DUNCAN/More than a prophet
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 11:7-9. We learned last week that if John the Baptist can suffer from spiritual discouragement and wrestle with serious doubts, then so can any believer. But, because of that doubt and because it was conveyed publicly to Jesus by his disciples, apparently many in the crowds were now criticizing John. We will see three things from this passage. First, Christ comforts and encourages His faithful but weak followers. Second, Christ calls all who heard John’s message to embrace and enter the kingdom. And third, Christ confronts the excuses of those who have not entered the kingdom.
I. Christ Comforts and Encourages His Faithful but Weak Followers.
In verses 7-10 Jesus gives a defense of John’s reputation and He acclaims him to be more than a prophet. There the Lord Jesus teaches us that He comforts and encourages His faithful followers, even when they are weak. Jesus’ high words of testimony concerning John indicate to us that He genuinely cared about His disciples. He genuinely cared about John and about his reputation. Even when the world had turned its back on John, Jesus had not turned His back on John. Because John had experienced this doubt, his reputation was suffering serious damage amongst the multitudes. They were being openly critical of him and accusing him of various things. First of all, in verse 7 you see that some people were accusing John of being fickle, of vacillating. He had thunderously proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. Now he is asking the question, “Are you the Coming One or is there somebody else that we ought to look for?” Notice also in verse 8 that people were accusing John of being weak and soft. The Lord Jesus says in verse 8, “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces!” The Lord Jesus knows the answer. They didn’t go out into the wilderness to see a soft man. They went out into the wilderness to see a man of conviction. The Lord Jesus says that’s the kind of man John is. He is a man of conviction. He’s a man of principle. He’s a man of courage.
Apparently in verse 9, there were some who were questioning John’s status as a prophet. So, the Lord Jesus says 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 Lord Jesus says that John is more than a prophet. He defends John from these charges and criticisms that are put to him, and He honors him. Jesus is manifesting a tender concern for his people in the way He defends the reputation of John. Don’t think that the Lord Jesus doesn’t care about you and about your reputation. The Lord Jesus made Himself of no reputation in order that He might make you sons and daughters of the Most High. He tells you not to worry about your own reputation.
II. Christ Calls All Who Heard John’s Message to Embrace and Enter the Kingdom.
Notice in verses 11-15 that Jesus issues a kingdom invitation. He turns His focus from the character of John – which he has vindicated – to the message that John preached. He teaches those of us who hear John’s message that we are to embrace and enter the kingdom. Christ calls all those who have heard John’s message to repent and believe. Jesus, in verse 11, pays the most profound compliment to John. He says, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there have not arisen any greater than John the Baptist.” Jesus may well have given His most profound compliment to John, the greatest compliment of His ministry. What does He mean when He says that “none has arisen greater than John”? First of all, Jesus reminds us that John’s arrival, John’s birth, John’s very ministry was a matter of prophecy. He quotes in verse 10 from Malachi 3:1. John’s very arrival, his very ministry, is the fulfillment of prophecy.
Notice also that he emphasized in his preaching the necessity of repentance. John preached a message that was not popular, but it was true. John did not want to draw attention to himself but to focus the attention of the multitudes upon their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And so, we see John’s humility, and that may be the greatest point of this man’s character. He did not mind fading into the background as Christ was exalted, for that was what he came for. The Lord Jesus then says in verse 12: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force.” Jesus’ point is that we cannot take the kingdom and sleep. We cannot be indifferent about the kingdom. We must embrace the kingdom like John, a man of vigor.
III. Christ Confronts the Excuses of Those Who Have Not Entered the Kingdom.
In verses 16-19 Jesus delivers a warning towards precisely those people who do not embrace the kingdom. He turns from consideration of John and his message to a consideration of the crowds who had just moments before been criticizing John. He asks this question in verse 16: “But, to what shall I compare this generation?” In verses 16 and 17, Jesus gives an illustration. He says this generation is like the children who go out into the marketplaces on holidays and play games. They get into arguments about which game they are going to play. Some of them want to play wedding. Others of them want to play funeral. John comes and he’s austere. He’s a man of courage. He’s not a ‘buddy, buddy’ kind of guy. He abstains totally from alcohol. He eats weird food. He wears weird clothes, and he prophetically proclaims judgment, condemnation, and repentance in the wilderness. And, what do you say about him? ‘He’s so mean. He’s mean-spirited. He’s not nice. He’s not warm.’ They accuse John of being a demon-possessed man. ‘He’s a fanatic,’ they say.
Isn’t it amazing how folks will often criticize the method of ministry and the message of the minister, and the outer trappings of the Church and they’ll miss the gospel? We come from a society of consumers, and we approach everything like consumers, including the Church. We taste test it. We color test it. We music test it. We have different criticisms for the trappings of the church, but do we miss the gospel in the midst of those criticisms? Jesus is warning the generation around them that the message that He and John both proclaimed in radically different styles, in radically different ways, is the one message of truth that will save you. We need this message. May we trust in Christ and His message and turn from life to death.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at email@example.com.