the One . . . "(e)
As we come to Matthew
11, it has been months since John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Jesus'
ministry began where John's ended. It began when John and Jesus were in
the wilderness of Jordan together. There is no doubt but what John is convinced
that Jesus is the Messiah, the one whom the Jews had been prophesying about
for centuries. John referred to Jesus as the bridegroom.
John the Baptist had
given a marvelous testimony identifying Jesus Christ. John had proclaimed
Jesus as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." (John
1:29) John had proclaimed, "But after me will come one who is more powerful
than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry." (Matthew 3:11b) When Jesus
came to John to be baptized, John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to
be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" (Matthew 3:13-14) John relented
and baptized Jesus; it was then that John saw the Spirit of God descend
upon Jesus like a dove and he heard the voice from heaven saying, "This
is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17)
Later John said, "The
one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs
to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from
heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no
one accepts his testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that
God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God,
for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has
placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal
life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains
on him." (John 3:31-36)
But now John is in prison.
No revolution had begun against Rome. Rome was still the master of Israel;
Herod was still on the throne. So much for thinking that Jesus came to
reign on the throne of David in a physical sense. John sends two of his
disciples to inquire: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait
" . . . Do not fall
away on account of me." (Matthew 11:1-6)
may incline us to take exception to God's methods. There is an
unbelief that results from the way things are and the way we think things
ought to be. What provokes such a question from a man who has given such
a testimony about Jesus Christ? Fear. Discouragement. Anticipation. Self-doubt.
Unbelief. Depression. Disillusionment. Disappointment. The Holy Spirit's
revelation of real human responses, of real people, throughout the Bible
is what makes the Bible so believable. Haven't you had those moments of
darkness, when you would like to throw in the towel because what you believe
no longer makes any sense? I have had moments like that while preaching.
You want to ask, "Is this real or do I need to find another line of work?"
I am sure that you have had those moments, I wouldn't be surprised, if
many of us aren't having those thoughts right now. You want to ask, "Is
what I believe real, or do I need to find something more substantial in
which to trust."
It is not the
unbelief of an atheist who denies the reality of God. It may be
health problems, financial problems, family problems or even church problems
that cause you to question the validity of your faith. The anticipation,
fear, discouragement, self-doubt and failure turn the moments of darkness
into moments of unbelief. It is a cry heard from the darkness when a follower
of Christ wants understanding and enlightenment. It is a cry that says,
"If you are the savior of the world, why don't you, at this very moment,
come in all your glory and save me from the chopping block outside my cell
window." Or "Why don't you, at this very moment, work all things for my
good." It is a cry that says, "Lord, I believe, just please, for God's
sake, help my unbelief."
Sometimes I wonder if
there is not a rhetorical question on John's mind. He asks Jesus "Are you
the one . . .?" But is the question really, "If you are the one, then what
am I doing here?'' He was probably wondering why Jesus didn't press his
claims more powerfully and assert his authority and power by freeing him
from prison. John was in a predicament where his spiritual eyesight failed
him. He lost his clear vision of Jesus Christ. Sometimes that is the way
it is for each of us.
John was an Elijah like
forerunner who came to prepare the way for the coming of the kingdom of
God. He was just as susceptible to discouragement as his predecessor was.
After all, the prophets were men with normal passions. (James 5:17) Elijah
had just won a great victory for God on Mt Carmel. He killed 450 prophets
of Baal. What a victory, but before the adrenaline stops flowing, Jezebel
says to Elijah, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if
by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them."
Elijah turns and runs for his life. He became so exhausted that he prays,
"Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." (1 Kings 19) But instead
of taking Elijah's life, God sent angels to prepare a meal and give him
something to drink.
They came to Jesus asking,
"Are you the one . . ." Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what
you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have
leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news
is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account
of me." (Matthew 11:4-6)
John's disciples came
to Jesus earlier asking, "How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but
your disciples do not fast?" There was a tendency to take exception to
Jesus' methods because they were different than what was anticipated. In
John's discouragement he was no doubt having the same difficulty. I would
like to paraphrase what Jesus told John. Jesus was saying, "Please don't
fall away just because you can't understand what I am doing . . . don't
fall away because of me."
When you lose your spiritual
vision and can't see, you can always listen! It is in these times, when
our circumstances are terrible and God's methods are so inexplicable that
we need to remember what we have heard or remember what we have preached,
whichever the case may be.
I would like to think
that John recalled several scriptures to mind when his disciples returned
with their report. Scriptures like "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are
higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts
than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9) "In that day the deaf will hear the
words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind
will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will
rejoice in the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 29:18-19) "The Spirit of the
Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good
news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim
freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners .
. ." (Isaiah 61:1) "Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD,
when I open your graves and bring you up from them." (Ezekiel 37:13) His
conclusion would have to be "He is the One!"
What do we do
when our circumstances seem overwhelming? We need to feed upon
God's word and remember what God has said. John needed to hold to his former
belief and conviction about Jesus Christ. He may be baffled and puzzled
by the turn of events that led him to prison, but he could continue to
Even Martin Luther in
one of his moods of depression felt as if Satan himself was closing in
upon him. It seemed as if he was whispering in his ear, "Martin, do you
feel your sins are forgiven?" Suddenly Luther rose to his feet and shouted
aloud, "No, I don't, but I know they are because God says so in His Word!"
"What did you go
out into the desert to see?" (Matthew 11:7-15)
There is a type
of unbelief that causes us to question what we believe as we search for
deeper understanding. Honest doubt can be the steppingstone to
a strong faith. Larry Jones writes, "There is much honest doubt that should
be encouraged. History, for instance, is literally patched together by
doubt. There could be no progress without it. Galileo doubted that the
earth stood still. Copernicus doubted that the earth was the center of
the universe. Columbus doubted that it was flat. Newton doubted that nature
was erratic, and Einstein doubted that the earth was fixed."
Just as doubt can lead
to certainty in the physical realm, so doubt can also be beneficial in
the spiritual realm. John the Baptist gained greater certainty through
honest questioning. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but as he languished
in prison awaiting Herod's judgment his faith began to waver. He needed
from Jesus Himself a fresh affirmation of who He was.
Jesus told John's disciples
to go back and report to John what you see and hear. This would allow John
to realign his thinking with the reality of the situation. But they came
in an effort to see what needed to be seen. They sought enlightenment.
There is a type
of unbelief that refuses to accept what God has plainly taught. There
is another type of unbelief where we are determined to disbelieve anything
that we haven't already made up our mind to see. Too often, especially
in matters of faith, what we are determined to see blinds us to what we
must see. Jesus asks,
"What did you go out into the desert to see?"
That is an all-important question. Are you seeking enlightenment or are
you seeking to confirm what you believe you already see? What we have made
up our minds to see blinds us to what we actually see.
Jesus said, "And
if you are willing to accept it, he [John] is the Elijah who was
to come." (11:14) It all depended upon what they were willing to accept.
Jesus asks, "What did you go out to see, a reed swaying in the wind or
a man dressed in fine clothes or a prophet." John certainly wasn't one
to vacillate with the feelings of the crowd. John called them snakes and
told them to bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.
They went out into the
desert to see someone great. They saw the greatest man ever born of woman.
He was greater than any prophet who had ever been was. But he wasn't what
they expected, so they failed to see him. Yet, the least in the kingdom
of heaven would be greater than John. John lived all his life anticipating
the kingdom of God. There were things that he could not know, things that
he did not understand and methods that he all but took exception to. The
weakest inside the kingdom knows more than John knew, because the mystery
has now been revealed. Five minutes of experience is worth a lifetime of
anticipation. A half-hour in the kingdom of God sheds more light on our
salvation than all the light generated through all the centuries before
Christ death. It is the death of Christ that focuses the light so that
we might see. The kingdom held greater blessings and privileges than John
The paradoxes of Jesus'
teaching always baffle my mind. Of course, that is what paradoxes are meant
to do. A paradox is an apparent contradiction which in reality may conceal
a profound truth. The Bible contains many unpopular doctrines and mind-
baffling concepts that would not exist if it had been composed by men and
had not been uniquely inspired by God. The fact that these do appear indicates
that the Lord's thoughts and ways are much higher than ours.
Note these paradoxes:
We see unseen things; we conquer by yielding; we find rest under a yoke;
we reign by serving; we are made great by becoming little; we are exalted
by being humble; we become wise by being fools for Christ's sake; we are
made free by becoming His bond servants; we possess all things by having
nothing; we wax strong by being weak; we triumph by defeat; we find victory
by glorying in our infirmities; and we live by dying. Here Jesus says the
least in the Kingdom of God will be greater than John the Baptist.
These people refuse
to accept the greatest mortal born among men, but Jesus is telling each
of them that potentially each of them is greater than John the Baptist.
Jesus is inviting them into a relationship with God that offers greater
possibilities than anyone has ever enjoyed since the beginning of time.
Jesus came to empower the least in his kingdom to do greater things and
see greater things than had ever been seen or done.
" . . . To what can
I compare this generation?"
Have you ever taken
notice of a person who is dissatisfied? If you give the person what they
want, it usually doesn't satisfy them. Jesus said, "To what can I compare
this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and
calling out to others: 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' 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, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of
tax collectors and "sinners." 'But wisdom is proved right by her actions."
It doesn't really matter
how the truth is presented because it is going to be rejected anyway. The
attitudes and presuppositions which we bring to a subject largely determines
what we get from it. We must not come to any subject thinking that we already
know all there is to know. That is not an act of wisdom and it won't prove
your actions to be right, it will only manifest the foolishness of what
you already believe. When one takes notice of Jesus Christ giving sight
to the blind, hearing to the deaf and life to the dead, then one begins
to understand the wisdom of what he is doing. The wisdom that he manifested
allows you to lay aside your foolishness and accept him because his very
actions proclaim who he is. Unless, of course, you already have your mind
made up before you examine the evidence. Matthew sums up the problems Jesus
faced in the following verses.
Jesus entered the temple
courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of
the people came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things?"
they asked. "And who gave you this authority?" Jesus replied, "I will also
ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority
I am doing these things. John's baptism-- where did it come from? Was it
from heaven, or from men?" They discussed it among themselves and said,
"If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?'
But if we say, 'From men'-- we are afraid of the people, for they all hold
that John was a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Then
he said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
The Judgment of God
The amazing thing about
Matthew 11:1-30 is that Matthew shows how difficult it is to hold on to
what we believe in difficult times. He shows us that while we are struggling
to believe in Jesus, no matter if we are the least of the least or the
greatest of the greatest, Jesus has all the patience in the world with
us. But for those who have their minds made up, in their refusal to accept
the wisdom of God, he minces no words. It will be more tolerable
for the worst of the worst than it will be for those who refuse the wisdom
of God as is manifested in the actions of his Son.
Then Jesus began to
denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because
they did not repent. "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the
miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon,
they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you,
it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than
for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you
will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you
had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I
tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment
than for you."
God has chosen to reveal
his wisdom, not to the great, mighty and intelligent. But he has revealed
it to those who are seeking him. In the midst of a world of unbelief Jesus
extends the greatest invitation of all time. And he says:
"Come to me, all you
who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon
you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will
find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
So much of our preaching
today is directed toward intellectual persuasion. Of course, this is a
part of believing, but there is much more to believing in Jesus Christ.
We must take his yoke upon us that we might learn about Jesus Christ through
experience, as we seek to allow him to live within us. If you do this,
you will discover Jesus to be a humble and meek master, which will give
rest to your souls. The burden of unbelief is too heavy for us to bear
alone. As we cry out, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!", (Mark
9:24) Jesus wants to help us bear our burden. Unbelief places the world
upon our shoulders, whereas belief in Jesus Christ places the burden upon
his shoulders. Jesus invites us to step into the yoke with him, it is built
for two, and he is not too good, too holy or too far removed to help us
as we struggle with the load.
Jesus invites us to
learn of him. If you come to his door knocking and seeking to know and
learn, he promises that you will find him and learn of him. (Matthew 7:8-9)
Jesus says, "He that
believes and is baptized shall be saved." (Mark 16:15-16) Baptism is such
an apt figure of expression as we come to Jesus Christ. It is here that
we agree to bury our old way of thinking in an act repentance as we come
to God through that watery grave. We bury the old man. As a newborn babe
we stand before God with an attitude that is willing to learn and experience
his ways. When we empty ourselves, then we are filled with the fullness
of God. This requires a willingness to die to self as baptism so aptly
expresses. (Romans 6:3-4) It is at that point of rebirth that our sins
are washed away and we have a new life in Christ.