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John the Baptist’s Question
11:1 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their towns.
Although Christ had sent his apostles out to preach, he did not refrain from going to preach himself. In the local church situation, there would be little point in the Lord sending new workers to us if the result were that existing workers ceased their work!
11:2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question:
John the Baptist had been arrested quite near to the commencement of Jesus' ministry, and so perhaps had seen and heard only little of Christ’s work before his imprisonment. John's disciples often visited him in prison, and brought him news of what Jesus was doing. In the darkness of his cell, facing a violent death, John did not so much waver in his faith (see verse 7) as in his courage, but the effects can be similar.
11:3 "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?"
John needed reassurance concerning his own life and ministry. He had been sent to prepare the way of the Lord (John 1:23) and had publicly testified that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (John 1:34). Now the glorious times when multitudes gathered for baptism had gone, being replaced by trouble and suffering.
All involved in Christian ministry for any length of time will experience a dark night of the soul similar to that which John experienced. Doubts and questions arise concerning our life and ministry; we may feel that nothing has been accomplished, and that our life has lacked any real significance. The answer of Jesus to John's disciples is sufficient to inspire us, too, with renewed faith and courage to persevere (1 Cor. 16:13).
11:4-6 Jesus answered them, "Go tell John what you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."
At first reading it may not appear that Christ gave John any specific word relevant to his life and ministry. But in fact Christ reveals to John that his ministry had been fulfilled. The object of his service had been realised. His life and ministry were actually, from God's viewpoint, a complete success. John had been sent to prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus, and that ministry had now commenced; and this is the fact that the disciples of John were told to report to him. John had declared Christ to be the Son of God, and through his mighty works, God was now giving witness to that same fact. The poor flocked to hear the gospel. John's life and ministry were not for nothing, but rather they were nothing by themselves. John needed to see his ministry as being part of the wider and greater work of Christ on earth.
This is the meaning behind Jesus words: "blessed is he who is not offended in me." John would be blessed if he considered the work of Christ to be of supreme importance; more important than his own personal success. Only when our lives are completely taken up with Christ and lived for him will they find their true meaning (Matt. 10:39).
The apostle Paul suffered a similar dark night of the soul, but was reassured concerning the significance of his service for Christ, and said: (Acts 20:24) “but none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”
11:7 While they were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
It was not to John or his disciples but to the general public that Jesus gave this testimony approving John's life and ministry. He affirms that John was a man not easily shaken in his faith or dedication to God by opposition or the threat of death which hung over him.
11:8 What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fancy clothes? Look, those who wear fancy clothes are in the homes of kings!
John's clothes were of camel’s hair, and he lived in the wilderness, living on locusts and wild honey in a manner similar to Elijah. He was no stranger to hardship and difficulty for the sake of Christ all his life. He was no fop at the king’s court, but a seasoned warrior of Jesus Christ.
11:9-10 What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: 'Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'
Jesus affirms John's calling to be more than a prophet. As the messenger of the Lord, he prepared the people to receive God's only begotten Son. No prophet before him had received such an honour.
11:11 "I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.
Because of the honour placed on him, John should be considered as the most exalted of mortal men. Indeed, even being allowed to carry Jesus' sandals would have made him highly honoured, even though he considered himself unworthy to do so (Matt. 3:11). Yet every born again believer has an even greater privilege. We are not merely preparing the way for the Lord, but have him dwelling within us, and are his representatives in the world, witnessing for him and ministering to the church which is his body.
11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it.
From the time John came to announce the coming of Christ, to the moment of Christ spoke these words, the kingdom of heaven had been proclaimed so that men and women might press their way into it. It "suffers violence" in that one does not need any further personal invitation to enter. Since the invitation is to all, it is for those who truly wish to enter to press in with all their might, seeking the blessings of forgiveness and salvation, as being the most important blessing they can have - which they are.
11:13-15 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John appeared. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come. The one who has ears had better listen!
Christ announces that the end of the old covenant was with Malachi. John's appearance heralded the bringing in of a new covenant by Christ; and as had been predicted by Malachi, a prophet would come in the spirit and power of Elijah to herald the appearance of the Lord (Mal. 4:5). Those with hearts willing to listen and to be instructed by Christ would understand that this prophecy had been fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist.
11:16-17 "To what should I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to one another, 'We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance; we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.'
There was simply no pleasing these people! They had hardened their hearts and refused to listen. Jesus compares them to a group of sulky and awkward children who did not want to play with the others in their games.
11:18-19 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 drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
John came in the manner of Old Testament prophets, and was separated to God like someone under the vow of a Nazarite Yet he was accused of being mad or demon possessed. When Jesus came in an entirely different manner they rejected him also, accusing him of being over indulgent, and associating with sinners. They would not listen to God's word no matter how it was presented to them. In our modern day there is a temptation to think that because men and women have not responded to the gospel when it has been presented in a certain way, that they might accept it when presented it in a different way. Some are actually shying away from preaching, for they think that the gospel will be found more palatable if it is rapped or presented in some other "more accessible" format. Whilst there is nothing wrong with presenting the gospel in a host of new ways, the sad fact remains that if the gospel is not responded to, it will make no difference how we present it. Nothing will alter this by our living differently, dressing differently, or outreaching differently. It is the gospel people are rejecting, not the manner of the preacher or the method of presentation. Choose whatever method of presentation you like; Jesus’ words reveal that the eternal result will be the same.
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