Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Importance of John the Baptist

Matthew 11:1-19

“And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.
Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:1-3)

Matthew 3:13-17 describes Jesus coming to John for baptism.  In John 1:28-34, John explains how he knew Jesus was the Messiah when he baptized him.   He was quite positive in his statement to Andres and another man in John 1:35-36.  “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!”

Although multitudes flocked to hear Jesus, he seemed to be having little impact on the religious and political leadership of Israel.  When John was imprisoned for his preaching and no one intervened on his behalf, he began to wonder if he’d been premature in his announcement of Christ as the Messiah.  Perhaps Jesus was just another prophet like himself.  He sent some of his own disciples to make sure.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their 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.  And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”  (Matthew 11:4-6)

Jesus essentially told them to look at the results or fruit of his ministry, rather than the activity.  The results were things only God could produce in individual lives.   Incurable diseases and injuries were cured, and dead people were restored to life.  Jesus message was not even being preached to the rich and powerful leaders, but to the poor and politically unconnected majority.   God’s blessings were reserved for those who didn’t get discouraged and quit because of the lack of immediate accomplishment.   

Meaningful long term change is effected by making changes in the most basic areas, rather than by imposing change from the top.  God wants meaningful and permanent change rather than just an illusion of change. 

“And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?  But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.” (Matthew 11:7-8)

The people knew who John’s disciples were and what their questions were.  After they left, Jesus began to explain a little about his relationship to John.  The people had taken John as having something serious to say, not as some mere interesting phenomena such as a reed shaking in the wind.  They were not attracted to him because of his fancy clothing or political connections,  Had that been their interest, they would have been better off to go to the political insiders.

“But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.  For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.  Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:9-11)

They had gone to hear John because they believed he was a prophet who could tell them what God wanted.  Jesus said he was more than an ordinary prophet.  He was the special messenger described in Malachi 3:1.  “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”

Humanly speaking there had never been a greater naturally born man of God than John the Baptist, even including Moses, David, or Elijah.  At the same time, even the least important saved person is greater because they have been spiritually born and have the spirit of God in themselves.

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.  For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. Mt 11:14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.  He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:12-15)

Up until John began his ministry, all the prophets and the law had been speaking of something to come in the future.  John was speaking of things in that day, and he had been arrested and would soon be beheaded for his preaching.   Violent men would crucify Jesus and execute Christians in an effort to conquer and control the kingdom of heaven. 

John’s coming was a fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6.  “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”  They would be wise to heed John’s message.

“But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.  The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.” (Matthew 11:16-19)

Unfortunately, the children of Israel were like a group of little children who decide to make up their own rules and change them whenever they want in order to win the game.  After the Persian Empire was conquered by the Greeks, the Jews had formed different schools of interpretation of the law.  They used these interpretations to discredit anyone they disagreed with. 

When John came, eating only locusts and wild honey and wearing camel’s hair and living out in the wilderness like a hermit, the religious leaders accused him of being demon possessed.   When Jesus lived and ate just like they did, and visited with ordinary people, they accused him of drunkenness and gluttony and of associating with unacceptable people.  As Solomon said in Proverbs 21:2, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes...”   They could always find some way of justifying even the most untenable position.

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