Saturday, March 1, 2014

John wavers at the Grace of God

The picture above is taken at the Sea of Galilee in Israel in Dec late last year. Israel is a wonderful place.

I was reading Matt 11:2-18. The verses talk about how John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the messiah. After Jesus answered John's disciples and they left, Jesus spoke to those around him about John. Some things Jesus say there are hard to understand.

Let's look at these verses together. This post is like a bible study of these verses. It will be good for you to read Matt 11:2-18 on your own before you continue.
2Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question: 3“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: 5The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. 6Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matt 11, NET)
By this time, God has revealed to John that Jesus is the Messiah whom John has been sent to proclaimed (John 1:26-34), and John has publicly proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. But why did John now doubt who Jesus is? This because John is the last of the Old Testament prophets (Malachi 3:1-5, 4:5-6). In the Old Testament God's prophets bring a message of God's wrath to God's people if they disobey. And that is what John did. See Matthew 3:10,12. Thus, when John was imprisoned, and Jesus did not rescue him, John probably started to doubt if Jesus is the Messiah. It might be also because he heard about the gracious deeds of Jesus, which were different from John's approach. Thus, John is a little shaken in his faith, and from what Jesus said in verse 6, we know that John has been offended by what the Messiah is doing. John could not agree with His methods. John's struggle is with grace, which Jesus brings on the scene. But notice how gentle Jesus is towards John. He reminded John of the Messianic miracles He was doing that only the Messiah is prophesied to do (Isaiah 35), thus confirming His gracious deeds to be genuine. And His soft rebuke to John in verse 6 sounds like a blessing instead of a scolding.

After John's disciples left, Jesus defended John. How kind is our Lord. John became a beneficiary of the grace that John sought to question.
7While they were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fancy clothes? Look, those who wear fancy clothes are in the homes of kings! 9What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written:
Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.
11“I tell you the truth, among those born of women, no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. 
Jesus asked them if they think John is like a reed shaken by the wind, referring to the obvious fact that John has now openly shifted his position and questioned His person. Then Jesus asked if John wears fancy clothes, perhaps asking if they think John is frivolous and not to be taken seriously. But stating the first point (reed shaken) and the second point together (wear fancy clothes), and refuting the second point, it has the effect to the hearer that Jesus is refuting both points. But yet Jesus never explicitly refute the first point. Jesus did not want the people to see less of John. This is the wisdom and gentleness of our Lord.

The Lord then went on to affirm John further, confirming him not only to be a prophet that is prophesied in Malachi 3, but to be someone who is the greatest among anyone who is born of women. The word "no one has arisen" has the perfect tense. Which would mean since the time of John, there will never be anyone born of women that is greater than John. Even now.

From there, the Lord begins to reveal about His Ministry in a powerful way. The Lord says that anyone who is born into the Kingdom of heaven is greater than John. Isn't it amazing? And that is the Lord's ministry - to get people to be born again into the Kingdom of heaven  (John 3:5-6).
12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John appeared. 14And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come. 15The one who has ears had better listen!
The Lord's ministry is powerful, yet it is not obvious. John's ministry of repentance and water baptism can be seen by all. But Jesus bringing grace may appear weak and lacking in power. But actually Jesus' ministry of grace is a lot more powerful as it gets people saved into the Kingdom of Heaven. Something the Law and the Prophets can never do. What is unseen is powerful than what is seen. Jesus is now putting things in the correct perspective for His audience. This grace that He brought is actually a secret that at that time nobody could know because the prophecies of the old testament ends at John (verse 13), and will begin at the end when Elijah himself will appear with Moses (Revelation 11:3) (verse 14). John himself is Elijah because he comes in the spirit of Elijah. The 2000 years of the age of grace for gentile believers has not been prophesied in the bible. It is a mystery (Ephesians 3:5), that gentiles could be saved and be partakers of the promises of the Messiah, like the Jews are. This is the reason why in Nazareth when the Lord read from the book of Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:18), He stopped at "acceptable year of the Lord" and did not continue with the next verse which speaks about Judgement. That will come 2000 years later in His second return.

All these are profound mysteries. Which is why the Lord asked those with ears to listen (verse 15).

In fact, verse 12 shows how powerful the Lord's ministry is. Verse 12 is hard to understand. And it should have been written like this:
12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence  advances forcefully (reference 1), and forceful people people guided by God to act with positive assertiveness (reference 2) lay hold of it. 
 The tense for "advances forcefully" is present tense. Which is mean it is always true, even now. It only appears one more time in the New Testament in Luke 16:16:
16“The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it.
The word "urged to" is the same word as "advances forcefully", and it is also in present tense.  You can see from Luke 16:16 that it is a sister verse to Matt 11:12.

The word "lay hold" in verse 12 is also in the present tense. Combining verse 12 and Luke 16:16, we see that since John's days when Jesus came onto the scene and start to preach the gospel, God's kingdom has been advancing in a strong way, with people continually entering in a mighty way without stopping.

Praise God for His gospel! Many people took verse 12 to say that we need to work hard to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is wrong. As there is no mention of the people being able to contribute positively to this process - it is purely the work of God. The proof? The succeeding verses, where Jesus berated the people of His generation. There is no strength to be found. So the victory could not have come from their contribution, but the power of the gospel of Christ.
16“To what should I compare this generation? They are like children (little children, infants) sitting in the marketplaces who call out to one another (others of a different type) (reference 3) ,
17‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance;
we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’
18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ 19The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
How should we see verse 16 to 19? Verse 17 directly relates to verse 18 due to the word "For" in the beginning of verse 18. The Lord is saying that the people of His generation are like little children, who call out openly to people who are not like them (John and Jesus, or in general, the minsters of God). John's ministry is an Old Testament ministry and it is a serious one, yet the people wanted to ask John to be celebratory. Jesus on the other hand, ushers in an era of grace and He is celebratory, yet the people wanted Him to be sad. And in both cases John and Jesus are criticised.

This is a major point. The people should have flowed with God. Yet they prefer to have their own vain imaginations of God and want God's ministers and plan to conform to their imaginations and fancy. This will never work. We will need to conform to God's work based on His Word. And not the other way around. In fact Jesus is so adamant about this, that He went on to curse Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum in verse 20 which is out of our scope here.

That's it :). So as you can see, the Lord's word is so impregnated with His Truths. In these short 17 verses, we see

1) Why John wavered
2) How the Lord protected John's public opinion and corrected John ever so gently
3) How the Lord put His own ministry into proper perspective, showing how powerful His gospel is, that men since then has been continuously being added to the Kingdom of God in a powerful way
4) And how we should conform to the pattern of God, and not imagine God to be in a certain way in our mind and expect Him to conform to our expectations. This is why knowing the Word of God is so important.

Hope this post helps you see God's Word in a better way. I wrote it for me to see Him in a better way.

Shalom. God bless you richly.

1. 971 biázō – properly, to use power to forcibly seize, laying hold of something with positive aggressiveness971 /biázō ("to advance forcefully") is only used twice in the NT (both times positively). ()

2. Cognate: 973 biastḗs – positive assertiveness; used of the believer living in faith ("God's inworked persuasions") guiding and empowering them to act forcefully – i.e. "fired up" by God to act by Hisrevelation. It is used only in Mt 11:12. See 971 (biazō). ()

3. 2087 héteros – another (of a different kind). 2087 /héteros ("another but distinct in kind") stands in contrast to 243 /állos ("another of the same kind"). 2087 /héteros ("another of a different quality") emphasizes it is qualitatively different from its counterpart (comparison). ()