Reading Time: 7 Minutes
The first section of this chapter in Matthew’s Gospel deals with John the Baptist’s questions about Jesus. This section deals with Jesus’ evaluation of John’s importance to the world.
Matthew remembered Jesus asking three rhetorical questions about John. He wrote, “As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.'” (Matthew 11.7-10)
Let’s look at each of Jesus’ questions and think about them in our current context.
(1) A reed shaken by the wind – Teachers in Jesus’ day used this phrase to describe speakers who spoke only what their audiences wanted to hear. John the Baptist certainly wasn’t playing to the crowd, when he called them “children of snakes” (Matthew 3.7) and called King Herod to account for his sin (Matthew 14.3).
Paul wrote about a time when people would prefer to listen to reed-like speakers than those that spoke the genuine word of God. He wrote, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
We are certainly living in times like Paul described. It is crucial for us to know and to do God’s will, rather than to be deceived by clever and entertaining speakers.
(2) A man dressed in soft clothing – Jesus was probably contrasting John’s camel hair clothing with that of King Herod’s elaborate clothing in an allusion to John’s imprisonment.
“Soft-clothing” speakers are smooth and persuasive. Prophets are loud and passionate. The prophet Jeremiah had to contend with the deceptive words of smooth and persuasive speakers. He said,
“For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6.13-14)
Greed and deception are at the heart of “soft-clothing” speakers. They speak “feel good” words that gather crowds and pad their soft-clothing pockets, but fail to heal the wounds of people.
Would you tolerate a doctor who had smooth and kind words for you, but who never got to the root cause of your illness? We should heed Jesus’ approval of John the Baptist and look for speakers who speak God’s truth, even if their words are painful to receive.
(3) Did you go out to see a prophet – John was a prophet. He told people that God was doing something new. His kingdom was at hand. The effective reach of God’s power was now available to people like never before.
John was more than a prophet, because not only did he speak, but he prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah.
Last Saturday night, Coach Jake Taylor invited Maywood Baptist people to pray informed by Ephesians 3.14-21. Please read this great prayer and begin praying it for everyone in your sphere of influence. God will use you to be like John and prepare the way for his coming into their lives.
No One Greater than John. Yet . . .
Jesus continued his evaluation of John with these words, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11.11).
Jesus identified John as the finest human being to live on the earth. He saw him as greater than Moses, King David, and the other prophets. It is a sad statement on humanity that this “greatest man” was in prison and suffering because of a gross miscarriage of justice.
John, however, lived on one side of God’s activity. The entry level person in the kingdom had greater privilege than John. Let’s not misunderstand Jesus’ message here. We are not talking about John’s relationship to God. Jesus made it clear how powerful was John’s connection to God.
In talking about John, Jesus was drawing a striking contrast between the old age and the coming of the kingdom of God. The effective reach of God’s power (the kingdom of God) is available to our generation and it was not available in the same way to John’s. We are incredibly fortunate to live in this time. I believe that is what Jesus is saying here.
By the way, we should not take lightly the opportunity to live in the age of God’s kingdom. Let’s enjoy and experience the effective reach of God’s power to the fullest extent of our abilities.
Violence and the Kingdom
Jesus gave final opinion of John and his mission like this, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11.12-15).
John the Baptist was in prison, because the systems of the world sought to retain control and rejected the effective reach of God’s power (the Kingdom of God). The Bible presents a very interesting contrast between the official power structures of religion and the government with God’s kingdom.
Religious leaders, who should readily accept God’s rule, reject God’s representatives because they are entrenched in their own power, greed and status. Governmental leaders likewise reject the effective reach of God’s power, because it threatens the power of their state.
Jesus ended his comments about John with the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (verse 15). The conflict of God’s people with the systems of the world is very real. We need to know and do God’s will. We need to live in the effective reach of God’s power, and not be deceived into following the world’s system.
Dear Jesus, we confess our need for your help. We need to know what is your will. We desire to live our lives in the power and love of your kingdom. Please take us by the hand and help us do this, we pray.