Generation Evaluation

Bible Book: Matthew  11 : 16-17
Subject: Truth; Childishness
Series: That's A Good Question

If you have ever wondered to which generation you belong, I’ve found some data that may help you. Those born between 1901 and 1924 are a part of what is commonly called “the Builders” generation. Also known as “the Greatest Generation”, these folks won the World Wars, and largely built the America that their children and grandchildren have enjoyed.

If you were born between 1925 and 1942, you are a part of what is known as “the Silent Generation.” You inherited the work ethic of your parents, and used it to quietly and resiliently survive the great depression.

Those of you born some time between 1943 and 1960 are a part of one of the largest generations ever. You are what is known as a “Baby Boomer.” The majority of Boomers were protesting in the sixties, marrying in the seventies, and building businesses in the eighties.

Their children, born between 1961 and 1981, are a part of “Generation X”. This is my generation. Most of us can’t remember a time without television, and we can’t function without a cell phone.

While sociologist and historians divide us up into categories and divisions, in many ways, we are all a part of one generation. We live in a common time, and we share a common society. We are all a part of the present generation.

In Matthew 11:16, the Lord Jesus offered an evaluation of the generation in which He lived. He used an analogy to sum up their overall attitude and life. His evaluation was not exactly a positive one. He compared His generation to a group of children playing games in a marketplace. While Jesus was speaking specifically to the Jewish people that surrounded Him some 2,000 years ago, as we study His assessment of them, there are some truths that definitely apply to our generation.

Jesus asks the question in verse 16, “But whereunto shall I liken this generation?” It’s a good question. As we study this text, we find there are three truths that Christ pointed out about His generation. Look at them with me, and see how they may apply to us as well. Notice first of all, Christ said of that generation:


In verse 16, Jesus says that the generation in which he lived could be compared to, “…children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their friends.”

In Luke’s record of this statement, he says that the Lord calls them, “little children.” The implication is that the people in that day acted immaturely, frivolously, childishly. There was a silliness about the way in which these people lived. By examining the Lord’s words, we find some clues as to why the Lord compared them to children. Notice first of all, they were silly:

A. Because of their apathy

Look again at our text in verse 16, and notice the setting. The Lord Jesus said that the people were like children, “sitting in the markets…” Notice they are sitting in the market.
Important business is being transacted in the market. Money is changing hands, livelihoods are being made, and the business of life is taking place all around. Yet, the Lord describes his generation as being like children, completely oblivious to the importance of the things going on around them.
Like children playing make-believe, they were in their own little world, while the real world was moving on around them.

As we look at our present world, important events are taking place all around us. The “signs of the times” are literally plastered on the front pages of newspapers. The leading stories on the nightly news often sound like a contemporary report of Bible prophecies. All the while, many in our generation are blissfully unaware of the critical nature of the day in which we live. We are in our own little world, unconscious of the real world rapidly moving around us.

It reminds of a famous photograph that was taken while John Kennedy was president. In the picture, the president in on the phone in the oval office, conducting the business of the president, and all the while, John Jr. is under the desk, playing with a toy. John Jr. was not only oblivious to the importance of what was going on around him, he really didn’t care. His childishness made him apathetic to the historic events unfolding around him.

The Lord Jesus compared His generation to “little children”, and that is not only because of their apathy, but notice further that it is also:

B. Because of their activity

Look again at the picture Christ paints in our text. He compares his generation to little children, sitting in the market. Look at verse 1These little children say to each other, “…We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.”

These children are playing games. The phrase “we have piped,” refers to the music played at a wedding. They were playing wedding. When they say, “…we have mourned…,” the are pretending to be at a funeral.

Literally, Christ compared his generation to a group of kids playing games of make-believe and pretend. Their lives were nothing more than silly, childish games.

Could this be said of our day as well? The world is morally and spiritually decaying at breakneck speed, and the majority of our generation is suffering from amusement addiction.

According to Entertainment Weekly, in 2004, Americans spent over 33 billion dollars on movies, either at the rental store, or the theater.[i] According to the A.C. Neilson Co. the average American will spend an estimated four hours a day watching television.[ii]

We often talk about how busy we are, when in reality, most of our time outside of work is spent trying to amuse ourselves with activities that in the scope of eternity mean nothing. They are, as in Christ’s analogy, childish, silly games!

There is nothing wrong with amusement, and enjoying certain activities. Yet, when our whole lives consist of nothing but one mindless amusement after another, we then become like silly children.

Jesus compared His generation to a group of silly children. I fear His indictment of them could be easily applied to us as well. Notice another aspect of Christ’s assessment of His generation. He said not only that it is a silly generation, but notice also secondly that:


Look again at the words of the children in verse 1They call out to their friends, “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.”

Imagine them, with the arms crossed, bottom lips sticking out, upset that they did not get their way. Like petty children, they selfishly expected the world to revolve around them. This image of a selfish generation is a hard one to swallow, but it is unfortunately an accurate one. The selfishness of the people Christ described is seen in a couple of ways. Notice first of all that:

A. They were demanding

The children in the story call out to their cohorts, “Didn’t you hear me playing the music? You are supposed to dance when I play the music?” “Didn’t you hear me say that we were going to play funeral? Get over here and weep like you mean it!”

Do you sense the demanding, bossy tone in the words of these children? They act as if others owe it to them to do whatever they want them to do. Do you recognize this attitude of entitlement? We have a segment of people among us today who truly believe that everybody owes them  something. Their parents owe them money and possessions. The government owes them a college education. The world owes them a high-paying job. This sense of entitlement and demanding attitude are symptoms of the disease of selfishness. Many believe and adopt the Burger King slogan, “Have it your way.” This attitude has even crept into the church, where people honestly believe that the church is supposed to meet all their needs, and not the other way around.

When the music, or the preaching, or the ministries don’t meet our needs, we go somewhere else, where we can be catered to, petted, and served.

The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 20:28 that, “…the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

That sort of selflessness is strange and foreign to our culture. We are, like the people of Christ’s day, demanding. Their selfishness is not only seen in the fact that they were demanding, but it is also seen in the fact that:

B. They were delicate

Again, when you imagine these children, scolding their friends for not playing with them, you can almost hear and see in your mind the pouting, whiny attitude of these childish characters. Their feelings are hurt because their friends didn’t do what they wanted. They childish sensitivities are evident, and you can almost hear them say, “I’m mad! They won’t play with me!”

Unfortunately, we live in a culture today that is unusually thin-skinned. We are overly sensitive, and when someone says or does something that we don’t like, we are apt to pout and whine like the children in this story. The slightest insult or injury sends most folks into a fit of whining and crying that would rival that of most two-year-olds. We have become as delicate as antique glass, broken-up and shattered by the slightest bump.

The Lord Jesus warned His disciples about persecution. He then told them in Matthew 5:12, that when they were persecuted, they should, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad…”

Does that sound like our culture? We don’t rejoice over our hardships and hurts. We write books, and go on Oprah to cry through our hurt feelings. Being overly sensitive is a sure sign of selfishness. Those who don’t think too highly of themselves are less likely to get hurt when others slight them.

Can you see the selfishness of the children the Lord Jesus described? Can you see it in our generation?

There is one more truth we draw from this picture the Lord painted of His generation. Notice not only that it is a silly generation, and it is a selfish generation, but notice also further that:


When you read this little analogy that Christ used, it is important to remember that there are two groups of children mentioned in this story.

You have the group that is piping and mourning, and then you have the group that is ignoring them, and refusing to play along. Jesus was portraying His generation through both of these groups in the story. This silent group, that refused to join in the games, represents the stubbornness and hardness of the culture in which Christ ministered.

Notice a couple of things we draw from this stubborn group. This group represents those who are:

A. Ignoring the wonder of the gospel

The children say in verse 17, “…We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced…” In other words, we played a happy song, and you refused to celebrate with us.

The message of the gospel is the good news. It tells the wonderful story of how God’s love intervened for sinful man in the glorious person of Jesus Christ. It tells men that their sins can be forgiven, their lives can be transformed, and their future can be certain. It is a wonderful message. Yet, there are those, like the stubborn kids in the story, who are unmoved by the good news of the gospel. They fold their arms, and sit unimpressed with the wonderful offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. The joyful melody of redemption does not excite them. Many people today treat the gospel like a letter from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. Even though the envelope says you’ve won, most people don’t believe it. The problem is that the gospel really is no empty offer. It really is good news! Those who turn to Christ find He is the Savior He claims to be.

Still, there are many in our generation that are largely unimpressed with the joyous, wonderful claims of the gospel.

Notice not only that these children were stubborn in ignoring the wonder of the gospel, but notice also that their stubbornness is seen in the fact that they were also:

B. Ignoring the warnings of the gospel

Look again at verse 1 - Not only did the children play joyful music, but they also say, “…we mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.”

They offered to play not only a happy game, but a somber and sad one as well. The results were the same. The other group of children did not want to play along.

The good news of the gospel is always accompanied with the bad news of judgment. The good news is that you can be delivered. The bad news is that the wrath of God is going to fall upon those who disobey the gospel.

In our culture, when a preacher proclaims the wrath and judgment of God, for the most part people are either offended by it, or they simply ignore it. The gospel largely falls on deaf ears. The generation in which we live, much like that of Christ’s day, is stubborn regarding the gospel. Neither the hope of the salvation or the threat of damnation seems to move them. Like children with their fingers in their ears, they refuse to hear the Word of the Lord.

In 1969, in Pass Christian, MS, Sheriff Jerry Peralta pulled up to a set of upscale apartments on the beach, and warned the residents to evacuate. Hurricane Camille was headed directly for the little coastal town. One of the men, with a drink in his hand, told Sheriff Peralta that he wasn’t leaving. In fact, some twenty people decided to have a “hurricane party”, and wait out the storm in their apartments.

After Camille had passed through Pass Christian, the worst damage was a two a strip of apartments and homes. The only thing that remained of the posh apartments that had hosted the hurricane party was the foundation.[iii]

The storm of judgment is coming, but many are indifferent to the warnings. The Lord described a stubborn, hardened generation. The stubbornness of those around Him is not unique to His day. There is still a hardness and coldness in our generation. It is hard to look at this analogy given by the Lord and not see some resemblance to our day and our generation.

The question is: what are we to do? We know that there is a silliness, selfishness, and stubbornness that pervade our culture, but how are we to combat it? The answer is to live differently ourselves! We cannot change everyone’s behavior, but we can change our own! We cut much of the silly, frivolous activity out of our lives, and give that time to serving the Lord instead. We can quit living in a selfish bubble, and can instead give our lives in service to others.

Finally, we can quit treating the glorious message of the gospel as if it is a dusty, old, worn out tale! We can listen and respond to Christ today, instead of stubbornly refusing to answer His call!

The generation evaluation that Christ gave in our text is not a kind one. Yet, we must hear it and respond if we are ever to change what are generation is.

[i]; accessed 4/19/08

[ii]; accessed 4/19/08

[iii]; accessed 4/19/08