John the Baptist's Deputation to Jesus. Matt. 11, 1-6.
Jesus returns to His prophetical work: V. 1. And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding' His twelve disciples, He departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities. The Lord had commissioned the twelve apostles, giving them complete instructions as to every part of their ministry. But while they were engaged in this important work, Luke 9, 6, Jesus Himself was not idle. When He had ceased giving His orders, He went away from that place, most likely to some place of retirement, where He had had the opportunity of being undisturbed with His disciples, and began a new preaching and teaching tour among the towns of Galilee, accompanied, as before, by temporary and permanent followers, the Twelve apparently returning to Him from time to time.
John's second attempt to lead his disciples to Christ: V. 2. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, v. 3. and said unto Him, Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another? When John, in his capacity as herald of Christ, had pointed Him out to his disciples the first time, two of those that heard him speak, followed Jesus, John 1, 37. Upon a later occasion, John again bore witness of Christ, John 3, 27-36, which might have been taken as sufficient invitation to all that heard him to become His disciples. In the mean time, John had been imprisoned in the fortress Machaerus, in southern Perca, near the boundary of Moabitis, which, after Jerusalem, was the strongest fortress of the Jews, chapter 14, 3. He had now been in prison for some time, but seems to have received the attention and the services of his disciples as before. These men had as yet no full understanding of their master's message, but looked upon Jesus and His work with rather jealous and disapproving eyes. Matt. 9, 14; John 3, 28; Luke 7, 18. They brought to John an account of Christ's work, of His preaching and its effect, of His miracles of healing and the astonishment of the people. John himself, filled with the Holy Ghost from his birth, having been a witness of the revelation of God and being thoroughly convinced of Christ's Messiahship, Luke 3, 15; John 1, 15. 26. 33: 3, 28, had no doubts concerning Christ and His mission. But the few disciples that were still clinging to him showed no inclination to leave him and follow the greater Teacher. Therefore he sent them as a delegation with a definitely worded question: Art Thou the Coming One, or shall we expect another? The reference was clear to every one that knew the Old Testament, Ps. 40, 7, and was intended to open the eyes of the questioners. "It is certain that John proposes the question for the sake of his disciples: for they did not yet deem Christ to be He whom they should believe Him to be. And John had not come to draw disciples and the people to himself, but to prepare the way for Christ and bring all men to Christ, making them subject to Him.... But when Jesus began to perform miracles and was widely spoken of, then John thought he would dismiss his disciples from him and bring them to Christ, in order that they might not after his death organize a hereditary sect and become Johannites, but all cling to Christ and become Christians; and he sent them that they might learn, not henceforth from his testimony only, but from Christ's words and works themselves, that He was the right man of whom John had spoken." 95)
The reply of Jesus: V. 4. Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those thing's which ye do hear and see: v. 5. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. V. 6. And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me. Jesus shows a tactful kindness in dealing with the questioners: No sharp rebuke for their tardiness in acknowledging Him, no dogmatic reply to cause resentment. He appeals to their and their master's knowledge of the Old Testament prophecy concerning the characteristic work of the Messiah. They could believe the evidence of their eyes and ears: The blind were receiving sight, the lame were cheerfully walking about, the deaf were enabled to hear, the dead were being awakened, the poor were being gospeled, were receiving the glad message of their salvation through the preaching of Jesus, Is. 35, 4—6; 61, 1. 2; Ezek. 36 and 37. This was literally true and was being demonstrated before the people from day to day. But it was true also in the spiritual sense, as becoming the spiritual kingdom of the Messiah: The blind were having the eyes of their understanding opened, Eph. 1, 18. 19; the limping and halting were taking certain steps with their feet, Heb. 12, 12. 13; those infected with the uncleanness of sin and every spiritual evil felt the healing power of the Gospel, Acts 15, 8; 1 John 1, 9; those whose ears had been stopped up by the traditions of men were being healed of this spiritual malady. Matt. 13, 16; the dead in trespasses and sins were realizing the fullness of life, Eph. 2, 1. 5; Col. 2, 13. And all this is summarized in the last sentence. Note: The disciples of Christ are recruited mainly from the poor and weak and base in this world, 1 Cor. 1, 26—29. But their most indispensable quality is poverty of the soul, that they despair of all their own riches in spiritual matters and rely entirely upon the free grace and the unsearchable riches of Christ, Rev. 3, 17; 2, 9; Eph. 3, 8. "To the poor is proclaimed the divine promise of all grace and comfort, offered and brought forward in Christ and through Christ, that whosoever believes shall have all sins forgiven, the law fulfilled, his conscience delivered, and finally have eternal life donated to him. What happier news may a poor, wretched heart and afflicted conscience hear? How could a heart become more defiant and courageous than by such comforting, rich words and promises? Sin, death, hell, world, and devil, and all evil is despised when a poor heart receives and believes such comfort of divine promise; to make the blind see and to raise the dead is rather a simple thing beside preaching the Gospel to the poor, therefore He places it last, as the greatest and best of all these works." 96) There is a distinct warning in Christ's final sentence, against taking offense in Him and His work, for him that expected a temporal kingdom as well as for him that was not satisfied with His patience, tolerance, gentleness, and sympathy, as shown in His words and deeds. "Natural man said: Should this be the Christ of whom the Scripture speaks? Should this be He whose shoes John did not think himself worthy to unlace, since I hardly deem Him worthy of wiping my shoes? Truly it is a great mercy not to take offense in Christ; and there is no other counsel nor help here but that one look upon the works and compare these with Scripture; otherwise it is impossible to hinder the offense. The form, the appearance, the behavior are all too lowly and contemptible." 97)
Christ's Testimony Concerning John. Matt. 11, 7—19.
V. 7. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? V. 8. But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. V. 9. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. V. 10. For this is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee. The purpose of this instruction was not to restore the authority of John the Baptist, which he himself is supposed to have endangered by his embassy to Christ, but to convince the people and especially the scribes and Pharisees of their inconsistency in accepting John the Baptist as a divinely appointed preacher and at the same time rejecting Christ, to whom he had always pointed. An important point: The excellencies of John's character as herald should even now serve to make his message emphatic. For John had not been a reed shaken by the wind, after the manner of preachers that temper the truth to the sensitive fastidiousness of fashionable hearers, 2 Tim. 4, 3, whom Luther calls reed-preachers, that do not risk life, honor, favor, but are guided by the demands of the people. Neither was John clothed in soft raiment, he did not use his influence, as he might easily have done, in his own interest, for his own benefit. That is the privilege of those that live in kings' houses. In their case it is not objectionable, their station may even be said to demand it. But refinement, luxury, a life of ease is not the object of the true servant of God, he is not accustomed to wear such fine garments. But if your answer, speaking seriously, is that the object of. your quest was a prophet, then you were right. For John is a prophet and more. All the Old Testament prophets pointed far into the future and sang of a Messiah whose coming was still afar off. But John was the herald of One who was standing in the midst of the people, in regard to whose person he could bear witness. He was the second great Elijah, "whose life-work consisted in preparing the way for the Lord, Mal. 3, 1; he was the angel, whose message was to make ready the hearts of men for the Savior.
The application of these truths: V. 11. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. In solemn terms Christ gives His own valuation of the worth of John the Baptist. Not only has no greater prophet than John arisen, but among all mankind there is none that approaches him in capacity to render effective service to the kingdom of God. And yet, "he who is comparatively less in the kingdom of heaven, according to the standard of that kingdom, or who occupies a lower place in it, is greater than John, in respect of the development of his faith and spiritual life." 98) Every lowly disciple of the new dispensation is greater than John the Baptist. For John did not see the day of Christ; his career came to an end before Jesus entered into His glory. And so the children of the present covenant that have the entire fulfillment of the prophecy, Christ crucified and resurrected, before their eyes, have a still more perfect revelation and a more powerful light than John.
The conclusion: V. 12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. V. 13. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. V. 14. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come. V. 15. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. Since the time that John preached his message of preparation, it is possible to get possession of the kingdom of heaven; yea, and the violent actually take hold of it with a stormy hand, with a sure grip. The whole movement was a convincing argument for the earnestness and power of John's message. "The tax-gatherers and heathens, whom the scribes and Pharisees think have no right to the kingdom of the Messiah, filled with holy zeal and earnestness, seize at once the proffered mercy of the Gospel, and so take the kingdom as by force from those learned doctors who claimed for themselves the chiefest places in that kingdom." 99) The fact that the new era has actually begun with John the Baptist is set forth once more. The prophecy preached of a kingdom which was to come, John's preaching referred to a kingdom realized in the coming of Jesus. Here was no more prophecy, but fulfillment: The Christ now stood revealed, all predictions and types are found in the life of Jesus, Luke 16, 16. Up till John the Law ruled; he stands on the threshold between the old and the new. Since John the Gospel is in power; he is the antitype of Elijah. This fact may seem rather hard to understand, but they should make an attempt, nevertheless, to receive it. For it is a truth demanding intelligent and attentive ears, such as are ready to learn and to believe as well as to hear.
An earnest censure for the Jews: V. 16. But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets and calling unto their fellows, v. 17. and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. With whom shall I compare this race, especially the Pharisees and those people that follow their leadership, that permit themselves to be influenced by their mode of thinking? Jesus points to the capricious, willful children of the streets and the market-place, whose selfishness prevents their entering into the spirit of any game with proper energy. If the others play on the flute, they refuse to be merry; if the others tried to please them by imitating the mourning wail of funeral dirges, they would not beat their breasts nor show signs of mourning. The irony with which Christ describes the characteristic spoil-sport is brought out still more strongly in the original language which He used, where it includes a play on the words "danced" and "lamented."
The direct application: V. 18. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. V. 19. The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children. The proof for the accusation of childishness. When John the Baptist led an austere life, not eating nor drinking, confining his food to the articles most necessary to sustain life, the suspicion was raised that he must surely be mad. The Pharisee loved to play at fasting and act the role of an abstemious holy person, but he could not endure the earnest, sincere preacher. The contrast is very strong in the language of Christ: Came John neither eating nor drinking, — Came the Son of Man eating and drinking. Jesus, in His outward behavior, purposely did not distinguish Himself from ordinary men. He neither advocated nor practiced false asceticism, works for mere show before men. And the result: In horrified outrage they point the finger of scorn at Him. What a glutton, what a wine-bibber, what a toper! The criticism is harsh, unjust, childish, but in total harmony with the character of the Pharisees. "They play at religion; with all their seeming earnestness in reality triflers. They are also fickle, fastidious, given to peevish fault-finding, easily offended. These are recognizable features of the Pharisees. They were great zealots and precisians, yet not in earnest, rather haters of earnestness, as seen in different ways in John and Jesus. They were hard to please: equally dissatisfied with John and with Jesus; satisfied with nothing but their own artificial formalism." 100) This perverse generation has its representatives on earth even today. The world wants nothing either of John or of Jesus. The preaching of the Law, of repentance, hurts their fine sensibilities, but the Gospel of free grace and mercy in Christ Jesus is still less to their liking. The comfort of Christ under such circumstances is that wisdom is justified of her children, of her works, or fruits. This proverb, as it stands, may mean: Christ, the personal Wisdom, Prov. 8 and 9, was obliged to justify Himself against the judicial verdict of those who should be His children, but refused to accept Him; or: The wisdom of God, present in the preaching of John, and embodied in the person of Jesus, was justified, acknowledged, given its right by the children of wisdom, who accepted its teachings. Thus the heavenly Wisdom always finds some disciples and children that receive Him gladly and are, in turn, instructed in the way of salvation by grace.
The Woe upon the Galilean Cities. Matt. 11, 20-24.
V. 20. Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not. The historical occasion upon which Jesus said these words is not known. He may have used the same words here, in connection with His censure of the Pharisees, and also in His instructions to the seventy disciples, Luke 10, 13-15. In order to avoid useless difficulties, it is a simple matter to remember that Jesus more than once found need and occasion to say the same things twice and oftener. He found Himself here obliged to objurgate, earnestly to scold the Galilean cities whose inhabitants had seen so many evidences of His divine power, in whose midst the majority of His signs and wonders in the northern country had been performed. They had marveled, they had been filled with astonishment, with amazement, they had praised the manifest glory of God, they had proclaimed Him a wonder, they had eagerly sought His help for their diseases, and welcomed Him as the Savior of the body. But — they had not repented, there was no change of mind and heart. They were just as far from the kingdom of God as they had been before the coming of Christ.
The curse upon Chorazin and Bethsaida: V. 21. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. V. 22. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the Day of Judgment than for you. It is not a mere personal opinion which Christ here utters, but a judgment which is fully equivalent to a curse. They had rejected Him and His Gospel, and so He is compelled to pronounce sentence upon them: Woe, judgment, condemnation! Chorazin was a town on the western side, on the road from Capernaum to Tyre, not far from the seashore. Bethsaida was on the other side of Capernaum, on the lake. Mark 6, 45; 8, 22. Tyre and Sidon were heathen cities, and had often been the subject of prophetic curses, Is. 23, 1; Ezek.26, 2. 3; 27, 2; Zech. 9, 2; Jer. 25, 22; 27, 3; Joel 3, 9. They are taken as representatives of the entire heathen world in their opposition to the true God, in their moral corruptness and idolatry. The contrast is purposely glaring: The Galilean cities signally blessed both temporally and spiritually from olden times, their inhabitants members of the chosen people of God, now distinguished more than ever by the sojourn of Christ in their midst with the revelation of His glory, with opportunities such as no other cities ever had; and the heathen cities that were visited only occasionally by a prophet of the Lord. The greater the grace, the greater the responsibility. On the Day of Judgment all these things will be taken into account and sentence rendered accordingly, Luke 12, 47. 48; 13, 34. 35. Only the deepest and most sincere repentance, in black sackcloth, with ashes on the head, in token of penitence, is acceptable to Christ.
The curse upon Capernaum: V. 23. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell; for if the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. V. 24. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the Day of Judgment than for thee. Capernaum, the commercial metropolis of northern Palestine, had been signally marked and blessed by Christ in that He made His home there during the Galilean ministry, and had performed some notable miracles there, and because its inhabitants heard some of His mightiest sermons: Most prosperous, with the greatest spiritual privileges, but the people, as a whole, most unsympathetic toward Christ. Exalted most high, degraded most deeply! Such is its curse. For even Sodom, representing the essence of bestial filth and immorality, would have responded to such evidences of special divine love and mercy. On the Day of Judgment, therefore, Sodom also will be preferred above Capernaum. It is a terrible thing to despise God's visitation of grace. All those that have had an opportunity to learn about Christ and His work, but refuse repentance and faith, will receive a severer judgment on the last day and will be condemned to greater damnation than other sinners that were not so signally blessed with the revelation of truth.
The Gospel Call. Matt. 11, 25-30.
A most devout prayer of thanksgiving: V. 25. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. V. 26. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight. The final purpose of the entire work of salvation, in all its various branches, is the glorification of God. These things, the mysteries of the kingdom of God, are hidden from those that are wise in their own conceit, that believe themselves to be above the eternal revelations of God's wisdom in His Word. The scribes and Pharisees of Israel deemed themselves the custodians of the wisdom and understanding of the Law in all its applications. To them the Gospel is hidden, because they deliberately close their hearts and minds against its beauties. But to babes, those that are as ignorant of this world's wisdom as little children, God has revealed the glory of the Gospel. It is necessary for him that would know the beauties of God's message of salvation to men and of the entire Bible which contains this message that he rid himself of all preconceived ideas on moral and religious subjects, and be ready and eager to give unqualified assent to all that God says in His Word, 2 Cor. 10, 5. 6. For such a condition of heart on the part of believers Christ glorifies His heavenly Father, through whose power the hearts are made ready to receive the Scriptures with all humility. That is the Father's good pleasure, although it also redounds to His glory if the proud and wise of this world reject the Word of grace. So far as the Bible with its glorious and saving truths is concerned, especially that truth that a man is saved, not by works, but by grace through faith alone, it must always be the anxious endeavor of every Christian, aided by the strength from above, to avoid the doubting and doubt-instilling wisdom of this world, and present evermore such a heart that has a childlike trust and faith in Jesus and His merits, and in all the revealed truths of Holy Writ. "There are two things over which Jesus here is glad. The first, that God has hidden such mystery from the wise and understanding. The other, that He has revealed it to the little ones, the simple, the babes. Those are the children and babes that do not talk against the Word of God, that do not murmur against God's will, but, as He deals with them, they are well pleased with it. This includes all those that are not wise and understanding in their own conceit, nor fall into God's work and Word with their reason." 101)
A majestic assertion: V. 27. All things are delivered unto Me of My Father: and no man knoweth the Son but the Father: neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. A most sweeping assertion: to Christ, according to His human nature, all things are given into His power. He is the sovereign dispenser of all things, all good things and gifts come from Him, Matt. 28, 18. And the relation between Him, even according to His human nature, and the heavenly Father, is a most intimate one. He alone thoroughly knows the Father, just as the Father thoroughly knows the Son. There is full comprehension, perfect understanding between the two persons of the Godhead, because they are one in essence. Whosoever acknowledges, knows, believes in the Father and the Son and in their counsel of salvation through the Son, receives this knowledge and belief from the Son, who reveals God and His love to the world. He wishes and He wills the salvation of men.
The gracious invitation: V. 28. Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. V. 29. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. V. 30. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. No mere man could have spoken these words, so full of heavenly majesty and divine comfort. Christ purposely makes use of many Old Testament phrases, but He applies them all to Himself, thus showing that all the types are realized and fulfilled in Him. Full of both authority and kindness is His call, going out to the fatigued and the burdened, to the poor sinners whose weight of transgressions is bowing them down to earth, who can find no solace or relief in all the wide world. In Him they all find rest, relief, new life, new strength, whether their burden be one placed upon them by others or foolishly taken up by themselves. Instead of this load, which is bound to drag them down to everlasting damnation, Christ will supply another, far different burden, one which, by a paradox, is rather a privilege. For it is His yoke, the yoke of the cross, which the Christians must bear in this world, as followers of Him that bore His cross for our sake. His example will be a steady reminder that we must learn in all things, in the midst of the sorrows and tribulations of the world, to follow His meekness and lowliness, which was not outward, assumed, but a meekness of the heart. This burden of Christian obligation is kindly to bear, it is light to stand up under; there is nothing grievous and oppressive about it, because, in the final analysis, He bears both us and our burdens in love: He gives rest unto our souls, such rest, such complete satisfaction as comes through the knowledge of the Savior and His complete redemption, 2 Cor. 4, 17; 7, 4; Rom. 8, 35. Far from separating us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, the tribulation of this present life, the cross which we bear for the sake of our Lord, binds us more closely to Him with bands of everlasting strength. "The believers look upon the invisible only and not upon the visible, they adhere with simple, pure faith to the Word. And it is true also in regard to temporal things, as we said above, that the goods which we have from God are more important and more excellent than temporal misfortune can be. But how much more is this true in the Church, where this word is sounded: My burden is light, namely, for those that believe My words; and My yoke is easy, namely, if we look upon Christ, who has promised to give us rest, as He Himself says there: And ye shall find rest unto your souls. For these words: Ye shall find, indicate that the pious are without rest for a time. But such turbulent time is short; the rest of the souls, however, which the believers will find, will be important and eternal." 102) That is the final comfort of the Gospel-promise: There remaineth a rest to the people of God, Heb. 4, 9.
Summary. John sends a delegation to Christ, which gives the latter an opportunity to testify concerning the Baptist and His own work. Jesus also pronounces a woe upon the chief Galilean cities and issues a majestic Gospel invitation.