John the Baptist has a question for Jesus.
Today we get to dive into the next chapter of Matthew, chapter eleven.
Mike wrapped up chapter 10 last week, with a pretty heavy section of teaching in which Jesus explained the disruptive nature of his identity and mission.
He said that his presence, and the choice of others to follow him, would result in resistance and persecution.
Jesus came to disrupt the very forces of evil and hatred, displacing them with truth, goodness and love! Joining him requires the highest level of commitment.
BUT it also results in the ultimate reward, finding true life! Eternal life.
When we get to chapter 11, we get one of these summary, divider verses:
Matthew 11:1 CSB
1 When Jesus had finished giving instructions to his twelve disciples, he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.
This signals that we have just finished a section of teaching, and we’re moving into a bit of narrative. This means we’re now in the third of the five pairs that make up the main body of Matthew’s book.
Structurally speaking, we’re now in the center section, the middle of the 5 pairs of the main body. In this outline, we’d be in section 2.5, getting close to halfway through the book!
Part of the narrative in chapter 11 will still include some monologue from Jesus, so it is still teaching in a way, but verse 1 of chapter 11 is a clear dividing mark that helps to orient ourselves as to where we are in the book.
Let’s read the first few verses of chapter eleven together.
Matthew 11:1–15 CSB
1 When Jesus had finished giving instructions to his twelve disciples, he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns. 2 Now when John heard in prison what the Christ was doing, he sent a message through his disciples 3 and asked him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” 4 Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news, 6 and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.” 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.
In this narrative, Jesus receives a question from John the Immerser, and responds to it in two ways.
First, he answers the question. And though it may sound somewhat cryptic at face value, it’s actually a very powerful and clear answer.
Then, he goes on to praise John, speaking very highly of him and explaining how important John is, and how the identity and ministry of John corresponds to and reveals and confirms the identity and ministry of Jesus.
Today, we’re just going to look at the first part of Jesus’s response, the answer that he sends back to John through his disciples.
It’s actually a pretty short answer…he spends a lot more time talking about John and how great he is than he does on his answer to John!
First, let’s start by taking a look at the question itself:
Matthew 11:2–3 CSB
2 Now when John heard in prison what the Christ was doing, he sent a message through his disciples 3 and asked him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
So, first of all we have a reminder that John is still stuck in prison. He is unable to follow and observe and interact with Jesus himself. He has to rely on whatever gossip reaches his ears. So, in the meantime, some people he trusts, John’s disciples have been following and observing Jesus for a while now. And we know he got updates from his disciples if we cross reference Luke. Right after Luke describes a whole bunch of miracles, including raising the dead, he says this:
Luke 7:18–19 CSB
18 Then John’s disciples told him about all these things. So John summoned two of his disciples 19 and sent them to the Lord, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
So, his disciples had already gone back to John to report to him about everything they had seen, which is interesting. But John apparently wanted some affirmation from Jesus himself that he truly was the long awaited Messiah. That’s really what he’s asking.
Doesn’t it kind of seem like a strange way to ask that though? The question is not “Are you the Messiah?” It’s “Are you the one who is to come?”
But that phrase, “The one who is to come” or “The one who comes” is a common euphemism to refer to the messiah. The chosen one, prophesied to come into the world and save it. It’s kind of a poetic way to refer to him, and highlights the personal, intimate nature of the Messiah. They knew their savior would not save them from afar, but that he would come to be among them, in their presence, and that his presence would allow them to once again enjoy God’s presence, and all the rewards of that.
Of course, most Jews were probably picturing the days of liberation from Egypt and conquest in their region. After all, Isaiah describes the Messiah as proclaiming “ liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners). Guess who’s STILL in prison for calling out sin and corruption? John! So it’s certainly possible that John himself had some misplaced or misunderstood expectations for the Messiah.
God’s vision was actually much bigger, of returning not just the Jews to the days of glory in Jerusalem, but humans and the whole earth to the days of peace and freedom and life in the garden of Eden!
Either way, they were looking for a prophet, and a king, to save them by coming to them.
Here’s an example from Psalm of that phrase “He who comes...” in a poetic context:
Psalm 118:26 CSB
26 He who comes in the name
of the Lord is blessed.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
In the gospel according to John, people are described multiple times as referring to Jesus in this way:
John 6:14 CSB
14 When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This truly is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
Again, when Martha professes faith in Jesus and his ability to raise her brother Lazarus from the dead, she says this:
John 11:27 CSB
27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”
The writer of Hebrews uses this title too, himself actually echoing a prophesy in Habakkuk:
Hebrews 10:37 CSB
37 For yet in a very little while, the Coming One will come and not delay.
John himself had already used similar phrasing when preaching about the Messiah back in chapter 3 of Matthew! If you pay attention to how he words this statement:
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.
Then his following question actually makes a lot of sense!
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
It’s actually a very direct, and very personal way to ask Jesus, his cousin, whether or not he is indeed the Messiah.
Possibly, and this is just speculation because it doesn’t say this, but I think it’s possible that there’s an undertone to John’s question along the lines of “hey, are you gonna get me out of here?”
To John’s credit, he is anxiously awaiting the coming of the Messiah to baptize the world with fire, chop down the roots of evil, and avenge the innocent!
The Messiah will certainly do all those things, but in reality, the timeline and methodology of such ended up being much different than people expected! Hence, John’s question.
The first way Jesus responds to this question I think is a little cheeky! What does he tell John’s disciples?
Matthew 11:4 CSB
4 Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:
But we know that they literally just came from doing just that! He could have said “Go and report to John again what you hear and see.” In other words, Jesus is essentially telling John that he already has all the information he needs to know the answer.
At the same time, though, he does specify several things he wants the disciples to highlight to John. And by doing this, he does answer John’s question, but he does it by highlighting specific things that should help John connect the dots and rest assured in the identity of the Messiah. Jesus gives the disciples a nice concise list to give John, in verses five and six:
Matthew 11:5–6 CSB
5 The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news, 6 and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.”
In his response, Jesus is making reference to multiple specific prophesies about the messiah.
Isaiah 35:4–6 CSB
4 Say to the cowardly: “Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; he will save you.”5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, for water will gush in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
Isaiah 26:19 CSB
19 Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust! For you will be covered with the morning dew, and the earth will bring out the departed spirits.
Isaiah 29:18–19 CSB
18 On that day the deaf will hear the words of a document, and out of a deep darkness the eyes of the blind will see. 19 The humble will have joy after joy in the Lord, and the poor people will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
Isaiah 61:1 CSB
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners;
His entire sermon on the hill started out by proclaiming good news to the poor and brokenhearted! He called them all blessed!
Finally, his statement that blessed is the one who is not offended by me alludes to the fact that his presence and message will illicit a response: people will either find sanctuary in Christ or be offended by him. Isaiah speaks to this in chapter 8, and calls out Israel as a whole as being the ones to reject him outright rather than embrace him:
Isaiah 8:14–15 CSB
14 He will be a sanctuary; but for the two houses of Israel, he will be a stone to stumble over and a rock to trip over, and a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 Many will stumble over these; they will fall and be broken; they will be snared and captured.
Of course, not all Jews rejected Jesus, his first followers were predominantly Jewish! But the people group and society to whom God gave the honor of joining, of being the conduit for his blessings to the world, and to whom Jesus first brought healing and life and the good news of salvation, were the very people group and society responsible for plotting against him and brutally killing him. They fell into the snare of their own self-righteousness and religious piety; those who could physically see and hear were blind and deaf to the light and truth of Jesus. That’s what Isaiah was speaking to there, and is part of what Jesus is alluding to with his statement.
So, all in Isaiah we have everything Jesus listed, right?
The blind receive sight.
Hmm…that’s not actually all of them is it? What’s missing here?
Those with leprosy being cleansed!
Interestingly, there is no specific prophesy about lepers being cleansed, though they would certainly fall into the category of brokenhearted and outcast people.
But leprosy was also a condition that made people perpetually unclean. Ceremonially unclean. In other words, cut off from the fellowship of their people and banned from worshipping God in the temple.
The external, skin condition of leprosy truly reflects the internal, heart condition of ALL humans born with a sin nature, which is destructive to our relationship with God and with each other.
So, I do wonder if Jesus chose to include this example to intentionally provide the imagery of him coming to make clean that which was unclean. We have certainly seen multiple examples of that already, and leprosy happens to be a particularly graphic, dramatic disease to witness, such that seeing someone physically be made clean would be a memorable experience.
Jesus makes clean what was unclean, brings to back to life that which was dead, heals that which was broken, reveals that which was hidden, brings light to the darkness, uplifts the downtrodden and oppressed, liberates the captives, strengthens the weak, restores the corrupted, redeems the cast aside, fills the hungry, comforts the downfallen, avenges the innocent, and fiercely, humbly, shamefully gave his life for us so we can follow him into eternal glory.
Indeed, the Messiah is good news!
In his first coming, he freed people spiritually, unlocking the gates to eternal life through spiritual redemption. He proved that we can and will be resurrected, and through his sacrifice it will be to life in the presence of God…a life of truth, beauty, and goodness, rather than the desolate agony of separation from him.
That resurrection will happen when he comes again, to redeem the earth and our bodies, and finally restore humanity to the purpose for which we were originally created.
In the meantime, God wants everyone, all over the world to have the opportunity to respond to this news! So while we are still on this earth, we ought to be willing and cheerful agents of this news, regardless of our circumstances, because of the hope that we have for the future and the love that we have for our fellow humans.
And while we, like John, are in a season where we may experience suffering, grief, discomfort and pain, we do have the wonderful gift of the comforter, the counselor, the Holy Spirit, to guide and uplift us, and unite us that we may love each other, care for each other, celebrate and laugh together, weep and mourn together, hold each other accountable, and sharpen each other so we grow continually closer to God and effective as his representatives.