Matthew11: 16 - 30: UNBELIEF

Introduction. Read Matthew11v16to30

The passage deals with four aspects of unbelief. I will deal with each briefly and, perhaps, rather superficially. Unbelief is not a cheerful subject but it is an important one because the consequences of it are serious and far-reaching.

(1) The Contrariness of Unbelief.

Jesus likened the religious elite of his day to a gang of contrary children at play. One group of youngsters were in such a contrary mood that they wouldn't play at weddings or funerals. They would neither dance, as they did at weddings, or wail as they did at funerals. Nothing suited the awkward squad.

The Jewish leaders scorned John the Baptist because his meals consisted of locusts and wild honey. He was dismissed as not quite right in the head. Jesus on the other hand enjoyed a good meal and a glass of wine. He enjoyed the hospitality of the wealthy women who followed him. The perverse Pharisees condemned Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard.

We need to ask why people are contrary. There are at least two reasons:

Pride. Some children won't co-operate and play with others if they are not in charge. They want to decide what to play.

The Jewish leaders were like this. They would not allow anyone else to take the lead and challenge their authority. They would bitterly oppose anyone who became popular with the crowd. So both John the Baptist and Jesus were condemned.

Cross-grained. Some children just enjoy being disruptive. They enjoy upsetting others and causing misery. I taught children who thought it was more fun causing mayhem in class than co-operating with the teacher. That is just how they were.

I think the Jewish leaders were like this. They objected to Jesus on principle. They wanted to mystify, befuddle and bemuse. The Pharisees asked trick questions in an effort to show Jesus up. The experts in the Law enjoyed putting John the Baptist and Jesus down. They were unhappy individuals and they couldn't abide to see others happy.

Today, there are some proud, cross-grained people in the church. They don't believe in anything very much and mock those who do. Some are inclined to oppose any new initiative because it has been tried before and not worked. They habitually find fault with every preacher - too bland, too profound, too simple or too confusing!


Jesus warns against making judgments on superficial grounds - like what a person eats, drinks or wears. Jesus said, "But wisdom is proved right by her actions." v19. He probably meant by this: A wise man is proved right when his teaching is put into practice. So, instead of standing aloof, like the Pharisees, criticising what is said and done, get involved. Any new policy, directive, action plan should be tried rather than dismissed out of hand. The best way to test the worth of Jesus' teaching is to put it into practice. In this way you find out whether he was wise or not.

(2) The Complacency of Unbelief.

Jesus said that notoriously wicked cities of a bygone era would have repented of their way of life if the miracles done in Capernaum, Korazin and Bethsaida had been done in them.

So, why, after Jesus had established his authority by the miracles he performed, did the Galilean towns and villages not repent? It is because they were complacent. They thought:

(a) There's nothing wrong with us. What have we to repent of? There is no need for us to change our way of life. The Jews took a pride in being descendants of Abraham. They were God's chosen people.

Many people attend church who share this attitude. They are decent, respectable, law abiding folk who give to charity and support their local church. People of this ilk do not want to hear about sin and the need to repent and trust in the sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross.

(b) The problems in society were caused by others - not by them. Things would be so much better if only they could get rid of the Romans. The people who needed to repent were those who collaborated with the Romans - the tax collectors and Sadducees.

Christians can blame the ills of the church on the world: the politicians, the media, supermarkets and sports organisations. They all need to change. Church decline is nothing to do with us.

(c) Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom of God was pie in the sky. It was unrealistic. Jesus was crazy telling his disciples that their righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees.

I have known regular church goers who are cynical about the standard Jesus set in the Sermon on the Mount.

Conclusion. The people of Galilee were unresponsive to Jesus. A combination of complacency and cynicism left them in a state of unbelief and under greater judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah. How do we measure up?

(3) The conceit of unbelief. v25and27.

Many of the most learned Jews - the Theologians and Lawyers - did not accept Christ's teaching. Those Jesus calls, 'little children', were more receptive to his teaching than the benificiaries of higher education.

The Jewish scholars dismissed Jesus because he:

(a) Was uneducated. What could a carpenter know about Theology?

(b) Wasn't one of them. He was an outsider in every respect: A Galilean, a manualworker, of doubtful parentage. Jesus did not belong to any particular party. No important group backed him.

(c) Was so unorthodox. Jesus may have said that he hadn't come to destroy the law but to fulfil it. The truth is that Jesus did make a lot of the Law redundant. For example, he said that it didn't matter what you ate or if you washed your hands before a meal. This seriously upset the Pharisees.

Many proponents of new ideas in the scientific and medical communities have seen their ideas rejected for much the same reasons as described above. Take, for example, Ignaz Semmelweiss who discovered that incidence of puerperal fever (Childbed fever) could be drastically reduced by the use of hand disinfection in obstetrical clinics. Puerperal fever was very common amongst women who had just given birth. Mortality rates were between 10% and 35% . Semmelweiss proposed the practice of washing hands in chlorinated lime solution in 1845 which cut mortality rates to 1%. His findings conflicted with scientific and medical opinions of the time and were rejected. Doctors were furious at the suggestion that they were causing the death of their patients. Semmelweiss' rejection by the medical establishment sent him mad.

Many Christians in the Association of Churches to which I belong dismiss me as a Bible teacher because I have had no Theological training, I am not a Calvinist and my views on Creation, the Flood and life after death are unorthodox. I haven't gone made yet!

(4) The consequences of unbelief. v28to30.

Those who choose to wear the world's yoke are often weary, burdened and uncomfortable.

They get weary working long hours to get on. Little time is spent with the wife and children. God is neglected.

They are burdened - bowed down with the weight of responsibility. If you are a doctor, dentist, nurse, school teacher, policeman - more and more seems to expected of you.

They are uncomfortable. The world's yoke fits poorly - it chaffs - leaving the poor oxen with sore and festering shoulders. Many in the world are unhappy and disillusioned by the rat race.

Jesus says, "Learn from me. I am gentle and humble in heart."

This statement is often overlooked by preachers expounding this short and well known passage. It is not easy to be meek and humble as Jesus was. Poor Semmelweiss was driven mad because he lacked humility.

A person who is meek and humble will not:

  • See success as necessary for self- worth.

  • Need to be better than others.

  • Strive for recognition.

  • Be upset by failure.

    A person who IS meek and humble will:

  • Operate on the principle: If a jobs worth doing, it's worth doing well.

  • Enjoy the success of others.

  • Accept being taken for granted.

  • Accept failure as gracefully as success.

    When I was young I loved being my cricket club's number one batsman. I hated getting a low score. I got in a terrible mood if I was dismissed cheaply. I was by no means poor in spirit!

    When I got old I was just glad to play - pleased to be a member of the team - happy to contribute to the enjoyment of others. I was able to accept defeat with grace. I participated in the right spirit and, notwithstanding my decline as a batsman, was the happier for it. I had become meek and lowly of heart - at long last - in my sixties.

    If we serve Jesus in this spirit we will find his yoke easy and his burden light. We shall count it a privilege to serve. We won't long for recognition, to be reckoned a star preacher with invitations to speak at an assortment of special services.

    We will just do what God wants us to do, where he wants us to be, leaving all assessment of our worth to him. The apostle Paul told the Corintians: I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. ..... It is the Lord who judges me. 1Cor4v3and4.

    Sometimes the fruit of our labours might appear long after we are dead and gone. Christian missionaries in China might have wondered at God's providence. Their work was cut short - and there was so much left for them to do. But the seed had been sown and, notwithstanding the policy of Mao t'se Tung to suppress Christianity, it bore fruit.

    The mark of a truly good man is that his influence outlives him. Mr Arthur Holifield was the first head teacher at Debenham High School. He created an ethos that survived long after he retired. It was still evident when I taught in the school. The pupils were friendly and co-operative. An excellent spirit existed - a lovely relationship prevailed between the staff and the children.

    The greatest example of this is, of course, Jesus himself. He sees of the travail of his soul and is satisfied. The fruit of his labours is an abiding tribute to his meek and lowly heart.