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Wisdom in Action
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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
“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).
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.
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?
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."
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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,
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.
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
Biblical Studies Press: The
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.