Matthew 11:1-19 Part 1

One of the great difficulties, in my opinion, in the Church today, which has lead to the sharp decline of the Church (and therefore the American culture), has been our approach to Scripture and our approach to worship.

Men and women and children no longer (in our culture, anyway) approach God’s Word with reverence and awe; and a conscious solemnity before the exalted God just seems to be gone from worship!

People read the Holy Bible like any other book, rather than acknowledging its grandeur, and it seems to me that congregations do anything but glorify and build the reputation of God our Father!  Instead, it’s full of entertainment; it’s become a social event, and making the congregation have a sense of feeling good.

And I would exhort you this morning, as I often try to do, that as we enter into chapter eleven of this Gospel account, that you approach it with exalted fear and wonder!

As we read the words of the text this isn’t a story out of the greatest book ever written.  This is the inspired account of the foundations of the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.  As we read the words and deeds of the King of Glory, we’re reading the history of the salvation of the world.  We’re preaching the Words which are the power of God unto salvation!  The redemption of the world!  We’re praying unto the God who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  We’re lifting our voices in praise to God Who is capable of incredible wrath and anger and Who demonstrates eternal love and mercy to His Own people, and Who loves His creation so much He is willing to redeem it through incredible cost!

The One speaking in this text is the One Who incarnated - that is, the One Who took on flesh in order to lay His Own body down as a blood sacrifice that God’s desire for our destruction might be satiated!

The flame of anger is kindled in the heart of God the Father when people become mundane, cynical and apathetic in their approach to Him.  Inattention and inappropriateness and laxity lead God to detest our public ceremonies.  And nothing in this world can be more dangerous than to be the recipient of God’s hatred.

The God of this Gospel is the one Who is so full of Goodness and pity for our eternal condition that He poured out all the wrath and Power of the Godhead upon His Own Son and killed Him - and forsook Him - so that we wouldn’t be forsaken and abandoned.  And He is the God Who is quite capable of spewing out whole churches in violent upheavals of nausea.

The appropriate response from all men because of these things is humble and fearful public and private worship - and a fleeing to the body of Christ where there is refuge and safety.  A causal, nonchalant or flippant attitude toward Him is deadly.  We are careful about avoiding things which might be deadly to the body, and we must be ever more greatly concerned about that which is deadly to the soul!  Casualness, neglect, laxity, informality, non-observance, inattention, complacency, and disobedience.

And I tell you this morning that, as we approach Him and His Word you must give no place to those things.  The inspired Word through Matthew relates the most dreadful events in history - the most priceless events in history - the most salvific events in history!

Salvation history culminates here!  Not even the great flood which covered the earth in the time of Noah even comes close to what we’re reading now - for even it didn’t change the nature of man; it only destroyed him.  But now the Redeemer of the world comes to claim what is His alone.  And, in the process, in wrath and anger He cuts off that which is dead and rotting - shaking heaven and earth to do it - and righteously pursues the eternal, electing love of God toward His people and His creation.  He pursues the election of God!  He pursues the satisfaction of His Father - the justice of His Father.

He has claimed His Kingdom.  And there is no room for complacency.  There’s no room for indifference, apathy and frigidity.  You can’t be a Kingdom participant - a disciple of Christ - and have no appetite for fervent and reverent worship.

And now that we’ve all been duly exhorted to repent and quicken our spirits to fervency concerning His Word and His holiness, let’s look at the text as Jesus completes His commission to the twelve, verse one, and leaves to begin preaching and teaching in their cities.  “Their cities” must be given the obvious meaning which is filled with the context - and it means the cities of Israel.

Our Lord now proceeds to do all those things which He has commissioned His apostles to do - having already signified, in a number of remarkable ways, the cutting off of Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Kingdom!  And He does so with the assurance that the focal point of all the perverted persecution coming from this nation will be Himself.  He knows why He’s here, and He knows that His preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom - His Kingdom - will soon reach the point where it’s no longer tolerated, and the God of Heaven and Earth, the Second Person of the Trinity, will be put to death at the hands of men.  Nevertheless, He has a commission from His Father, so He departs from there, as verse one says, to preach and teach in their cities.

Now.  You need to know that historically there is some period of time between what happens in verse one, (when he departed from there to preach and teach) and verse two (when John’s disciples show up.)  I don’t have any idea how much time.  It could be that John’s disciples showed up the very next day.  I rather doubt that, but it could be.  It could be months, or even a year!  All we do know is that when Jesus dismissed His disciples after their commission, all of them including Jesus began going into all the towns and villages of Israel, preaching and finding the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and that this activity continued until the crucifixion!  And, of course, the apostles didn’t even stop after that!  Remember, Jesus had promised them that they would in no wise be finished going through the towns of Israel finding these sheep before the Son of Man “be come”!  So they continued doing that even after the crucifixion - even after the Son of Man “be come” into the clouds of glory to receive power and a Kingdom.  And the apostles were then empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to facilitate their faith in, and life in, the resurrected Christ - IN WHOM is the power to submit the nations to His Kingdom, and IN WHOM is the power to resurrect men and keep them from evil.  And by Him, the apostles would do greater things than even Christ did when He raised dead bodies and healed rotting flesh!  For by their preaching, men would be made new creations!  And nations would flow into the Kingdom, and the world would eventually be redeemed!

So the apostles continued this process even until the last ones were found, and they all exited before the Tribulation occurred.  And as you read the text of Matthew from here on out, so very many of them were all around Jesus and His disciples.  Wherever they went these multitudes of lost sheep who were found wanted to be close to Jesus and hear Him teach and receive His healing mercy and pity for them.

Now, verse two.  Sometime down the line in the process, John the Baptist heard what was happening!  Matthew says here that John heard the work of the Christ!  And that’s a very telling term to use here, because it’s hardly ever used by itself!  But Matthew does it right here.  Christ means “Anointed One” or “Messiah” - the One from God.  And Matthew says that John heard of His “work” - that is, the preaching, the healing, the casting out of demons, the forgiving of sin and the raising of bodies!  In other words, the Baptist, in prison, had heard about the glorious work of the Christ!

And he sent disciples (Luke says there were two, Matthew doesn’t give us a number).   John sends disciples, from the prison - where presumably they were attending to him - to carry a message to Jesus.

Now, please understand that John wasn’t in some stockade in a little town in the middle of Israel where he could get information on everything that was going on!  John had gathered a lot of followers - enough to make some people very nervous about his power!  And Herod Antipas had thrown him in prison in order to relieve the pressure of so many who might grow to be a powerful political force!

And while John was in prison, Herod, who had received the northern third of Israel as his tetrarchy, moved him, for political reasons, to his father-in-law’s castle across the border in Syria!  So John was way out of touch with things, and he had to put two and two together from what his own disciples were able to glean from travelers over into Israel!

And it was in this location that John chastens king Herod about having taken his brother’s wife and entering into - not only an adulterous situation, but an incestuous one as well!  And it was in this place that John finally met his death, but we’ll see more about that in chapter fourteen.

But, at this point in the text, John has heard of the work of the Christ!  And he sends his disciples to ask Jesus a very specific question.  “Are you the One Coming, or are we to expect another?”  Now, at first glance, that doesn’t seem to be a statement reflecting much faith, does it?

Here’s a man who, while he was preaching by the river Jordan, looked up and saw Jesus approaching and said immediately, “Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.”  And this is the man to whom Jesus said, “It is time for us to fulfill all righteousness.”  And then John baptized Jesus!  We covered all that back in chapter three.

But now John hears, from prison, the work of the Christ, and he sends disciples to ask Him, “You, are You the One Coming, or are we to expect another?”  Aren’t you tempted to say that this guy’s really got some doubts about Jesus now?  And, in the verses right after this, it looks like Jesus really defends John and builds him up - even though it appears that John’s faith is wavering under persecution and imprisonments!

But upon second look, and considering John’s question, that may not be the case at all!  The key to solving what looks on the surface to be a dilemma rests on two things.  First, Matthew says that John heard the work of the Christ.  And, second, John says, “are you the One Coming….”  First John observes Christ’s work, and then he compares that to what he knows - from Scripture - that the “One Coming” will do!

And where do we find what John already knows?  He knows what God’s prophets said about the work of “the Christ,” so, then, don’t we have to go back and find out what he knew?  Yes, we do.  Because it’s critical to clear John the Baptist of the fundamentalist charge of “doubter,” and also it’s important for us to be edified by this glorious encounter between Jesus Christ the Lord and the prophet John!

You remember a few minutes ago I recalled John’s statement recorded back in the third chapter.  He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.”  He immediately recognized the Messiah as the “suffering Servant” of God Who would provide the only bloody sacrifice for the sin of His people.  “Behold the Lamb.”

And when he sends his disciples to inquire whether Jesus was the “One Coming,” he chose that term directly from Psalm forty where God chastens Israel, saying that their animal sacrifices were unacceptable!  And that’s why I began this sermon this morning with the necessity for acceptable worship!

But the nation would turn to corruption to the extent that God would despise their worship and their sacrifices.  And in the very next verse of Psalm forty, verse seven, there is a direct reference to the coming Messiah of God; and He says, “Lo, I come.”  In other words, the sacrifices of the people were hated, but the Christ is the “One Coming” to provide the sacrifice that is acceptable to God!  And John asks, “You, are You the One Coming?”  Are You the one Coming to be a perfect sacrifice for the people?  The Lamb of God.

You see, John had been apprised of the work of the Christ.  The great acts of mercy, and the teaching, and the great multitudes following Him, and His miracles of healing!  John saw His work!  But, for maybe a year now, John had not seen the Anointed One of God sacrificed for His people!  And John believed the Scriptures!  The “Lamb of God” was not yet sacrificed as a whole burnt offering for sin!  The “One Coming.”  (And by the way, this very same passage is used for the very same reasons in Hebrews chapter ten verses five through nine!)

So, believing the Scriptures and not sight or experience, John sends disciples to Jesus (and by the way, that, in itself is an act of recognition of authority) he sends disciples to the Christ to determine if there might be “another” that they might expect who will provide the sacrifice!

And Jesus, with His answer, intimates no chastening for doubt.  In fact He has only praise for John.  And he gently corrects John on his misunderstanding of the role of God’s Messiah!  And He does that by quoting passages from the prophecy of Isaiah which have to do with the work of the Christ!

Do you see that now?  Remember, John saw the work of the Christ and sent word to Him to find out if He was the sacrifice!  And Jesus corrects him by quoting passages with regard to His work!  And He assumes that John will believe the Scriptures when his disciples report back to him!

Here’s where He quotes from Isaiah chapter thirty-five:  “Strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.  Say to them of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, fear not; behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you.’ Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.  Then shall the lame leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing….”

And also Isaiah sixty-one:  “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to the bound….”  Jesus quotes three things.

You see, that’s the work that Jesus, up until this time, has been doing.  And it’s all cast in a context of judgment upon Israel!  Yes, He is the One Coming to be sacrificed!

Lastly, let me say that John - and there’s indication that the other prophets and apostles in Scripture did the same thing - but John diligently searched the Scriptures to understand the suffering and glory of Christ.  And when he had misconceived what they said, the Lord drove him back to the Scriptures for more understanding.  John was, indeed, the greatest of all the Old Testament prophets.  But even he needed to be driven back to the source of truth - God’s Word - so that he might be confirmed in them.

And we’ve been exhorted before to look at what the Word says - rather than what our senses and experience say.  And this is another good text to remind us of it again.  Our reason, and our understanding and our interpretation of things very well would lead us into great error.  But the faithfulness of God and His Word never lead us astray.  And we must believe Him rather than us.  Even if our senses just cry out to us that things aren’t as Scripture says!  That must be seen as delusion!

The wisdom and rationability and capabilities of men may delude us.  We hear constantly that living by every word that has proceeded from the mouth of God is not real - that that’s not living in the real world where everything’s different!  And in that scenario reality becomes what men see and experience and how they interpret it!

John’s faith in what was written, even though it was given pre-eminence over what he saw and heard, was limited - and Jesus gently nudged him to see more.  We’ll see exactly what Jesus said next time.  But, in John’s mind, what was happening had to match what was said!  Otherwise, the interpretation of what was happening was in error.

Next time - the words of Jesus about His work, and the issue of - Skandalizo (Greek word ) - scandal, trapping, stumbling.