The one to come is here! 11:1-19
Our passage for study gives us an insight into John the Baptist. We see him as a man facing haunting doubts about Jesus; is Jesus truly the Messiah? We are given a clear description of John's important role and we are introduced to his person: a great man, yet rejected.
v1-5. John has been arrested for preaching against Herod, and particularly for insulting Herod's wife, cf. 4:12, 14:3-12. From jail, he hears of Jesus' healing ministry and wonders whether Jesus is the messiah, the one who will baptized with the fire of the Spirit, Jol.2:21-32, or whether he is the promised Elijah-like prophet who prepares for the coming messiah, Mal.3:1, 4:5, cf. Lk.7:11-17. So, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, "are you the coming one?" Jesus answers John by running through some of the signs that are performed by the coming messiah, cf. Isaiah 29:18f, 35:5f, 42:6f, 61:1.
v6. Jesus reminds his listeners, "happy is the man who does not lose faith in me." In the face of doubt and fear, happy is the person who sticks to Jesus through thick and thin.
v7-10. As John's disciples leave, Jesus comments on John's role and his person. Most people knew of John and many had gone out into the wilderness to hear him speak. They had not gone out to witness a non-event, or to look upon a rich man. What they saw was "the Elijah of God" as prophesied in Malachi. John was truly the forerunner of the messiah.
v11. Jesus goes on to speak of John. Although John is great man, Jesus, the lowly servant of the kingdom, "is greater than he."
v12-13. The point of this saying is that John has fulfilled his role of ushering in the new age of the kingdom. Now, the kingdom of heaven is pressing its way into the world and people are enthusiastically receiving it and entering it. In the Old Testament, this time was promised, in the Baptist it was announced, and in Jesus it is realized.
v14-15. So, John the Baptist is the promised Elijah, a prophet with the task of announcing the new age of the kingdom. Our task is to take hold of its blessings.
v16-18. Jesus describes his generation (and in a sense our generation) as a group of fickle children who don't want to play the funeral game, and don't want to play the wedding game. John appears on the scene as a desert nomad, serious and sombre, but they say of him that he is demon possessed. Jesus appears on the scene celebrating life, but they say of him that he is a winebibber and glutton. You can't win; this generation is childishly fickle.
v19. With a concluding proverb Jesus makes the point that the assessment of both John and Jesus by his generation is flawed.
Jesus and John the Baptist|
There is great pathos in this passage of scripture. We don't really know what was in John's mind as he lay in prison, but it must have been hard for him to hold fast to the idea that God's eternal reign was about to be realized in the messiah. Was John not in prison? How is that a blessing of the coming kingdom? Of course, John had known of Jesus from a young age, but what specifically was Jesus' role? Was Jesus the messiah, or was he the promised Elijah whose role was to announce the coming messiah? Questions and doubts; the beginning of faith, or faith under stress? There is much to learn from this great man, this real man.
1. The doubts of John
It is normal for us to feel that doubts equate with little faith, so therefore, we tend to hide our doubts and fears - pretend that they don't exist. Yet, doubts are a normal part of the Christian life. The mystery will remain until we see through the glass clearly. Meanwhile, sticking with Jesus is what matters, doubts and all.
2. The witness of John
John witnessed to the coming messiah, and we too, like John or even Elijah, are witnesses of the coming day.
3. The greatness of John
Faithfulness is no easy business, especially when we have doubts or face opposition. Still, striving to follow the pathway set before us is a privilege. We need only remember that our standing in the kingdom gives us a position of great privilege.
4. The rejection of John
We can easily find ourselves the brunt of fickle human nature - attacked and slandered without due cause. Jesus promises that at times this will be our lot. Yet, sadly we ourselves bear that same fickle nature. How often do we meet someone and feel an instant dislike for them? From then on, whatever they do and say is wrong. The danger is we then hide our dislikes, but continue to give vent to them with expressions of self-righteous indignation. We have all said, "he has a demon", "he is a glutton."
Consider the four points drawn from this passage and discuss their relevance for your own church and its life of faith.
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