THREE WORLD'S MOST BLESSED CITIES
In Matthew 11:28.29 Jesus said, " Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and burned is light." These words contain the beautiful invitation of the Savior. However, their beauty can only be appreciated when one considers the people to whom they were first directed. By way of introduction I call your attention to the geography connected with these verses. About seventy miles north of the sea called the, "Dead Sea" was another sea called the, " Sea of Galilee." The northern most part of Palestine received it name from this body of water. Stretching fom the south to the north, this famous land was divided into three sections: Judea, Samaria and Galilee. On the shores of this lake were three prominent cities: Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum. The most famous of the three was Capernaum where Jesus chose to live toward the latter part of His career. A short distance from these cities was the little town of Nazareth where Jesus lived for the first thirty years of His life. I am going to make a statement about these cities that can be said of no other cities on the face of this earth. It is this. No places on earth have been more privileged than these Galilean towns. Here, Jesus had lived and worked; here his greatest miracles were worked; and every miracle was an object-lesson setting forth before the eyes of men the blessings of His church and kingdom which was established on earth a short time after He returned to heaven. The inhabitants of these cities had heard the gospel from the very lips of the Savior. No other people who have ever lived had such opportunities to find the way to heaven. They saw most of His mighty works. His life had been long before their eyes; they knew him well. He walked in their streets, and the watched Him as He healed the sick, or cleansed the lepers, or give sight to the blind. We shall begin our study by looking at the unpleasant things He said abut these three cities. He denounced the towns in which most of His miracles had been performed because they did not repent and become His followers. Bethsaida was the home of the three of the apostles, and Chorazin, too, had often been blessed by the Lord's presence. To these cities He said, "Woe to you! If the cities of Tyre and Sidon had seen the miracles you saw, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes, and I'll tell you this. It will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon when they stand before Me at the judgment than for you."
What makes these words so shocking is that Tyre and Sidon were heathen cities, and the Galileans had often condemned the idolatry and immorality of these great cities that lay near their northern border. To Capernaum he said, "And you Capernaum, even though you are exalted to heaven, you will be brought down to hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day." When He said this City was exalted to heaven, there was no reference to geography. Capernaum was no higher geographcally than the others; but in the way of privileges, advantages and special favors this was said. It was strategically and beautifully located, well populated and very prosperous. Above all, it had become the Lord's own city. Probably, more of His miracles were performed in this city than in any other. "Nevertheless," said Jesus, " in spite of your greatness you will become insignificant and cease to be a city."' Today, nothing remains but some Roman ruins of this city. It is now only a tourist attraction, and that, because Jesus once lived there. But the most important thing Jesus said about this city implies that people who lived in Sodom will have a better chance of passing the judgment than they will. In these words that we have studied, Jesus conveys a momentous truth to all people who are living in the 21st century. It applies equally to all nations, to all races, to all religions and to all churches.. The truth that He has revealed should be written on our hearts, and this is that truth. All people in the world today are accountable to God, not only for what the they know about the Christian religion but for what they could find out, if only they would. All people who lived in those three cities were responsible for learning who Jesus was, that God sent Him and that He was their Messiah and Savior. Some in these cities learned the truth, but the cities as a whole rejected Him.
After the Christian religion was established, thousands of Jews learned the truth and became Christians, but the nation as a whole rejected Him. This necessarily implies that whole nation could have learned the truth, if they had only put forth the effort. Jesus, His apostles and other teachers did not personally contact every person in Palestine, but all had heard of this Jesus. Paul wrote to the Colossians that the gospel had come unto them as it had unto the whole world. This does not mean that Paul and His helpers had personally contacted every person in the Roman world, but it does mean all in the Roman world had heard of these Christians, their religion and religious body, called the Church of Christ or the Church of God. It is the responsibility of the Church to preach the gospel to every creature, but it is also the responsibility of every creature to find the church, in one way or another. If the preacher doe not come to them; they are to come to the preacher, for they will be held responsible not only for what they know but for what they could have found out. What is true of those three cities is true of all cities. Suffice it to say, that it is enough for us to know that the judgment will be both just and merciful. One thing we know. Is that account will be taken of circumstances, opportunities and privileges. The heathen will not be judged as the Christians; Sodom will not be judged as Capernaum, nor the ignorant as they who have knowledge. If there is any lesson at all from this passage of scripture it is this: there will be more consideration shown in the day of judgment for those cities that never had opportunity to hear God's message than for those that have had these privileges and rejected them.
Before I leave this thought, I must make one more profound observation.. America is the most unfavorable country in the world from which to pass to the judgment, not being a dedicated Christian. Why do I say this? There is no country in the world where people have a greater opportunity to learn the truth and come to the Savior of the world. If there is any nation in the world that has no excuse for rejecting Christ and His church, it is America. Next to those three cities in our text and next to those cities in the first century that were privileged to enjoy the presence of the apostles and others who demonstrated miraculous wisdom and power, America is the most privileged religious nation in history, except Israel of old. Americans are born in a land that believes in the one true and living God and His Son Jesus Christ who is the Savior of the world. This nation owes its birth to the Christian religion. We come close to enjoying as great privileges as did those three cities we have studied. We live in a country in which Bibles are printed and distributed all over he world, , a country where the gospel of Christ is heard on every hand. If I were not a Christian I would rather live and die in Russia, China, darkest Africa or the South Sea Islands and risk mercy at the hand of God in the day of judgment than to have lived and died in the most Christian nation in the world and have never become a Christian. Jesus said, "Seek and you shall find." What possible excuse could Americans have for not finding Christ in a land of Bibles and gospel preachers. My friends it is a solemn thing to pass from this enlightened, if not entirely Christian land, and not be a Christian.
Let us now pass to a more pleasant theme. Jesus said to these same cities, "Notwithstanding your insult and the fact that you reject Me, I still say to you with a loving heart and tender voice, "Come unto me all of you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." This is the Savior's invitation to a disturbed and troubled world. No king, no prophet, no priest and no other person who has ever lived dared to offer such an invitation as this. There are some things right on the surface that are implied in this invitation. First, who is included in this invitation? It is not addressed to those who mentally deficient and not responsible for their conduct. It does not include innocent babies who cannot believe and know not right from wrong. It does not apply to the impenitent. Only penitent believers can come to Christ. All others are turned away. Only penitent believers who are willing to make the good confession and be immersed for the forgiveness of sins can come to Him. This is an invitation to all the Jews and to all who labor under burdens of any kind. It is a universal invitation. It may possibly refer to all who were suffering from any disease and were burdened by moral and mental stresses, but its primary significance is those who are weary, being heavily burdened with sin and spiritual defects. Rest is mentioned twice in this invitation. The word rest in v. 28 may be equal to forgiveness of sins, peace of mind, peace with God and a more abundant life. Rest in verse 29 may refer to the rest that faithful ones will have in heaven. Christians have not yet entered into their eternal rest. As the obedient Israelites were said to enter into God's rest when they entered the land Canaan, so Christians are promised that they will enter into the heavenly Canaan, God's eternal rest. The promise of the Savior's invitation is that we shall find rest for our souls. He will give us rest in this life, and eternal rest in the world to come.
Secondly the Lord's invitation carries with it the implication that those invited are away from God. Therefore, the Savior says, "Come." That raises an important question. How come humanity is away from Christ? Different answers are given to that question. A great many people would answer that the human family was born away from God and away from Christ. This is called the doctrine of " Total Hereditary Depravity." This doctrine says that humans are sinners by birth and sinners by choice, and the only way we can be removed from this sinful state is by a supernatural and, miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit, an experience better felt than explained. The doctrine of depravity suggests, as found in most church creeds, that "all men are conceived and born in sin." I want to say to you frankly and emphatically, that I do not believe one single syllable of any such doctrine, and I don't know of any sound gospel preacher who believe in such a doctrine. The Bible does not teach such a doctrin. But some one says, "Does not the Bible say in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Yes, I know that passage, but let's think a little on that passage. Does that prove that when a child is born upon the earth, it has a depraved heart and is a sinner from the moment of birth? I think not. The Bible says, "Sin is transgression of law." There is no other way anyone can sin. It is impossible for a baby to sin. That statement is only indicative of the character of the mother and does not reflect upon the child that is born. Solomon was conceived in iniquity and in sin did his mother conceive him.
Let me ask this question. Does this so-called total depravity come from the father or from the mother If you say it comes from the father, then you have the wrong scripture, for this verse does not say a word about the father. If you say, on the other hand, that depravity comes from the mother, then look what you have done! Jesus Christ, God only Son, was born of a woman, and if depravity is transmitted by the mother of whom we are born, then the divine Son of God had a streak of depravity in Him. The church of Rome has a way to get around Jesus being born in sin. It is the doctrine of "The Immaculate Conception." This doctrine does not refer to the birth of Jesus but the birth of Mary. It says when Mary was born, by a miracle from God she was not born with the original sin that all of us inherit from Adam and Eve. In this way Jesus was not born a sinner and was exempt from the stain of original sin. Try to find any of that in the Bible. There is a far better explanation for sin than total hereditary depravity which we inherit from our mother. . The true explanation for sin is that we sin just like Adam and Even sinned. They had no original sin and they sinned. They sinned because they were tempted, and we sin for the same reason. Evil is powerful in the environment and so deceitful that we all give in to temptation, just like Adam and Eve did.
We should all accept the Savior's invitation and come to Christ, for He came to put away sin. God accepted His suffering and dying on the cross as a suitable punishment for the sins we have committed. When we come to Christ as penitent baptized believers, He forgives all sins we have committed in our past lives, and He helps us keep sin out of future life to a sufficient extent to please God. With His help we can keep sin out of lives for the most part,. but not completely. Sin is an exception to the rule. He remembers that we are dust, and His blood will wash away any sins that we commit as a Christian. Under His guidance, we can live a life that is acceptable to God, and that is all that counts. Are there any present who will accept the Savior's invitation, who will come as a penitent believer, make the good confession that Jesus is God's Son from heaven and your Lord and Master and walk down into the water, and in the name of the Divine three be buried with Christ by baptism and walk out of the water and to live a new life till He bids you come home. If there are such, while together we stand and sing, His invitation is gladly extended.