The Enigma

Matthew 11:1-15, NLT

When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went out to teach and preach in towns throughout the region. John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’”As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 10 John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.’ 11 “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! 12 And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. 13 For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. 14 And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. 15 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

The bible is a book of history, poetry, prophecy, revelation and mystery. There are passages that I read and reread, I study, muse, contemplate, read commentaries and study some more but I still cannot figure them out. The story above is one of those passages that has puzzled me for life. I keep searching for answers but at best all I come up with is conjecture.

The question that bugs me is: “Why didn’t Jesus react like Superman?” John is in a dungeon, a place of torment for this outdoorsman. He is having horrible doubts which indicates to me that he is discouraged and distressed. Why didn’t Jesus step into a phone booth and peel off the human garb revealing the big S on His chest and fly quickly to the palace of Herod and liberate John? He could have; He had the power. He who created the stars could bend a few bars, right! He could have but He chose not to and this troubles me. Dr. Adrian would tell me, “Jack, you worry about being Jack and leave being God to Jesus.” When all is said and done, that is good advice but I can’t help but wonder what the reasons are for John’s early promotion. I like John. He was a great preacher but he didn’t dress like a preacher. I had a preacher tell me once that a certain man, Dr. Gray Allison would not work with me because I did not wear a tie and coat. I said, “Would he work with John the Baptist?” He said, “Jack, you have a point. I have never thought about John.” I went on to inform him that neither John nor Jesus dressed in a priestly garb. I like John because he celebrated his uniqueness. He didn’t try to dress like others or be like others. I like him because he was independent. No one other than God had any say in his life. Herod did not intimidate him. He was a voice, a loud voice crying repent and no one appreciated him other than Jesus and the common people.

In this message, I want to suggest four possible reasons why Jesus did not intervene in John’s behalf.

 

  1. JESUS HAD A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON DEATH. If you go back to chapter 10, Jesus said…28 “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” Notice what Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body.” We are very concerned about the body. We spend time and money trying to preserve the body but at best we are jars of clay, animated dust and the body that came from the dust is going back to the dust. Jesus taught us to give our time and attention to the SOUL. Herod had the power to kill John’s body but he could not touch his soul. John was suffering in the dungeon. John was use to sleeping under the stars. He lived in the wild. I am sure that being incarcerated in a hole underneath Herod’s palace was tormenting to him. For all we know, John was praying for the executioner to liberate his soul from his body. From our human and earthy perspective, John’s untimely death is a sad story. He was so young and such a good man. This is the way we humans think; it is hard for us to think eternity before time because we are caught up in time. Jesus didn’t have this hang up! He always thought eternity. From His perspective, John death was a liberation. Is heaven not greater than earth? In a split second, John was in glory…do you really think he would want to come back.
  2. JESUS RELATED TO JOHN THE SAME WAY HE RELATES TO US. Our human nature craves miracles and signs. The Pharisees demanded that Jesus do miraculous signs. Herod wanted Jesus to do a miracle for his entertainment and was disappointed because Jesus didn’t respond. Jesus did not say one word in Herod’s presence. Wow! What a judgment on wicked Herod. How would you like for Jesus never to speak to you again? Yes, if I had wrote the story, Jesus would have performed a miracle in John’s behalf: by hook or crook, He would have saved him from Herod’s axe but God’s ways are higher than our ways. Jesus said to John’s disciples…“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” These words come from Isaiah chapters 35, 42 and 61 where Isaiah does a profile on the Messiah. Jesus is reminding John that the scripture is being fulfilled. He basically gives John the WORD OF GOD for his assurance. You may want a miracle to confirm your faith but God chooses to give you His word instead. Remember the story in Luke 16 of the Rich man in hades, he prays to father Abraham to send some one from the dead [supernatural] back to earth to warn his five brothers. Do you remember Abraham’s answer: They have Moses and the prophets. If they will not heed them, they will not repent if someone goes back to them from the dead. Moses and the prophets is the word of God. They have God’s word, Abraham said, if they don’t respond to the word, they will not respond to a miracle. Christ wants us to build our faith on His word. He can do miracles but He dispenses his wonderful salvation on the basis of our faith in His word. We get our assurance not from experience but from His word.
  3. JESUS IS ACTUALLY SHOWING MERCY. Jesus will die a horrible death on the cross. A slow agonizing death that took six hours that was after 3 hours of abuse and beatings. Only a fool would argue the fact that Jesus died the most horrific death in history. John’s death came in an instant. His suffering was in the prison and the waiting. Don’t get me wrong, I could not look forward to being beheaded but that is because I am conditioned to the comforts of the 21 century and I have not seen any crucifixions. Paul choose the beheading as a Roman citizen. Peter was crucified upside down. Just a few minutes into a crucifixion and you and I would be begging for the executioners axe.
  4. JOHN’S MISSION IS COMPLETE AND THE SAVIOR IS SATISFIED WITH HIS EFFORT. John has performed his task. His job was to introduce Jesus and he did that job well. John was wrapping up the old dispensation. He bring to a close the age of the prophets. Jesus was inaugurating a new Kingdom, much greater than the old. Wouldn’t you and I get some peace out of knowing that we had fulfilled our mission here on earth and that the Savior was pleased with our work? Listen to the high praise that Jesus gives John… As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 10 John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.’11 I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! 12 And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. 13 For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. 14 And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. 15 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand! Jesus praised few, Mary the sister of Martha, the Roman Centurion and perhaps a couple more but He praises no one like He did John. Let me ask you a question: had you rather live a long life and die a peaceful death surrounded by your family and then not get a commendation from Jesus on your earthly mission or die young by a violent execution  but then get a glowing commendation from your savior, “Well done, you have been a good servant and faithful.” Adam Clark believes that the latter park of verse 11 is in reference to ministry. John pointed to Christ but did not witness the death, burial and resurrection. John preached repentance but never got to preach the gospel. I nor any of my colleagues are greater than John but we have had a greater ministry in the sense that we get to preach the gospel. John live and died a prophet–point forward to the Messiah. We are witnesses to the fact that Jesus died and rose again. We have a greater ministry by virtue of what Jesus did but we are not greater than John.
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