top of page

Matthew 11:20-30

Lesson Focus

Jesus invites us to abandon what we think we know about following him in exchange for a spot beside him, learning how to participate with him in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.

Lesson Outcomes

Through this lesson, students should:

  1. Understand the importance of humility and openness in perceiving God's truth: Students will recognize the negative consequences of pride and arrogance, particularly in the context of religious beliefs. They will explore the concept of humility as a key characteristic in perceiving God's Kingdom and the need for openness to allow Jesus to shape their worldview.

  2. Recognize the consequences of rejecting God's grace and call to repentance: Students will analyze the examples of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum to understand the significance of recognizing and responding to Jesus' grace-filled call toward repentance. They will explore the implications of failing to acknowledge and follow the teachings and deeds of Jesus.

  3. Embrace the invitation to share in Jesus' yoke and learn from Him: Students will grasp the metaphorical meaning of sharing Jesus' yoke and the significance of working alongside Him. They will understand the benefits of accepting Jesus' guidance and teachings, allowing Him to shape their lives and provide rest amidst the burdens of life.

Catching up on the Story

Jesus has finished instructing his disciples on how they are to go about proclaiming the good news. They have been told to expect trouble and rejection, but they are not to worry as God will provide for their needs, even helping them know what to say.

The posture the disciples are to take is one of craftiness yet innocence. The disciples are to understand the times and culture so that they might proclaim the gospel in an appropriate manner. At the same time, however, they’re to engage in their mission with grace and peace. Antagonism has no place in the disciple’s proclamation.

At the beginning of chapter 11, the scene shifts. John the Baptist sends his followers to ask Jesus if he is the one Israel has been waiting for. Jesus doesn’t come right out and say that he is. Jesus does point to the work that he’s done. As far as Jesus is concerned, his work should speak for itself. As the chapter continues, it is clear that Jesus understands that those who should have recognized him by virtue of his deeds have not done so. Jesus has not been recognized as the Messiah, and as such, he’s in good company. Israel has a long history of rejecting those sent by God to call them back to faithfulness.

Woe to you…

Jesus isn’t done speaking forcefully to the crowds. More specifically, Jesus pronounces a woe, a pronouncement of judgment, on the places that have witnessed Jesus’ miraculous works of power. As we might expect, Jesus’ chastisement is for these cities’ refusal to repent. My guess is that we’ve all heard sermons or Sunday School lessons focusing on sinners’ need to repent and the consequences for not doing so. Perhaps this passage or similar ones have been used to motivate you to receive Jesus and become a Christian. Judgment and the threat of penalty have been a regular part of the Protestant Evangelical playbook.

I have often heard well-meaning folks declare that Jesus speaks of hell and judgment more than he does of anything else. This claim is patently false. Regardless of the truth of this and similar statements, attention must be paid to whom Jesus is addressing. Jesus does preach judgment but does not do so to pagans (Bruner, 521)! Specifically, for this passage, Jesus’ words of judgment fall on Jewish cities where Jesus has already proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God includes mighty deeds of power.

The cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida knew enough of scripture to understand who Jesus is and what his deeds of power pointed to. Jesus was not calling gentile sinners to repentance, but God’s chosen people. Their failure to see, hear, and truly understand what was before them, their failure to repent and follow after their long-awaited Messiah, will be the basis for their judgment. One of my favorite commentators puts it like this,