God tells us straight out that his thoughts are much higher than ours. They aren’t a little different. They are way different. So we really shouldn’t be surprised when he surprises us by the surprising things he says. (Surprisingly, I think that actually made sense).
One example is in Matthew 11. Jesus says:
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you!”
To directly contradict what I just said a few sentences ago, if that doesn’t surprise you, it should. Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were fairly non-descript fishing villages in close proximity to each other at the north end of the Sea of Galilee. They were not centers of debauchery or decadence. To the contrary, it can be safely assumed that they were communities wherein “church” attendance was high (although their church was called a synagogue).
Mayberry is probably not a bad modern metaphor for them. They probably had their own version of Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife, even an Otis or two, but their jail probably didn’t get much more traffic than the one in Mayberry.
If they were Mayberry, the other three cities were Las Vegas — Sin City. It would have been difficult to name three cities more known as centers of flagrant sinfulness and idolatry than Tyre, Sidon and Sodom. Yet Jesus says that in the end, Vegas fares better than Mayberry.
Why? Well, it helps to know that these three Galilean cities were the primary locations of Jesus’ ministry. Between them, they witnessed the feeding of the five thousand, the healing of blind men, the casting out of demons and even the resurrection of the dead. Several of Jesus’ disciples, including Peter and Andrew, were from Bethsaida and Jesus made Capernaum his home after he left Nazareth.
There is no indication that the ordinary citizens of these towns were hostile to Jesus. In fact, the Bible makes clear that they constantly brought their sick and lame to Jesus’ door to be healed. But when it came down to choosing what to do about Jesus, they remained indifferent. They did not repent, that is, they did not radically change the direction of their lives in recognition of who Jesus was.
Jesus makes a devastating statement about this. He said if Sodom had seen what they had seen, it would have repented. These three Galilean cities’ guilt was worse not because their conduct was more vile or immoral (it wasn’t), but because of their indifference despite the enormously greater light which they had been privileged to receive. Ironically, this meant that the light that could have been the means of their eternal deliverance had instead only intensified their guilt — all because of their unbelief.
Their “semi-righteousness” had become the worst thing for them. Semi-righteousness won’t cut it. Semi-righteousness and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee on judgment day. It only serves to deaden our senses and make us unable to see our desperate need for the real thing.
Here is a sobering closing thought worthy of our reflection: In what culture has there been greater light and less repentance than our own?