The Proper Response to Miracles
Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.
What word stands out to you when you read this verse?
For me, it was that last phrase--"because they did not repent." What should have caused the people in these towns to repent? Normally, we would think it would be His teaching, but here it links repentance to His miracles.
Jesus denounced the cities where he had performed some pretty might deeds because they did not see the purpose behind the miracles. Previously, He'd told John the Baptist's disciples to tell John, "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor." Those are some pretty amazing feats. Even today we are not able to heal in such a way as Jesus did. And we certainly can't raise the dead.
But the people in those towns didn't respond to those miracles the way they should have. Jesus didn't just come to heal their diseases. The healing had a reason. Often times Jesus would heal someone and then tell them NOT to spread the news around. Sometimes He would tell them to go show themselves to the priests, in keeping with the Law. I always thought He just didn't want more crowds or to start an uproar among the people because of the miracles. But after reading this verse, I wonder.
Perhaps the reason Jesus warned people not to spread the news of His miracles is because that wasn't the reaction the miracles were supposed to invoke. The miracles were supposed to show people His power, to show them the Father, to give them reason to believe He was their Messiah. So why did He denounce these cities because they didn't repent?
Because if you look back at the Old Testament, when people encountered God, they feared they would die. They fell on their knees and repented in dust and ashes. To glimpse God was terrifying and awe-inducing. The miracles performed in Egypt brought terror to the Egyptians. It should have done the same for the Israelites, but so often they grumbled and complained about the desert conditions or lack of their favorite foods. They missed the glory of what God did to bring them out of slavery. And a whole generation died in the wilderness because they missed the purpose of the miracles. They needed repentance too. It is the message Jesus preached everywhere He went. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
It is the message the prophets of old preached to Israel at various times in their history. And it is still a relevant message for us today.
In Matthew 11, where that verse caught my attention, Jesus did not stop there. His rebuke went on to say:
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For 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 to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For 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.”
Sodom was a pretty wicked city, and not just for sexual reasons. The Bible describes her as "arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen."
And yet Jesus condemned Capernaum, his hometown, as in worse condition than Sodom.
When we visited Israel in 2008, our guide took us to Chorazin (Korazim). The pictures I've posted here are from the ruins of that town. From what I recall of our guide's comments, the place has never been rebuilt. I think the same is true for Bethsaida and Capernaum, but don't quote me on that.
The truth is, when Jesus cursed a city, a building, a fig tree, there was no stopping that curse. It didn't always happen right away. By God's great mercy, He still waits for people to repent. But after months, years of preaching, doing miracle after miracle until the crowds wanted to crown Him king, (yet for all the wrong reasons), He let them follow the path of their choosing.
He won't force us to follow Him.
Jesus preached repentance, (and still does through His people), but He doesn't force us to obey His words. He wants us to come to Him by faith, recognizing who He is, and who we are by comparison.
Those cities loved the miracles. (Who wouldn't?) But they didn't get the reason behind them. They didn't see that God had come to live among them. And when we are in the presence of God, we should have a sense of His power, kneel in awe, recognize that His is worthy of our worship, our obedience.
The fate of those cities is a sobering lesson, meant to teach us not to skip the meaning behind their downfall.