Learning from the Case of John the Baptist - Matthew 11:4-19

John's Question ? It was simple. How often have people confronted with persecution, their steps apparently set in concrete, their liberties eroded, harsh penalties imposed, with traffic in truth seemingly squashed as tyrants rule, in 'church', State or society, questioned the obvious and wondered about the saliently evident! Are you really the Messiah or must we look for another! (Matthew 11:3). So John spoke.

Confined in a prison by the treacherous, outrageous Herod, his life at the whim seemingly of bombast and cunning, he searchingly asked of Christ: IS THIS the way of it, then ? or is something else to come!

He had known in fact from the first who Christ was (John 1:29), and had been present at the amazingly trinitarian display at Christ's baptism (Luke 3:21-23). Something he had seen, heard of the Lord's actions, but no doubt for some time only in highly filtered form: life in prison is not a sympathetic news society for spiritual things! A man of direct approach, he was willing to ask the obvious and receive whatever answer came. Are you then the Messiah,  or is another coming ... ? perhaps with more obvious power to direct the nation, which currently is as devious, dishonest and dishonourable in its high places, as ever! Such would seem to have been his thinking and the psychic grounds for it.

How often do people even go far further than this, and indulge in a depression program, which is nothing other than doubt of the obvious, because it hurts! WHO said it would not hurt! Paul speaks much to the contrary (II Tim. 3:12-13), and more in his example! (II Cor. 4:8ff., 6, I Cor. 4:9ff.)  WHO said that this world, its kingdoms would become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ (Rev. 11:15), at the outset! It is near at hand, but comes without observation (Luke 17:20).

"The kingdom of God does not come with observation:
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you."

The format for the kingdom in the Gospel Age is internal both to the individual (John 4:14) and to the people of the Lord, in their midst. Yet, wanting too much too soon, in the way of splendour, people often allow themselves to be tempted into a dilly-dallying with hurt hopes, and wanting the crown before the Cross, drift into doubt.

John however was given a short answer to a simple question. His mood is not shown astray, and if like Thomas, he needed re-assurance with direct answer, it was not least because he was fearless. HE ASKED, and did not indulge in mood change. Christ ANSWERED and did not engage in subtleties.


I The Objective Proof

Christ’s answer declared the obvious in direct light. "The blind see." The eye is a phenomenally complex and beautifully intelligent design, as Dr Peter Guerney, specialist in that field, has shown in detail in the Technical Journal of Creation. Making the blind see, however, directly, and in such a way as not to fail in any single command, and that in multiplied cases of multiple kinds of sickness, this is outside the medical realm (Luke 6:19). In the very throngs, “power went out from Him and He healed them  all.” With doctors you need means; here there is direct re-creative power, equipped with the brilliance of immediate intelligence. Never imagine that because something is done quickly, it needs no intelligence: often there is far more needed for that! Not only is this phenomenon cited by Christ, but more. "The lame walk" - no orthopedic surgery needed; "the lepers are cleansed", "the deaf hear", and again, much more difficult, but still requiring vast power and the mind of God, as well as the judicial constraints to be removed, "the dead are raised up". Like the mushroom cloud, this spoke for itself; but it spoke creation, while the cloud bespeaks devastation!

British PM, Gladstone is reputed to have declared once, that if you want to start a new religion, commence with raising the dead, with being dead 3 days and then arising by declaration made beforehand, or something of this kind. With Christ, far more than this was done. Moreover, it was a NECESSARY because FORETOLD part of His demonstration of divine power behind His assertion that He was the Messiah. Lies are mere confrontation with the changeless and eternal Author of time and what created reality is, the criterion of Truth: and only God could perform in this arena, as Christ did. It was, in turn, foretold because it made confusion illicit, reality explicit.

As to judgment, only one with power to deal with the justice of judgment could avoid death or make it rebound, and just as Elijah and Elisha were given this power, as servants of God whose Christ was to come, so here as the Son of God, indeed the only begotten Son of God, Christ was both honoured and authenticated by God Himself, in this parade of power, loving compassion and total control over man. These sick were made well; those dead were raised; what He said would be, was! (cf. Mark 2:1-10 and consider what would have been Christianity if HE had FAILED to do what He said in confirmation of His power to forgive sin). Then, dying for sin, with no man in attendance to operate, Christ was raised from the dead at the time He said He would be – on the third day. He and His Father were and indeed are, one, and whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise (John 5:19ff.).

In Isaiah 29 and 35, you see that prodigious and epochal miracles were to be part of His mission, and reference is also to be found in Isaiah 53, Psalm 16. They had to be; they were done in confirmation. ONLY the authentic Lord, utterly scriptural, utterly powerful, utterly fulfilling ALL written of Him, in speech as in action, principle and performance, spirit and grace, could so claim and DO! Truth does not bend: this was HE!

What more did Christ reply to John’s question ? Perhaps more amazing: "the poor have the Gospel preached to them." That was foretold in Isaiah 61, cited by Christ as in Luke 4, when He was at Nazareth. So often preaching is to power for power; but not His. This was to souls for their redemption, with all that flow of sincerity and passionate compassion seen in the Messianic prophecy of Ezekiel 34, replacing the flurry of mere professionalism and the negligence of utter selfishness.  It was in that Chapter that the LORD announced that He Himself was going to come to this earth in order to SHEPHERD with heart and reality, unlike the false shepherds there described. As Christ made increasingly clear, moreover, His mission was not only to MEET need, but to BEAT need, in dying for sin (as announced repeated, as in Matthew 16, 17, 20).

He not merely lived humbly; He died magnificently with a magnitude of grace that was, as befits the eternal Word of God, infinite! 


II John's Own Status

Having answered John’s question, Christ then spoke of John himself. NONE GREATER were to be found in the annals of history, than John as prophet. Yet ... the LEAST in the kingdom of heaven, said Christ (Matthew 11:11) is greater than he.

How could this be ? For illustration, consider the greatest of the navigators as man began to circle the globe, people like Magellan, Columbus, Vasco da Gama or Cheng Ho. Yet now, how do they appear ? Courageous ? assuredly, but now the least can board a 'plane and be almost anywhere on the globe in short order!

Thus then, the prophets had great inspiration given to see and show the things of God to come; but now that Christ has come and shown direct in His own PERSON what they spoke about, we have the infinite instead of the finite! The least in this setting excels in position and facilities the greatest.

Yet to be the greatest prophet in the era before Christ is a marvellous feature for anyone! Preparatory was the work of John, but this consummation in Christ, now come and shortly to return, it had to have those announcements so that when He came, He could be tested objectively and confirmed continually. He had to be shown to be the very One the LORD had designated, indeed the Word of God incarnate, deity Himself expressly. You see that too in Isaiah 45:23 where God as the only God will have every knee bow to Him, while in Philippians 2, this unique solemnity for God, is for Christ! It is ONE GOD and we have the vast privilege now of knowing Him direct, on the basis of clear certainty.


 III This World’s Way without Wisdom:
Vice to Grab, Not Virtue to Beckon

Christ however had even more to say in answer to John’s question. Despite John's eminence, force would be used to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 11:12). That of course was irony, as both John and Christ were put to death in a way, to be sure, that brought NONE IN to the kingdom, who did it, but yet which showed the folly of mere force trying to grab power from God Himself. The Islamic militants are still trying, but will seek in vain by such means, as did the murderous bunch who killed Christ and John. What is available now for killing machines and machinations ? it is to 'kill' either Christians or Jerusalem, now duly under Israel as foretold by Christ (Luke 21:24). In the Sudan there appear to be a VAST MULTITUDE of Christians slain by Islamic zealots and their men; while in Israel, unremitting is the death siren from Hamas and Hezbollah, from Iran with help from Syria. They want Israel extinguished, and Jerusalem for themselves!

Force is so simple; and many kidnap with it; but you gain nothing. The spirit is not to be found in the body imprisoned. You can maim or kill; but not capture that. The kingdom of heaven is a thing of spirit, equipped with power: yet not to enslave, but to free, not to force, but to lead.

Indeed, said Christ, this John, he is Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14), and further, as to John, he fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah (Matthew 11:10), “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” I am not the Christ, John had said, and He who comes after me is so far above me, that I am not worthy even to stoop to loosen His sandal straps (Luke 3:16). I baptise with water, he continued, but He will baptise with fire and with the Holy Spirit.

This of course does not mean that Elijah was resurrected. We are expected to think biblically if we are to understand the word of God. Elijah and the rest of those appointed to life eternal, will be raised once and for all in the general resurrection (cf. I Thess. 4), when “the dead in Christ will rise first”, and then after them come  “we who are alive and remain”. It does mean that Elijah-like John the Baptist, he too was sent to a declining age, and that he is the figure predicted in Malachi 4 to come to bring people back to fundamental principles before the great action of God Himself. Indeed, as to John, he as in Isaiah 40:3 is the voice crying in the wilderness, PREPARE the ways of the LORD! History turned on the pivot of the Messiah; John prepared for Him! Even to prepare for Him, like a motor bike escort in modern parlance, was an honour to make eminence gasp! There was a pinnacle, to introduce Infinite Glory to man’s ear, through incarnated power: to point out – “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). 

Now if you are His, and believe in His bodily resurrection (I Cor. 15:1-4, John 20), His divine status and His glorious Gospel, and so rest in the living God, you are prepared as were those who first heeded John; but greater than this, you have NOW the Lord in  your hearts, by faith, and thus you will IN FACT operate. To have faith and not use it, is a mere contradiction in terms. Learn therefore from John. It has happened. The answer is clear. Believe and live, in one, in all. In Christ, nothing lacks. Be not lacking in service and devotion, for Him! Remember, John did his task willingly, even eagerly! In this, he is one of many, for in the kingdom of heaven, this is decidedly the way!

Lord willing, next Sunday we will pursue further the lessons from John the Baptist as in Matthew, and plan to note in particular the world’s evasive hysterics and contrariness, and on the contrary,  the Lord’s pervasive rest, for those who wait for Him, rejoicing in Him, remembering Him in His ways (Isaiah 64, Matthew 11). The prescription for rest is reality, and it is so because Christ the Redeemer is that reality made clear. The path to and then in this blessed reality, is that of repentance towards Christ, faith and function in Christ, and abiding life in Him whose yoke is easy … Yet it is not even taken, except by faith, nor given except to the children of God, the believers whose rest is found in Him. To these themes, and following Christ’s discourse on John as found in Matthew, to those of mortification and judgment,  where joy is ruined by the jumble sale of the soul,  yes of a city or nation,  we plan to look, then next Sunday.