Bible Reading Plan – August 27-September 2
Bible Project Reading Plan (August 27-September 2):
Matthew 7-20, Psalms 84-90
Matthew 11 might be the most encouraging chapter in all of the Bible. For anyone who suffers from insecurity, from a heavy dose of discouragement, or even from a bit of envy and jealousy at those who might be more “successful” than you, it holds great promise and wonderful rest.
The chapter opens with messengers from John the Baptist. Now, John was once the hottest thing in Judea social media, and he garnered many #hottakes from the local who’s who. Everyone knew him, and traveled to see him. It’s not that he was looking for great publicity or popularity, but it seemed to have found him nevertheless. Like a spotlight, he burned bright and garnered much attention, but he was always pointing to something more important. And once Jesus entered the scene, John’s job was done, and he was scheduled to leave quietly, stage left.
And so he did. After the baptism in chapter 3, John disappears entirely from the narrative, only to reappear suddenly here in chapter 11. And things have not gone so well. John, we are told briefly and with no explanation, is in prison; a position in life which has afforded him much time for self-reflection. And he wants to know whether his life has been wasted (don’t we all!). The fame of Jesus’ work had reached his ears, even in prison, and John wants to know if he did right: Are you the Christ or is there another?
This is quite the beginning, especially for many of us who are insecure and wondering if our lives have made any difference at all. John has heard of Jesus’ great works, but perhaps is wondering why that is all he is hearing. There’s no epoch-changing war; no angel army from heaven; no smoke-and-glory filled return of God to the Temple in Jerusalem. Was John right in pointing to Jesus? Was he really the one?
Jesus simply reaffirms the miracles to the faithful messengers, assuming that such information would be enough. And likely it was. We don’t know if John’s soul was placated by this news; it doesn’t seem like it would have contained much information that John didn’t already know. It seems like it was a simple re-affirmation that what John suspected was true: such deeds are the deeds of the Messiah. You have done your job well, John. Soon it will be time to rest.
But the most amazing part of the story is what happens next. Jesus reminds the crowd, who was certainly wondering about John by this time, of why they went to see John. He was a prophet – no, more than a prophet. The prophet of prophets. Then the bombshell of v. 11:
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.
This seems, frankly, a stretch. Abraham is the Father of the Fathers; Joseph saved the family; Moses led the nation, spoke face-to-face with God, and received the law; Joshua conquered the promised land; the judges were God’s faithful warriors; Samuel was a priest prophet, and king-maker; David is the great king that all others are compared to; the prophets themselves received the revelation of God and spoke for him. John? Well, he, um… he was good with water?
Now, this all kind of sells John short, but it is hard to figure the type of praise that he is getting from Jesus here. Why is he greater than these who have come before him? Jesus explains why in vv. 13-14:
For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
He stands as the last of the prophets of old; he is the closest to the coming Messiah, the turner-of-the-tides. The other prophets spoke of him, pointed toward him, sought him. John held him, baptized him, spoke to him. It seems it is the nearness of John to Jesus that makes him great. He didn’t point in some vague way to the Christ – he watched the dove descend and heard the voice from heaven speak. And he told everyone who would listen. This was more than any one of the prophets before him could do. And this, above all of the other accomplishments that one might boast of, made him great.
But v. 11 holds another, even more shocking surprise for us:
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Friend, you who are in the kingdom of heaven, even the least of you, can be greater than the greatest. How? We can point even more faithfully, even more clearly, to who Jesus is. He is not just the Messiah-of-our-making, which can be full of misunderstandings and misapprehensions. Rather, he is the Messiah who takes away our sins, who conquers the grave and death, who is setting all things right and will one day remake the world. John could point to Jesus, but he couldn’t point to all that. We can.
So, if any of you are discouraged, if any of you feel insignificant, I have good news: speak about Jesus to someone. Point to him. Talk of his miracles. Tell the good news of his death and resurrection, witness to what he has done for you. For here is where greatness lies, and in the nearness to Christ we find our importance.