Sermon session

Laugh or Cry?

Session #082 Laugh or Cry?

Scripture Matthew 11:16-24

Summary When it comes to understanding the aspects of the kingdom of God, there is so much to learn and grasp. Although Jesus and John appeared to be different in the way they ministered, they were both right and relevant. It wasn’t either/so but both/and. From Matthew 11:16-24, Henson shows how we can better embrace these tensions as we navigate the marketplace of ministries these days and also remain faithful to our own kingdom assignments.


“But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”  Matthew 11:16–19

The passage addresses this seeming conundrum when it comes to the aspects and things of the kingdom of God. How are we supposed to respond?

Laugh or Cry: Different but the Same

John makes a serious call to repentance. He has a radical dressing and diet, living in the wilderness. Having a holiness code, he lives separated from the main community. He has a strict and ascetic lifestyle.

Jesus on the other hand gives a joyous invitation to the celebration (Matthew 11:19). He is approachable and friendly, interacting with everyone and anyone. There are many ministry locations, supermarkets, playgrounds, beachside parties, cafes, restaurants, and pubs. There is lots of fun, joy, and laughter, like at a wedding.

Jesus and John may minister very differently but they both still represent the kingdom of God. Their messages may sound different but they are still consistent and do not contradict each other. Each did what was appropriate to his mission, each was faithful to fulfill his God-given kingdom assignment. Each had different ministries with assignments focusing on different aspects.

John and Jesus embrace the many aspects of the kingdom of God in love, righteousness, grace, freedom, repentance, holiness, obedience, judgment, wrath. Both acknowledge the tensions of the Christian life, grace vs law, freedom vs obedience, the free will of man vs sovereignty of God, salvation vs judgment; blessings vs warnings.

We must receive “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and respond rightly in any given situation or season. In having an understanding of the “whole counsel of God”, we will not be trapped in one aspect of the kingdom.

It is okay to focus and specialize (if that is your assignment) such as in healing, restoration, or end-times ministry but do not exclude the other aspects. Do not think that you alone have the answer to everything, that your area of expertise or focus is the key to solving all problems. You only have one part of the whole picture. You will be a better and a more balanced minister if you learn about other ministries and expressions. Partner and collaborate for greater reach and effectiveness.

However, the issue is often not just with the minister or ministry. It is natural for someone to be very convinced and convicted about his or her assignment, and will proclaim that zealously. The issue is with the people who prefer to be told whether to laugh or cry, instead of understanding why they are laughing or crying. Even worse, they have their expectations and presumptions of whether to laugh to cry.

Jesus and John faced the same challenge in their day.

Who Calls the Shots? (Matthew 11:16–17)

Matthew 11:15 says “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Many will not listen with the right ears. Instead of hearing correctly, most only hear what they want to hear. What is more, they want others to agree with them; and only them.

Jesus used a parable to illustrate this generation: “like children in the marketplace”. Inviting their friends or anyone to play with them. Then they got upset when their friends refused to join them, acting like spoiled children when they did not get their way.

That was how that generation responded to Jesus and John.

Some wanted a wedding ‘game’, but got a funeral from John. Others wanted a funeral ‘game’, but got a wedding from Jesus. They called Jesus a glutton and a winebibber which is punishable by stoning (Deuteronomy 21:20-21).

They chose what they wanted and when they wanted. The faithful messenger for God does not take their cues from the crowd but the Lord.

Question: Are we like children in the marketplace of ministries these days?
The marketplace is a choice area to be calling for attention. Many ministries too compete and call for attention to themselves.

Children who are spoilt want their way and their way only.

 2 Timothy 4:2-4 cautions us to be ready in season and out of season as the time will come when they do not want sound doctrine, and will turn their ears away from the truth to fables.

Do we want ministers to dance to our beat? Do we expect ministers to sing our song? Who calls the shots? Does Jesus have to align with us? Or are we supposed to align to and with Him?

We do not dance to the world’s music; rather, we follow God’s lead. We do not mourn for the same things the world mourns for; rather, we care for the things God cares for.

The Need for Wisdom (Matthew 11:19b)

After all the talk, are there works to verify the words? There is no point spewing Bible verses and engaging in deep theological thought and talk with nothing to show for it. What justifies is work, fruit, and children.  Jesus’ Messiahship is justified by His works (Matthew 11:2). Jesus walked the talk.

The need for wisdom to know when to laugh or to cry. Choose wisely and walk as wisely (Ephesians 5:16-18). We need the full counsel of God as wisdom in our lives. Do not swing to extremes, or be blown about by every wind of doctrine, or the latest Christian fad (Ephesians 4:14). Whether laugh or cry, there must be evidenced by works or fruit. We are justified by faith and works (James 2:24).

Woah! (Matthew 11:20–24)

Jesus makes His point clear and demonstrates His alignment with John. Both of them preached the same message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew 4:17.

A celebration is a kingdom theme, but so is judgment. The Bible is full of both warning passages and blessing passages.

Cities in which Mighty Works were Demonstrated

Jesus denounces Chorazin and Bethsaida, cities in which most of His miracles had been performed because they did not repent (Matthew 11:20). Although many saw the mighty works of Jesus, there was no repentance.

Repentance is about turning and returning; and fully submitting to the rule and reign of the King, resulting in obedience and works.

Jesus warns of different levels of punishment. He says it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for Korazin and Bethsaida. He says it will be more bearable for the people of Sodom on the day of judgment than for the people of Capernaum. Those with greater opportunities to hear and see the works of Jesus will be judged more than those with lesser opportunities.

Jesus is looking for true repentance through our actions. We are to produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Observations and Implications

Corporate judgment is for corporate sin. For that particular generation in the nation to turn and return to God. If not, God will judge the entire nation. This shows that the good news is not just for individual salvation but extended to nations.

The more God reveals, or the more opportunities are presented, the more accountable the nation or person is. Capernaum was Jesus’ headquarters and base of operations but yet they did not repent. Israel is God’s Chosen. Through the thousands of years, God has dealt firmly though lovingly with Israel.

But what about Singapore which has been called the Antioch of Asia?

God’s people have an even greater responsibility to respond. Jesus said that the Gentile cities would have responded if works had been done in them. However, these Jewish cities took the miracles for granted and did not respond correctly. Much has been given to Christians. What are we doing with it, the revelation, blessings, and grace?

Are we presumptuous with grace and expect blessings from God, regardless of our response and obedience? Are we bearing fruits worthy of repentance?

Careful. In the end, we do not know whether to laugh or cry?


There are different ministries and different messages but we all represent the same kingdom. The kingdom of God is much larger than what we understand. We have different assignments but we must be in alignment with Jesus and then with one another.

We can be subjective with one another but we have to objectively ground in the Word of the King. We need an understanding of the Kingdom foundation. Wisdom and discernment are needed.

Be faithful in fulfilling your kingdom assignment. No one has the full picture and we have to partner with one another, not being too focused on one ministry over another. There is no competition but remain faithful. Be bold and uncompromising in the message for the King, especially in the face of criticism and opposition.