I. THE PERPLEXITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Times of crisis or testing come into the life of every individual. These trials are permitted by the Lord and are designed for the good of the one thus involved. In such crises the individual has to look at the facts in the case, reach a decision, and then take a definite stand either for or against that which he understands and knows to be right, just, and holyand in accordance with the will of God as found in the Scriptures.
John the Baptist had been arrested and thrown into prison. He languished in his dungeon and doubtless suffered great mental torture, as well as many physical privations. At the same time, his disciples had access to him.II. RESPONSIBILITY OF PEOPLE FOR ACTIONS AND ATTITUDE TOWARD THE LIGHT WHICH COMES TO THEM
As shown in the Gospel of John, chapter 1, John the Baptist bore witness to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Son of God upon whom the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove had descended and alighted. God had told him that, whenever he saw such a sight, he could know that the one upon whom the Holy Spirit came was the Messiah of Israel. John saw the fulfillment of this promise and proclaimed to his disciples that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah.
But logic and evidence are one thing when all is going well with a person. They are entirely different, frequently, when the storms of opposition and persecution arise. As John languished in prison, he heard of the marvelous works which Jesus was performing. He, therefore, sent two of his disciples to Jesus to inquire whether or not He was the one and only Messiah, as He had testified, or whether the nation was to look for another Messiah. In asking this question, John was not necessarily doubting the correctness of what he had seen and the phenomena to which he had borne witness. But there are two types of prophecy regarding the Messiah in the writings of Moses and the Prophets. One foretells His coming to Israel, His suffering and ignominious death; the other speaks of His coming in glory and power to reign. It is altogether possible, and quite probable, that John was studying these two classifications of prophecy and wanted further light upon them. Thus he asked whether Jesus was the fulfillment of both these types of prophecy or whether the people should look for another Messiahone who would fulfill the prophecies relating to this glorious reign.
Jesus instructed John's disciples to return to their master and report to him the miracles which were being wrought, and which they themselves personally had seen. They were to conclude their report by stating that the gospel was being preached to the poor. Why emphasize this last thought? The answer probably is that, while miracles lay the foundation for faith by attracting attention, they do not nourish and sustain it. The gospel message, however, does nourish and sustain the tender plant of faith which is quickened into life by the miracles.
Jesus called John's attention to the miracles which He had been performing, and which were positive evidence that He was the Messiah of Israel. Some of the prophets had performed one or two types of miracles, but not one had wrought all the miracles listed in Matthew 11:4,5. The fact that He, and He alone, had performed all these miracles pointed to His Messiahship. But Jesus completed the list by saying, "and the poor are having the good news preached to them." Doubtless the main reason for calling John's attention to this fact is to be found in the unquestioned Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-3. In this passage Isaiah the Prophet, impersonating the Messiah, declared, "The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me; because Jehovah hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives ..." According to this passage, the outstanding work of the Messiah is to proclaim good tidings to the meek. The miracles of physical healings are secondary; the miracle of regeneration of those who hear and receive the good tidings is primary. By calling attention to the spiritual phase of the ministry of Messiah, as foretold by the prophet, Jesus positively affirmed that He was the Messiah.
Of all the men who had been born of women, said Jesus, none had arisen greater than John the Baptist, yet the least one in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Jesus thus declared that the least of those who enter the kingdom of heaven, the establishment of which was being announced, is greater than those who were born into the kingdom of Israel. In other words, the kingdom which He and John had foretold would be on a higher spiritual level than the fleshly, natural kingdom of Israel.
III. THE JUDGMENT OF THE LOST
According to Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus upbraided some of the cities in which His mightiest works had been wrought, because the people, being engrossed generally with the cares and pleasures of life, were indifferent to His presence, works, and message. It will be more tolerable, asserted Jesus, for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for the Israelitish cities that had enjoyed, but had rejected, such marvelous light, opportunity, and blessingIsrael being custodians of the revelation of God, the Temple, and the divine services, as well as the recipients of the unparalleled blessings of His personal ministry.
Whenever God brings truth to any person, He expects such a one to face the situation honestly and conscientiously, to evaluate the new facts and truths, and to act accordingly. If the person does not respond in this manner, he is held responsible for not receiving this additional light which has been brought to him.
God never forces anyone's will. He brings the light and truth to a person and uses moral suasion to influence him to accept it as it is. It is, therefore, left to the person to make his own decision and to act accordingly.
In Matthew 11:22-24 the Lord Jesus makes reference to the day of judgment. To what does He refer? The judgment of the believer occurred at the cross. The stroke that was to fall upon each one of us fell upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life" (John 5:24).
One should distinguish carefully between prophecies regarding different judgment scenes. When Christ comes with His saints (Ps. 50:1-6), He will gather them before His judgment seat and reward them according to their works (II Cor. 5:10).
When He comes all the way to the earth at the end of the Tribulation, He will judge those who survive the Tribulation and separate them as sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:31-46).
Having reigned upon the earth for a thousand years, Christ Jesus will mount the great white throne before which all the lost, the unbelievers, will be gathered; and He will judge them according to their works (Rev. 20:11-13) and consign them to their eternal doom. It is to this judgment that Matthew 11:22-24 refers.
IV. RADIATION OF DIVINE GLORY
In meditating upon the manifesto of the King of the Jews, the Sermon on the Mount, one sees rays of Messianic glory radiating from Jesus throughout the entire sermon. These gleams of glory burst in full-orbed splendor in Matthew 11:25-30. In this passage Jesus declares, "All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one thoroughly knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father thoroughly, save the Son, and he to whom the Son wills to reveal Him" (Matt. 11:27). Here the Lord declares that no mortal can understand Him. God is the only one who can. He asserts, moreover, that He can understand and comprehend God the Father. Only a divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Being can make such claims as these. Since He did make these claims and proved them by His teachings and His works, He is such a Being. Thus Matthew presents the King of the Jews to his nation as God in human form. This theme is that which is dealt with largely in the Gospel according to John. In the most vigorous and picturesque manner the inspired Apostle Paul sets forth the twofold nature of the Lord Jesus.
5 Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; 8 and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; 10 that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).
The twofold nature of Jesus of Nazareth is also set forth in the first two chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews: in chapter 1, His divine nature; in chapter 2, His human nature.
V. GOD'S REVEALING THE TRUTH TO CHILDLIKE ONES
The attitude which a person assumes in general determines, to a certain extent, the attitude which God takes toward him: "Surely he scoffeth at the scoffers; But he giveth grace unto the lowly" (Prov. 3:34); "With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful; With the perfect man thou wilt show thyself perfect; 26 With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; And with the perverse thou wilt show thyself froward" (Ps. 18:25,26); "Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble" (I Pet. 5:5).
Man by his wisdom can never find God. Many have sought Him through philosophy, but all have failed. As the inspired Apostle Paul declared:
18 But as God is faithful, our word toward you is not yea and nay. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timothy, was not yea and nay, but in him is yea. 20 For how many soever be the promises of God, in him is the yea: wherefore also through him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us. 21 Now he that establisheth us with you in Christ, and anointed us, is God (II Cor. 18-21).
VI. THE GREAT INVITATION
The greatest invitation to mortal man is found in Matthew 11:28-30. All people are laden with sin and have many oppressive burdens which, figuratively speaking, are crushing their very souls out of them. The Lord Jesus Christ invites them all to come to Him and promises that He will give them rest for their souls. Millions of people have accepted this invitation and have taken His yoke upon them, which they have found to be easy and light. Friend, if you have not accepted Him, do so today; and He will make good every promise which He has made to you.
VII. PLOT TO KILL JESUS
The Pharisees registered a complaint to Jesus against His disciples for plucking heads of grain as they were walking through the fields on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-7). Jesus answered them in a most satisfactory manner. He showed that, in plucking the grain, the disciples were not violating the Sabbath law any more than David and those who were with him had done in a case of emergency when they ate the loaves of showbread (I Sam. 21:1-6). He showed, moreover, that the priests in carrying out their ministrations on the Sabbath were actually working on that holy day. They were guiltless because they were performing the necessary services (Num. 28:9,10). The normal person has to eat on the Sabbath, the same as on any other day. Those of His disciples who were violating the Sabbath, as the Pharisees understood them to be doing, were simply meeting the demands of their nature. They were, therefore, not violating any portion of the Sabbath law, but were following Him, the Son of man, who is Lord of the sabbath (Matt.12:8).VIII. THE SIGN OF JONAH THE PROPHET
It is quite possible that, in an effort to magnify some portions of the Word of God, one loses sight of other facts that are just as important and weaves theories and binds them upon men to be observed. One should be careful in this matter.
On the same Sabbath Jesus went into the local synagogue and healed a man who had a withered hand. He was again attacked by His opponents for working on the Sabbath. Immediately, according to verses 12-14, the Pharisees went out of the synagogue and took counsel how they might destroy Him. Here some of the strictest of the religious people among Israel were planning how they could murder a man who had done nothing worthy of condemnation. People can allow their zeal for religion to carry them so far that they plan the destruction of the life of a man. Fanatical zeal and prejudice often drive good men to diabolical extremes. Other Pharisees seem not to have taken any offense at the things which Jesus did and taught. For instance, a Pharisee, regardless of the motive, invited Jesus to take breakfast with him. Jesus accepted his invitation and was treated most cordially (Luke, chapter 14). There were, therefore, good, devout, consecrated men among the Pharisees, as well as those who were mere timeservers, and who were insincere in their religious walk. The same characteristic is true of any religious group today. There are good, devout people; at the same time there are hypocrites among them. Let no one condemn the class because of the lives of some who are associated with it.
In Matthew 12:22-37 is an account of Christ's healing a man who was possessed by demons, blind, and dumb. When he was healed, he spoke and saw normally. The multitudes were amazed, saying, "Is not this one the son of David?" But certain Pharisees said, "This one does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, prince of the demons." They admitted that Jesus had performed a miracle but attributed the act to the power of Satan.IX. MEN ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD FOR IDLE WORDS
Notwithstanding the fact that Jesus had just performed a notable miracle in the healing of this man, certain of the scribes and Pharisees came, saying, "Teacher, we desire to see a sign by Thee." Obviously, these men were insincere and hypocritical. They were not wanting the truth; neither were they wanting signs, because He had just given them a convincing sign.
Jesus replied that no sign would be given except the sign of Jonah the prophet; for, just as Jonah had been three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so the Son of man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. A careful examination of the Book of Jonah reveals that, when the prophet was thrown overboard by the sailors, he bobbed up and down in the water for some time. He prayed while he was there, but finally the waters compassed him about "even to the soul." This expression is the idiom used in Jeremiah 4:10 to indicate death. The facts that are revealed in Jonah, chapter 2, prove that Jonah actually drowned, that his body was carried by a downward flowing current to a place between some mountains on the bottom of the sea, and that his spirit went to Sheol. After Jonah had drowned, his body was swallowed by a great sea monster which God had created for the purpose (for such is the significance of the term prepared found in Jonah 1:17; 4:6,7,8). Jonah's body remained in the belly of this creature for three days and three nights. During this time the fish was swimming toward the shore. When Jonah prayed¹ the petition recorded in Jonah 2:1-9, his spirit had been released from Sheol and had re-entered his body. Then the sea monster vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. Immediately he went to Nineveh and did as God had first instructed him.
In view of all the facts as they are revealed in the Book of Jonah, one cannot escape the conclusion that Jonah actually died, that his spirit went to Sheol, that it was released, that it re-entered his body, and that Jonah became alive again.
Jesus said that, as Jonah had died, had gone to the place of departed spirits, and had come back again, so would it be with the Son of man. He would be put to death in the flesh, would go in the spirit to the place of departed spirits, and then would come back again after three days and three nights. Thus this experience of Jonah is typical of that of the Son of God.
What is the significance of three days and three nights as used here by Jesus? On occasions He spoke of His being raised on the third day. At other times He said that He would rise after three days. On this occasion, He spoke of His Resurrection after three days and three nights. Thus these three expressions refer to the same period of timethe time that His body was in the tomb. An examination of the statements as they are found in Luke 23:50-24:11 shows that Jesus was crucified on Friday, that He was buried toward the close of that day, that He was in the grave during the following Sabbath, and that He arose on the first day of the week. Thus He was in the grave one full daythe Sabbathand parts of two others, Friday and Sunday. Yet, according to the usage of the time, He was spoken of as being in the grave three days and three nights, rising after three days, and rising on the third day.
The proof is overwhelming that He was executed and buried on the day before the Sabbath; that He remained in the tomb on the Sabbath; that He arose on the day after the Sabbath, the first day of the week; and that He appeared to witnesses previously chosen, who have given the facts as they actually occurred nineteen hundred years ago.
According to Matthew 12:36,37, men will have to give an account to the Lord for every idle word which they utter. Of course, this statement refers to those who are unsaved and whose sins will face them when they come before God in the judgment.
But this situation will not be true of the saved. Their sins are forgiven them and will never be remembered against them any morethat is, they are cancelled once and for all:
18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith Jehovah: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: 20 but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it (Isa. 1:18-20).
To the penitent remnant of Israel of the end time the Prophet Micah declared:
18 Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth over the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in lovingkindness. 19 He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:18-20).
Jeremiah, also, from whom the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews quotes, declared that God will remember the iniquities of the penitent believer no more: "For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And their sins will I remember no more" (Heb. 8:12). In the light of these facts, Matthew 12:36, 37 applies especially to the unbelievers.
Although the saved are forgiven their sins, and their iniquities are not held against them any more, they are all to be rewarded according to the deeds done in the body (II Cor. 5:10). Since the believers are to be rewarded according to their conduct, their idle talking will probably enter into the withholding of some rewards.
¹ He concluded this petition by promising the Lord that he would pay that which he had vowed. When a person makes a vow or promise to the Lord, he must fulfill it to the letter or suffer chastisement from the Lord.