When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
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? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
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. 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.
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
Understanding And Applying the Text
Herod had imprisoned John. There was great animosity between John and Herodias, Herod’s wife. She had married Philip. She left Philip and married his brother Herod. John called her out for this sin. Sin? Yes, sin. We think so little of marriage today. Divorce is commonplace. We divorce for any reason. We claim we no longer love our mates. We divorce for the same reason(s) Herodias did. It was immoral then and it is immoral now. If anyone calls us out for it. We scream, off with their head. At least figuratively.
Pointing out Herod’s and Herodias’ sin landed John in jail. And It cost him his head.
John had already declared Jesus was the messiah. Now he sends his disciples to ask if Jesus was the messiah. What gives? Many have claimed John was starting to doubt. That is why he sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus. I must align myself with Calvin on this point. Calvin writes: “The opinion entertained by some, that he sent them partly on his own account, is exceedingly foolish; as if he had not been fully convinced, or obtained distinct information, that Jesus is the Christ.”
John was aware his time on earth was nearing an end. He had good reason to fear his disciples would fall away after his death. John was pointing his disciples away from himself and towards Jesus. He wanted his disciples to become Jesus’ disciples. John had to decrease as Jesus increased. (John 3:30)
John was better known than Jesus. You might say he was a celebrity preacher. Pastors ought to point to Christ. Our celebrity pastors are dangerous things. They draw attention to themselves. They draw attention away from Christ. But the argument is their tactics bring in the crowds. They pack stadiums. Once the crowd is there the preacher can point to Christ. What drew the crowd? It was the celebrity, the promise of entertainment. So drawing under false pretenses is a bait and switch. It also is not what happens.
Crowds and packed stadiums are not the goals. Preaching Christ and Him crucified are what we are to do. You can attract a crowd with a football game or a rock concert. But in neither case is Christ’s Gospel preached. Let us not confuse the means with the ends. Jesus said the Father would draw all men to Christ. (John 12:32) Drawing men to Christ is above our pay grade.
Jesus’ response to the question about rather He was the one is interesting. We should learn from it. First, notice what He did not say. He did not give a simple “Yes.” Nor did He not tell the disciple “Tell John to he only needs to believe. He needs to have more faith.” He did not say, “Tell John you have to believe in your heart. You need to feel a burning in your heart.”
No, He said tell John what you see. Jesus gave objective evidence. He presented objective facts. He did not make an assertion. He did not give subjective reasoning. The blind received their sight. The lame were walking. Lepers were cleansed. Deaf were hearing. Even the dead were raised. And most of all the poor heard the good news. These were all evidence. These things happened. They were objective truths. They were verifiable.
Do you believe Jesus is the Christ? Why? What is your evidence? Is it because it makes you feel good inside? Do you just know in your heart? Do you believe because you have a burning in your heart? Well, that is nice for you. But that is not faith that is credulity. Know why you believe, otherwise, you do not have faith you have superstition.
This is also a blueprint for evangelism and preaching the gospel. What is the evidence, the proof Jesus is the Messiah? Why should anyone believe? Is it your best argument, because it makes you feel good? That is nice for you but it is hardly proof. It is not evidence. It is at best a subjective belief. It is extreme arrogance to claim your subjective belief should be everyone’s belief. Follow Jesus’ example give evidence. Support your claim with objective evidence.
After John’s disciples left, Jesus praised John. Everyone know who John was. Christ turns to the crowd and reminded them of why they went to see John. They traveled into the wilderness. Why? To see vegetation? To see a great and powerful man? To see a fashion show? No, they went to the wilderness to see a prophet from God. They longed to hear what God had to say from the mouth of a prophet.
While John was a prophet, he was more than a prophet. He was the greatest prophet of the old covenant. John was the immediate forerunner of Christ. He was the one predicted in Malachi 3:1. John the Baptist is “more” because he introduces the one (Jesus) who brings the new era.
After John comes there is a shift of eras. The new era is so great that even its lowest member is greater than John. And John was the greatest one of the previous era. And if you are in Christ you are greater than John.
As John Wesley records.
“One perfect in the law, as John was, is inferior to one who is baptized into the death of Christ. For this is the kingdom of heaven, even to be buried with Christ, and to be raised up together with him. John was greater than all who had been then born of women, but he was cut off before the kingdom of heaven was given. He was blameless as to that righteousness which is by the law; but he fell short of those who are perfected by the spirit of life which is in Christ. Whosoever, therefore, is least in the kingdom of heaven, by Christian regeneration, is greater than any who has attained only the righteousness of the law, because the law maketh nothing perfect.”John Wesley Comentary on Matthew
Jesus said John was Elijah. John said he was not Elijah. We must pause here and reconcile the comments John made about himself with Jesus’. John said he was not a prophet. John said he was not Elijah (John 1:21). But Jesus said John was a prophet. And John was Elijah. (v 14). These statements are contradictory. The clear and simple answer is. John was wrong. There is no doubt John was a prophet.
There is a lesson here for us to take comfort in. John was doing what was natural to him. He did not recognize himself as a prophet. He did not recognize himself as the manifestation of Elijah. But he was. God used John in a way John was not aware of.
We tend to be dissatisfied with the role God places us in. We want more. We want to be greater. So, we look for some grand mission or quest. This is reinforced by preachers telling us to dream bigger. Be better. God has more for us. We must strive for what God has for us. We wrestle with God rather than being at peace. We could be doing exactly what God has for us to do. Instead, we allow ourselves to be discontent with God’s plan and we look for something else. We think we must be bigger, be larger, be greater. It is all about us while we claim it is about God. Live the life where God has placed you. Be at peace with God’s will for you.
If you are in Christ you are already greater than the greatest of the past era. It is not because of yourself or what you have done. You are greater because of what Christ has done.
For a long time Jesus’ comment about the Kingdom of heaven suffering violence and the violent take if by force, confused me. It was not until I read John Calvin’s comment on it I think I understand the point Jesus was making. Calvin commentary is: “The meaning therefore is, A vast assembly of men is now collected as if men were rushing violently forward to seize the kingdom of God; for, aroused by the voice of one man, they come together in crowds, and receive, not only with eagerness but with vehement impetuosity, the grace which is offered to them.”
In other words, people were and still are excited about the prospect of eternal life. They try to take it by force. That is, they work really, really hard for it. Grace offends us. What do you mean? It is offered to anyone? Not everyone deserves it. I am working hard I deserve it. If I work hard God will have no choice but give me eternal life. I will deserve it. That is trying to take, by force a gift, God gives by grace.