Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Jesus here continues praising His loyal servant, John the Baptist, who was neither a soft-living yes-man nor a wimp unable to endure trials for Jesus’ sake.
Matt. 11:8 (Holman) “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in
soft clothes? Look, those who wear soft clothes are in kings’ palaces.”
John was no king-schmoozer. Flatterers of kings live in the palace, but John was in prison. Rather than court kings, John confronted them with the truth.
Uncouth and unpolished, John was dead to pomp. No slave of fashion, he wore camel’s hair and a leather belt. Elegant silk, satin, and linen did not fit him.
Gluttony was no problem for John. He ate locusts and wild honey. His austere clothing and Spartan diet matched the stern sermons he preached.
John’s whole life was a stark statement for self-discipline and against self-indulgence. Had he lived lavishly, his voice never would have shaken the nation.
John reminds us, a Christ-follower’s life is sacrificial or superficial. Jesus said, “John was a burning and shining lamp” (JN 5:35a). Shining and burning are not identical. Shining refers to light given off. Burning refers to hurt endured, to the wick that has to waste away inch by inch to make the shining possible.
Many claim they want to shine for Jesus, but never will. They are unwilling to pay the cost it requires. Shining for Jesus requires burning out for Him.
When did we consciously hurt by denying ourselves a pleasure for Christ’s sake? How long has it been since we did a deed for Him instead of something we wanted to do for us? When did we give until something inside us cried, “Ouch!” We want to shine, but have to confront the deeper issue, when did we last burn?
John did not seek a weak, spoiled life. The easy way is rarely the successful way. Top athletes punish their bodies. The most helpful medical researchers sacrifice a social life in order to perfect a cure. Gifted writers burn midnight oil.
The best believers say no to self. They ride herd on their fleshly desires. Successful Christians yield to the Holy Spirit’s power every aspect of their lives.
They curb eating habits, moderate their schedule, hold finances in check, show temperance in pleasures, control their temper and other emotions. Like John, we must hurt, deny self, sacrifice, in order to do God’s work, to pursue His heart. We are called to be disciplined, self-denying, dead to the world and its ease.
Matt. 11:9a (Holman) “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I
tell you, . . .”
For one meant to be a prophet, God’s spokesman, John had it all–holiness, humility, integrity, moral conviction, strength of will, statesmanship. He did not fear confrontation. John had a message from God, plus the courage to deliver it.
As Elijah did, John sent an earthquake through all the nation of Israel. He accepted the dangerous role of speaking truth not only to kings, but also to the crowd. His message was simple and blunt. “Repent!” Needing to turn around, they were all headed the wrong direction. His voice cried out in the wilderness against the sins of Herod and the people until it was silenced in a dungeon.
John arrested and held the attention of a whole nation. John’s fiery words drew the crowds. Multitudes made a pilgrimage into the wilderness to hear him because they hoped God had again sent a prophet to His people, after a 400-year absence. This long silence from Heaven had been hard on Israel. They claimed to be God’s people, but no spokesman had come for four centuries.
John’s voice had the ring of firsthand information from God. Even dull and disagreeing ears were enthralled by his words. The crying need of our hour, times that try men’s souls, is courage, gentle and soft, but sheer boldness nonetheless.
Matt. 11:9b (Holman) “. . .and far more than a prophet.”
Not only the final, ultimate prophet of the old era, John was also the object and fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies. He was Messiah’s forerunner. His coming was predicted by Isaiah and Malachi, his birth announced by the angel Gabriel (LK 1:19), his ministry foretold by his father Zechariah (LK 1:76).
I find our Savior’s kind words about John to be refreshing and rewarding. Let our lips learn from His lips. We serve a kind Master. To be true Christ-followers, to be genuine servants of the Nazarene, we must let unkindness go.
Kindness may be one of the most underappreciated traits of being a believer. We rightly talk often of power, humility, Bible reading, and church attendance, but we must never forget all these virtues have to flow through the filter of kindness. If we will take harshness out of our voice, meanness out of our deeds, and hardness out of our looks, we will be a long way down the road to Christlikeness.
Matt. 11:10 (Holman) “This is the one it is written about: Look, I am sending
My messenger ahead of You; he will prepare Your way before You.”
Jesus here quotes Malachi 3:1. John is Messiah’s predicted forerunner. Our text is another kind word from Jesus about John, but also bears on Jesus’ divinity.
The original quote, in Malachi, has YHWH saying, “I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.” In other words, the forerunner would be a messenger preparing the way for God Himself to come as Messiah to His people. Since John is the predicted forerunner, and Jesus is the Messiah John pointed to, our text presents Jesus claiming He Himself was God in human flesh.
The most distinctive teaching of Christianity is, Jesus is God. This is the boiling debate of our era in USA America. The cultural battle ultimately is not over some general, vague concept of God. The argument swirls around the person of Jesus. Mark it down. Take it to the bank. Jesus is the One on trial. He is the One that unbelievers would like to indict, try, convict, and strike from the record.
One of the most devious and successful plots against Jesus is the accusation He never viewed Himself as God. Skeptics say the notion was fanciful, hatched as a diabolical scheme by the early church, which passed on the myth as dogma.
The theory is preposterous. Jesus was crucified because He, not the early church, claimed He was equal with God. When He said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (JN 8:58), the Jews took up stones to kill Him because He spoke blasphemy, taking upon Himself the “I am” name of God. When He claimed “The Father and I are one” (JN 10:30), rocks were again picked up to stone Him.
When Pilate wavered during Christ’s trial, the crowd said Jesus had to die because He, not the early church, claimed to be the Son of God (JN 19:7). Jesus never denied the claim He was God. He couldn’t deny it. It was true.
These thoughts on Christ’s divinity are part of our church’s Christianity 101 class for unbelievers. I talked to a lady who went through the class and became a Christian. I asked her to tell me precisely when she believed in Jesus. She said it happened when she was sitting in the class, during the explanation that Jesus saw Himself as God. She thought the notion of Jesus’ divinity was concocted by the early church. When she realized Jesus viewed Himself as God, she immediately, while seated in the class, believed in Him. Maybe you want to do the same today.