MATTHEW 11: ARE YOU REALLY THE ONE?
Preparing to read Matthew 11
John the Baptist returns to the story here, and something tragic is about to happen. John didn't mince words about obedience in preparation for the coming Messiah. Repent! Even kings were not exempt from his preaching repentance. Herod liked hearing John preach, but he was also confused by what John said. One thing was not confusing. John made it very clear and Herod was so angry about this that he wanted to kill John. Herod married his sister-in-law, his brother's wife, Herodias. John told Herod he was out of line for marrying Herodias, and Herod locked up John. He didn't kill him because he was afraid of the popular will of the people. This saga of John and Herod continues in Matthew 14, but we'll cover that in a later post.
For now, what's very important to realize is that John asks Jesus a question that carries the frayed hopes of all of Israel: "Jesus, are you really the Messiah? Or should we expect someone else?"
Have you ever been in a desperate place where you are willing to ask any question, do anything to get the answer to a burning question on your heart? John wasn't desperate only for himself but for the whole family of Israel. "Are you the one, my cousin, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus was doing Messianic things, but not the things John and others might have expected. A Messiah was to judge and take the throne! Jesus was eating with "sinners" and healing with mercy. As N.T. Wright points out, Jesus had stepped beyond judgment and come as a Messiah of mercy. Jesus surprised everyone, even his cousin.
Pay close attention when you read to the important reply of Jesus. Jesus knows the question must be answered now, and he answers it indirectly but very concretely. He doesn't say, "Yes, I am the one, the Messiah." What he says cuts to the heart of his life-giving mission to restore Israel and open the gate of hope for the blind, deaf, crippled, and poor of all nations.
In the process Jesus speaks fondly and very boldly about his cousin, John the Baptizer. And in the midst of this, Jesus says something we ought to pay attention to. The prophet Malachi (4:5-6) had said this day would come, "The Day of the Lord," when a new Elijah would come. Some figured Elijah would come back to life, but few expected this duo of John the Baptist and Jesus were the Elijah and Moses of the new era, but that's exactly what Jesus is getting at. "If you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear."
Jesus puts a spur into the side of the current generation by singing a kid's song and comparing what the children say to the people's view of Jesus and John. "We played a flute and you did not dance! We sang a funeral song and you did not cry!" Jesus said, "John came fasting and you said he was demon possessed. I came eating and drinking, and you said he's a glutton, drunk and friend of sinners.
Jesus turns and praises his Father who has hidden these things from the "wise and learned," yet loves to reveal mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to "little children." The upshot of this is that we're more likely to know the Father if we're in the categories of people Jesus told John are receiving sight, hearing again after long deafness, walking after years of laying down and begging. We're in a better position to know the Father as beggars than as wise and learned.
Just as soon as this seems hopeless, impossible, Matthew 11 ends with a twist that is a soothing comfort, like essential oil and the most beautiful music you've ever heard.
Read this verse 3 times, each time slowly, out loud. Let the words wash back over you and keep remembering them through your day. What is Jesus saying to you in your times of desperation? Do you have any desperate hopes for hopeless people suffering as refugees, enduring racial injustice, and in terrible situations of human trafficking, child prostitution and slavery? Speak these words for them as well.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.