Have you ever met someone who is fiercely loyal to their hometown, home state or country of origin? In many instances they wear the colors of their sports team(s), speak longingly of home, and will argue the superiority of their place of origin with anyone who contradicts them. It’s often comical to witness, and even more so when their intensity gives rise to a suppressed accent you didn’t notice before. Why is this so? What makes people think and respond this way? Simply put: Identity.
We all identify with places, experiences, personality traits and other elements that comprise who we are. For some people, such as the Jews of Jesus’ day, nationality/ethnicity is the end all, be all. The Jews were God’s chosen people, given the Law and Prophets, and were not unclean sinners like the Gentiles – or, in other words, everyone else who was not Jewish. Just like some people take pride in the fact a certain celebrity or famous person hailed from their hometown, it’s not far fetched to think there were some in Jesus’ time who were proud to be from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, or Capernaum, where Jesus lived later in life and where he performed many of his miracles and gave the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 12:20-24 record Jesus’ words that must have been shocking and infuriating to those listening. In this passage he had just confronted the people about the identity of John the Baptist and himself and the validity of their messages, so they were probably already getting a bit riled up. Then Jesus fully crossed the line and began to pronounce woe upon multiple cities of Judea – Chorazin and Bethsaida – stating that wicked Tyre and Sidon would not be judged as harshly. Why? Because Jesus performed miracles in the Jewish towns, and yet the people did not repent. Jesus did not stop there. He went on to condemn Capernaum, his own hometown, declaring their unbelief in all his “mighty works” done there made them more worthy of punishment than Sodom – the vilest, most immoral, wicked place any Jew could conceive of. To be called worse than Sodom could only be topped by one thing – to be called a son of Satan (a title which Jesus did in fact apply to some of the Jews at another time in John 8:44).
Some have said knowledge is power. In reality, knowledge is judgment. The more we know, the more accountable we are, especially as it relates to sin and the Gospel. Jesus implied that his mighty works were intended to increase the Jews’ knowledge about him – the Messiah – and lead to their repentance and faith in Him. In the same way, the knowledge of God and the Gospel conveyed though His word, the Bible, through the proclamation of the Gospel by preachers, missionaries, family members, etc., and even through seeing the glory and wisdom of God in creation (Romans 1:20), will result in either our repentance and faith, or our eventual and just condemnation.
“So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20) should be one of the most compelling and terrifying phrases in all of the Bible. It’s the conclusion of a verse that basically says the created world was designed to point people to the reality of God’s eternal power and divine nature – and that was written before telescopes, microscopes, DNA mapping and satellite images of the Earth, our Solar system and beyond. If the people of the ancient world are going to be held accountable to God for their knowledge of Him in creation and for the message of the Gospel proclaimed during and after Christ’s life on Earth, how much more are we going to be held accountable given two millennia of collective knowledge since then of science, archeology, the proclamation of the Gospel, the testimony of God’s people, and the repeated validation of God’s Word?
In conclusion, read and contemplate the words of Paul the Apostle from Romans 1:18 through 2:5 (ESV) and consider for yourself if his words are not an accurate description of what we see in the world today, and ask yourself the most important question: will your knowledge of God lead to judgment or salvation?
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
1Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.