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"Are You the One . . . "(e)
Matthew 11:1-30

James R. Davis

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 for another?"

" . . . Do not fall away on account of me." (Matthew 11:1-6)

Our circumstances 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 trust God.

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 enjoyed.

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." (Matthew 11:16-19)

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.

Matthew 21:23-27
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 (Matthew 11:20-30)

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.

Matthew 11:20-24
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:

Matthew 11:28-30
"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."

Conclusion:

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.
 
 

 

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