After giving these instructions to his disciples, Jesus himself goes from there to teach and preach in their cities. If we want to train others to do ministry, we need to do ministry ourselves. You cannot sit in an ivory tower telling people what to do unless you also are willing to wash dishes, get your feet wet, roll up your sleeves, and do discipleship and teaching and preaching, and serve too.
John the Baptist has a question. Is this the Christ, or is he still to come (11:3)? John was now in prison and hearing of all that Jesus was doing (11:2). On the one hand, he was encouraged by the apparent fulfillment of so many prophecies, but on the other hand, John’s suffering and the lack of an immediate and total kingdom establishment may have led John to wonder what was going on and to seek for further assurance. It is not wrong to seek truth, to ask questions and look for clarification. Better to ask for help than need help and not find it. Jesus replies to John’s emissaries regarding all that is being fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry (11:4-5). We are indeed “blessed” if we do not stumble over and are not offended by this Christ (11:6).
Now Jesus explains who John the Baptist really is. He is a great man, a prophet, but more than a prophet too (11:9). He was the messenger predicted in Malachi 3:1 to prepare the way for Jesus (11:10). Indeed, no other human has ever been greater than John (11:11). But, extraordinary truth, “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (11:11). Jesus means that as John fulfilled the Old Testament prophetic task of pointing to the Christ, and did more nearly and directly than any other Old Testament prophet by physically seeing Christ and actually pointing to him, John is therefore the greatest. But at the same time, now those who are in the kingdom of heaven, who are following on from the Christ, and in a sense now in the New Testament world, are really greater than John is—for they are now following the one that John pointed to.
And then from verse 16 comes a principle and a rebuke to the people, so often fulfilled since down through the years. John was a classic “prophet,” a desert prophet, neither eating nor drinking. Well, the people rejected him for these very aspects of his style—“he has a demon,” they said (11:18). But then Jesus came along both eating and drinking, and then the people reject Jesus for the opposite reason—he is a drunkard and friend of sinners (11:19). There’s no pleasing some people, we say, and the truth is that people reject the truth for reasons that are superficial to the truth. If someone hears a gospel message, challenging and convicting, and they do not wish to be challenged and convicted, then they will find superficial elements of the event to be offended by. The seating was too hard. The sanctuary was too cold. The clothes were too old (or too new). Psychologically, we resist God’s truth not by merely arguing against the truth but by being offended at something related to the person or the ministry bringing us that truth. It is easier that way. We can nurse our grievance (“friend of sinners!” “wearing camel’s hair clothes!”) as a means to avoid conviction and to protect ourselves—strange, self-inflicted wounds that fallen creatures bring upon themselves each day—from the love and grace and beauty of the gospel of Jesus. Instead, as Jesus says, we should think “wisdom is justified by her deeds” (11:19). Don’t assess someone’s teaching by what they wear or whom they hang out with, but by what they do. And if the message is from God, receive it (irrespective of still sometimes potential mixed motives, Philippians 1:18).
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