Matthew 11 – The Greatness of John the Baptist
This post is part of an on-going series meant to compliment the wonderful commentary provided in D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Vol 1, which tracks along with the M’Cheyne reading plan. The links to both the reading plan and a free PDF of Carson’s book are available here.
Matthew 11 is one of my favorite passages in Scripture. The chapter begins with John the Baptist sending messengers to Jesus, asking if Jesus was indeed the One, or if they were to wait for another (v. 3). Jesus responds by pointing to his works – the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk (v. 4). These works point towards Jesus as the Christ. John’s life work is upheld.
But Jesus isn’t content just to aid his cousin’s faith. Rather, he upholds what is clearly a doubting John before the crowds. After asking a series of rhetorical questions, Jesus demonstrates that the whole of Judea came out to see him because he was a prophet (3:5). Yes, Jesus affirms, a prophet, but more than just a prophet.
This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ (11:10, ESV)
This is what makes him more than a prophet – he was the sum of all the prophets, the one to clear the ground for the coming of the Messiah. This is why Jesus can say, shockingly, that of those born of women “no one is greater” (v. 11).
Think through that statement! Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The patient Moses and the valiant warrior Joshua. The mighty judges. Faithful David, to whom all kings are compared. The fearless prophets who came before, suffering for the message that they carried. John the Baptist outstrips them all. The only reason one can gather from the text, and undoubtedly we are expected to search for reasons, is that his task from God was so directly related to the coming Christ – to Jesus himself.
But, more shocking than this is the following claim – “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (v. 11). Given what made John great above, it makes perfect sense that those in the kingdom might be even greater than him, even though it is a quite amazing conclusion. Why is this so? John’s task is to clear the way for the Messiah, preparing the ground that he would walk on. But John is never able to relate who Jesus is as fully as those who knew, and know Jesus post-resurrection could. If John was special and set apart from everyone before him because of his association with Jesus, ours is a more enviable position. We are no longer preparing people for the kingdom, but ushering them into it. We no longer point and hope, but have our hopes sealed by the resurrection. We are no longer only associated with Christ, but have his presence with us always.
Let this be good news for you today! Your importance is not defined by your status, your checkbook, the number of likes you received on your latest Facebook post, how often people think of you, your next promotion, your physical stature, your intelligence, or whatever other random measure of greatness you tend to apply to yourself. The Lord, the God of all creation, the one who holds stars and planets, seas and mountains, says you are greater for knowing him. The believing mom of 2 is greater than the great King David. The steelworker who trusts in Christ is greater than the pillar breaking Sampson. The child of humble faith is greater than father Abraham.
But this greatness is not simply found in knowing him, for John was not called to simply know Jesus. He was called to live a life for him, to signify the Christ and prepare people for him. Our greatness is the same. Level the ground before your children. Seek the repentance of the nations. Live your life to point others to Christ. This is the stuff of greatness.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)