Matthew 11. Jesus and John the Baptist.
Key Notes: John and Elijah. John and the least in the Kingdom. Jesus' public prayer. His yoke. Where God's sovereignty and our responsibility meet.
My usual take on this chapter is that Jesus is summarizing the life of John the Baptist, so it is really about John and a discussion of why he and Jesus were rejected. This time I realized that it is really about Jesus, and that it is a climax in the life of Christ:. Jesus tells us who He really is. It comes after the commissioning of the disciples and is the preface to chapter 12 in which the opposition to Jesus intensifies and leads to the series of parables in chapter 13. Chapter 11 speaks of the deity of Christ in a way that echoes the Gospel of John. The material is dense and subtle. Chew it slowly.
11:1 “And when Jesus had finished instructing….” This phrase closes out Matthew’s block of Jesus’ teaching—healing and commissioning the apostles--that started in chapter 8.
11:2–6 “When John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ....” This is the first time the word “Christ” has been used in Matthew since the birth narratives. Christ means anointed, the Messiah, God’s chosen servant spoken of especially in Isaiah. Matthew is making a statement.
John wanted to know if Jesus was the ” One to Come.” He had once said “One is coming after me….” (Matt.3:11). It is a code word for the Messiah, the One promised from the beginning. (Gen.3:15–16) . The phrase “One who comes” is expressed in various ways in the Old Testament, (Isa.59:29; Hab.2:2; Psa.118:26), as well as the NT. (Lk13:36; Lk.19:36; Jn.11:27; Heb.10:37).
John asked in doubt, although in the beginning he was Jesus’ powerful advocate, saying “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn.1:19–37).
The thrust of John’s general message was strong in its condemnation of Pharisees and Sadducees: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.” (Matt.3:7). But the threat of judgment—“the axe is laid to the root of the tree”, “chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire” was balanced with “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” and “ He will gather His wheat into the granary.” Like many of his contemporaries, John expected revolutionary change in the world. Instead, languishing in prison for speaking out against evil, John hears his disciples tell him that Jesus is having parties with sinners. Matt.9:11
The prophet did not completely understand his own message. We should not be surprised. The prophets struggled to understand, even as we do today.
“The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the suffering of Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you…." (IPet.1:10–12)
Jesus did not answer John directly, but told John’s disciples to report what they had seen:
“The blind receive their sight
and the lame walk;
lepers are cleansed;
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
and the poor have good news preached to them.”
Jesus was interpreting prophecy to John. This is what Isaiah had prophesied of Messiah about 700BC:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.” (Isa.35:5–6). (Also Isa.29:18–19; 61:1–4.)
John was not to receive his freedom in God’s plan. Jesus sent John a blessing, a kind of prayer that John not be tripped up, scandalized.
11:7–11 Then Jesus turned to the crowd and asked them three times why they went out to the desert.
What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed blowing in the wind? No. He had been rock-steady then.
Why did you go out? To see a courtier in fine clothes? No. He looked like Elijah then. Now he was in dungeon clothes.
Why did you go out? To see a prophet? Jesus said he was the greatest of all the prophets. He was the one Malachi foretold.
“Behold, I send My messenger to prepare the way before Me to prepare the way before Me and the Lord whom you see will suddenly come to His temple.” (Mal.3:1) “I” and Me” is the Lord God sending his messenger before Him.
Matthew reverses the pronouns:
“Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.” “Your” and “You” is Jesus. John the Baptist is the messenger in both Malachi and Matthew. Malachi says God is the sender. Matthew says Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy as the sender. So Matthew tells us that Malachi’s God is Jesus.
Why is John the greatest prophet ? Instead of standing far away from the event like the other prophets, he stood at the gateway that led people directly to Jesus. He stood as a living testimony to Jesus. And He was the only Prophet whose coming was foretold by another prophet, Malachi.
But the least person is the kingdom is greater than John. Why? Because he stood at the gateway to the Kingdom but could not enter into the experience of Jesus’ atonement and the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Kingdom people, even the smallest, stand on the shoulders of a giant.
11:12–15. In the year or so since John’s ministry there has been violence to the Kingdom and men of violence used force against it.
John, Christ's Forerunner, is in jail.
Jesus was urged out of Gadara. Matt.8:34.
He was accused of using demonic power. Matt.9:34; 12:24.
The disciples would soon be under attack. Matt.10:16–22
His parents tried to pull Him away. Mk.3:31.
The crowd tried to make Him king by force. Jn.6:15
“…and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” Mal.4:5 says “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” Jesus says that that prophecy regarding Elijah was fulfilled in John the Baptist. The Angel Gabriel told Zechariah that John “…will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah” . (Lk.1:17)
11:16–19 Jesus used a parable about children at play to compare Himself with John. John came with a funeral message: death and judgment is coming unless there is repentance. They said he was demonic, crazy.
Jesus came with a wedding message: there is blessing and joy in the kingdom. They said he was a bon vivant, a gourmet. They did not like either of their personalities.
“Yet Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Jesus uses the word “wisdom” meaning Himself. Simply, Jesus’ work is certified by the outcomes, the “children” brought into the Kingdom. (Lk.7:35). Wisdom in Proverbs (1:20–33; 3:13–20; 8:22–31) is a somewhat ambiguous manifestation of God and in the New Testament (ICor.1–3) wisdom is an attribute of God. (ICor.1:24,30). Jesus makes wisdom personal.
11:20 Then Jesus proceeded to denounce the cities of Galilee where He had done miracles but the people had not repented. He is sounding much like John the Baptist.
Of Chorazin we have no other word except that it is under judgment.
Bethsaida had seen a blind man healed (Mk.8:22) and feeding of 5000 (Lk.9:10–17). It was the home of Peter, Andrew, James, John and Philip. Jn.1:4
Capernaum had been a home for Jesus at first. (Matt.4:13). He had healed the centurion’s servant and done many other works of healing there. Matt.8:5–17
Tyre and Sidon in Phoenicia (destroyed by Alexander, 332BC) and Sodom near the Dead Sea (destroyed 2000BC) will fare better in the Judgment because they received less light.
This tells us that judgment is in proportion to knowledge: the more knowledge, the more responsibility. This principle applies to political units like cities as well as individuals. The people of Galilee had sinned in rejecting Christ and John in spite of being exposed to ” a great light”. Matt.4:16
[My guess is that all the statements Jesus made about John got back to him, and were a great relief and consolation.]
11:25–30 Jesus could have stopped right there. But He extended the invitation once again, beginning with a prayer.
“Jesus declared ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them babes; yea, Father for such was Your gracious will. ‘”
Jesus was praying aloud to the Father in public, in a moment of exaltation. The word for “thank” ( Gr. "ex-homologeo") is very unusual and expresses the idea of confessing or professing. He was gratefully confessing in public that God is His Father and that He has revealed Christ to the young and naive. He rejoiced that the disciples and others in the crowd had understood and come to Him. Luke tells us that the occasion was the return of seventy disciples from a successful preaching and healing mission, a moment to cheer about, like a football stadium after a touchdown.
Jesus then gives them (and us) the most profound teaching about Himself.
“All things have been delivered to Me by my Father,”
God has given Him authority to be the Shepherd of the flock, the Custodian of the Mystery, the Lord of all life. “and no one knows the Son except the Father,”
“and no one knows the Father except the Son”
The Father and the Son are unique in their relationship to each other and the intimacy of their knowledge. There is only one Son of God. “and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."
Coming to the Father is possible only through the Son and through His choice. As He said later to the disciples, “No one comes to the Father except by Me.” (Jn.14:6). Election, predestination, foreknowledge and calling are wrapped up in this statement. (Rom.8:29–30). It is exclusive, a narrow gate. And God has chosen not to reveal Him to the wise and understanding.
Again, Jesus could have stopped there, but He extended a wide-open invitation.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
The yoke is a wooden harness, a cross-bar with two heavy loops that goes over the head of two animals, usually oxen. They press forward in the loop with their shoulders to move the plow or wagon. One would never yoke and ox and a mule, for example; the animals must be compatible. In our case, we can envision the loop of Jesus’ harness as large and heavy, and ours as small, such as one might use for an experienced animal training a young one.
See the paradox. No one comes to the Father unless the Son reveals Him. But the invitation is also wide open for all to come to Him. Here is the Our Part / His Part Puzzle given again. This is where Calvinism, emphasizing God’s sovereignty, and Arminianism, emphasizing our responsibility face each other. We cannot resolve the puzzle, but we can tell the truth as we have seen it here.
But He said His "yoke is easy and His burden is light". We thought “the way was hard that leads to life and those who find it are few. “ (Matt.7:14). The Way is hard to understand. It is also hard to give up our own efforts and adopt His ways. Following Jesus does not come naturally. It is an act of continuing surrender, giving in and letting go. We will resist Him at various times and various ways all our lives. But if you hear His voice, Come.
He invites us to dump our sin-burden, to get in harness with Him and walk on, with Him bearing most of the weight. We will learn from Him as we go. He is gentle. We will find rest for our weary souls.
Summary of who Jesus is in this remarkable chapter:
Jesus is the Christ, the One to Come, spoken of by the prophets. 11:2
He is our healer, JHWH Rophe. 11:5; Ex.15:26
He is the Lord who spoke the prophecy to Malachi, and sent John the Baptist. 11:10
Jesus is our Wisdom. 11:19
He will be our Judge. 11:20–24
He is the Son of God, Owner of all things, Revealer of the Father. 11:26
Jesus is the Comforter of sinners, the Yoke-fellow of saints. 11:29–30