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Do Not Waver

Have you ever read a passage like this and thought, “That’s random… I think I’ll just keep reading!”

Written by Mike Biolsi on .

Notes

When we are reading sections of narrative, we have to remember that the main goal of narrative is to tell the story and develop the plot. 

Matthew just completed a section where the crowds were amazed at Jesus teaching {Matt 7:28-29} and then a section where people were amazed at his deeds {Matt 9:32-33}.

But not everyone had that same reaction.  This section in Matthew tells the story of those that were not so enamored with his teaching and miracles as we will see later. 

People react to Jesus in different ways!

I hope you are seeing that Matthew’s gospel! The person and work of Jesus requires a response. While some may be on the fence for a while, ultimately each man, woman or child must decide to either accept or reject Jesus.  

John believed Jesus was the Messiah (as he claimed at the baptism of Jesus). However,  it appears John struggled with some pre-conceived ideas of what the Messiah would be like and what he would do. 

For many of the Jews, the Messiah is the one who would set the captives free - yet the great prophet John is still in prison. The Messiah is the one who will break the rule of other nations like Rome and establish the kingdom in Jerusalem again - yet Jesus is not even heading towards Jerusalem and has not been attacking Rome, but the religious leaders. 

IF Jesus is the “coming one”, shouldn’t things be different? 

As David shared last week, John’s question of “are you the one” does not seem to be a doubting of the person of the Messiah, but the lack of actions that John might have been hoping for. 

where is the judgement that was promised?

where is the release of captives?

why isn’t Jesus taking the throne of David?

There were some expectations of what the Messiah would be like, and Jesus was not fitting those expectations for John. 

One of the things I love about pre-marital counseling is how utterly oblivious most couples are 😁 Often at this stage in the relationship they only see the best in the other person and many times exaggerate those things to make the person more than they really are. 

It isn’t until the first conflicts and challenges appear that those expectations get challenged and then doubts and questions arise. 

John’s expectations were challenged and it appears some doubts arose. Jesus reminded John that he WAS indeed doing the work of the Messiah - and his deeds proved it. 

The Messiah was not necessarily the figure they wanted - but it was exactly what they needed!

After he sent John’s disciples back to him a second time, he addresses the crowd. That is where we pick up today:

Matthew 11:7–19 CSB
7 As these men were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? See, those who wear soft clothes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you. 11 “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come. 15 Let anyone who has ears listen. 16 “To what should I compare this generation? It’s like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to other children: 17 We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance; we sang a lament, but you didn’t mourn! 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Verses 7-10 are a triplet of questions that help us understand the character of John the baptist. They also reminds us that though we may sometimes have doubts, a true follower of Jesus will demonstrate it by their life. 

The Triplet

What did you go to see in the wilderness?

A reed bending in the wind?

The obvious response is, “of course not”.   

To speak of someone as a reed bending in the wind is to comment about them being easily swayed, like reeds sway in the wind. Paul uses this same illustration to speak about those that are immature in their faith:

​Ephesians 4:14 NLT
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.

John’s convictions, faith and message were NOT blown around by every wind that comes. I believe Jesus is saying that John was not doubting his faith, because John was not one who easily bent and swayed in his views and beliefs.

He preached a harsh message of repentance, and when the religious leaders came to him he said things like this:

​Matthew 3:7–9 CSB
7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. 9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones.

John was a man of conviction that was not easily swayed by men. 

What did you go to see in the wilderness?

A man in soft clothes?

NLT: “expensive clothes”, CJB: “well dressed”, NIV: “fine clothes”

The word is “soft” which is in stark contrast to what John really wore:

Matthew 3:4 CSB
4 Now John had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

You can actually buy a camel hair coat from Saks for a little over $3,000, but I am pretty sure that is a loft softer than the one John had!

I am glad that we have a little more context on this verse! Matt 11:8 “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? See, those who wear soft clothes are in royal palaces.” 

John was not persuaded by men of power or influence. Hos goal was not opulence and a place in the palace. He IS in the palace… the palace dungeon! He did NOT wear soft clothes but camel hair. He did not preach in palaces but in the wilderness.  

As a prophet, John was faithful to the calling of God even at the COST of nice things, of acceptance and of position in society. 

What did you go to see in the wilderness?

A prophet.

Not only A prophet - but the first prophet in about 400+ years! Not just A prophet - but one that is compared to Elijah! Not just A prophet - but the one the prophet Isaiah predicted!

​Matthew 3:3 CSB
3 For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight!

In our first intro to John, Matthew quoted Isaiah. Here in chapter 11, Matthew quotes the prophet Malachi:

Malachi 3:1 CSB
1 “See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,” says the Lord of Armies.

So, TWO prophets spoke about a messenger who was coming as a herald to the Messiah who would usher in the Day of the Lord and the kingdom of God. 

More than a prophet

I guess what I am not sure about is how you can be MORE than a prophet. He was a prophet but he was more than that - he was the prophet who got to intro the guy that all of the other prophets spoke about? He was the one that introduced the Messiah! 

This is the immediate context of these verses. His position as the one who announces the Messiah makes him greater than all of the other prophets:

greater than Moses who saw God and spoke with him - John got to MEET God and baptize him!

That is certainly one possible way to understand this phrase, “more than a prophet”.

Perhaps because he is the last of the prophets? While scriptures say that prophecies will continue

​Acts 2:17–18 CSB
17 And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. 18 I will even pour out my Spirit on my servants in those days, both men and women and they will prophesy.

And, in Revelation 11:3 there are 2 witnesses that will prophecy. 

It seems as though the role of THE PROPHET has ended because the promise of Genesis 3:15 - the snake crusher, Messiah - is completed in Jesus.  

PERHAPS that is what it means that he is more than a prophet?

While this remains a tough passage to interpret and I would not be dogmatic on my conclusions, I believe Jesus was making a case for John being special in that he was fulfilling a role that was foretold by the other prophets and heralding in the kingdom of God.

The least/greatest

​Matthew 11:11 CSB
11 “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

FIRST, let’s recognize that Jesus has just given John the highest place among humans. According to Jesus, he is greater than David, Moses and Abraham. What a claim?!

WHY? Because HE was the one who got to introduce the Messiah! Others looked for it - John is the MC.

The phrase, “born of women” is only used in this teaching and only in Matthew & Luke. 

I believe Jesus used this phrase because there is another birth that is more significant. While John was the greatest among this earthly kingdom, there is a kingdom that is higher, greater and more spectacular than anything on this earth. Those born among THAT group - spiritual birth - even the least from this group is greater than the greatest of the ones who are NOT in that group - those born among women.

John gives us some insight into this in his gospel:

John 3:1–8 CSB
1 There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 “How can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I told you that you must be born again. 8 The wind blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

We must remember to keep this set of verses in context - this is a narrative about how people react to Jesus. Do they accept him or reject him. So, when Jesus makes this claim, he is saying that those who accept him, even the least of these (sinners) is greater than anyone who rejects him (even if they appear great among men). 

Luke shows us that context:

Luke 7:28–30 CS
28 I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (And when all the people, including the tax collectors, heard this, they acknowledged God’s way of righteousness, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 But since the Pharisees and experts in the law had not been baptized by him, they rejected the plan of God for themselves.)

The message and ministry of John was one that required a decision - accept the message, repent and be baptized, OR reject it. That is the kingdom message that John was given and is the message that continues to be preached to this day. 

As we wrap up this triplet of teachings about John we realize that John was a person who, though he had doubts, was a man who was not swayed from his faithfulness to God nor his faith in the Messiah. He was not concerned with the acceptance of the powerful, nor was he persuaded by circumstances. He was a faithful. 

That is ONE response to Jesus. There is another that is being developed in our narrative.

Taking By Force

​Matthew 11:12 CSB
12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force.

The way this is phrased, and the context of “the prophets” makes me read this verse and think that the timeline of “from then… until now” is connected to the prophets. But it is NOT!

If the phrase, “from the days of John the baptist” is literal, that could be anywhere from 9 months to a few years according to some scholars. That is not a very long time period at all and it shows the very specific, violent reaction that some were having to John and Jesus. 

THIS verse has been a struggle for scholars over the years! It is a tough passage to interpret. Most seem to be OK with the understanding that this is talking about the immediate situation of some of the Jews violently opposing “The Way” and the followers of “The Way”. 

As the Luke passage read - not everyone accepted the message of John:

​Luke 7:30 CSB
30 But since the Pharisees and experts in the law had not been baptized by him, they rejected the plan of God for themselves.)

Some, like the Pharisees, felt threatened by by John and Jesus. Some, like Paul, felt they were protecting people from John and Jesus. 

Jesus warned his disciples in the last section of teaching that they would face opposition and being flogged. That is the violent reaction that some have to the good news of Jesus. This is true even today as some feel they need to do all they can to destroy the church. However, God will build his kingdom regardless of what men try to do. 

Jesus was NOT taking the kingdom by force. 

While many hoped that the Messiah would come and physically wipe out the enemies of the Jews and take or claim the throne, Jesus is NOT acting in violence. He is sacrificing his life for the sake of the kingdom. This is part of the upside down kingdom. 

Those that are threatened are working by force to eliminate the threats and establish their kingdoms. This is Herod with John, the Sanhedrin with Jesus, it will be Paul with the Christians, and it is also the ruler of this world going after the Son of God in a spiritual battle. 

As Messiah-followers, we should remember who our battle is really with:

​Ephesians 6:12 CSB
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.

We should also remember that those that wrestle with us are really not wrestling with us, but like Jacob, are wrestling with God, so we need not worry what they can do to us. 

This violent reaction is part of the plot conflict that we will see continue from this chapter forward in the gospel of Matthew. The violence will be executed against John and ultimately against Jesus in the most violent form possible - crucifixion. 

Elijah to come.

​Matthew 11:13–15 CSB
13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come. 15 Let anyone who has ears listen.

OK - that seems random, doesn’t it? Why did Elijah just get put in here? 

All of the prophets and law prophesied until John. The Torah was written and compiled before the prophets. 

ask: If you look at the chronology of the prophets, who is the last one we have recorded (according to date?) Malachi.

In our protestant bibles, the last book of our old testament is Malachi. Malachi 4 is the last chapter of that scroll, and it ends this way:

​Malachi 4:4–6 CSB
4 “Remember the instruction of Moses my servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

Jesus connected that passage to John - he was the one who was to come, preaching judgement and repentance. 

WHY Elijah? Why did Malachi say Elijah had to come? Was it because Elijah never died? Perhaps. It is also possible that it had to do with the ministry of Elijah and how it paralleled that of John and Jesus. When we studied Elijah we commented about him being a “type of John the Baptist” and how Elisha, the one that came after him, was a “type of the Messiah”. 

The passage in Malachi is basically saying that this prophet will call people back to god and usher in the beginning of the “day of the Lord”. 

When Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal his message was:

​1 Kings 18:21 CSB
21 Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him. But if Baal, follow him.” But the people didn’t answer him a word.

His message and his actions were a call for the people to return to Yahweh. Elijah told the people they cold not stay in the middle, they had to choose whom they would follow.  In a very real way it was a call to repentance - to turn away from their sins and turn back to God. 

After the encounter, many of the people returned to Yahweh. 

1 Kings 18:36–39 CS
36 At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, the prophet Elijah approached the altar and said, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the Lord’s fire fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!”

Notice, the role of Elijah was to turn the people’s heart back to Yahweh and force them to make a decision - to return to God; to repent. 

THIS is possibly one of the reasons John is the Elijah, because his ministry was one of calling people back to God away from their sinfulness, or their apostacy.

​Matthew 3:11 CSB
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Acts 19:4 CSB
4 Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the one who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.”

NOTE: you may enjoy studying the life of Elijah in light of this connection to John and see what other parallels you might form between these two prophets. 

Jesus is going to revisit this topic of John being Elijah again in chapter 17 - so we can leave it for now 🙂

The parable

Jesus leaves this talk about John with a parable:

​Matthew 11:16–19 CSB
16 “To what should I compare this generation? It’s like children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to other children: 17 We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance; we sang a lament, but you didn’t mourn! 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

There are a few cultural references here that we might not be familiar with:

Playing a flute and people dancing = a wedding

Singing a lament and mourning = a funeral

These two events are opposites: a wedding and a funeral.

One way to read this parable is that these children are John and Jesus. Verse 18 seems to rally for that with the word “for”. Use that as a pivot, we get the following structure:

Flute [wedding, celebration]

Lament [funeral, mourning]

for

John

Jesus

The funeral = John

John called out sin which is why he is in prison. He was the prophet that predicted judgement and warned people. He and his disciples fasted and deprived themselves of many earthly pleasures. John was not allowed to have wine. 

Those that did not like him or his message said he was demon possessed (though I do not believe we have a record other than this of that accusation). 

The wedding = Jesus

Jesus was the opposite! He had a fantastic feast with Matthew. He did not fast. He turned water to wine. 

Those that did not like him or his message said he was demon possessed - which we DID read!

BONUS: Jesus will actually use the idea of a wedding feast to describe the Kingdom of Heaven, Paul will use a wedding to describe the church in relationship to Jesus, etc. This is a peek into a much bigger image Jesus is sharing. 

“they say”

The narrative is about what? How people react to Jesus (and John). That means that one of the key phrases is, “they say”.  Who are “they”? In this case it is left broad enough to include ANYONE who rejects Jesus. “They” are the ones that refuse to accept that John was a prophet and that Jesus was the Messiah.

“They” came up with excuses and rationalizations to attempt to justify their decision to reject John or Jesus - and their message. 

This is not really any different than today, is it? Those that reject Jesus, those that reject God will often find ways to “justify” their rejection.

When we are confronted with the message of repentance and forgiveness for our sins, when we are presented with the opportunity to follow God by surrendering to him, we have two choices. 

Matthew is showing us that not everyone loved Jesus and some opposed him with their words, others with violent actions. 

As we wrap up this section of verses, there are going to be three groups of people we can speak to:

If you are a follower of the Messiah, of Jesus:

You may have doubts at times - but do not be swayed by false teachings or circumstances. Do not be intimidated by others of live to impress the powerful. Be faithful, like John. 

If you are violently opposed to the gospel:

Your rejection of the truth does not nullify the reality of it. Your striving against religion, the church and the people who follow Jesus is not an affront on them, but on God almighty - and that is a terrible fight to pick. I pray that God softens your heart and draws you to him. 

If you are on the fence:

Let me go back to the words of Elijah - “how long will you waver between two opinions?”, and back to the words of Moses - 

Deuteronomy 30:19–20 (CSB)
19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 love the Lord your God, obey him, and remain faithful to him. For he is your life...”

Would you choose today to accept that you, like the rest of us, are a sinner and that Jesus came to offer forgiveness and life if you will humble yourself before him and acknowledge him as Lord, as boss of your life?

If that is your desire, pray with me as we close today. 

God, I admit that I am a sinner and deserve punishment for my wrongs

I believe your love compelled you to send Jesus to die for my sins

I am sorry for my sins and ask that you forgive me

I surrender my life to you and commit to living for you for the rest of my days

Thank you for forgiving me and accepting me

Help me live out this commitment and to know and love you better

Amen.


Do Not Waver

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North Country Fellowship Church
NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.