Learning from the Case of John the Baptist II

- Matthew 11:16ff.

For Part I, take this link

Sermon Notes

III The Crowd's Fickle Fantasies, then as now  Matthew 11:16-19

It is not only death, but the defamation and degradation of life which sprouts in unruly abandon,  from the ways of men towards the ways, the wonders and even the salvation of God. Thus when John the Baptist came, with his abstemious ways, his wild, natural foods, these aroused in some a certain respect, unlike the feelings of a number in the popular crowds, who declared he had a devil! They wanted things more … normal. When Christ came, however, without His feature, in fact attending feasts and sharing and mixing broadly, while some took advantage of His nearness, many complained of the lack of holiness which they felt this implied: glutton, wine-bibber, friend of tax-collectors, comrade of sinners! they cried, as He mingled with the needy, and met them on their own ground.

Like children, said Christ, are these fickle critics. We fluted for you, but you did not dance, and we came with solemn mourning, but you did not lament! they cry.  We are frustrated on every side, comes their fickle fantasy as they rummage in their souls for light relief.

Is not religion a game, this latter point implied, one played with sober faces and gloomy ways ? What was their concern ? Put on the deep religionist act, this is their cry, yet they are unimpressed when it is not act, but real!  Or again, when the mood takes them: Act out  religion as a festive thing (prostitutes could be employed in some frenzied ways in ancient times), or a life celebration, they insist: but they are far too sober to receive the commanding vitality of actual life which God brings, restoring to the point, purpose and even the abiding reality of life as created by God. For that, it needs redemption, and there is no fun and games about the Cross.  

They do not care for this profound vitality on the one hand, and deep significance on the other. They want play… You cater neither to our lusts nor to our saintliness, they exclaim to Christ, to John,  and so what is the use of you ?

That Christ was meeting life with its original signature, as Creator, and wanted none of these spiritual-sounding substitutes for godliness, but sincerity of heart, faith in Him as God the Sent and Saviour (Isaiah 48:16, Luke 1:35, John 8:58), just dealings with one’s fellows (Micah 6:8), a new birth into a life where God was known and humility was the result of seeing where one fitted in: this did not concern them. The social garment mesmerised them; the reality they did not discern (cf. Matthew 13:14ff.). 

It was not life that they were seeking, but parade and pretension, feeling and fickle preferences, culture and its domain. It was perhaps this that led to Christ's enormously appealing and revealing words of John 5:39-44.

“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life;
and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me
that you may have life.  I do not receive honor from men. But I know you,
that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name,
and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.
How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek
the honor that comes from the only God? “

The case in essence is not different today, except in this, that the scripture is by many scarcely even known, while they are made victims of knowledgeable ignoramuses, who mislead with passion.

You have the wild excesses of Pentecostalism, at first showing some return to the Bible teaching of the power and truth of God,  but then in most cases degenerating into frenzied or disorderly or rebellious misuses of the very permissions granted, so that what was a minor phenomenon in the eyes of Paul, in the tongues area (I Corinthians 12, 14), became a major part in determining conversion, or sanctification or satisfaction; and the whole concept of diversified team-work was subordinated in sensationalism (I Cor. 12:27-31).

We have also still represented in our own day, the other side!

Thus, Romanism  has gone on its lugubrious way, with certain foods proscribed, with priests unable to marry as was foretold in I Timothy 4 of just such a religious folly to come, and with masses as if crucifying Christ afresh, re-inserting a mortality which has been dismissed in sacrifice once for all, and ignoring an immortality which dies no more, has no more part in death (Hebrews 9,  Romans 6:9).

Meanwhile the reality of buoyant life in the liberating Christ is lost in ecclesiastical last rites and mass ‘sacrifices’ to cover this and that, as if the priesthood, long dismissed (cf. Hebrews 4, 8-10,Matthew 23:8-10) were restored. So do they act , as if  the multiplied sacrificial rituals were still in operation and in flamboyant contradiction of Christ’s words,  the great High Priest were in fact the pope!

There is only one sinless, sovereign and eternal God, and He is no pope! It is as if it were pope and not the deity who came to earth once and for all to become the offeror, the sacrifice and the substitute in Himself for those to be redeemed, and who returned to heaven to await the time of regeneration of all things (Acts 3:19-21). Yet  this is not so, for such is only one and He, He is infinite! Just as only one Christ is there, so only one sacrifice and only one ritual, that of the Cross, actually counts, only one power, that in the resurrection. The prerogatives of God are not available to man (I John 1:1-4); but His life is, for repentant sinners, not rulers of man (Luke 13)!

Than that time of regeneration of all things when Christ comes back, NOTHING could well be further than the present; yet they maunder on and move ‘Him’ about, another Jesus (II Cor. 11). We have our many exhibits of the sort of playing that Christ deplored, in our time, as He had in His day on earth! Indeed, they abound, they leap, the sects rise like factory smoke into the polluted atmosphere, and the sun of righteousness is for many obscured. It was so; and it is so, but now it is reaching its unhappy climax as many neither enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffer those who might enter to do so, as in Christ’s day (Luke 11:52)! And how they chided and sought to harm Him, when He told them so! (Luke 11:54).


IV When Judgment Leaps to Action – Matthew 11:20-24

In this way did Christ expose the fickle fancies of that day, just as we have new versions today! What then was the result ? When people do not receive the Lord, and in heart or form play about with His sacrifice, never covered, always quivering about in processes innumerable, ecclesiastical, psychological, spiritual, what is the peril ? It is deadly! It is in Hebrews 10 described as a certain fiery looking forward (Hebrews 10:26-31)! The wilful sinning here is nothing less than holding out on Christ and keeping Him at a safe distance, mixing it all with one’s own will, ways and religious appetites! Yet it is Christ or nothing. Nothing else has any standing at all! (Luke 14:27ff.). He is not a suggestion box but God as man, not to be managed, but followed by faith. Judgment is the only option after salvation is mimicked, modified or distilled.

Indeed, in Matthew 11:21ff. we see next a list of exemplary cities, ripe for judgment: Chorazin, Tyre, Sidon, Capernaum, cities whose ways, blind to the very wonders of God displayed in their midst,  deserved final judgment. Why ? Marvellous works wrought within them were ignored in favour of their own psyches! Unimpressed, or merely sensationalised, they did not change their ways, or find the Lord: these cities were readier, it seems, to stifle spirituality than to repent. Did even Sodom have such opportunities as they did ? Indeed Sodom could smile at them!

Even now, the site of Capernaum is a matter of debate: it is GONE! Chorazin ? It is a few stones today. The original site of Tyre despite abundant water, was left alone, a city no more. Sidon was under the hand of many conquerors, to be ravaged by an earthquake in 1837. Rebuilt it continues, a scene set for judgment on its ways when that day comes, and currently it remains part of that interminable seeming realm of conflict: Lebanon!  


V When Faith listens, learns and acts! Matthew 11:25-30

Yet there is a far more joyful side, in all truth!

When the 70 who had gone preaching and healing in His name returned (Luke 10:17ff., cf. Matthew 11:25ff.), Jesus exalted! Had not God, who gave them cover in Christ’s name, kept apart in spirit from those wise in their own eyes,  anointed those ready to be His children (cf. Matthew 18:1ff.), with understanding, power and grace! God, at work through their simplicity of heart (cf. I Timothy 1:5-7), overwhelmed blind sophistication. In fact, none can know the Son but the Father, Christ declaimed, nor the Father but the Son and the one to whom the Son WILLS to reveal Him! That is a point missed in the AV, but shown in the NKJV.

Thus while for the time of Christ’s stay in flesh  as the Messiah, He acted as commanded (cf. John 12:48ff., 8:29ff.), and did as pleased His divine Sender (cf. Isaiah 48:16), yet as God the Word, He delights to do and wills on earth  to do what was after all prescribed, with Himself in attendance, in heaven! This made it no easier when as man the operation  came as simple  command, where flesh had its pangs and ardour its cost! (Hebrews 5:7), so that the very heart of God is shown in the clarity, patience and payments of Christ. And what a will of loving kindness that is! Indeed, so far is man sunk in sin without Christ, towards God, that it is not your own will or way or goodness or perception or spiritual sensitivity which chooses Christ (John 1:12, Romans 9:16), but Christ who chooses you. It has to start from Him at the outset!

As to that, His choice is not because of any virtue (Romans 7) in any of us, but despite the failure of all; for even when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5), who were born not of the will of the flesh or of man, not of blood, but of God Himself (John 1:12).

It is for all He beckons; it is for some He is found: He knows all, saves some, never forces, is never hoodwinked, cannot be outwitted, discerns the spirit as we a book! His care it total, from first to last (John 10:9,27-28). It is to Him we look, then, as He in His role as example looked to His Father; and on birth by His Spirit through His word in the Gospel, we cry … to HIM and respond TO Him (Romans 8:9-13)! It is to Him we look as a child to his parent.

With that authentic Christ, as love (I John 4:7) - and we remember that love rejoices in the TRUTH (I Cor. 13), came His appeal with that drawing divine dynamic, arresting people to COME to Him; for it was He who would give them rest. As a carpenter, did He not know the yoke, to fit it, and the burden, to make it a challenge to strength, not a gall to inability, a site of service not a strangulation of oppression!

Take My yoke, He exhorted, for I am meek and lowly of heart! (Matthew 11:29). The yoke that breaks is the yoke one takes! The yoke Christ gives is the one which fits, and with Him one can labour at peace, and at rest, alight with vigour, alert with guidance. It was carved gently in the rigours of the Cross (Hebrews 2:11-12, 4:14-16)

So do we learn from the occasion when John the Baptist asked Christ: Are you He, or do we look for another! The works already done, the ways constantly present and the promises so beautifully made and kept, these affirmed and confirmed faith.

Where eyes were open, where heart was ready and life not one’s own, that very life of God, was restored to the person, then each having sinned and repented into life (Acts 11:17), found salvation and with it the grace to go with  God. That which He procured, this continues to this hour, and right past the day of judgment; for in Him,  there is rest for the redeemed. It is always so, given from the first, ready to the last, for mercy smiles in the face of judgment (James 2:13), and perfect love cast out fear (I John 4:17-19, Isaiah 26:1-4). It is HE who saves: and that, it is done (Hebrews 9:12, 6:19, Titus 3:4-7), ready and complete for all who come, granted to these from the outset (John 5:57, 6:50ff., 4:14, 5:24, I John 5:11-12).

And why do we love ? It is because He first loved us, and having loved, loved till death, and having died, was raised physically from the dead, and being raised, ever is alive to make intercession for us, to speak to our hearts, enlarge our vision, enlighten our minds and direct our steps guarantee our eternal repose in blessed vitality and individuality (I John 5:11-12, Revelation 6, John 6:50ff., Daniel 12:13. Ephesians 1:11, Philippians 3:20-21), consummated when like Daniel, we “arise” to our “inheritance”. What a Shepherd is this! Naturally, there can be no other, for even a little added poison can spoil and prescription. OUR prescription ? It is Jesus the Christ!

In Him, you are dealing with God direct.