July 19, 2009

John and Jesus - Jesus and John

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Matthew Scripture: Matthew 11:1–15


John and Jesus-Jesus and John

Matthew 11:1-15
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Pastor Randy Smith

As we learned from a careful study of Matthew chapter 10, discipleship is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. The parting comments from our Lord as the twelve stood prepared for their missions trip provides unmistakable clarity regarding that expectation. I believe few chapters in Scripture could give us a more comprehensive and unambiguous portrait that identifies a true disciple, a true believer.

In a nutshell, we learned Jesus expects His disciples to share with others through their words and actions His message of the gospel. He expects them to understand persecution will result as they confront a God-hating world. He expects them to be courageous in the face of opposition as they trust the power and love of God. And He expects them to carry their cross, dying to self, and in so doing to allow Him to live His life through them.

Since discipleship is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, discipleship is at the heart of our ministry at the Grace Tabernacle. Just before His ascension Jesus left us these final words: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" (Mt. 28:19). Making disciples is our ministry.

Though we are aware that every given Sunday unbelievers may enter this church, our ministry when we assemble on the Lord's Day is not ultimately directed toward these individuals. Our ministry is directed to the Lord's people. Our ministry is directed to feeding God's sheep. Our ministry is in place to, Ephesians 4:12, "[Equip]…the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." As Paul said in Colossians, "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Col. 1:28-29).

You see, when we do ministry, we are given a choice. Either we water down the message and appease unbelievers at the expense of starving God's sheep, or we train believers by preaching the Word without compromise and trust that God will use the truth of His Word to open the eyes of the lost. Sermonettes will always produce Christianettes that are "carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14) and live unproductive spiritual lives. I do not think this was what Jesus had in mind when He said to Peter, "Tend My sheep" (Jn. 21:17) or as Paul told Timothy, "Preach the Word" (2 Tim. 4:2).

While we scatter to reach the lost, we gather by God's grace, at Grace, to be built up in our faith. That is why we have devised our baseball diagram to keep before us this high responsibility in ministry, this high calling of producing mature disciples.

We said first base is identification. Identification with the Lord through baptism and identification with the church through membership. Second base is called involvement. And the finest way to be involved is join a small group. Small groups provide the opportunity for instruction, fellowship, service, accountability, prayer and counsel. We have named third base employment, in other words, understanding your spiritual gifts and them putting them into service in the church. At this point you are no longer merely taking in but also giving out in ministry to others. And home base is called development. Development means you are a functioning disciple able to disciple others. Possibly it is a teacher with second graders or a father with a son or an older lady ministering to younger women, whatever the case, you are a disciple who is able to make disciples. That is what the Lord ultimately wants. And that is what we should desire at the Grace Tabernacle - mature disciples who are able to produce more mature disciples.

As we begin a new chapter this morning, verse 1 tells us that "Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples." Then "He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities." The twelve are off fulfilling their assignment while Jesus now continues His on His own. Yet while Jesus and His apostles are off doing ministry, John the Baptist comes back into the picture.

You will remember that John was the forerunner to Christ. He was a rugged guy preaching in the wilderness, preparing the way for the Messiah. He baptized people in the Jordan River. His message was one of repentance, calling people out on their sins, even prestigious religious leaders like the Pharisees.

It was this bold, fiery preaching that got John in trouble. After he rebuked Herod the tetrarch about his sinful marital decisions, John was thrown in prison. The Bible says Herod wanted to put him to death, but he didn't only because he feared the crowd (Mt. 14:5). So there sat John for about a year rotting away in some dark dungeon.

Ministry is easy when everything goes well. It is easy to evangelize when people accept the message. It is easy to discipline your kids when they immediately change their behavior. It is easy to disciple an adult when you witness tangible fruit. However, to give the best of your time and energy and heart and receive little but abuse for your actions, even the best of us can have a momentary lapse of faith - like John the Baptist. John started to have doubts.

It seems that John diligently fulfilled his commission. He was fearless and faithful. When Jesus came on the scene he humbly declared, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn. 3:30). I do not think John resented his loss of popularity nor do I believe he regretted his actions which led to his imprisonment. I simply believe John wanted some confirmation that his suffering was a result of doing the right thing. It is one thing to suffer for God. It is quite another to suffer for a mistake.

You see John was a man of great faith, but his thinking was skewed by the erroneous religious thought of the day. In the mind of the average Israelite, the Messiah would come to overthrow the Roman occupation and bring peace to the Jews. Jesus had been doing ministry for a year and there were no indications of any immediate judgment. A meek and lowly Messiah did not fit into his theological box. John was confused.


Let's go to our first point: "The Question from John." To settle his bewilderment, John did exactly what he needed to do. He went directly to the source. Yet since John was incarcerated, he sent some delegates to question Jesus. Verses 2 and 3 say, "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?'"

I suppose the dispatch went like this: "Jesus I hear about your teaching and your miracles (Lk. 7:18), but where is the judgment? Caesar is still on the throne, many are rejecting Your message, You speak of opposition and servants like me have not been vindicated for doing the right thing. It has been a year and things are not going the way I had expected."

I have no doubt that John believed there was something special about Jesus. If he didn't, why in the world would he have gone to Him to set the record straight? Yet you sit all day in a lonely cell and you have some time to reflect. The actions he witnessed did not match his theology. Where was the victorious King? John was perplexed. Was Jesus the Messiah? If not, is there to be another One to come? Simply put, "Where am I going wrong, Jesus?" With the right motives, I see nothing wrong with that question.

This, beloved, is why proper theology is so important. Obviously John had less revelation than we do so I do not want to be too hard on him, but when we think improperly about God it will lead to all kinds of problems. John was right that judgment would come. John preached it (Mt. 3:12), as did Jesus (Mt. 10:15), but like the rest of the Jews, John was wrong in regards to the timetable. In the first coming Jesus would be the Lamb of God to put away sins. During the Second Coming we will witness the Lion of Judah who comes to "[Deal] out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel" (2 Thes. 1:8; cf. Heb. 9:28). The kingdom of God would start off like a mustard seed, veiled from most as God reigns in the hearts of His people (Mt. 13). But the day would come in the future when, "At the name of Jesus every knee will bow…and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11).

So how did Jesus respond to John's question? Look with me at verses 4 and 5: "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.'"

Now why did Jesus say that? Why did Jesus answer his question by reciting His works? Well, we need to go back to John's original question: "Are You the Messiah?" Rather than defend His role from popular opinion or give a simple, "Yes, I am," our Lord went directly to the Scriptures to settle John's doubts. Isaiah 35:5-6 prophesies the Messiah work: "Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy." Isaiah 61:1, another prophecy, says, "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners." Do you see the connection? Jesus answered John's question by recalling His works. His works give evidence that He, according to the Scriptures, is the Messiah even if the judgment was delayed (cf. Isa. 35:4; 61:2).

In verse 6 Jesus closes with a beatitude: "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." Though spoken with tenderness, this is also no doubt a gentle warning to John and John's disciples. We walk a fine line between honest questions and satanic denial. It is one thing to desire a deeper understanding of our Lord's will, it is quite another to doubt Him and elevate our human reasoning above His Word. Judas fell into that trap. Blessed is the one, says Jesus, who maintains his or her faith in the midst of uncertainty.

Let me see if I can provide an illustration based upon what we learned in Matthew 10. If a person believes the bad theology that God wants a painless and carefree life for His children, what are they to think when they receive the first whiff of persecution? What could they possibly could assume? God doesn't love me! God is not loyal to His promises! I am being punished for some secret sin! No doubt they would doubt themselves and have some serious doubts about God Himself! All because their theology was incorrect and a concept was placed in their minds that was unbiblical.

When we live by faith in God's Word, we will desire to grow in the knowledge of His will, but we will never take offense over who He is or what He does. We know that John took our Lord's words to heart and persevered in his faith. The Bible says his head was served on a platter (literally!). It also says John's disciples reported to Jesus these events testifying to the fact that John stayed faithful to the end (Mt. 14:10-14).

But the question that fills our minds is what did Jesus think about John after this account? Was there any love lost? Did this severely damage John's reputation in the eyes of our Lord? Was Jesus now ashamed of John? His response may surprise you. It will definitely encourage you.

As we go to the second point, "The Validation of John," let me begin by reading from 2 Timothy: "If we deny Him, He also will deny us." We spoke about that last week - Mt. 10:33. Yet in relation to this week's topic: "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself" (2 Ti. 2:12-13). Keep that in mind!


The rest of verse 7, "As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John" (stop right there). So you get the picture. John's disciples ask Jesus the question. Then after they leave while the minds of Jesus' disciples were probably spinning our Lord makes a few comments to restore John's integrity.

Verse 7, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?" The Bible records that despite John preaching in some remote and harsh places, the people flocked to him in droves. Obviously to make that kind of sacrifice to visit John the implication is that John must have been one pretty incredible individual!

Jesus asks, would you have made a strenuous journey to the wilderness to see "a reed shaken by the wind?"

Reeds by the thousands lined the banks of the Jordan. The metaphor is intended to portray someone who is common, someone who vacillates, someone who waves back and forth at the wind of popular opinion, someone who plays the audience or says what everybody wants to hear. Did they go all the way out into the wilderness to see someone who was timid and unstable and spineless, lacking any conviction?

Despite his question, John was not a fickle man. Furthermore, he was not weak, either. Verse 8, "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing?"

John did not indulge himself in the comforts of modern living. We know his diet consisted of locusts and wild honey (Mt. 3:4). We also know of his attire that was reflective of his no-nonsense, rugged character. As Jesus said, "Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces." John was a man of rigid self-denial.

It is sad how quickly people can turn on you. Luke 3:15 records at one point that some people thought John was the Christ! But one suspicious question from the man, and I believe Jesus could smell the judgmentalism and the self-righteousness and the instant thoughts of indifference. So to disarm their suspicion, Jesus reestablishes John's character for the people. In other words, let's get something straight. John was not a fickle or weak man. Then He answers His own rhetorical question 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."

The Israelites had gone more than 400 years without a word from God, but now God broke the silence through a prophetic voice in John. But also according to Jesus, John was "more than a prophet." God sent John to not merely predict the Messiah (a task of the other prophets), but to announce the Messiah's arrival, "After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals (Mk. 1:7). John introduced Jesus to the people, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn. 1:29). And John even performed His baptism, "I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?" (Mt. 3:14).

As a matter of fact, John the Baptist was even the subject of prophecy himself! In verse 10 Jesus said, "This is the one about whom it is written, 'Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You'" (cf. Ex. 23:20; Mal. 3:1).

If there is any doubt of what Jesus thought about John, look at the beginning of verse 11: "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!"

What an incredible statement of commendation! Jesus Christ Himself declares John to be the greatest. Think about it, greater than David and greater than Elijah and greater than Abraham and greater than Moses and greater than Mary. Based on his calling and his character, John was the greatest human being who had ever lived (save Jesus)! John had some doubts about Jesus, but I trust Jesus' words would have settled any doubts that Jesus had about John!

As I meditated on these verses they brought great encouragement to my heart. In 1 John 2:1 it says that Jesus is our "Advocate." I was blessed to see the lengths to which our Savior went to stand up for one of His own.

Over a hundred years ago J.C. Ryle said, "There is something very beautiful and comforting to true Christians in this testimony which our Lord bears to John. It shows us the tender interest which our great Head feels in the lives and characters of all His members. It shows us what honor He is ready to put on all the work and labor that they go through in His cause. It is a sweet foretaste of the confession which He will make of them before the assembled world, when He presents them faultless at the last day before His Father's throne. Do we know what it is to work for Christ? Have we ever felt cast down and dispirited, as if we were doing no good, and no one cared for us? Are we ever tempted to feel, when laid aside by sickness, or withdrawn by providence, 'I have labored in vain, and spent my strength for nothing?' Let us meet such thoughts by the recollection of this passage. Let us remember, there is One who daily records all we do for Him, and sees more beauty in His servants' work than His servants do themselves. The same tongue which bore testimony to John in prison, will bear testimony to all His people at the last day. He will say, 'Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.' And then shall His faithful witnesses discover, to their wonder and surprise, that there never was a word spoken on their Master's behalf, which does not receive a reward (Commentary-Matthew 11).

Even as Matthew 10:42 says, for the smallest things - like giving a disciple a cup of cold water!

One of my favorite verses in the entire Bible: "For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints" (Heb. 6:10).

But it gets better. Look at the second half of verse 11. As great as John is, Jesus says, "Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

Who is that? Beloved, do you realize that that is you! We live in the era that holy men and women dreamed of, the era which angels longed to see, the era in which we have received the full revelation of God. John lived pre-cross. We live post-cross. We have greater privileges, greater revelation, greater responsibilities and greater power. John's question itself revealed how little he knew about the Savior. How much more clarity do we have today! John's ministry was the best up until that point in redemptive history. Yet we can point people to Jesus in a way that far surpasses his work. As great as John was, says Jesus, we are even greater!

Our time is coming to a close, so rather than tackle verses 12-15 right now, we will pick it up from here when we gather next week.

But what a wonderful passage we witnessed this morning. What a confirmation that Jesus truly is the Messiah and what an encouragement that He as the Messiah is also our Advocate. I believe too often we take for granted the special blessings we enjoy in being Christians. May we be reminded today that we have Someone who loves us very much; Someone who overcame sin and death and Satan to be our Savior, to redeem us from our sin and stand by our side as our friend; Someone who sticks with us unconditionally and remains faithful even when we are faithless. May such a right theology of Him move us to be the disciples Jesus expects!

other sermons in this series

May 1


The Great Conclusion

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 28:16–20 Series: Matthew

Apr 24


Resurrecting Hope (2)

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 28:1–15 Series: Matthew

Apr 17


The First Prerequisite To Resurrection

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Matthew 27:57–66 Series: Matthew