There are some parts of the Gospel which just don’t seem to make it into hymns very often.
Luke 10:13-16 is one of them. You never hear this sung:
Woe to you, O Chorazin,
Bethsaida, Woe to you!
Or consider this:
Will you be exaulted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades!
Can I have a show of hands – how many of us go to those words for comfort in time of need?
However, if we were to pass over them as “just Jesus in a bad mood” and find something which sounds more loving, we’d be making a mistake.
For here, we do see words of comfort, and words in which we should rejoice; particularly, because it reassures us regarding a tension that presses hard on all of us, even today: James and John had earlier put it like this: “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
That was back in Luke 9, verse 54…
Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem, verse 52, and had sent people ahead to make preparations for him in the Samaritan village he was going to enter. However, the villagers did not receive Jesus! They rejected the one Peter had confessed, earlier in this chapter, to be the Christ of God! That is, they’ve refused to receive God’s own King, and now stand opposed to the Kingdom of God! So, Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?
Back then, Jesus rebuked them, but we don’t learn why, and the question lingers until we reach today’s passage here in Luke 10. Is there no consequence for those who reject Jesus? What kind of great King can accept such a rejection?
The immediate context of our passage is that of Jesus sending out the seventy-two, sent out in pairs, into, verse 1, “every town and place where he himself was about to go”. There are a lot of details given about the nature of the mission; but for our context, we’ll look at what they are to do concerning the people of the place:
In verse 9, if they are received by the people, they are to “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
And then, verses 10 and 11, if they are not received, they wipe off the dust from their feed; but still proclaim that ‘the kingdom of God has come near’
And that takes us to the start of these statements of judgement Jesus makes. It’s a similar situation to that at the Samaritan village isn’t it? There’s a place to which Jesus is to come, but there’s a rejection; as Jesus was not received, so too the seventy are not received. Last time, it was James and John who spoke about judgement… but this time, it’s Jesus; saying:
Verse 12: “I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town”
Now, that’s a really interesting comparison! What happened in Sodom is exactly what James and John had requested in the Samaritan village. Genesis 19:24 tells us that “the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground”. Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?
No; but, a day will come when it will be more bearable for Sodom than for that town. What day? It could be the day that Jesus comes – remember, he’d sent them into all the places he himself was to visit. Is he saying that when he reaches those places, if they’d rejected the seventy, he’ll do something even worse than raining down fire from heaven to them?
I don’t think so; it seems that he’s talking about a future day, a day of judgement; and he’s now pronouncing ahead of time the consequences of rejecting God’s Kingdom and his King.
That’s why he goes on in verse thirteen to reflect on some of the places he’s already been. First, he exclaims woe concerning Chorazin and Bethsaida. This woe may be read as a judgement, or equally as a lament; but in either case, it’s clear that a coming judgement is clearly in view – for in verse 14, echoing verse 12, we read that “But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you”
Chorazin is a place about which we know little, but it’s paired with Bethsaida, which the reader of Luke’s Gospel has just read about, back in the previous chapter. It’s the place where the five thousand were fed – and it’s another place where we read those words, chapter 9, verse 11, he “spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” Interesting words… because that’s just what the seventy were sent out to do, to “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
We’re not told anything in chapter 9 about how the people of the place reacted to these mighty works; the healing, the feeding, but we get a hint here in our passage;…. it seems they had not repented, but had rejected the gospel of the kingdom of God:
Chapter 10, verse 13 – 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.
Sitting in sack-cloth and ashes is a popular Old-Testament Jewish way of outwardly expressing an inward repentance. It’s something which had continued even in the intertestamental period, as a way for the people to outwardly show their repentance and turning back to God. Here, however, it’s not Judea which would repent in sack-cloth, but Tyre and Sidon. Now; for a first century Jew, Tyre and Sidon – just like Sodom – would have been directly associated with images of God’s judgement. Ezekiel, in particular, had prophesied the destruction of these great but wicked cities… and they had suffered their terrible destruction at the hands of Nebuchanezer and Alexander the Great.
Here, we see Jesus saying that even these wicked pagan cities would have repented like a God-fearing Jew had they seen the kinds of works that had been done in Bethsaida! And in consequence, being more wicked and hard-hearted than even those of Tyre and Sidon, they incur upon themselves a worse punishment on the day of judgement. A day will come, a day of judgement, when God’s King will punish all those who have rejected his rule, and it will be a punishment worse than being slaughtered by invading armies; it will be a punishment worse than being consumed by fire from heaven. Yes; ultimately, there are very very serious consequences for rejecting God’s King.
That brings us to the last of the cities; Capernaum. Capernaum’s familiar to the reader of Luke as well; as it’s the place the Centurion’s servant was healed back in chapter 7. That’s an event where we see a gentile being exalted for his faith in Christ, a faith which was lacking even in Israel.
Now, imagine that I were to tell you that a starving woman entered a church on a Sunday morning to ask a little food that she might share with her malnourished children. Suppose I were to then say that a hindu tourist who’d come to take a look had given her his own lunch, and she’d departed full of joy? What am I saying here? Yes, it’s wonderful that the hindu had such kindness on her… but it’s a bitter condemnation upon every Christian standing there that morning. That’s what had happened with the Centurion, as Jesus came to a place where he surely should have been received by faith amongst his own, he’d found it only in a gentile, a part of the occupying force of Rome.
To this city, who when they heard the Gospel of the kingdom of God had rejected God’s own king, Jesus now brings up a Jewish taunt, something a first century Jew would have understood immediately. He uses an offensive rhyme, something used to mock the Babylonians – that great oppressor so ruthlessly destroyed by God in judgement.
God had taught it to them in Isaiah 14, saying “you shall take up this taunt against the king of Babylon”; and it contains these verses, Isaiah 14:13-15:
13 You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.
And that’s the very thing Jesus now uses to taunt Capernaum:
And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
Yes, Capernaum is being likened to the great arch-enemy, the very image of evil and godlessness… Babylon. And that it will face terrible judgement just as Babylon had is clearly being implied.
You shall be brought down to Hades.
We asked if there is there no consequence for those who reject Jesus? We asked what kind of great King can accept such a rejection?
We’ve now seen that there is certainly a consequence for those who reject Jesus. We’ve seen their punishment described as worse than the worst historical judgements the Bible describes. We’ve seen them as to be punished worse than Sodom, Tyre and Sidon, and Babylon. And so we’ve seen that King Jesus by no means accepts being rejected.
And that means that we don’t have to call down fire from heaven upon those who do not receive the word. It also means that we shouldn’t feel that God is being defeated as people fail to acknowledge him, or come under the rule of his King. For make no mistake, there will be a judgement, and when it comes it will be far worse than we can possibly imagine.
There’s just one loose end left to tie up. We’ve seen the consequences of rejecting Jesus as he’s described the wrath to come upon Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. And that makes sense – for rejecting God’s King must incur God’s wrath. But what about rejecting those whom he sends? How does this apply to the seventy, and how does it apply to us?
Jesus explains this in the last part of our passage, verse 16. He shows two things; first, he shows that to hear the seventy setting out the gospel is the same as to hear Jesus himself, and that’s important. It’s an extension of the apostolic authority given to the twelve to the seventy; that is, it shows us that this is not just something that applies to the twelve, but is much broader. “The one who hears you, hears me”
Secondly; he shows that because Jesus speaks by those who speak his gospel, there are consequences for those who hear but reject them. Indeed, to reject them, is to reject Jesus; and, to reject Jesus is to reject the Father. “the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
And that should be a comfort to us; for we know from experience that in every place that the gospel is proclaimed, we are ridiculed, ignored, rejected or worse. Those who reject the gospel of Christ we proclaim go from strength to strength, advancing in power, in wealth, and every wickedness. But they do not really reject us, it is God they are rejecting; and he will bring them into judgement on the last day. Each and every one of them, with a punishment worse even than being consumed by fire from heaven. And this is a great comfort, because it means that you don’t need to call down fire from heaven, you don’t need to lose heart or doubt the power of God; but, instead, firmly trust in the gospel, continue declaring the kingdom of God to all. For just as Jesus teaches; “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” Whether they receive it or not.