Springboarding off of the Apostle Paul’s life focus, clearly expressed in 1 Corinthians 2:2, Pastor Greg launched an “open-ended” message series on January 12th, 2020 – focusing on “Just Jesus.” He is walking us through the entire New Testament, pulling passages from the Old Testament for context, and keep us focused throughout the year on “Just Jesus.”
This is week 50, Matthew, part 48 in the series. Today’s message covers Matthew 11:1-15. Pastor G talks about John the Baptist’s doubts while in prison and Jesus’ response to John as well as Jesus’ affirmation of John to the crowd.
When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” ~ Matthew 11:1-3
This is the same John who proclaimed to the crowds about Jesus:
“… Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” ~ John 1:29b
Yet we find out that John, who has been imprisoned, even though he has heard about the works, the miracles of Jesus, sends word to Him.
“Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” ~ Matthew 11:3b
What would make him doubt? We know most people were expecting the Messiah to come as a conquering king, to overthrow the Romans who were oppressing Israel. Most weren’t expecting Him to come as the Suffering Servant depicted in Isaiah’s writings. Maybe it is because John has been imprisoned that he gets a little doubtful. Things aren’t working out for John at all the way he would like. Surely the hype man for the Son of God should get some perks out of the deal, yeah. At least not get tossed into prison.
Having faith is not the opposite of having doubts. Some people think your faith is as strong as you are certain. People think “I’m not 100% certain about God or about the Bible or about Christianity yet. I still have some doubts. I still have some questions. So, I guess I can’t be a Christian yet.” The Biblical concept of faith has nothing to do with how certain you are. It’s about how committed you are. Faith is about committing to a course of action, a way of life, even in the face of uncertainty.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” ~ Matthew 11:4-6
Jesus’ initial response is just pointing John back to what he already knows. I don’t know about you but that is often the answer God gives me too when I have a moment of doubt or a full-blown crisis of faith. I begin to doubt because of things I don’t know, outcomes I can’t see, circumstances I don’t fully understand or enjoy. When I question God about it in prayer, OFTEN, He just reminds me of what I DO know about Him with certainty, where I have already experienced Him many times in the past, places where my faith is still strong. That simple refocusing of my thoughts and memories of what I already know, what I still have faith in, often puts me at ease quickly. The lesson for us is that Our faith needs to stay centered on the facts and not on our circumstances.
There will ALWAYS be something going on in our lives out in the world around us that we don’t like but that doesn’t mean that God is not still God. God is always large and in charge of His universe. We don’t need to worry. What we see and understand is only a very tiny piece of the entire picture God is painting. Whether I am sick or healthy God is still God. Whether the world around me is at peace or at war God is still God. Whether I am unjustly imprisoned or free God is still God. Jesus’s response is, the proof that I am THE ONE is obvious John! I am doing EXACTLY what the Messiah SHOULD be doing. The blind can see, the lame can walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor are hearing the Good News of the Gospel.
And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” ~ Matthew 11:6
Some translations say blessed is he who does not stumble on account of me or blessed is he who does not fall away on account of me or blessed is he who has no doubts about me.
It’s where we get the English scandal and scandalize. Skandalizó means to put a snare in the way of someone, causing them to stumble. Tripping them up. Snaring them. Spiritually, to cause them to sin, to fall away from the faith, to cause people to doubt or distrust God.
Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah:
“Then He shall become a sanctuary; But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.~ Isaiah 8:14
Paul later combines this verse in Isaiah 8 with another passage from Isaiah 28 and this interchange between Jesus and John’s disciples and he writes:
just as it is written,“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” ~ Romans 9:33
By using this word skandalizó, Jesus is giving John, who knows the prophecies of Isaiah as well as anyone, a kind of code word reminder. I AM the stone of Zion, I AM the precious cornerstone, I AM the stone of stumbling, I AM the rock of offense for those who do not believe in me. Don’t trip over me John. Stay the course.
Many people, both in Jesus’ era and today, reject Jesus specifically because He does not fit their preferences or their demands. They stumble over Him. They trip on His words and actions. I think Jesus is also giving a reminder to John that, even in prison, John is still an influencer of many people. If John is transferring his doubts to his disciples, John himself can become a stumbling block to others in a negative way. He can end up leading people away from Jesus. If John stays the course, even in spite of these circumstances, his actions can have a profoundly positive effect on the course of the Kingdom of God.
As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? ~ Matthew 11:7
which can mean to agitate, to shake or to cast down or to stir up or to disturb in mind or to drive away.
as a reed stands in a place of water, it’s body waves about, and its roots are many, and though all the winds in the world come and blow upon it, they cannot move it out of its place but it goes and comes with them, and then the winds are still, the reed stands in it’s place. ~ Ancient Rabbinical Teachings
In other words, I think Jesus was asking, did you expect John to be wishy-washy, a reed without any roots? Did you expect John to be a reed that is actually blown away by the winds of competing doctrines? Shaken, agitated, cast down? That’s NOT who John the Baptist is. Everyone could immediately see he was committed to speaking the truth even when imprisoned for them.
But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! ~ Matthew 11:8
Of course, people weren’t expecting to find a fashionista out in the wilderness. John wore rough camel hair clothing and ate locusts and honey. John is not a reed without roots. John is not a soft person promoting a life of luxury. So, what DID people expect to find when they flocked to the wilderness to see John? Jesus continues in verse 9.
But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ ~ Matthew 11:9-10
We’ve already alluded to it but Jesus makes no bones about it. John IS the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the prophet who will prepare the way, who will introduce the Messiah.
Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. ~ Matthew 11:11
John is the finale of Old Covenant prophets and people in general. When it comes to being a righteous Old Covenant prophet of God no one ever did it better than John the Baptist who preached to people that they needed to repent of their sins to be counted righteous before God and that God wanted to forgive them. Jesus brings even better news. Jesus is bringing a B’rit Chadishah, a New Covenant where HIS OWN righteousness will be shared with all of us, as if WE ourselves were as perfect and righteous as He is. We can receive it just by placing our faith in Him. We don’t have to try to measure up to perfection or try to be “good enough” to receive God’s blessing.
In this New Covenant relationship through Jesus, because of the perfection of Jesus living in us and through us, through our faith, NOW, even the one who is the least righteous in the New Kingdom, that person is still greater than John was. John was the epitome of how good a person, on their own merit, could possibly be. Nobody ever did it better than John but he still wasn’t perfect. You and me, we’re not perfect either, but if we know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, He IS perfect and He lives in us. The New Covenant Jesus brought says our right standing with God is now based on Jesus’ performance, not ours. So even the least of us still look even better than John. Isn’t that Good News? YAY GOD!?!
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. ~ Matthew 11:12
This is another one of those verses that people wonder about. There are many different theories about what Jesus means here. How is the Kingdom of Heaven suffering violence? How are violent men taking the Kingdom of Heaven by force? Let’s get some additional context. Context Is Everything.
First, our English choice of the words “violence” and “violent” here to translate the original Greek is unfortunate as there are multiple options for how the Greek word is intended, depending on the context. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence? No. That’s a misleading, negative translation.
Biazó (GREEK VERB)
which CAN mean to suffer violence or to press forward violently. But it can also mean to take hold of something with positive aggressiveness. To advance forcefully, not willing to be stopped by anything until you reach your goal.
THAT’S the way it is being used here. People are aggressively pursuing the Kingdom of Heaven, not wanting to be stopped by anything. Similarly, in verse 12 Jesus says, Violent men take the Kingdom of Heaven by force? No! Sounds super negative right? I HATE that translation.
Biastés (GREEK NOUN)
which CAN mean a violent man but it can also mean a positively assertive person.
This is a reference to a believer living in confident faith, being guided and empowered by God to act forcefully and intentionally ON BEHALF OF the Kingdom of God. In other words, this is a reference to a believer who is “fired up” by God to act by His revelation. What does Jesus mean when He says these men take the Kingdom of Heaven by force?
Harpazó (GREEK VERB)
which means to seize suddenly and decisively in an open and public way.
A MUCH better understanding of Matthew 11:12 is this.
From the time John first began to preach about the Kingdom of God up to My preaching now and going forward, many positively assertive people of confident faith, guided and empowered by God are rushing toward the Kingdom of Heaven in a public and forceful way, unwilling to be stopped by the forces that want to keep them out. ~ Matthew 11:12 (PGV) That’s the PGV translation – the Pastor G Version.
For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. ~ Matthew 11:13-14
What does Jesus mean “John himself is Elijah who was to come?” To understand that we need to look at Malachi 4:5-6, literally the last two verses of the Old Testament.
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” ~ Malachi 4:5-6
Malachi warned them judgment was coming but also gave a promise of Good News. Elijah, while not dying a traditional death, was had been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. His body is no longer on earth. He appears in a glorified spirit form at Jesus’ transfiguration.
This prophecy is about a prophet in the same spirit of Elijah who would one day come again and if the people would follow his direction, things would be restored, and God would bless them rather than curse them.
400 years of silence followed this very last prophecy of the Old Testament. 400 years of silence followed before the events we refer to as the New Testament occurred. 400 years where no new prophets were raised up. 400 years where God gave no new revelations to His people. 400 years where Israel was conquered by one foreign power after another and God seemed nowhere in sight. Israel was still occupied by Rome when John and Jesus came on the scene around 30 A.D. The very last prophecy recorded in the Old Testament said God was going to resend an Elijah spirit prophet. This would lead the way in a restoration of relationships and faith and forgiveness of God for His people.
This was widely understood by all to mean this return of this Elijah would directly precede the arrival of the Messiah this new Elijah would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy about the prophet who would be the voice crying in the wilderness “Prepare the Way.” That was the expectation for 400 years.
Here, in Matthew 11, Jesus is telling the crowd the 400 years of silence are OVER. John is the first new prophet in 400 years AND he is the last and the greatest of all the Old Covenant Prophets. Jesus, of course, is the first and last and ultimate prophet of the New Covenant. John, in addition to being the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah, is also the fulfillment of this prophecy from Malachi.
While John is not literally Elijah — how could he be? Elijah was taken to heaven 879 years ago by this point —- John has come in the same spirit of Elijah. He has been full of the Holy Spirit of God since before birth. AND, by association, based on all the expectations of the people for 400 years, if John is Elijah, Jesus is the Messiah. While Jesus doesn’t directly say “I AM THE MESSIAH” here to the crowds as He speaks about John, the implication is clear. To clue them in to the subtle sub-context of what He has just said about John, Jesus then says
He who has ears to hear, let him hear. ~ Matthew 11:15
In other words, I just spoke in spiritual code to you about who John is and who I am. If you know your scriptures (what I like to call our Hebrew Roots) and if you know God, you can put two and two together and realize 2+2 equals MESSIAH. This is Jesus’ answer to John’s question “Are you the expected one or should we look for someone else?” Jesus makes His answer clear to those who have ears to hear. Elijah HAS come AND Messiah HAS come. YAY GOD! So, put your doubts and fears away John. Your future THEN is still secure no matter what your current now circumstances look like.
That’s a powerful lesson for us as well. If someone like John the Baptist can have doubts at times, it’s okay if that happens to us as well. But, as we reflect on all the ways God has revealed Himself to us in the past we can take heart and feel our faith strengthened as well, regardless of our circumstances.