Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John the Baptist’s preconceived notions of how Messiah would act did not match what Jesus was doing. As did most believers of his day, John expected Messiah to establish a political kingdom. Jesus was much gentler and milder than expected. To John, the kingdom was coming too slowly. Perplexed, John rightly went straight to Jesus for clarification, “Are you the one, or do we await another?”
John wanted proof, but Jesus gave evidence. Belief is a spiritual act based on evidence received by physical means, seeing, hearing, thinking, etc. Humans are created perfectly to live by faith, not sight. Thus, we live by evidence, not absolute proof. Enough evidence is given to make unbelief a sin, but presented in ways that honor our awful, God-given freedom, our free will. The evidence can be compelling, but will not be absolute 100% proof. The case always comes in a format that allows one the option of saying no. Room is always left for unbelief.
Jesus is Messiah, no doubt about it, but had He claimed it clearly, people would have misunderstood and incited rebellion against Rome. Thus, Jesus sent a report with enough data to satisfy John, without stirring up the masses in revolt.
The messengers are to tell John, first, what they have heard. The message of truth comes first. Stay in the Scriptures. Real Christianity is Bible Christianity.
The messengers are to tell John, second, what they see. After referring to His words, Jesus spoke of His works. Jesus supplemented truth with displays of power. He healed, thereby making a statement by assaulting sickness at its source. Evil strongholds were being undermined. He came to undo wreckage of the Fall.
Our message, too, must be clear truth, but words are not enough. They are essential, but must be accompanied by power. Truths we speak must be reinforced by displays of power due to our prayers. We need the power of holiness, so we can outlive prechristians, thereby proving the Gospel has power to change lives.
We need miracles to flow from our prayers, to convince unbelievers of the reality of Christianity, of its right to claim to be representing an all-powerful God.
Matt. 11:5a “. . .the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers
are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up,. . .”
Jesus emphasized truth first, and power second. Third, He spotlighted love, calling attention to His deeds of compassion. In addition to truth and power, love was being shown. Love predominated Jesus’ ministry, and became its most noticeable trait. A time for Messiah’s judgment will come, but first “there is a mission of tenderness and grace, and healing and wooing and blessing” (Morgan).
John had not foreseen the prominence Messiah would give to kindness. Like the rest of Israel, John so desperately wanted political liberation that he was blinded to the rest of the picture. John anticipated immediate pomp and power.
We face perplexity over details of Messiah’s second coming; John struggled with Christ’s first coming. How could anyone manifest in one life lamb-like, as well as lion-like, traits? John the Beloved, 60 years after the Baptist’s day, saw in Heaven “one like a slaughtered lamb” (Rev. 5:6). This is what Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, and believers during Jesus’ ministry, did not foresee. They couldn’t conceive a gentle slain Lamb raised from death to be a strong Lion.
Desperate to see Messiah roar as a lion, John and others failed to appreciate Messiah being gentle, and slaughtered, as a lamb. Jesus thus went out of His way to emphasize the compassionate nature of His first visit to Earth. Christ stated His miracles were displays of mercy for the good of hurting, helpless, hopeless people.
Jesus’ miracles were not a form of showboating. He could have wrought acts of power solely to impress people. Instead, He chose to channel His power into helping the neglected and disenfranchised. The truth in His words, and power in His works, hugely mattered. Also prominent in both was His pinpointing who was not to be overlooked, but to be primary beneficiaries of His words and works.
It is easy to be so awed by Jesus’ message and miracles that we forget who He for sure wanted to be blessed by them. Jesus was telling the two messengers, “Make sure John knows the blind, lame, lepers, deaf, and dead are being blessed.”
This message reverberates to our day. Hear it loud and clear. If the Gospel is for them, it’s for anybody and everybody. The best goodness produced for the hurting masses in the last twenty centuries has come from Jesus. It still does.
We believers must not only outlive prechristians in holiness, but also out-love them when it comes to the outcasts of society. Let Christians always be first, in the vanguard, when it comes to caring for the down and out.
Matt. 11:5b “. . .and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
In one stroke, Jesus forever tied practical Christianity to a condition that is world-wide and always with us. Ghandi said God must love the poor, for He made so many of them. Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you” (MT 26:11a).
In all the world, and throughout history, the poor have been neglected and despised as worthless and ignorant. The Bible, the first ancient writing to require mercy for the poor on a significant level, offered the first world view taking note of the poor, striving to educate, help, feed, clothe, and seek justice for, them.
Though the Old Testament cried out for the poor, by Jesus’ day religious leaders were courting the rich and scorning the poor. Jesus, God in human flesh, had to come visit our planet to prove once and for all time the importance of the poor in Heaven’s eyes. More amazing than His love for the poor was His being one of them. When Joseph and Mary presented their firstborn son to God in the temple, they brought the offering of the poor, turtledoves (LK 2:24; LV 12:8).
God became a fetus, dignifying life in the womb. God became infant, child, and teen, dignifying those three stages in life. God remained single, dignifying that role in life. God was poor, elevating the dignity of those in that station of life.
The pains of poverty are a scourge afflicting most of our planet. The causes of poverty are varied and complex: bad climate, deserts, ice fields, drought, floods, wars, poor soil, corrupt governments, greed, lack of skill, low motivation, etc.
While churches, governments, and other agencies rightfully labor tirelessly to end poverty, believers must be untiring in their efforts to relieve the misery of those in poverty. Pharisees, charlatans, and opportunists court the rich, and overlook the poor, except to bilk them. The Gospel, though, dignifies the poor.
Caring for the poor remains a primary earmark of true faith. The imperative is for us to go to them. We must one by one go find and help them one by one.
Class distinctions are huge in all cultures. The responsibility for bridging this barrier rests squarely on the shoulders of the “higher ups” on the social ladder.
We in the church must go to those less fortunate than we are. They can’t afford to travel far to hear us, nor do they feel welcome if they arrive at our level.
It is easy for us to say our church doors are open to the poor, but in reality few poor will come. They can sense the chill. No one wants to come to a place where they have to sit on the back row to feel comfortable. We must go to them.
We must grasp the poor and compel them to come. By being with them, we will love them, know them better, and be better equipped to welcome them in our midst. If they see us on their doorstep, they will feel more comfortable in our pew.
Before we leave our text, note the word “preached.” Christ’s ministry to the poor packs a spiritual punch. Bringing gifts beyond the physical and material, we offer not only education or refinement. The latter may soften, but can not redeem.
Christianity preaches, proclaims good news for all who need it most. Jesus is the bright and morning star, the sun risen in our hearts, the light of the world that can brighten the darkest life. Our message gives redemption and lift. It saves from hell and raises up from the ghetto. Andrew Young, USA Ambassador to the UN and Mayor of Atlanta, said Africa rose up and cast off colonization because Africans heard long enough the Christian missionaries tell them they were equals.
Our Master left no doubt as to what our response should be to the blind, lame, lepers, deaf, dead, and poor. Would He be pleased with how we treat them?