Every once in a while a preacher comes along and rattles the coffins of the dead.
For instance, in 1740 a minister by the name of Gilbert Tenant preached one of America’s most famous sermons. It was entitled, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” In the 1740’s America was experiencing a spiritual revival. People were coming to Christ in record proportions. But there were some clergymen who did not back the revivals. They disdained all the whoopla and shenanigans. They actually spoke out against them.
Some of you might have heard something similar to that in more recent years. In 2006 a man by the name of Paul Washer preached what has come to be known as "The Shocking Youth Message.” In that message he decried the spiritual deadness and apathy that characterizes the church of our day. He even said that many of the youth that he was speaking to would not even be admitted to churches that existed in places like Chili and South America because they really had no faith at all.
I believe that the words that Christ speaks in this text are of that same tone and tenor. Much of the church in his day was dead. And preaching to them was akin to giving CPR to a corpse in rigor mortis.
In these words here Jesus decries how comatose they had become. What is said here was meant to rattled the coffins. And I hope it continues to do so today. For, as you read this passage, you cannot help but see the great sin and doom of those who reject Christ.
I. The great sin and doom of those who reject Christ
The first verse that we read started out by saying, “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation.”
Now isn’t that seeker sensitive! Imagine if our church started growing in this kind of pace. People started swarming here from all over. It came to the point where we had to build a new building, and even after that we still had to hold 3 different Sunday services. Then one Sunday I got up in the pulpit and said, “You all are an evil generation.” I’m sure that might not go over very well.
But that’s what Jesus does. He is very forthright about their sin and how great it was.
You might ask, “Well, what was their sin and why was it so bad?” If you look in the passage (v.29) you will see that it says that they were seeking a sign. You might remember from last week’s message that Jesus cast out this demon and immediately after people said, “Ok, if you are from God, show us a sign. Give us a little confirmation on that.”
I mean, what more confirmation could he give?! A man had just been freed from demonic possession! That should be sign enough!
And Jesus takes this opportunity to show them just how evil this was. He uses the illustrations of the Ninevites and the Queen of the South. He says essentially says, “the Ninevites heard Jonah preach and they repented.” Now you remember the story of Jonah and the Ninevites. Jonah didn’t want to preach to them. So he ran the opposite direction. God taught him a little lesson with a big fish and Jonah said, “Ok, I better go.”
But he was still a bit begrudging in it all. He walked up to the city and preached, “40 days and this city will be over thrown.” Now, I’ve always thought it was interesting that it makes mention that the city was 3 days journey in breadth. But it says that Jonah went a day’s journey. I’ve always wondered if that indicated that Jonah was less than enthusiastic in conducting his ministry. I’m not sure if that can be proven or not, but we do see that he goes up on a hillside and starts to pout. I think it is safe to say that Jonah was not someone who we’d hold up as an exemplary prophet.
Think about those Ninevites though: They had very little revelation. They had a sermon that was about 8 words long. Perhaps the shortest sermon ever. It was preached to only a small portion of the population, and not even to the king himself. And the messenger seems to be less than ideal when it comes to delivering the message.
But what happens? The Ninevites repent in droves. The whole city breaks out in a revival. This is an amazing story of how people made great use of the revelation that they were given.
The same sort of thing is being said in the illustration of the Queen. Here is a woman who lived in the distant lands—the farthest reaches of the world. She comes to hear about Solomon’s wealth of wisdom and she comes and checks it out. Now, how many of you would travel thousands of miles on foot or camel just because you heard a rumor about a really smart guy living in Israel?
The point is that both of these stories illustrate people who made use of very little amount of revelation.
But here you have someone who was greater than Jonah and greater than Solomon. Here you have one who is the very incarnation of God himself. He was standing right there in their midst and yet they would not accept it.
I’ve talked to you before about how greater revelation means greater responsibility. It wasn’t that long ago that we discussed this. As a matter of fact, it was just back in chapter 10; it was just a few weeks ago. Now we are hearing it again.
There are people who only have the testimony of creation. The creation declares the glory of God. They will be held responsible for how they handle the amount of revelation they have. The people in the Old Testament received the oracles, the prophecies, the law and sacramental rites. They had more revelation, and they will be held accountable for whether or not they accepted it or rejected it. It was a great blessing to have it, even thought it was still the shadow of things to come and not the full revelation of Christ.
But here you have Christ clearly manifested before the people. The pagans just had a candle. The Ninevites and this Queen had maybe one of those florescent bulbs that are being pushed today. It was a bit brighter, but not by much! The Jews in the Old Testament times had a lot more truth revealed to them. They had a pretty powerful Maglite Flashlight. But when Christ was standing there, it was as if the sun were blazing right in front of them.
That’s the evil. That’s why Christ calls them an evil generation. Though God himself stood right there and held out the offer of redemption and life, they would have none of it.
That’s why, of course, they will face the doom they do. Jesus says that these Ninevites and this Queen will rise up on the last day and condemn them for their foolishness and lack of repentance. The last thing these Jews will see on the Day when all are gathered before the Judgment seat of Christ is a grand jury of what had been a bunch of pagans frowning upon them.
This just makes me reiterate to you how important it is to hear God’s call to you to turn to Christ. It is true that we do not have the level of revelation that these guys did in this passage. Jesus isn’t standing right here. But the amount of revelation we have is tremendous still. We do have the clear testimony of Scripture about the Son of God. And every time you hear Christ preached it is as if thousands of high energy floodlights are blazing right in your face.
You certainly have received more revelation than that of the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba. It would be perilous if you did not respond appropriately. Your sin would be just as great, or at least rival the magnitude of it. Most certainly doom would be the same because you too would be condemned in the last day.
I want you to notice though that this passage does highlight something else. Even though it does make plain how great a sin it is to reject Christ and how terrible will be the judgment of them, it also tells us something of how great our hope is if we accept Christ and how great our salvation will be.
II. The great hope and salvation of those who accept Christ
You have to remember that though this passage is something of a spiritual tombstone for these Jews, that’s not what it has to be for us. Ultimately, this passage is here to direct us on what we must do so that we don’t have the same epitaph written over our heads!
We haven’t talked about this, but you have to remember that Luke was writing this book to his friend, Theophilus. He was seeking, not just to give him and account of the things that Christ said and did, but to point him to the gospel. In other words, Luke put this here to be a stimulus to his friend. Basically he was saying, “Theophilus, don’t be like these Jews! Embrace the gospel and turn to Christ!”
And even though this passage contains a dreadful account of the sin and future judgment of these Jews, we find here a glorious testimony to the great hope and salvation that there is in Christ.
Luke reminds us how these rank pagans were delivered from their fate. I mean the Ninevites were some of the most depraved people that ever walked the face of the planet.
We are doing an overview of the prophetic books of the Bible in our Sunday evening study. And we studied the Ninevites not too long ago. They were horrendously evil people. To say that they were cruel would be an understatement. They were ruthless people. They put fishhooks in the mouths of their captives. After defeating an enemy they would make pyramids out of their heads. They did all kinds of horrid things.
But Luke reminds us that at one point they repented. As a result, they did not experience the terrors of God’s wrath.
The Queen of Sheba too, she was a pagan. Yet She heard Solomon and rejoiced in his wisdom. As a result, she will stand in the last day, not as one who is condemned, but as a fellow condemner.
And Luke tells us that one greater than both Solomon and Jonah is here. If eternal life came through these faulty men, then how much more will salvation come through those who listen to Christ!
What’s more, this passage gives us a picture of the gospel and the way salvation comes to us. Jesus rebukes these guys for seeking a sign other than the clear ones that he has already given. But he goes on to say, “Ok, you want a sign? I’ll give you a sign. I’ll give you the sign of Jonah!”
What does he mean by that? Well, remember what happened to Jonah. Jonah is most famous for having spent 3 days in the belly of a giant fish. After he was hurled up he went to Nineveh to preach.
What Jesus was talking about was his resurrection. He was basically saying, “I know how virulent your hatred of me is. I know that it will only be a matter of time before you crucify me. But know this, I will rise again, just like Jonah did, and the gospel will be preached, just like it was preached to those Ninevites!”
So right here—in the same passage that talks about the doom that men will face—we have a testimony to the life giving power of Christ. Christ rose from the dead as the victor of life. And because of this there will be a resurrection!
Just like the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba, there is hope that we too can once again stand on the face of the earth!
This passage then, provides us with more than just a detailed account of one’s sin and condemnation. It is not just a tombstone hanging over the calloused hearts of rotted souls. This passage reminds us of the glorious promise of the gospel! It reminds us that this life is not all that there is. When we trust Christ we can have the assurance that the grave will not swallow us up forever. Rather, a time will come when we, like Christ, will be brought up from the grave.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.