December 02, 2018 | Taylor Rutland
Passage: Matthew 11:2-11
So much of Christmas surrounds family, friends, presents, parties, and Santa Claus. Without a doubt, many of our memories of Christmas’ past have all of these. Today is December 2nd, and before you know it December 25th will be here. Christmas is coming, and it always comes quickly. The American Research Group did a study showing that shoppers will spend on average $992 for gifts this holiday season, which is actually up from $983 spent last year. Spending on Christmas peaked in 2001 at $1,052. But so that we don’t overlook the beauty of Christmas for us as followers of Jesus, we will be following the traditional Advent themes in our sermons. Hope, peace, Joy, love and Christ. The Akin family did a great job of kicking off our Advent season today as they lit the candle of hope. Advent is expectation. The first Christmas changed everything. And every year we celebrate both the anticipation and the coming of Jesus. Christmas is Coming can either fill you with dread or with expectation. Our prayer is that this series leads you to have feelings of expectation for Christmas.
Is this for Real?
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” — Matthew 11:3
John the Baptist has a vested interest in his question. He has been calling people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Not only that, but he himself baptized Jesus in the Jordan. So this begs the question. What was John really asking here? Did he not already know who Jesus was? Apparently, he has some doubt. The question that John is really asking is the question is this for real?
This is the question that so many people have about Jesus. Is he really who he claims to be? Can we really trust the Bible when it comes to the historical details of Jesus’s life. Of course, an entire segment of New Testament research focuses on the Historical Jesus. These scholars seek to determine what sayings and miracles of Jesus can be historically verified.
You see, it’s likely that John was expecting a different kind of Jesus. A political or military leader who would gather the Jewish people to his cause and overthrow the Romans. John had his own picture of who he wanted Jesus to be, and up to this point what John had heard about Jesus was not what he was expecting.
I would imagine there are some of you here this morning asking the same question. Is this for real? Does Jesus really have the power to transform my heart and mind. Does his death on the cross really have massive implications for my life? We are also all guilty of wanting Jesus to fit our understanding of who we think he should be instead of worshipping him for who he really is.
- I’m sure you have met someone whether a friend or a family member who cannot worship Jesus because they disagree with Jesus being the only way. They say it’s unfair for there to only be one way to eternal life. But as soon as someone makes that statement they are becoming God themselves. They are trying to decide what is fair for people. It’s really easy to worship a Jesus that is just like us, but it’s much more difficult to worship the real Jesus.
Actions Speak Louder than Words.
"…the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." — Matthew 11:5-6
Jesus knew that John needed more evidence that he was the Messiah. So Jesus tells John’s disciples to report back to John that he was doing all of these great miracles.
The great miracles that Jesus was performing are also miracles described in Isaiah when prophesying about the coming Messiah. Isaiah 35:5-6 provides the scriptural basis for the curing of the deaf, blind, and lame. Isaiah 61:1 talks about the good news to the poor. But the healing of lepers and raising the dead do not occur in these Isaiah passages. Jesus’s ability to raise from the dead and cleanse lepers shows that Jesus can perform miracles that were seen as completely impossible.
Perhaps Jesus knew that the miracles that had already been recorded in Isaiah were not enough to convince John. So he adds in raising from the dead and curing leprosy. Leprosy and death were seen even in the ancient world as incurable conditions.
Then we have this curious statement by Jesus in v.6. Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. The verb used here in the Greek is where we get our word scandal from. Jesus is saying here that John is offended by the deeds that Jesus is doing. Now I have read the gospels and studied the gospels for many years now, and I have neglected this verse. Why would John be offended at what Jesus is doing?
Well, if Jesus is not the Messiah then John has really wasted a lot of his time and energy. We learn in v. 2 that John is in prison. So his chips were all in on Jesus at this point, and he was going to be highly offended if Jesus was not who he claimed to be.
- Before we begin judging John for his lack of faith, let’s think about ourselves. How many of us claim to be all in with Jesus, but yet when our circumstances don’t work out like we want them to we get frustrated. It is in these moments that we can realize that we are actually worshipping the god of good circumstances rather than God himself. To this day, the problem of evil in the world is still the most powerful argument that philosophers will use against Christianity not only from a standpoint of logic but also from experience. If I were to ask by show of hands I would bet many people here know someone who once followed after Jesus, but left the faith because they could not reconcile a good God allowing evil in the world. And I’m convinced that many times it’s not the actual event that drives them away, but the fact that they spent their lives thinking that faith in Jesus meant a good life for themselves. So the issue is not actually the problem of evil, but a misunderstanding of what it means to follow Jesus.
The Necessity of John.
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you." — Matthew 11:10
In v. 7 Jesus begins asking the crowd about John. Why had they come all this way to hear from him? “A reed shaken by the wind” reference is twofold. First, Jesus is asking them did you travel all this way just to see the scenery reed grass was very common around the Jordan. But also, a reed shaken by the wind was often used by the rabbi’s to describe a man whose message was adapted based on the mood of the day. John’s message was certainly not one that made him popular.
Then Jesus asks, did you come to see a man in soft clothing which means did you come to see someone of royalty. John ate bugs, and dressed in camel hair so he does not fit the characteristics of a wealthy person.
Jesus says, the reason you came out here is because you are hearing from a prophet. Not just any prophet, but the prophet who came immediately before Jesus. The prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others happened hundreds of years earlier, but John is the last prophet before I came on the scene. John fulfills the prophecy found in Malachi 3 the last book of the Old Testament about someone coming to prepare the way for Jesus.
People come to hear John because he represents the forerunner to hope. This is why John was necessary. He himself did not bring hope, but he pointed to the one who was hope.
The Unimportant Self.
"Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." — Matthew 11:11
Jesus continues to speak highly of John until the very last verse of our text today. No one is greater than John the except anyone who is in the kingdom of heaven.
John represented the age of preparation for Jesus’s coming, but now that Jesus has arrived ALL of the prophecies about Jesus’s coming have been fulfilled. He has arrived. God in the flesh.
The kingdom of heaven is a phrase unique to Matthew’s Gospel. He uses this phrase 32 times. It is found in no other gospel or any other book in the New Testament.
Jesus’s reminder to the crowd, to John, and to all of us in this room is that the more unimportant we are the more like Jesus we become. Let me say it again, the more unimportant we are, the more like Jesus we become. The least important person in the kingdom of heaven is greater than any CEO, president, star athlete, or billionaire.
John has done some great things. In fact, Jesus himself says that he is the greatest born of woman, and yet in terms of salvation that means nothing. Even John himself would have to confess just like everyone else that Jesus is Lord. It didn’t matter that he was the greatest prophet, His good works would not make even him right before God.
So how do we make ourselves unimportant? Well John himself actually gives us a great formula to use when trying to make ourselves unimportant. John the Baptist says “He must increase, but I must decrease.” You want to point people to hope this Christmas season increase the importance of Jesus and decrease your importance. You want to be a better witness for Christ increase talk about Jesus and decrease talk about self. That’s how we point people to the true hope found in Jesus.
- I close today with this great quote by the theologian J.I. Packer, he says, “The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity-hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory-because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross.”
We all need to understand what Jesus promises and offers us. He does not promise us material wealth, he does not promise us good health, he does not promise us happiness. But the one thing that he does offer us is the only thing that can truly give us hope and that’s eternal life in Him. Wealth, health, and happiness all have an expiration date, but eternal life does not. This is the hope that only Jesus can provide you. You cannot find hope in your family, your career, or anything else. Jesus is the only one that can provide you eternal hope.