Matthew 11:2-11 – What makes us greater than John the Baptist? Advent 3 December 15, 2019
By Pastor Ken Mellon, Trinity Lutheran Church and School, Pleasant Valley Rd., West Bend, WI
Greatness and peace are yours from God our Father as you are in your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We read the gospel lesson in Matthew 11:2-11
These are your words heavenly Father that we may speak of the greatest truth in all the world: Your Word!
Dear Christian Friends,
The Apostle Paul warned the Romans not to think too highly of themselves (Romans 12:3). He had that problem himself since he was a Pharisee before being converted. Jesus’ disciples also argued over who should have positions of honor when they were dinner guests. Much of life is a rivalry. People compete in sports or for a job. You can hear it among children, “I did better than you at school” or “my dad or mom is better than yours!” How can we say that we are better than others? Is there an impartial judge to determine this? Yes! Jesus is the judge. And in our verses He determined an amazing thing about us! God considers the lowest person in the Holy Christian Church to be greater than all the Old Testament prophets, including John the Baptist.
What makes us greater than John the Baptist?
First, think about how great John was. The common people respected John as a great prophet. Jesus said, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? No, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. So what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you! And he is much more than a prophet” (v.7-9). Everyone knew that God had given John an extraordinary personality. He was not swayed by wealthy people, by powerful authorities or by famous people. He didn’t change the way he talked to a servant or a king. He called everyone sinners who needed to be sorry for their sins before they faced the judgment of God! Crowds of people came to see him: soldiers, tax collectors, priests, the poor and the rich! Although John lived in the wilderness along the Jordan River, people came by the 100’s to see this man who wore rough camel skin clothes and who fascinated them by his preaching about the coming judgment of God. John was a curiosity to see. But, Jesus was interested not in who saw John but who listened to his message. They were the ones moved by the Holy Spirit to be sorry for their sins, to turn from them, to believe His message, and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
Everyone in the whole country knew about John the Baptist, even the leaders in Jerusalem. When Jesus later asked them whether John’s authority came from God, they were afraid to answer for two reasons: 1. they had heard John but refused to believe his message; 2. they feared the people because, it states, “everyone held that John really was a prophet” (Mark 11:32). John wouldn’t even back down from preaching that King Herod was wicked for committing adultery. If John would have compromised, he could have been in King Herod’s palace wearing fine clothes. Instead, he was in the king’s prison awaiting his execution. Even the king was afraid to put John to death because “Herod [knew] him to be a righteous and holy man (Mark 6:14) and he also “feared the people” (Matthew). If the king took notice of John, he must have been an important person!
We have the word of one even greater than King Herod. Jesus said about John, “Yes, I tell you! And he is much more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” (v.9-10). Jesus said that John was greater than all the Old Testament prophets! He was greater than Isaiah, Elijah, Daniel, and Moses? He was greater not because he was wiser or holier or did miracles. He was more important because it was John’s calling to prepare the immediate way of the Lord! The others wrote about the coming Savior, but John saw Him and pointed to Him as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:21). The long-before prophets had questions about who the Savior would be.
John personally baptized Jesus when He stood as the substitute for sinners, and John saw the Holy Spirit come down on Him in the form of a dove testifying that Jesus was the Savior. He also heard God the Father’s voice from heaven saying, “This is My Son…” (Matthew 3:17). John was the most privileged prophet to live in Old Testament times! Jesus made it sound even more impressive, He said that a prophecy in Malachi was written specifically about John. How many other people could point to the Bible and say, “That verse is about me?” No one else, except Jesus! Jesus said, “I tell you: Among those born of women there has not appeared anyone greater than John the Baptist” (v.11).
Second, but we who are born again are greater than John! Jesus said, “Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (v.11). How can we compare ourselves to this great prophet of God? Don’t we sway like reeds under the influence of trouble or temptation or strong disapproval against us? Don’t we act differently if we are talking with people who are rich or famous or have high authority instead of someone poor or in need? Are we willing like John to live in the wilderness to serve God in necessary? Are there Bible verses about us being a great prophet who was to prepare the way for God’s Son? No!
Some Bible authorities have questioned who is this “least person in the Kingdom of heaven?” Some say that it is Jesus. Although He was the Son of God, in order to save us, He became the lowliest person. Paul wrote, “He emptied himself by taking the nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). Jesus said that he came “not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus humbled Himself. If He hadn’t He could not have been tempted or crucified or died. We could call him least. Yet, the context of Jesus’ words didn’t point to Himself, but to believers in the kingdom of heaven who were greater than John.
It is not who we are that makes us greater, but knowing Jesus. John was a great prophet of God, yet He didn’t know how Jesus would save him. He sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He truly was the Savior. John heard that a growing number of Jews were rejecting Jesus. And, Jesus didn’t seem to follow Isaiah’s prophecy about getting him out of prison. After John died, things got worse for Jesus. He was arrested and executed. But God accomplished His plan. Through Jesus’ humble life and death, He won a total victory over the devil. As powerful as sin is in our lives that leads us to death, Jesus saving power is greater! We will celebrate His victory forever in heaven! That is our message because He rose from death. Jesus, who lived as the least among people, was truly the greatest!
God sees things differently than people. People judge us by what we do or who we know and how much others value us. God sees believers like us in Christ. God saw His Son die in our place so He sees us His as forgiven people. Through Jesus as our Savior, God sees that we are not just trying to live a godly lives like John, we are perfect in Christ. God sees us in Christ as risen from death and as ruling with Him in heaven! No wonder Jesus considers us greater than anyone who was simply born of man, no matter how great that person may be in the world!
We have something else which John didn’t have. We have the whole message of Jesus. John knew the beginning, but he didn’t live long enough to see the end. God’s Word clearly tells us that Christ accomplished all. We don’t need to send a delegation to Jesus like John, asking if He really is the promised Savior. We know the victory of Christ and through faith in Him that victory is ours!
Let us thank God this day for His amazing grace toward us! God has revealed to us through His Word that, in His eyes, our greatness is in the great message of Christ! Let us gladly tell more people this good news! Amen.