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Wisdom in Action
(Wisdom’s Vindication)
Matthew 11:7-19

July 5

 

Background Reading: Matthew 11:1-19
Devotional Reading: Matthew 10:1-14

Keep in Mind:

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is justified by her children.” Matthew 11:19.

Lesson Aim:

EXPLAIN how the different actions of Jesus and John the Baptist both displayed divine wisdom,
FEEL encouraged to behave in ways that follow Jesus even when they are contrary to people’s expectations; and
REVIEW our own behavior to determine whether it reflects godly wisdom.

Background

The measure of the impact of the ministry of John the Baptist cannot be determined apart from a consideration of the man.  No greater compliment could be paid to John than the assessment of our Lord: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11a).  The Gospel writers give us an indication of the extent of his ministry: “And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5).

His ministry touched multitudes in Judea.   To whatever degree numbers indicate success, John was a successful man.  When evaluated by the standard of longevity, John was also a successful preacher.  Most of his ‘converts’ were rather quickly blended into the main­stream of Jesus’ teaching and ministry, even some of John’s disciples (cf. John 1:35ff).  Perhaps the most interesting evidence of John’s effectiveness is Luke’s reference in Acts 19 to the small group of men that Paul encountered in Ephesus who were ‘believers’ only to the extent of believing in what John had taught.  This was nearly 25 years after the abrupt conclusion of John’s preaching ministry.

One of the most unique features of John was his apparel.  A camel’s hair garment and leather belt were not the attire of the fashionable young men of Jerusalem.  Neither were locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4) served in the finest restaurants.  Today we would be likely to identify this kind of clothing and food with the attire of a rebel, as an indication of a kind of counter‑culture.  I don’t believe this was entirely the case. There were, I believe, several reasons for John’s unusual appearance.

First, his appearance was intended to result in an association.  Zacharias had been told that his son John would go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17).  Elijah was described as “… a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins” (2 Kings 1:8).  John’s attire was designed to associate him with Elijah and his ministry.

Second, his appearance was intended to signify separation.  His dress was not that of the man on the street.  John stuck out like a sore thumb.  Again, this separation was prophesied at his birth: “For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit …” (Luke 1:15).

John was to be a Nazarite (cf. Numbers 6:2ff; Judges 13:4‑5), and remain separate, set apart from normal defilements for divine service.  John was pointedly aloof from the religious system of his day, for it did not reflect the old-time religion of the past at its best.  Jesus did not come to patch up the existing mess in Judaism, but to create something new.  John’s dress symbolized his separation from all that constituted the worn-out Judaism of his day.

Third, his raiment revealed application.  John had preached that true repentance should result in a compassion for the needs of others.  It would have been glaringly inconsistent had John arrived at his speaking in an air­conditioned Cadillac and a silk suit.  The food and clothing of John were the fare of the poor who lived the simple life of the desert dweller.

Lesson Commentary:

What Did You Expect (Matthew 11:7-11)

7As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
8But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
9But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.
10For this is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.'
11"Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

If John had some doubts about Jesus, Jesus had no doubts about John!  The crowd must have overheard the question John’s disciples put to Jesus and our Lord’s response.  As John’s disciples begin their trek to report back to John, Jesus uses this occasion to address the crowd concerning John the Baptist.  Jesus first presses the crowd to acknowledge what He knew they were thinking – that John was a prophet (see Matthew 21:26).  In effect, Jesus says this about John:

“What did you go way out into the wilderness to see?  A wishy-washy fellow whose views change with the political winds?  I don’t think so!  Maybe you went all the way out into the wilderness to see what the new fashions in menswear would be?  We all know it can’t be that.  No, you all know that the one thing which drew you out into the wilderness to hear John was the strong conviction that he is a true prophet – a man who speaks for God, a man whose words are God’s words.  John is a prophet, but he is not merely a prophet.  In a very real sense, John is the prophet – the prophet everyone has been waiting for, the prophet whose appearance and ministry have been prophesied by other prophets.  Malachi spoke of him when he wrote, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’  John is the forerunner of Messiah, whose unique privilege has been to proclaim His appearance and reveal His identity.”

Because of John’s unique role as the last of the Old Testament prophets, the prophet whose mission it was to introduce Messiah, no one born of woman (to that point in time) was greater than he. And yet, as towering a personality as John was when viewed from the landscape of the Old Testament, even the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than John (Matthew 11:11).

Many people cannot rise above their difficulties and circumstances.  Everyone has problems; it is overcoming them that separates great people from others.  Great people fight through, refusing to give in to their ignorance, handicaps, laziness, indifference, or whatever other obstacles may be in their way.  John the Baptist had that characteristic of greatness in full measure.

1.      When have you met someone and been surprised when you found out their occupation?  When have you met someone and been surprised that they were a fellow believer?

Rebellion Breeds Foolishness (Matthew 11:12-19)

12And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.
14And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.
15He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
16But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions,
17and saying: 'We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament'
18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'
19The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is justified by her children."

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15).  This is a statement that will be used later on in Matthew 13 (verses 9, 43) when Jesus begins to teach by parables.  This is an exhortation for the reader to think more deeply than merely on the surface.  It is not a challenge to think literally, but to think beyond what is literal – that is what parables are about.  They are not meant for everyone to understand.  Thus, Jesus’ words here are not a contradiction to John’s denial that he is literally Elijah.  John is Elijah in a more symbolic sense.

In spite of the popularity of Jesus with the crowds, very little repentance is evident.  Jesus sent His disciples out to proclaim the approaching arrival of the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus’ message, along with His disciples, was virtually identical with that of John the Baptist and his disciples: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7-9).  Now, Jesus indicts those Israelite cities who had most frequently witnessed the presence, preaching, and miracle-working power of Jesus, and now of His disciples.

Jesus likened that generation to children who complained because He would not dance to their tune. They wanted a “have it your way” Messiah, and when Jesus refused to conform to their desires and expectations, they wanted nothing to do with Him. These were fickle folks.

Notice how our Lord continues the theme of His relationship to John the Baptist.  The two of them were very different, but that generation rejected them both.  John came to them fasting (“neither eating nor drinking” – compare Matthew 9:14), and they called him demon possessed.  Then Jesus and His disciples came along, both eating and drinking, and they accused Him of being a glutton and a drunkard, and (worse yet!)  One who associated with sinners.  The link between John and Jesus was buttressed by the fact that this generation rejected them both.

Although Jesus' miracles had already established His messianic credentials beyond any legitimate question, most of the Jewish people who witnessed those miracles refused to recognize the facts or accept Him as the Messiah.

But to what shall I compare this generation reflects a common oriental expression used to introduce a parable or other illustration.  The Midrash, an ancient compilation of Jewish traditional teaching, contains many expressions (such as "To what is the matter like?" or "How can I illustrate this point?") used by rabbis to introduce illustrative metaphors, analogies, and stories.  In this tradition Jesus was saying, "How can I illustrate the responses of this generation of God's people to His truth and work? To what do they compare?"

Some of those who refused to believe the gospel covered their unbelief with criticism.  Jesus compared them to foolish children sitting in the marketplace who objected to everything the other children did.  They were like many people today who find fault with whatever the preacher and other church leaders do.  No matter what is said or done, such people pick it apart and use the objection—whether real or imagined, justified or unjustified—as an excuse for rejection.  Because they have no saving relationship to Christ, they refuse to receive His truth or serve in His church. But they love to harp against both.

 

1.      Have you ever been frustrated by someone not understanding you?  How did you address that frustration?

2.      Spreading gossip reflects poorly on the people who spread it. How do we close our ears and heart to it when it is spread?  When should we speak up?

3.      Where do we look for God’s wisdom?

4.      Have you ever encountered His wisdom in an unexpected space?

Lesson in Our Society

The world has many standards by which it measures greatness.  These standards include intellectual achievement, political and military leadership, scientific and medical discoveries, wealth and power, and athletic, dramatic, literary, and musical skill.  Jesus here sets forth God's measure of greatness, first in the human, historical dimension as seen in the life and ministry of John the Baptist.  He then briefly contrasts John's greatness with the superior greatness of kingdom citizens.  From verses 7-14 three marks of John's greatness can be discerned: his personal character, his privileged calling, and his powerful culmination.

As William Barclay points out, the plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will easily enough find an excuse for not listening.  They do not even try to be consistent in their criticism.  They will criticize the same person and the same institution from quite opposite grounds and reasons.  If people are determined to make no response, they will remain stubbornly and sullenly unresponsive no matter what invitation is made to them. (The Gospel of Matthew [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958], 2:10)

Jesus' unnamed critics were not interested in truth or justice but in condemnation.  John the Baptist and Jesus were enemies of traditional religion, with its elevation of human wisdom and disregard for divine.  Because John and Jesus could not be reasoned down, they would be shouted down; and if no truth could be found against them, falsehood would be eagerly used.

Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds, Jesus said.  Corrupt human wisdom produces corrupt human deeds, such as the false accusations against John and Jesus.  On the other hand, the righteous, divinely empowered wisdom of John and Jesus produced righteous deeds that resulted in repentance, forgiven sin, and redeemed lives.

Through the centuries the church's detractors have found it easy to criticize its people and its work.  Yet they are hard pressed to explain how so many lives have been changed from wickedness to righteousness, from despair to hope, from anger to love, from sadness to happiness, and from selfishness to self-giving by the power of Christ.

Jesus' rebuke of His critics was serious, but it contained a certain restraint, a restraint not seen in the brief series of withering rebukes He proceeded to give those who treated Him with indifference.

Daily Bible Readings

 

Monday: Wise Counsel for Defending Your Faith – Mathew 10:16-23
Tuesday: Wise Deeds of the Coming Messiah – Isaiah 35:3-30
Wednesday: John the Baptist, God’s Messenger - Luke 7:24-28
Thursday: The Messiah’s Wise Deeds – Matthew 11:1-6
Friday: Woes on Unwise Cities – Matthew 11:20-24
Saturday: Wisdom’s Invitation to Come and Rest – Matthew 11:25-30
Sunday: Wisdom Is Vindicated by Her Deeds – Matthew 11:7-19

 


Sources:

Achtemeier, Paul J. Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.

Biblical Studies Press: The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006.

Bloomberg, Craig: Matthew. electronic ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1992 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 22)

Brown, Raymond E., S. S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S. J.; Roland E. Murphy, O Carm. The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

Dummelow, J. R., M.A. Rev. The One Volume Bible Commentary. New York: The Macmillan Company Publishers, 1961.

Hagner, Donald, A., Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 33A, Matthew1-13. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993

James Orr, M.A., D.D., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Electronic Edition, Parsons Technology, Inc., Cedar Rapids, Iowa 1998.

Keck Leander E., The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Volume VII: The Gospels and Narrative Literature, Jesus and the Gospels, Matthew, and Mark, New York: Abingdon Press, 2015

Morris, William, ed., Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.

Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Hrsg.): The Pulpit Commentary: St. Matthew. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004

Strong, James, Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, Electronic Edition STEP Files, QuickVerse, a division of Findex.com, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska. 2003.

Vine, W.E. Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Edited by Merrill F. Unger and William White Jr., Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.