already resident at the throne of God. Rest from sin and hope for eternity are found in coming to Christ, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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