Matt. 11:7-15 “God is looking for a few good
Translation & Sermon by
Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 01 Apr 2012
11:07 Then, as these guys were going along, Jesus began to
talk to the crowds concerning John:
“What did y’all go out into the desert to watch?
A cat-tail being shaken by a storm-wind?
11:08 Well then, what did y’all go out to see?
A man that’s been decked out in soft
You see, the ones sporting
the soft things are in the houses of the kings.
11:09 Well then, what did y’all go out to see?
Yes! I tell you, he is even more than a prophet,
11:10 for this is the man concerning whom it has
‘Look, I myself am commissioning my
messenger, just before your presence,
who will prepare your way in front
11:11 Truly, I tell y’all, there
has not been raised up
among those who have
been given birth by women
one greater than
John the Baptizer,
yet the littlest in
the kingdom of the heavens is greater than him.
11:12 And from the days of John the Baptizer until now, the
kingdom of the heavens is forcing itself, and forceful men are seizing it.
11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied
up until John.
11:14 And if y’all are willing to accept [this],
he is Elijah, the one who was about to come.
11:15 He who has ears to hear had better be listening!
Intro: Good listening makes the difference between winning and losing
This week I led worship and served as a judge in Topeka for
our state tournament of the National Christian Forensics and Communication
Association. One of the events I judged was called “Team Policy Debate” where two
teams of two debaters each take opposite sides of a resolution to change some
policy related to the Criminal Justice System of the Federal government. The
affirmative team is supposed to affirm the resolution to change the system, and
the negative team is supposed to negate the resolution and say that the system
should not be changed.
Often the debaters ask me before they start what my judging
philosophy is. I tell them that I am a resolutional judge. My judging
philosophy is pretty simple: there are two check boxes on my ballot, one
labeled “affirmative,” and one labeled “negative.” So if the debaters convince
me that the Criminal Justice System needs to be changed, then I will check that
the affirmative team won. If, on the other hand, I am convinced that the
Criminal Justice System should not be changed, then I will check that the
negative team won.
Even so, I found myself wondering sometimes if the debaters
heard me. They could get an easy win if they just focused on the issue I wanted
to judge, but often they argued over other things instead. Often what happens
is that a negative team gets so focused on blowing holes in the details of the
plan for change advanced by the affirmative team that they (the negative team)
forget to argue the more fundamental issue that the criminal justice system
should not be changed. In fact, in a couple of debate rounds I heard, the
negative team actually argued to affirm the resolution to change the justice
system by complaining about how bad the system was and suggesting specific ways
that it should be changed as an alternative to the affirmative team’s plan.
Needless to say, I gave them the loss because I told them I wanted them to
argue against the resolution to change the system, not argue for the resolution
. If they had just listened, they could have won. It’s easy to forget the
important things, so it is important to be good listeners and consistent at
acting upon what we hear.
Mat 11:7 Then,
as these guys were going along, Jesus began to talk to the crowds concerning
John: “What did y’all go out into the desert to watch? A cat-tail being shaken
by a storm-wind?
- The Greek verb is not definite
as to where they were “going,” and the Greek grammar is not
definite as to who was going. It’s possible that John’s disciples
were merely walking along with Jesus and not actually departing, as most
English translations indicate.
- Although I don’t think we can
make a big deal of this, I do want to point out that Jesus may have been
showing honor to John and guarding His cousin’s good reputation in front
of John’s disciples and in front of the public to encourage both John and
- And I do think Jesus sets an
example for us in this. As we see Jesus standing up for the reputation of
his imprisoned friend, so we too can stand up for the good reputation of
those we know are trying to follow Jesus but have been discredited in
some way or who have struggled with some sin that dims their light even,
as they keep trying to follow Jesus. Don’t hesitate to speak up for them.
- As Jesus says so poetically, John
was not wishy-washy. He was not like a “reed swayed back and forth by the
winds” of popular opinion:
- John was not like Oprah
Winfrey or Joel Osteen or the modern self-help speakers who’s aim is to
make people feel good about themselves and affirm people in whatever they
do or believe.
Apostle John wrote of John the Baptist, that “he confessed and did not
deny, but confessed…” (John 1:20) His testimony was consistent and not
influenced by adversity.
- Matthew Henry wrote in his
commentary: “John’s was not a weather-cock testimony… He was neither
courting the smiles nor fearing the frowns of men.”
- John was all-out for God’s
word. He didn’t form opinions based on what the majority of people around
him were saying,
- and, as a result, people came
out to marvel at such unusual integrity.
- It’s like that today as well.
If you live your life with conviction based upon the Word of God, people
will watch you.
- They might snipe at you like
they did John,
- or they might just not say
anything (which can be just as frustrating),
- but there will be those who
take courage from your example, who grow in Christian faith and practice
as a result of observing your steadfastness, so don’t give up.
- Ephesians 4:14-15 As a
result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves
and carried about by every wind [anemos] of doctrine, by the
trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the
truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head,
even Christ. (NASB)
Mat 11:8 Well then, what did y’all go out to see? A man that’s been
decked out in soft clothes? You see, the ones sporting the soft stuff are in
the houses of the kings.
ἰδοὺ οἱ τὰ μαλακὰ
- It’s obvious that Jesus is
using humor here, saying something absurd about John that everybody knows
isn’t true in order to make them think about and repudiate their own
doubts about John’s message.
- Jesus is asking a real
question here, “Why did you listen to the preacher?” There are all kinds
of reasons why we listen to preachers, but we need to realize that God is
going to call us to account for why we listened to what we listened
to, and then He is going to hold us accountable to what we did
about what we heard!
- “They who attend upon the
word will be called to account… when the sermon is over [that is when
your] greatest care begins!” ~Mathew Henry
- So, if the crowds didn’t go
out to see a wishy-washy people-pleaser to make them feel good about
themselves, Jesus asks, did they go out to see an impressive,
fancily-dressed dude? Was John a rock star or actor whose purpose was to
intrigue and entertain? No, he wasn’t that either.
- This Greek word malakois, translated
“soft” (or “fine” in the NIV) is used three times in the O.T. to describe
speech (Job 41:3; Proverbs 25:15; 26:22), and one other time in the N.T.
to indicate effeminate men involved in sexual immorality in 1 Cor. 6:9.
- One could
find the antithesis of John’s integrity in the foppishness of King Herod’s
court. I think Jesus was slamming Herod here. He didn’t like Herod, and
calls him a “fox” in Luke 13.
remember going to a high school reunion and observing the ways that we
alumni tried to impress each other ten years after our graduation. Some
were impressive to me, like the one serving in the special forces
overseas. One was particularly pitiful; I overheard him bragging to a
group of listeners about how special and expensive his blue jeans were.
- John the Baptizer, however, didn’t
organize his life around being comfortable or being impressive due to his
clothing. He organized his life around the message God gave him.
- Of course John was quirky:
wearing his rough camel-wool tunic and big leather belt, and eating
grasshoppers and all, but it wasn’t for show. It was just who he was; he
was living according to what God had provided for him to live on.
- We are not made by our
clothes; we are made by our commitment to God. Jesus already told us not
to worry about what we will wear because God clothes the flowers
magnificently, and we are more important to Him than flowers.
- So, if the crowds weren’t
there to watch the wind blow or see a fashion show, what were they there
for? Jesus asks a third time:
Mat 11:9 Well then, what did y’all go out to see? A
prophet? Yes! I tell you, he is even more than a prophet, ἀλλὰ
- They went out to see a prophet,
and if they went out to see a prophet, that means they went out to hear
God’s word, because that’s what prophets do is deliver messages from God,
and if they went out to hear God’s word delivered by John, then they must
have valued God’s word to some extent, and that’s a good thing.
- That’s what Jesus is wanting to stir back up in their
hearts – and in our hearts, is an attitude of honoring God’s word.
- As Matthew Henry put it, “The remembrance of our former
zeal in attending to the word of God should quicken us to – and in – our
- Jesus goes on to give a touching eulogy about how great
John was. This eulogy is not a sappy, meaningless speech such as you might
hear at the funeral of someone for whom people struggle to think of
something good to say about the deceased. Jesus’ commendation of John is
- Remember He said back in the last chapter that if we
confess Him before men He will confess us before God? Here Jesus is doing
just that: John had confessed Jesus to be God’s special agent, so Jesus
is commending John before men in return. Here we have, in down-payment
form, proof of what Jesus will do in heaven when we confess Him before
men. He will speak well of us!
- Secondly, as John Calvin put it, “John is adorned with
such a splendid title in order that the Jews may look more closely at the
embassy he represented.” In other words, if Jesus can remind people to appreciate
and heed John’s prophetic message, then Jesus Himself will be honored all
the more, because John’s message glorified Jesus! Likewise, we would
do well to follow the example of Jesus and direct people to appreciate
and obey the Bible. When we exalt the Bible, it is a strategic thing; it
sets people up to exalt Jesus Christ.
- Notice the reason why Jesus says that John is superior to
all the other prophets:
Mat 11:10 for
this is the man concerning whom it has been written, ‘Look, I myself am commissioning
my messenger, just before your presence, who will prepare your way in front of
ἐστι περὶ οὗ
- John’s coming was foretold and
written down by the prophets Moses and Malachi – the first author and the
last author in the Old Testament: Jesus’ quote here is a combination of
two similar statements:
- The first half is an exact quote
from the Greek Old Testament, Exodus 23:20-22, where God speaks through
Moses, promising the Israelites that if they keep His law and obey Him,
God will send a messenger to prepare the way before them to enter the
promised land after their captivity in Egypt:
behold, I send my messenger before your face, to keep you in your
way, that he may bring you into the land which I have prepared for you.
Take heed and listen to him, and do not disobey him; for he will not give
way to you, for my name is on him. If you will indeed hear my voice, and
if you will do all the things I charge you with, and keep my covenant, you
shall be to me a unique people above all nations, for the whole earth is
mine; and you shall be to me a royal priesthood, and a holy nation...”
- Indeed, a man named Yeshua
led the Jews into the promised land, but he was a symbol or type of the
one who was given the same name 1,500 years later, transliterated into
English as “Jesus.”
- And it was, in fact, this
very same Jesus, this “messenger/angel of the covenant” (In both Hebrew
and in Greek, the word for “angel” is the same as the word for “messenger”
– they are not two different words) who led the people of Israel in a
pillar of cloud by day and a fire at night and who gave them supernatural
victories against all odds against their enemies.
- Just as Joshua – and
ultimately Jesus – went before the Israelites to prepare the way for them
to enter the promised land, so John would prepare the way for Jesus.
Jesus was the second and ultimate representative of Israel who entered the
promised land (Heb. 4:10; 6:20; 9:10-12),
- and thus
Jesus obviously interprets the meaning, that “I [God the Father] send my
messenger [John] before you [God the Son, Jesus, the new Israel], to
prepare the way before you.”
- But there is a second prophecy
which Jesus pulls into the mix, and it is a translation from the Hebrew
text of Malachi 3:1
3:1-18 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will [prepare]
the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to
His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight,
behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts. "But who can
endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He
is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap… I will draw near to you
for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and
against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against
those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan,
and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me," says the
LORD of hosts… 16 Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another,
and the LORD gave attention and heard it... “They will be Mine,”
says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession,
and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” (NASB)
- Notice that, as God discusses
His plans for the New Testament time period, He is still very concerned
about justice, and He defines justice in terms of the law that He gave to
Moses. Then, when John the Baptizer called people to repentance, it was
upon the basis of the law of God given through Moses. For instance, John
called King Herod to task for taking his brother’s wife in violation of
Leviticus 20:21. The law of God continues to be the way we discover what
is right from what is wrong, and that is a standard that God has clearly
stated that He will not abandon. As we do what Jesus did and point people
to God’s word, we can do so with confidence that the Bible is still the
final word on morality and truth.
- Malachi identifies the Messiah,
the one who comes after the messenger and who “suddenly comes into His
temple” as being “the Lord,” “the messenger of the covenant,” and “the
coming one.” God also identifies the Messiah with Himself, saying through
Malachi “I send my messenger [and Jesus says that messenger is John]; he
will prepare the way before me.” Malachi wrote “me” there instead
of “you” like you see in Mat. 11:10. However, the “me” and the “you” are
the same person, and this links Jesus to being God Himself; Jesus is the
LORD of the O.T.
- It is
more complex than I would have expected, for Jesus to combine two
different prophecies like this, but Jesus tells us that this is “what was
written,” so I can’t say that Jesus is loosely quoting Mal. 3:1, because
then it wouldn’t be referencing “what is written down.” Only when we combine
Mal. 3:1 and Ex. 23:10 can we come up with what Jesus actually quoted – and
as I think about it, it is only fitting that the whole picture comes
together only when we take the Old Testament authors from first to last.
- So John was greater than the prophets
in the way that the first and last prophets of the Old Testament foretold
him, but John was also the greatest of the Old Testament prophets because
He got to actually see the Messiah and hear the good news that Jesus
- John “prepared the way” for
Jesus. This word “prepare” is used of:
- God’s creation of the world Isaiah 40:28 …the Creator of the ends
of the earth... Isaiah 45:7 The One forming light and creating darkness…(NASB)
- God’s creating of humans: Isaiah 43:7 Everyone… whom I have created
for My glory, Whom I have formed...” (NASB)
- Building a city Numbers 21:27 …let the city of Sihon be
- Fashioning weapons: 2 Chronicles 32:5 And he… made weapons
and shields in great number. (NASB)
- Making idols: Isaiah 40:19 … goldsmith gilded it and fashioned
a human likeness… (LXX)
- Making clay pots Isaiah 45:9 …prepared like clay by the
- Building a house Hebrews 3:3 … the builder of the house
has more honor than the house... the builder of all things is God. (NASB)
- Building of the temple: Hebrews 9:2&6 For there was a
tabernacle prepared... (NASB)
- Noah building the ark: Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah… prepared an
ark... 1 Peter 3:20 …Noah, during the construction of the ark... (NASB)
- Here in
Matthew 11, it is a “way” or a “road” a “path” that is to be
- The picture emerges from Isaiah
40 of preparing a highway: “Make straight in the desert a highway
for our God. Every valley will be raised And every mountain and hill
will be lowered And it will be that the crooked becomes even And the
ridges become a cleft. And the glory of Jehovah will be revealed And all
flesh together will see For the mouth of Jehovah has spoken… Grass
withers and a flower fades, but a word of our God will stand forever.”
- So how is this “way” prepared?
It is done by speaking God’s word into the places where faith does not
- I believe that the desert and the wilderness in
Isaiah 40 through which this roadway is to be prepared, are symbolic of
the sin, corruption, rebellion, and unrepentence of the human heart. “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” (NASB)
- “Let every valley be lifted up and every
mountain and hill be made low” Figuratively, valleys are depressions
where we lose hope in God and focus on our misery, figuratively pride is
a high place in the heart. We are to be spiritual road crews, “casting
down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the
knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience
of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)
- Luke 1:17 explains about
John the Baptizer, “It is he who will go as a forerunner before
Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO
TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the
disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a
people prepared for the Lord.” (NASB) People are “prepared” when they turn away
from disobedience, turn towards their family, and take on the attitude
- God Himself calls John “my
messenger” in Moses’ and Malachi’s prophecies. What a marvelous thing!
It’s like we’re hearing a chess master excitedly talking about bringing
his queen into action on the chess board, “I’m now going to send my
messenger!” It speaks of God’s delight in this special man, John.
- Could God say the same of
you? “I’m sending my messenger to prepare my way.” Just as the
messenger in the prophecies has multiple layers of fulfillment, from
Moses to Joshua to John to Jesus, the role of messenger was passed on to
the 12 disciples and ultimately on down to you and me. We are also to
carry God’s message to the world, point them to what God says in the
Bible, and thus prepare the way of the Lord. Are we doing that?
The next two verses present more than I can cover in one sermon, so
what I want to do is come back to them next week and skip down from verse 10 to
verse 13 for now and finish out the thought about John and the fulfillment of
Mat 11:13 For all the prophets and the law
prophesied up until John.
ὁ νόμος ἕως
- The Jews called Gen., Ex.,
Lev., Num., and Deut. “the law” or “toroat”
- And they
called Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Isaiah - Malachi “the prophets”
- This places John’s prophecy on
a par with O.T. prophecy, if prophecy was up through John.
- Luke 16:16 says the same thing
but adds “since then, the good news of the kingdom is preached,” which
places the gospel message also on a par with the O.T. prophets, indicating
that their N.T. writings are therefore also holy scripture!
- But John was a transition
point, where the O.T. era of looking forward to the Messiah ended in the
arrival of the Messiah. At this transition point, Jesus, who was God in
the flesh, lived out perfect righteousness so that He could be the sacrificial
lamb of God who knew no sin and could take on Himself the punishment for
our sin by His death on the cross and give us His right standing with God.
- From that point on, the good
news that Jesus did this could be preached by His 12 disciples and generations
of disciples after them, including us.
Mat 11:14 And if y’all are willing to accept [this], he
is Elijah, the one who was about to come.
- This also refers back to the
prophet Malachi 4:1 “…for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness
will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about
like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked… on the day
which I am preparing," says the LORD of hosts. “Remember the law of
Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I
commanded him in Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I am going to send you
Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the
LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their
children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will
not come and smite the land with a curse.” (NASB)
again, the importance of God’s law is highlighted, along with the threat
of punishment against those who break God’s laws and the promise of good
news and healing for all who honor God. Micah’s prophecy promises that
Elijah the prophet will come before the day that the Lord comes, so, ever
since that time, the Jews have looked for Elijah the prophet to come.
- At the
Passover meal every year, the Jews set an extra place at the table in
hopes that Elijah will come and they can invite him to share the dinner
with him. But Jesus said that this guy had already showed up before 30AD.
ministry and message were similar to John’s:
- both appeared rather suddenly
on the scene,
- both gave hard-hitting
messages against sin,
- and both lived simple, austere
- The grammar of this verse in
indicates that Jesus believed that His audience was indeed willing
to accept the fact that John fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy of the coming of
a prophet like Elijah.
- But it does take willpower to
listen to God’s word and obey it. “Many people are ignorant, not because
they lack power, but because they lack the will and do not listen.” (Matt.
- So Jesus caps off his eulogy
about John with the admonition:
Mat 11:15 He who has ears to hear had better be listening! ὁ
ἔχων ὦτα [ἀκούειν-B,D]
- This is the point; we need to pay attention to God’s word,
however we hear or read it, whatever part we hear or read of it. Are we
listening and giving heed to Gods words that are whizzing past our ears?
- How many of you have ears?
- Jesus says, “if you have hears, then listen up!” That
- John 5:33-40 “…John has
testified to the truth… I say these things so that you may be saved. He
was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to
rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony which I have is
greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has
given Me to accomplish – the very works that I do – testify about Me,
that the Father has sent Me… You search the Scriptures because you think
that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me…
come to Me so that you may have life. (NASB)