MATTHEW 11:1-2a (part one)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 11:1a “And it came to pass,. . .”
My Cousin Lois claimed this as her favorite Bible phrase. Whatever trouble she was facing, she would say, “This too shall pass. Even the Bible says it came to pass.” Her premise was not good Bible interpretation, but true nonetheless. For believers, trouble is temporary. “It came to pass.” The best is always yet to come.
Matt. 11:1b “. . .when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve
disciples,. . .”
This follows Jesus sending forth the Twelve on their first short-term mission trip. Christ’s commissions were commandments. The Twelve were not merely challenged to go, or only encouraged to do so, they were commanded to go.
We too have our marching orders to go. Every believer is expected to go, to leave our safe environs to penetrate lostness. Go is not the same as go and stay. Full-time career missions is a specific call. Few receive it. All are called to go as often as we can to our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and uttermost part of the world.
Matt. 11:1c “. . .he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.”
Jesus sent forth the Twelve not to escape work Himself. What He told them to do, He went to do. The Lord of the Harvest entered the harvest field Himself. Jesus was never out of action. Too much work needed to be done.
Sensing time is always short, Jesus felt compelled to hastily run through His home area to find as many lost sheep as possible as quickly as possible. Though the lion was devouring most, the Shepherd will pull from the destroyer’s mouth at least two legs and a piece of an ear (see Amos 3:12). He will return home with something worthwhile to show for His efforts. Even in desperate times, getting the word out was important to Jesus. It still is. As our culture sinks farther from the truth, don’t despair. Instead, determine to win as many as we can as fast as we can. Time is short. Not all will believe, but all should have access to hearing.
Jesus went to the cities. He cast His net where the most fish were. Christ desires every person in every city to hear His message. If the Church had always shared her Master’s longing, no part of the world would now remain in darkness.
Speaking of cities, if we are not praying for our city, what are we praying for? The missions revival made geography, local as well as global, vital to us.
Matt. 11:2a (part one) “Now when John. . .”
I have a soft spot in my heart for John the Baptist. I’m named for him. Dad started preaching when Mom was pregnant with me. Sitting in the father’s waiting room at Delta Community Hospital in Sikeston, Missouri, and filled with spiritual fervor at my birth, Dad heard me screaming, and said, “He reminds me of one crying in the wilderness.” So he named me in honor of John the Baptist, who was known as the voice of one crying in the wilderness. As a little boy, wanting to be like John the Baptist, who was beheaded, I would tell people, “When I die, I want you to cut my head off.” At least I had enough sense to not want it done until after I died. For my ordination sermon, Dad preached from John 1:6, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John,” and used the traits of John the Baptist’s ministry as a challenge for me to imitate in my ministry.
According to Jesus, John the Baptist was the second greatest person ever. John, eclipsed solely by the Lord Himself, was the first powerful prophet Israel had seen or heard in 400 years, since Malachi at the end of the Old Testament.
The Old Testament predicted Messiah’s arrival would be preceded by a forerunner who would come in the spirit and power of the great prophet Elijah, clearing the path, preparing the way, for Christ. John the Baptist was this prophet.
At a time sin had flooded into Israel, John erupted on the scene. Crowds adored him, religious leaders scrutinized him, rulers trembled at him. His was a voice crying. His tones were agitating, sharp and shrill, not golden and melodious.
Sin in his countrymen crushed him. His sensitive spirit felt horror and dismay. Many of God’s servants are marked by overwhelming sorrow due to sin around them. It takes away their pleasure. A cloud ever hangs over their hearts.
John was not alone in his concerns. Many knew something was deeply and desperately wrong in their land. The masses, weary of stereotyped platitudes rendered by Rabbis enslaved by tradition, flocked to the preacher of righteousness.
While religious leaders shook their heads, John shook the multitudes with words of living fire. He was a clear voice, appealing to heart and conscience with understandable, true words: repent, about face, we’re going the wrong direction.
John was a man of raw courage. Belonging to no one but God, he stood alone against powers of evil. His preaching was direct, personal, frank, and hard hitting. The common people loved it, and came from near and far to hear him.
The world hates humbug sissiness, and loves religious manliness. Lincoln said he enjoyed listening to preachers who acted like they were fighting bees.
We can learn from John. We need to speak truth in love, to address society boldly and kindly. We have truth our country desperately needs to hear. This is no time to pull back. These are times that try a preacher’s soul. Truth must blaze from us. Words that freeze on a speaker’s lips won’t thaw a hearer’s heart. John Wesley had it right, “I set myself on fire and the people come to watch me burn.”
A storm was always brewing in John the Baptist’s breast. When his inner tempest was simmering, the sin of Herod Antipas blew the cork. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, and Governor of Galilee and Perea, journeyed to Rome with his brother Philip, who ruled elsewhere in Israel. In Rome, Herod seduced Philip’s wife, Herodias. Herod returned home, divorced and imprisoned his wife, daughter of King Aretas of Arabia, and married the sister-in-law he had seduced. The religious leaders evidently said nothing about this evil act, but John exploded.
Thundering publicly against this immoral adulterous relationship, John finally crossed the line. He repeatedly uttered the unallowable sentence, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” John could have used words other than “unlawful” to describe Herod’s indiscretion. The preacher could have called it unwise, it might alienate the rest of the royal family. John could have said it was politically incorrect, the citizenry might be displeased with their leader acting this way. He might have called it inexpedient, the result could be civil war against his brother’s kingdom. John would have none of this. He took the case to a higher court, and arraigned the pair as guilty before God. Herod’s conscience was obviously gagged and silent. John decided it was his duty to try to awaken it.
Outraged, Herod arrested John and, according to the historian Josephus, cast him in the same prison with his ex-wife, at Machaerus, modern Khirbet Mukawer, five miles east of the Dead Sea, and fifteen miles south of its north end. The place is hot in summer and cold in winter, but hot springs nearby make it attractive.
Machaerus was a castle, one of Herod’s royal residences. The fortress was a sinful pleasure house, a place of decadence. Its remains can be seen. Luxurious halls are gone, but columns, roadway, cisterns, and aqueducts remain. Dungeons are there, with holes in the masonry where once were prison bars that jailed John.
After John was gone, Herod kept hearing an echo, “not lawful, not lawful.” When Jesus’ popularity began to soar, Herod’s haunted mind caused him to say, “It is John the Baptist risen from the dead.” The king had thought silencing John’s preaching would stop the echo. Some inner voices, only repentance can silence.
It would be easy for religious people to forget John preached against their sins. He denounced not only the obvious moral transgressions of his day, but also the more subtle sins of the religious, those seeking to earn their way to Heaven.
John’s message of repentance was simple. Turn from self. Depend utterly on God, not only for forgiveness of sins, but also for merit. Augustine called our efforts to earn our own righteousness “splendid sins.” From these too we must repent, we must turn from all efforts to save ourselves.