“2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:5 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.6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.7 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? 8 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.9 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.11 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.12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.15 He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.16 But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, 17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. 19 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. (Matt 11:2-19)
John the Baptist has been imprisoned for a terrible crime – that of proclaiming the truth. He had told King Herod that to live in concupiscence and adultery by marrying his brother, Philip’s wife – Herodias. Can you imagine? Today, John would be accused of that disarming act of being “too judgmental” yet John simply proclaimed God’s judgment from His Word! We walk daily among many Herods and Herodiases who would, if they could, cast us into prison for revealing their sinful lives to them. “For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.” (Mark 6:17-20) If you cannot abide the message, then by all means kill the messenger. The messenger is killed today by accusations of being too judgmental; thus the church has become sterile and impotent in dealing with sin. Instead of being salt and light to the world, the church has heard the world and agreed not to judge against the sins of the world.
What is the first characteristic of John the Baptist that comes to mind when his name is mentioned? For me, I think of a Voice Crying in the Wilderness – “For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Matt 3:3) What is this Wilderness?
Wilderness – a wild or uncultivated state. (Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary) The greatest and most desponding of wildernesses is not geographic, but spiritual. Bread and water are in short supply in a geographic wilderness, but so, too, in a spiritual one – there is lacking the Bread of Heaven and the Water of Life on the neon-lit streets of most American cities. As one walks those streets, he sees a wanton decadence and lust in the vacant faces of those he meets. There is no one with which he can fellowship concerning the riches of Christ for all are spiritually penniless. On those streets, the only mention of Christ is as a ‘Voice Crying in the Wilderness.’
The text today falls into two sections. The first: reveals a faltering faith of the great witness (John) and Christ’s gentle response to this man of faith. (verses 2-6) The second: Christ provides a witness to John of the truth of His ministry. We are not to consider John weak in faith for that is clearly not the case. John has been imprisoned and treated with dishonor. His life is in peril daily, yet he continues to believe under harsh conditions that exceed our ability to comprehend. But any of us have moments when we need a reassuring word, and this is the moment when John sends for confirmation.
“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?” This is not for the benefit for John’s disciples, but for his own comfort of reassurance. He is giving his very life on preparing the way for Christ’s ministry, so a reassuring word under these circumstances is reasonable. John is in prison in the gloomy fortress of Machaerus that Herod had built to serve as a sinful pleasure house and an impregnable fortress in the savage hills of Moab. The halls of pleasure and impregnable walls have collapsed, but the dungeon area is still discernible with the holes in the masonry to serve as witness of the chains of its victims (John included).
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew 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.” Christ gently gives counsel to John’s disciples to go and give testimony of all that has been prophesied and fulfilled in the ministry of Christ. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:5-6) “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” (Isaiah 61:1) These are prophecies written seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, so we are emboldened in our faith to see their complete fulfillment – so was John. I love that phrase from Isaiah regarding the proclamation of Liberty to the captives. As a nation, God has favored our founding and our place as a nation among the nations of the world; but He has also made available to every man and woman of every land this Liberty from the captivity of sin if they will but come to Him. Jesus tells these things to John’s disciples so that John will have his faith confirmed, but to us, too!
“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. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.” These are all questions whose import is every whit as directed to us today as to the disciples around Jesus. When we go to prayer service, do we go to see some amazing performance of a man preacher? These services are seldom called prayer services today, but more often ‘Celebrations” or “Festivals.” Such terms describe experiences intended to uplift man, prayers and worship uplift Christ! Do we expect our clergy to wear the latest fashion in clothing? My father told me that any man given to frequent changes of fashion in attire is also likely to be blown about by every wind of doctrine. We have evangelists today clothed in $2,000 suits, wearing great diamond rings, and sporting gold, Rolex watches appealing for “seed money” from widows and elderly who barely can supply their pantries with bread. I can almost smell the scorched fires of their punishment to come. John is no mere prophet, but the chosen messenger of God to herald the coming of His only Begotten Son!
“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.” (see also Malachi 3:1) Christ extols the virtues of John after his disciples depart. He desires that no honor be lost of John’s character in sending his questions to Christ. The character of Christ is quite different from that of men: Christ gives acclaim to the Baptist after his disciples have departed. Man gives flamboyant acclaim to men to their faces, but often critical stabs to their backs. Though John stands high above the mark in the company of men, he is well short in the Kingdom of Heaven to which he aspires – as are all of us.
“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.” The battle is hot and the mournful cries of the battlefield are full of the painful suffering of the saints. The path to the Kingdom is not a self-willed, demonstration of manly power (as is today in the modern church), but a gentle following of that Great Shepherd of the Flock. The wolves stalk the flock seeking every remunerative opportunity to shed blood and get advantage. This describes the Kingdom of Matthew 13:31-32. Those ‘birds’ lodging in its branches are demons, and they most often win the higher positions of honor in the tree.
“And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Christ is generous in sharing great mysteries to those whose ears are open in humble faith to hear. Amazingly, the worldly wise can never grasp the simplicity of truth uttered by Christ. But if we have ears (open ears, believing ears, trusting ears, hearing ears) to hear (not just the Words but the Spirit speaking) understand these mysteries. “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.” (Mal 4:5-6) Please note the last word of the Old Testament: CURSE. The law is a curse to those who do not believe. Note the last word of the New Testament: AMEN (hearty approval). “Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Rev 22:20-21) There is a glorious difference in our prospects from the Old to the New Testament. Jesus Christ makes ALL the difference!
“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.” Donald Frasier wrote (in Metaphors of the Gospel) that Jesus “pictured a group of little children playing at make-believe marriages and funerals. First, they acted a marriage procession; some of them piping on instruments of music, while the rest were expected to leap and dance. In a perverse mood, however, these refused to respond, but stood still and looked discontented. So the little pipers changed their game, and proposed a funeral. They began to imitate the loud wailing of Eastern mourners. But again they were thwarted, for their companions refused to chime in with the mournful cry and to beat their breasts.” These non-participating children are non players. They never like the tune or the narrative, but stand jeering on the sidelines. Have our churches become such dead events of observation?
“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.” The world will always find cause to condemn the people of God and to kill the prophets. Either they are too pious, or they lack piety; either they are too hot, or they are too cold; either they are too bold, or not bold enough; either they are too spiritual, or not spiritual enough. If we are the Children of Wisdom, we shall have ears that hear and know. We dare not stand on the sidelines jeering, but become active responders to the pipe. “The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.” (Isaiah 50:4-5) Are we rebellious children jeering those who labor, or are we those who, taking to the plow, never cast an eye right, left, or back, but plow a straight row for Christ? (Luke 9:62)