Faith Avoidance

Why don't people believe the Christian message? If you're a Christian trying to share your faith, that question is bound to puzzle you sooner or later. When we tell people the gospel, why don't they believe? When people come on Sundays regularly, when they come to mission events, when they grow up with Christian parents, why do so many still not believe? Maybe we blame ourselves. 'It's because I'm not a good enough witness,' we say. 'If only I could talk about the Lord better; if only I lived better as a Christian. Then people would believe, surely.' Or maybe we blame the gospel itself. In our more despondent moments we say, 'Maybe what I believe is wrong, and all these people around me can see that, but - mug that I am - I can't.' But the Bible says otherwise. The Bible says the true reason why people don't believe lies not in Christian witness being at fault, nor in the gospel being at fault. The true reason for unbelief lies within the unbelievers themselves. And that's what this morning's part of Matthew 11 is about. Verses 1-15 is about why a believer (John the Baptist) may have doubts. Verses 16-24 is about why unbelievers unbelieve (if I can put it like that). For believers these verses help us understand why so many who've heard the gospel still don't believe. And if we're not yet believers, they help us understand ourselves, if we're prepared to accept their diagnosis. So, three headings: three reasons why unbelievers unbelieve. Reason 1: PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO ADMIT TO GOD THAT THEY'RE IN THE WRONG Verse 16. The Lord Jesus is talking about the people who've heard John the Baptist's preaching and his own preaching, and have still not believed:

(Mat 11:16-17) To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: {17} 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'

I don't know what you played in childhood - doctors and nurses, maybe, or cowboys and Indians. In Jesus' time it was weddings and funerals. The Lord Jesus would have seen children playing make-believe games. Pretending to be involved in the music and dance of a wedding. Or pretending to be involved in the mourning of a funeral. And he says: imagine a group of children who want to play weddings. So one of them strikes up 'Here comes the bride' on the flute. But the others are all too cool to join in; they're hanging out in the market place. And the original group of children say to the others, 'You're not doing what we want.' So they try a funeral game instead. One of them strikes up a sad song. But again, no-one joins in. So this original group of children say to the others, 'You're still not doing what we want.' And Jesus says:

To what can I compare this generation [this generation of unbelieving people]? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others:

'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance [ you didn't do what we want]; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn [you didn't do what we want].' (vv16-17)

In other words, Jesus is saying, 'You people who've heard John the Baptist and me, but not believed - you're like children saying, 'This isn't what we want. You're not saying what we want you to say.' Verse 18:

For John [the Baptist] came neither eating nor drinking and they say, 'He has a demon'. The Son of Man [ie, Jesus] came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' (vv18-19a)

Let's think a bit more about verse 18. Jesus is speaking about John the Baptist (you can read about him in Matthew .1-12). And Jesus says:

For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, 'He has a demon' (v18)

The way John lived was a visual aid of his message. And his message was this. God is our rightful king and Judge. And we, as people who've ignored him and lived our own way, have got judgement coming to us. We're in trouble. And fasting was a way of expressing the fact that you recognised that. Fasting was a way of humbling yourself and saying to God, 'I accept your judgement. I have done wrong. I need to be put right with you before it's too late.' That was the part of the gospel that John emphasised. And people said (v18): 'He has a demon'. In other words: 'He's a nutter. He seriously thinks there's going to be an end of the world and a judgement. Can you believe that?! And he's so negative about human nature, there must be something wrong with him. I mean that's not healthy is it? He must be obsessive or depressive or something.' What does that reaction to John and his message show? It shows that people don't want to admit to God that they're in the wrong. We'd rather criticise the truth or rubbish the truth or laugh the truth off than face up to the truth. That's the first reason why unbelievers unbelieve. None of us by nature wants to admit we're wrong. We're too proud. We find it hard enough to admit we're wrong to one another, still less to God. But that's what the gospel calls on us to do. To say to God, 'Your judgement of me is absolutely right and absolutely fair. I should have lived for you as my Lord and God and I haven't.' Until we can admit that, we'll never come to faith in Christ. That's reason 1 (why unbelievers unbelieve): People don't want to admit to God that they're in the wrong. Reason 2: PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO ASK GOD FOR FORGIVENESS Let's think a bit more about verse 19:

The Son of Man [ie, Jesus] came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'

The way the Lord Jesus lived was also a visual aid of his message. His message was the same as John the Baptist's (see Matthew 3.1-2, 4.12-17), but he filled out the second half of it - how we can be put right with God. And Jesus came from God with the message that he's more than willing to forgive us our sins and have us back. And that's why Jesus went mixing - eating and drinking - with even the most obvious 'sinners' like the tax collectors of the day. (See Matthew 9.1-17). If I have you round for a meal, what am I saying? I think I'm saying, 'I want to know you. I want to accept you. I would like there to be friendship between us'. And that's what Jesus was saying by the way he lived. That was his message: 'As God's Son, I've been sent to bring forgiveness to you sinners. I want to know you. I want to accept you. I would like there to be friendship between us.' That was the part of the gospel Jesus emphasised. Because he himself actually paid for our forgiveness when he died on the cross, taking our punishment in our place. That's why he came into the world. He made forgiveness available by his death to anyone who'll ask for it. He has the right, having died for sins, to forgive anyone he chooses - however bad (and however good) they may be. And (v19) they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' In other words, 'We don't like the message of judgement. We don't like the message of forgiveness, either. God shouldn't forgive people just like that. It's immoral.' What does that reaction to Jesus and his message show? It shows that people don't want to ask God for forgiveness. We'd rather get up on our high horse and tell God what he can and cannot do than get down on our knees and ask him for mercy. We'd rather criticise God's forgiveness for being immoral (' how can one person's death possibly pay for the sins of the whole world?') than face up to our own need of it. That's the second reason why unbelievers unbelieve. None of us by nature wants to ask for forgiveness. We're too proud. But that's what the gospel calls on us to do. Having admitted our sin, we have to ask God for forgiveness. We'd much rather we could make up for our sin by good behaviour. That would be less humbling - to pay our own way back into God's good books. But the gospel is totally humbling. It says we're in the wrong with God and that nothing we do can get us back in the right. Which leaves us in the powerless position where all we can do is: ask for forgiveness. And trust that Jesus paid for us on the cross. And some people would rather go with pride intact to hell than to humble themselves, and be forgiven, and live with God - now and in heaven. Before he'd come to faith, a friend of mine called Mark was taken by a Christian friend to a talk at church. And Mark went up to the speaker at the end to argue with him and tell him why he couldn't possibly become a Christian, because it was such nonsense. They talked, and after a while, the speaker said to him, 'Mark, I'll tell you why you can't become a Christian. You're too proud.' And Mark went away very angry. Because he knew it was true. Too proud to admit we're in the wrong with God. Too proud to ask God for forgiveness. Those are the first two reasons why unbelievers unbelieve. Reason 3: PEOPLE DON'T WANT GOD TO BE LORD OF THEIR LIVES (v 20-24) On to verse 20:

Then, Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 'Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 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 judgement than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths [ie hell]. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you.' (vv20-24)

Those verses blow two wrong ideas out of the water. One is the idea that Jesus' message was all forgiveness and no judgement. Not true. No-one speaks more in the Bible about hell than Jesus - but he does so because he's out to stop us going there. But the other wrong idea is that all people need is enough evidence of God, and they'll believe. Again, not true. I often wish I was a better witness for Christ. I wish I was better and bolder in conversation. And I wish I lived a better life so people couldn't pick up on hypocrisy. I'm not very good evidence for God. And I often think, 'If only this person I'm talking to, or my family members, could have been there, to hear and see Jesus - the perfect evidence for God. God become man. Every word he spoke, God's word. Every action, sinless. And numerous miracles. Surely then they'd believe.' Verse 20:

Then, Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 'Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 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 judgement than for you.' (vv20-22)

'All people need is enough evidence for God and they'll believe.' Not true. Jesus the Son of God on earth was the perfect evidence for God. People heard him (vv16-19). People saw him (vv20-24). And still they didn't believe. So it was not a question of 'can't believe' through lack of evidence. The miracles Jesus did and the claims he made could not have been clearer. That's why he says what he does in verses 21-23. These 1st century people had masses of evidence - as do we, who have the New Testament record of it in our hands. We, like they were, are privileged with the evidence of Jesus. So that if we do not believe, on the day of judgement we will be among the most guilty and culpable people of all. Even more guilty and culpable than the people of Tyre and Sidon (notorious in Old Testament times for its paganism and idolatry). Even more guilty and culpable than the people of Sodom (notorious in Old Testament times for its sexual immorality). I'm often asked, 'What about people who've never heard about Jesus?.' My answer from this passage is: 'I'm most worried about the people who have - but have done nothing about it.' Then or now, it's not a question of 'can't believe', but a question of 'won't believe'. The truth is that, by nature, we don't want to know God. Because knowing God means having a living relationship with God and that means change. We don't mind knowing that William the Conqueror landed in 1066. That kind of knowledge is 'safe'. It has no bearing on life today. It makes no claims on me. I don't have to live differently or do anything about it. Whereas knowing God means having a relationship with God where God is King and we are his servants; where God is Creator and we are creatures; where God tells us how to live and we obey. It involves turning away from living as I please to living to please him. Which is what the Bible calls repentance. And by nature, none of us wants that sort of shake-up. Which is why (v20), 'they did not repent'. It's not that they or we lack evidence. We lack the will to let the evidence lead us to God. Because God spells repentance. I think that came home most forcefully to me at an event I spoke at, a while back. I'd talked about Jesus' claims, his miracles, and above all his resurrection from the dead. And I asked one student afterwards, 'So what do you make of all that?' He said, 'Well, I'm a scientist and I think the evidence for what you believe is stronger than the evidence for any of the things I believe in science. But I've heard this before. And I'm not going to do anything about it. Because I want to keep on getting drunk and sleeping with my girlfriend.' Almost his exact words. In other words, 'I see the evidence. But I don't want to go where the evidence leads. I don't want to repent.' And to people doing something similar, the Lord Jesus said:

I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you.' (vv20-24)

Conclusion We've seen three reasons for unbelief when the gospel is heard:

People don't want to admit to God that they're in the wrong. People don't want to ask God for forgiveness. People don't want God to be the Lord of their lives.

So how does this apply to us? Nothing we've seen this morning is an excuse for being a poor witness to Christ. But if we're Christians, we need to understand these reasons for unbelief. It's not that the gospel is wrong, or unbelievable, or lacking evidence. It's that by nature, people don't want to believe because of all that involves - admitting, asking, repenting. So let's not give up on our witness. Let's not give up on the gospel or change it. And let's realise that the only person who can change people is God. In order for someone to believe, God has to reveal himself personally to them by his Spirit. And that's what we're going to look at next week. Let's end with verse 25 as an appetiser:

At that time, Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your God pleasure.

If you don't yet believe, keep hearing the message of the Bible, and pray that God will reveal himself to you. If you believe but doubt, keep hearing the Bible, and pray that God would reveal himself to you more. If you believe with assurance, pray that God would reveal himself to you yet more. And whatever he reveals, respond. Live in the light of it. Do it. Because God reveals himself not to transfer information, but to bring about repentance.

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