9th March 2023
Read (Matthew 11v1-15)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
In most churches it doesn't matter if you've had a rubbish week, you'll tell everyone you meet that all is well. Sunday morning comes, you put your brave face on and you enter church to meet the same people and tell them the same things. Very few of us will ever tell the truth. Imagine this conversation in the average fellowship..."How are you Mark?" "Not good Sam. I've been racked by doubts this week and haven't slept a wink. Can you pray with me?" I hope conversations like this are happening each week but I suspect they're the exception rather than the rule.
As Christians we are beset by weakness and on occasion we will even question God. Extraordinarily even John the Baptist knew such awful moments. John was in prison and continued to hear about the deeds of Christ (v2) but as he stared at the prison walls what he heard brought him no comfort. Indeed it seems that John was in such distress that he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (v3).
Did you catch that question? The forerunner of Christ had come to a point in his life where he asked "Is Jesus really the one?" It would be easy to point an accusing finger at John and promise that you would never make such a statement, but that wouldn't be true. I'm confident that you have wondered where Christ is in moments of severe personal distress. I'm certain that at times you have not slept because you have felt utterly forsaken by God. For my part I remember taking a funeral of a little baby girl who had been kicking in her mother's womb one day and was quiet the next. Her daddy wondered why this had happened and all I could muster was a shake of my head as I looked at the floor.
Christ's response to John's doubt lacked harshness or insult. Instead Jesus' answer drew from Isaiah 35v5-6 "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." In gentle tones Christ sent word to John that Scripture was being fulfilled, Jesus was the One that John had been waiting for (v5). But with that word of comfort also came a gentle rebuke when Jesus said "Blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (v6). Jesus meets our doubts with grace but also a warning not to fall away.
John's followers soon left Christ and Jesus turned to the crowd to tell them about John. Perhaps Jesus was so crushed by John's doubt that He would use this opportunity to mock John's lack of faith? No. Christ declared that the people who travelled to the wilderness to see John didn't go to gaze at a tender quiet soul shaken by the wind and dressed in soft clothing (v7-8). Christ was clear, they had gone to see an uncompromising prophet who was the promised messenger who would prepare the way for Christ (v9-10).
As far as Jesus was concerned there was no one greater than John the Baptist. This is a remarkable statement from Christ and made all the more amazing by Jesus' next statement that the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John (v11). What does it all mean? Firstly, John's greatness? John the Baptist can rightly be called the greatest because of the role he played in the history of salvation. John was the prophet predicted by a prophet (Malachi 4v5-6), he was the forerunner of Christ, he came preaching the need for repentance, with his own eyes he saw Jesus and he was the second and greater Elijah (v14).
John's ministry was the pivot between the days of preparation and the days of fulfilment. Additionally John's ministry brought to a close the day of shadow and now in Christ the light shines brightly. No wonder Jesus declared the greatness of John the Baptist!
Secondly, the least in the kingdom? What a privilege it is to be a Christian on this side of the cross. We know the Gospel fully, we have received the complete canon of Scripture and the good news of Christ has come to both Jew and Gentile. If John was great and unapologetically pointed to Christ, even the least known Christian is greater still as they proclaim an even fuller picture of our Lord.
Brothers and sisters, we are prone to doubt, we fear, we toss and turn, we wonder "Why?" and we watch helplessly when the Church suffers violence against her and it seems that the violent are triumphant (v12). But "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (v15), we are those who often cry "I believe, help my unbelief" (Mark 9v24) and our precious Lord draws near to say “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14v27).
Q96 What is the Lord’s Supper? The Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.