An Obstinate Generation
“To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates” (v. 16). - Matthew 11:16–19
Jesus finishes His teaching on Elijah and John the Baptist with the enigmatic statement, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15). This saying presupposes the biblical view of human depravity, revealing that human beings need more than ears to hear — to receive, understand, and act upon — divine revelation. It is not as if those who oppose Christ’s message cannot hear spoken syllables and sounds with their ears. Instead, the hurdle that prevents sinful humanity from receiving and embracing the Lord’s message is a moral one. Apart from God’s sovereign grace, His enemies do not want to believe His promises or follow His agenda (Ex. 7:13; Matt. 23:37–39;Rom. 1:18–32).
Christ makes this point forcefully in today’s passage, assessing the hearts of His contemporaries using a back-and-forth exchange between two different groups of children. Some kids complain that the other group does not dance to the tune of a flute; the other group complains that their dirge does not make the first crowd of children lament (Matt. 11:16–17). The kids represent those set against the Father. On the one hand, they did not join in when John came in the wilderness living an austere life and exhorting Israel to repentance (3:4–6). Yet this same group does not rejoice when Jesus preaches about the inauguration of God’s kingdom (4:17; 9:32–34). In other words, there is nothing that the Lord’s messengers can do to make those who hate Him happy. Whether the message is joyful or sad, the Father’s opponents will find an excuse to deny it (11:18–19). Their hearts are hardened, and their failure to embrace the Almighty’s word to their generation is the fault of neither Jesus nor John.
As one commentator has noted, many of those living during the ministry of Jesus are like children who pout and whine when others will not play their game. They are hypocrites who will always find a reason to complain when God’s Word offends their ears. Without seeing the inconsistencies of their view, they reject both lamentation and celebration. But in attributing sin to John and Jesus and not themselves, they show themselves to be fools. For the miraculous works of Jesus show that the unbeliever’s estimation is patently false (11:19b).
Matthew Henry asks, “If people will neither be awakened by the greatest things, nor allured by the sweetest things, nor startled by the most terrible things, nor be made aware by the plainest of things; if they will listen to the voice neither of Scripture, nor reason, nor experience, nor providence, nor conscience, nor interest, what more can be done?” There are none so blind as those who will not see. Are you like those who refuse to heed our Lord’s call?
Passages for Further Study
- Numbers 11
- 2 Chronicles 30:1–9
- Luke 7:18–35
- 2 Corinthians 4:1–6
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