Sermon #1623 Miscellaneous Sermons
Title: A Faithful Man
His Master and His Critics
Text: Matthew 11:1-24
Subject: Our Savior’s Vindication of John the Baptist
Date: Sunday Morning Bible Class
June 19, 2005
Tape # Y-71b
The title of my message this morning is — A Faithful Man: His Master and His Critics. Our text will be Matthew 11:1-24. In this chapter we will hear the Lord Jesus speaking to a great, mixed multitude of genuine believers, curious, questioning people, religious hypocrites, unconcerned unbelievers, and weary sinners in need of his mercy and grace. In these thirty verses our Lord Jesus vindicates the ministry of John the Baptist, warns men against despising the gospel, and graciously invites weary, heavy-laden sinners to come to him for rest.
Today, we will look at just verses 1-24. In these verses of Inspiration the Holy Spirit records for our learning an event in the life and ministry of our Savior that is full of much needed instruction.
John the Baptist is in prison. That faithful servant of God, whose life’s business it was to point perishing sinners to the Lamb of God. He was faithful to his God and faithful in his work to his dying day. He went about showing men and women the way of salvation and life in Christ. He called sinners from ruin to redemption, from darkness to light, from death to life, from misery to mercy, from eternal ruin to eternal life in Christ. Through the faithful preaching of that one man multitudes were converted. God used that one devoted, faithful man to save many of his elect. All his adult life, John simply pointed perishing sinners to the Lord Jesus Christ as the sin-atoning Lamb of God. Because he was faithful to Christ, faithful to the Scriptures, and faithful o the souls of men, he was, in the eyes of the whole religious world a marked man, the constant object of ridicule and hatred, slandered, falsely accused, and vilified as an evil man. The religious crowd, we are told in verse 18, said, “He hath a devil.” And in the end, he was beheaded by Herod.
God’s servants, in every age, are treated in exactly the same way. God’s people love them and highly esteem them. The rest of the world (religious and irreligious) hate them. Why? Because, like John the Baptist, faithful gospel preachers…
· Expose the sins of men.
· Point sinners to Christ alone as God’s Salvation.
· And, in doing so, denounce as evil all self-righteousness and all self-righteous, works religion.
And when a man is the object of vile hatred, he is a marked man, marked for destruction by whatever means evil men can use to destroy him. But those who honor God are always honored of God. Look at our Savior’s testimony concerning this man, John the Baptist, in verse 11. — “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist.”
Now, let’s look at Matthew’s inspired account of our Lord’s instruction concerning the life and ministry of his faithful servant, John the Baptist. We will begin in Matthew 11:1.
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples,” after he had commissioned them and sent them out to the various cities in Jerusalem and Judea to preach the gospel of his grace, “he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities” (v. 1). Our Master sent his original preachers out in pairs to preach the gospel in all the cities of Israel. Then, it seems, he followed them in person, to confirm their message by his own word of instruction. Thus, in the mouth of two and three witnesses, every word was established (Matt. 18:16; Deut. 17:5).
Notice the words “their cities!” That is an unusual expression. It appears that wherever the Lord sent a pair of gospel preachers, he gave the city to them. That city became their responsibility and their possession in a strictly spiritual sense, as the peculiar and particular domain of their labors. As the Lord Jesus entrusted Jerusalem to the hands of Peter and James, so he entrusts to each of his servants the care of his church wherever he places them (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Then, at the time appointed, Christ will come to take his sheep from the hands of his servants into his own hands. What a privilege that man has to whom the Son of God entrusts the care of his people, and what a responsibility!
(Acts 20:28) "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."
(1 Peter 5:1-4) "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: (2) Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; (3) Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (4) And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."
In verses 2-6 we see John the Baptist sending two of his disciples to the Lord Jesus with a question.
“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: 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. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (vv. 2-6).
John the Baptist was in prison for telling Herod that it was unlawful for him to take his brother Philip’s wife to be his own (Matt. 14:4). He must have realized, perhaps by special revelation from God, that he would never be released. He was soon to be executed. Because of his testimony for Christ, the greatest preacher the world had ever known, except for the Lord Jesus himself, was beheaded.
Perhaps, in his low condition, when his heart was heavy, John began to doubt everything he had believed and preached. I know some strongly object to the idea that true believers sometimes have doubts and fears. They confidently assert, “He who doubts is damned.” But that just is not so. Many of God’s dear saints have a weak faith that is often troubled with doubts and fears. And many who are very strong in faith are sometimes weak.
· Gideon asked for a sign because he doubted.
· Elijah fled from Jezebel because he feared.
· Peter temporarily went back to his fishing career because he thought all hope for him was lost.
It is not our faith that saves us, but Christ, the Object of our faith. Weak faith is not necessarily false faith. And strong faith is not necessarily true faith. What, or rather, Who is The Object of your faith? That is the question! If your faith is pitched upon the Lord Jesus Christ alone, be it weak or strong, it is true faith.
To give John the assurance that he sought, the Lord Jesus pointed this troubled heart to three things.
1. First, the Savior pointed John and his disciples to himself and to his works (vv. 4-5).
(Matthew 11:4-5) "Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: (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."
2. Then he pointed them to the Scriptures, the Holy Word of God (Ps. 22:26; Isa. 29:18; 35:4-6; 42:6-7; 61:1).
(Psalms 22:26) "The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever."
(Isaiah 29:18) "And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness."
(Isaiah 35:4-6) "Say to them that are 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. (5) Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. (6) Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert."
(Isaiah 42:6-7) "I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; (7) To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house."
(Isaiah 61:1) "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 them that are bound;"
3. Finally, he pointed John the Baptist to his own persevering allegiance to him (v. 6).
(Matthew 11:6) "And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me."
Those who endure to the end, who follow Christ unto death, who are not offended at him, with him, or in him, have evidence of grace in them.
Yet, I am of the opinion that John’s question was intended not for himself, but for the benefit of his disciples.
· Perhaps he sent his disciples to the Lord Jesus because he wanted to have them see for themselves the power and glory of Christ.
· Perhaps he wanted to put an end to the jealousy that had arisen between his disciples and the Lord’s disciples.
· Perhaps he sent his disciples to the Lord Jesus, as his dying act, to urge them to cleave to Christ alone.
Whatever his reason, I cannot imagine that John himself had any doubts concerning Christ. He had given clear testimony to the Redeemer’s person and work, being convinced of God regarding him (Matt. 3:13-17; John 1:29-34; 3:27-36).
(Matthew 3:13-17) "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. (14) But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? (15) And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. (16) And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: (17) And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
(John 1:29-34) "The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (30) This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. (31) And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. (32) And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. (33) And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. (34) And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God."
(John 3:27-36) "John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. (28) Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. (29) He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. (30) He must increase, but I must decrease. (31) He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. (32) And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. (33) He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. (34) For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. (35) The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. (36) He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him."
John sent his disciples to the Lord Jesus that they might be personally convinced of him.
When I see the Blood
Whether John’s action here indicates a time of doubt and unbelief on his part, or on the part of his disciples, what a gracious testimony the Lord Jesus here provides for his poor, doubting, fearful disciples, who, in the absence of other evidences, can still say they love him, even when their behavior denies him (John 21:17). The Lord God says, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” He does not say, “When you see the blood.” He saw the blood before you did. He saw the blood when you did. He sees the blood now. He sees the blood better than you ever can. And he will see the blood, even if the time comes when you cannot see it!
The Master’s Vindication
In the next paragraph (vv. 7-15) the Lord Jesus publicly vindicates John’s life and ministry, giving him the highest possible honor as God’s faithful prophet.
“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? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 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. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (vv. 7-15).
People are always curious about a preacher who is a bit unusual, who does not fit the mold of what men think a preacher should be, or who creates a stir among men. The same thing was true in that day. People were curious about John the Baptist. When they went out to hear him, they expected to see and hear a preacher just like the others they knew, perhaps one who could preach a little better than the others. They expected to see a timid, unstable, vacillating “reed shaken with the wind.” (v. 7). They went out to hear John, expecting to see a worldly, pampered, easy living man (v. 8). But when they met and heard John the Baptist, for the first time in their lives, they met and heard a prophet of God.
· John was a bold preacher of repentance.
· He was a self-denying prophet of God, content to wear camel’s hair, rather than gorgeous robes.
· More than a prophet, John was the forerunner of Christ. He was that Elijah of whom Malachi spoke (vv. 9-15).
Compare what our Lord says in verse 10 and the passage in Malachi 3:1 which he quotes, and you will see a clear declaration by our Lord Jesus himself that he is God.
(Malachi 3:1) "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts."
(Matthew 11:10) "For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee."
Robert Hawker’s comments on verse 10, as compared with Malachi’s prophecy are excellent…
“I conceive the 10th verse to be the most weighty. If the reader will turn to the Scripture, which the Lord Jesus quotes from his servant, the Prophet Malachi, (Chap. 3:1), he will discover a very striking difference in the manner in which Jesus useth the words; from what, they are there. In the words of the Prophet, it is Jehovah the Lord of Hosts speaking to the Church concerning John. He shall prepare the way before me. But here, as the Lord of his temple, Christ is spoken to on the same subject. Now the words are, “Behold I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” What a decisive proof of the Oneness in the divine nature, in the me and thee. Jehovah’s way and Christ the Mediator’s way is one and the same. And what can be more full in pointing to the Godhead of Christ? And hence it must undeniably follow, that the way of both, being one and the same; He who is the Lord of his temple and the Angel of the covenant is One, with the other Persons of Jehovah, in nature, in essence, in way, will, and work, in property, honor, and worship; and in all the divine attributes, perfections, and glory! Hail! thou Almighty Jesus, whom all thy people delight in! Oh! for ears to hear what the Spirit saith concerning time to the Churches!”
All God’s prophets are the forerunners of Christ. As the Lord Jesus vindicated John, so he will vindicate and honor all who serve his interests in this world (1 Sam. 2:30). He will honor his servant in time by honoring his labors, blessing them to the hearts of his people. And he will vindicate and honor his servant in the day of judgment (Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 4:1-5).
(Matthew 25:34) "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:"
(1 Corinthians 4:1-5) "Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. (2) Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. (3) But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. (4) For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. (5) Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God."
Let no servant of God despise “the day of small things.” At his own appointed time and in his own appointed way, God honors those who honor him (2 Cor. 2:14-17).
(2 Corinthians 2:14-17) "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. (15) For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: (16) To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? (17) For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ."
Least and Greatest
In verse 11 our Lord says, “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.” Those words are not to be understood as if there are great saints and lesser saints in God’s kingdom. There are not. He that is least in the kingdom is our Lord Jesus, who, because he made himself the least, is the greatest, the firstborn in the house of God.
Let me make a brief comment on 12.
(Matthew 11:12) "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."
I do not pretend to understand all that might be intended by these words, but two things appear to me to be certain.
1. As it was in John’s day, so it is now and ever shall be, so long as the world stands, “The kingdom of heaven (the church of God) suffereth violence” from the world.
2. Our Lord would have us to seize his kingdom and grace with the same zeal, earnestness, and holy devotion with which others violently oppose it.
Now, look at verses 16-19, and here what our Master says to those who oppose his servants.
“But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children” (vv. 16-19).
In every generation (and in most local churches) there are many carping critics who are convinced that it is their unique calling to nit-pick everything a faithful gospel preacher declares.
· They are totally unconcerned about the glory of God, the gospel of his grace, and faith in Christ.
· They can never be taught anything, because they know everything.
· In a word, they are lost religious men and women, acting like peevish, pouting children playing games (vv. 16-17).
They always find convenient excuses for not hearing God’s messengers. The Pharisees thought John was too strict, so they refused to hear him. They thought the Lord Jesus was too loose, so they refused to hear him (vv. 18-19). To such men (and women) in every generation, religion is nothing more than a child’s game!
· Bible Conference Free Loaders!
· Church Hopping Loafers!
· Internet Gossips!
The fact is neither the sweet melody of grace and salvation by Christ, nor the terrible thunders of the law of Moses have the least influence on the unregenerate heart. The silly behavior of ignorant children is a striking illustration of a lost religious man’s obstinacy to the things of God. From such obstinacy only God the Holy Spirit, by omnipotent grace, can deliver a sinner.
The Responsibility of Hearing
Read verses 20-24 with me, and learn this — The greatest privilege and the weightiest responsibility you will ever have in this world is the hearing of the gospel. God will hold you responsible for what you hear, and for what you could hear.
“Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: 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. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. 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. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (vv. 20-24).
Every time I read these verses of Holy Scripture, two striking facts are forcibly driven home to my heart by the Spirit of God: (1.) God almighty is totally sovereign in providence and grace. He sends the gospel to whom he will! And (2.) the most heinous wickedness in this world is the sin of unbelief! Those people who hear the gospel and yet believe it not are guilty of the greatest evil in the world. They may be moral, descent, and respectable in behavior before men; but before God they are guilty of crimes far more abominable than the idolatries of Tyre and Sidon, and more vile than the homosexuality of Sodom. That crime is willful unbelief (Pro. 1:23-33; 29:1).
(Proverbs 1:23-33) "Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. (24) Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; (25) But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: (26) I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; (27) When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. (28) Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: (29) For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: (30) They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. (31) Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. (32) For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. (33) But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil."
(Proverbs 29:1) "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
In the light of what is said here of Chorazin and Bethsaida, and the great woe pronounced upon those cities, which were favored with such high privileges and regarded them not, I cannot help thinking, “What horrid condemnation awaits this generation in hell!”
(Matthew 7:22-23) "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? (23) And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
(Hebrews 2:3) "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him."
Hawker asks, “Great Gospel privileges we have indeed; but what must follow if we neglect, or reject such great salvation?” May God graciously cause us to be inspired with that holy violence of faith that will not and cannot neglect the kingdom of heaven and the great salvation accomplished by Christ our King and proclaimed in the gospel!