Matthew 11: Jesus is quizzed by the disciples of John the Baptist
In Matthew 11, we will begin our studies with John the Baptist beginning to doubt whether Jesus was the Messiah, when he was in prison.
John the Baptist had seen heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and had heard a voice from heaven saying, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). We would imagine that if we had seen and heard something like that once, we would never again have any doubts left at all. But here we see that the best person under the old covenant (John the Baptist) also began to doubt.
How did doubt come into the heart of one, whom Jesus called the greatest human being ever born? Because when John heard about the wonderful things Jesus was doing (opening blind eyes and healing the sick), I think he began to wonder, "If He can do all that, why doesn't He kill Herod and release me from this prison?" The old-covenant mindset has no room in it for being in prison. Notice, however, that when those under the new covenant like Paul and Silas were in prison, they did not doubt God but praised Him instead -even at midnight. That is the difference that being filled with the Holy Spirit and entering into the new covenant makes. When a Christian gets into a difficulty, he begins to think, "Why doesn't God kill this difficult person who is troubling me and deliver me from this?" -he is thinking exactly like an old-covenant person.
The vast majority of believers live under the old covenant.
When they commit adultery they say, "0 well, David also committed adultery -and he was a man after God's own heart, and God forgave him." When they get depressed they say, "Well, Elijah also got depressed -and he was a mighty prophet." When they get angry and break something in their house, they may say, "Well, Moses was a great leader of God's people and he also got angry and even broke the tablets of stone that God Himself had given." They find a justification for every sin of theirs in the life of some old-covenant person. But did Jesus ever get angry and break anything? Did Jesus ever get depressed and sit under a juniper tree? Did Jesus ever commit adultery? No.
Old-covenant Christians run their race looking unto Moses and David and Elijah as their examples; whereas new-covenant Christians run their race looking unto Jesus. Old-covenant Christians don't however follow the examples of Moses selflessly praying for others, or of Elijah forsaking everything and living wholeheartedly before God's face. They look at these men only to find excuses for their own sins.
The Bible was written to deliver us from sin. But if you read it to find an excuse for your sins, then God will allow you to be deceived. Don't ever go to the Scriptures to find an excuse for your anger or your adultery or your depression. The New Testament has been given to show us the life of Jesus that we are to partake of...and He was never depressed or angry or impure. I want to encourage all of you to look at the New Testament in this way from now on. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
John the Baptist doubted God when he was imprisoned. But what did Jesus do when He was caught by the Roman soldiers? He said that He could have called 72,000 angels at that very moment to deliver him. But He didn't do that. So Jesus sent this message back to John the Baptist,
"Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them." (11:4-5). The new-covenant gospel is the good news of deliverance from sin -not deliverance from prison by killing Herod, Caesar or the Pharisees -and accepting whatever God permits as being the very best for us.
However none of us can blame John the Baptist for his doubts, for he did not have the Holy Spirit living within him, as we can have today, under the new covenant. He was not under grace but under the law. What shall we say, however, of Christians today who claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit but yet live lives defeated by sin and doubt?
We also see a beautiful example here of Jesus expressing appreciation for people publicly. He said, "there hath not risen among them that are born of women a greater than John the Baptist" (11: 11). According to Jesus, who was the greatest human being born before Him? It was John the Baptist.
And then Jesus went on to say, "yet he that is the lesser in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (11:11). That means, the least person who has entered into the new covenant will not ask questions like John asked, "Lord, why aren't You releasing me?" He will know that God causes everything to work for his good. Who is your example today? We find many good qualities in Abraham, Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist that we can follow. But, we don't have to follow them in their failures. Our perfect example today is Jesus and Mary.
In 11:12, Jesus said, "the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away." What does it mean to be a violent man? Externally, a Christian must always be a man of peace. But inwardly, he must do violence to everything that stands in the way of his following the Lord. He must stand strongly against the lusts in his flesh, against sin and against Satan. Only such can possess the kingdom and enter into the new covenant.
If you are half-hearted, you will never be a disciple of Jesus and you won't possess the kingdom of heaven either.
If you don't do violence to every attachment that prevents you from loving God with all your heart whether that attachment be to your parents, to your job, to your money, to a girl, or to anything else -you will remain a third-rate, mediocre Catholic, and really no better than the old covenant Israelites -because your mind too is set on earthly things, as theirs were. The Lord is seeking to lift us up to the new covenant -to be heavenly-minded.
Jesus had just said that “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater” than John. So now Jesus wanted to make it clear that John was connected to the Kingdom of God. For it was John who first preached the message announcing that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. As a result, 'the violent” have been 'taking it by force' ever since John's initial preaching.
So who are the “violent” who take the kingdom of heaven by “force”? Irenaeus explains, “By 'the violent,' He means those who through strength and earnest striving are on the watch to snatch it away on the moment. … Paul exhorts us to enter the struggle for immortality. He does this so that we may be crowned, and so we may deem the crown precious – for it is something acquired by our struggle.” (Iraneus - Against All Heresies). Paul had written, “Know you not that they that run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. And every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things: and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible one” (I Corinthians 9:24-25).
Clement of Alexandria writes, “The kingdom of heaven does not belong to sleepers and sluggers. Rather 'the violent take it by force.' For this alone is commendable violence – to struggle with God and to take life from God by force. And He knows those who persevere firmly, or rather violently. And He yields and grants them. For God delights in being 'conquered' in such things” (Clement of Alexandria- Who Is The Rich Man). Clement goes on to explain, “The violent who storm the kingdom are persons who are argumentative in speeches. Rather, they are said 'to take it by force' because they continue in a right life and in unceasing prayers.” (Clement of Alexandria – Stramatte). He continues, “The kingdom belongs preeminently to the 'violent.' They reap this fruit from investigation, study, and discipline so that they may become kings.” ( Clement of Alexandria – Stramatte)
Modern Christians often shy away form the word “strive,” as though it is incompatible with the gospel. However, Jesus did not hesitate to use the word. He said, “Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able.” (Luke 13:23-24). The Greek word for strive is agonizomai, which also means to fight. So the 'violent” are those who struggle and fight to obtain the kingdom. Salvation itself is a gift. However to walk faithfully and obediently with Christ until the end of our lives is a battle. Only the “violent,” those who strive diligently to battle,by the grace of God, against the forces of evil (the flesh, the world, and the Devil, will be crowned in the end.
Then Jesus went on to say, "I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones." (11:25). The great truths of the new covenant have been hidden by God. You cannot discover them by study. You can read every commentary in the world, but you won't discover them, because they are hidden from the clever and the intelligent. You need revelation, and God gives that only to those who are like little children, those who have a pure heart. Whether they have a clever head or not doesn't matter. Intelligence gives us no advantage what so ever in God's kingdom. It's a pure heart that is child like that gets God's revelations.
Children are also teachable. A little child is ignorant and gladly acknowledges its ignorance. For example, he will ask his father, "Daddy, why are yellow lines drawn on the road?" We adults know that those lines are drawn to divide the road for the traffic. But a child doesn't know even a simple thing like that. Very few believers come to the Holy Spirit in that way, saying, "Lord, You wrote this Book. What does this mean? I am foolish in spiritual matters. Please explain it to me." In the new covenant, we have the privilege of being filled with the Holy Spirit and to have Him Himself teach us the Scriptures that He wrote. Christ has also appointed the church to help us keep on tract. But there are those in the Church who call themselves theologians, who would deceive us. We must be careful when listening to them. Also if you stop with what you receive from your Priest on Sundays, you will never know God. What they teach you may be true, but you are only being fed the Word one day a week. You must have a daily habit of spending time in Gods word and looking to the Church to keep you on tract when studying the scriptures. Take what you learn each day and go before the Lord in prayer and say, "Help me to make what I have learned in your word my own experience." Then those truths will be yours forever. If you don't do that, then even the truths you receive from heaven will become stale -like the manna sent from heaven began to breed worms within 24 hours. But the manna that was kept in God's presence in the most holy place remained fresh at all times.
There are two other prayers that the Church has given us that would be good to pray as you study.
This first prayer comes from a 1916 Catholic prayer book. The lofty language employed here centers in at its end to our most essential task.
Incomprehensible Creator, the true Fountain of light and only Author of all knowledge: vouchsafe, we beseech Thee, to enlighten our understandings, and to remove from us all darkness of sin and ignorance. Thou, who makest eloquent the tongues of those that want utterance, direct our tongues, and pour on our lips the grace of Thy blessing. Give us a diligent and obedient spirit, quickness of apprehension, capacity of retaining, and the powerful assistance of Thy holy grace; that what we hear or learn we may apply to Thy honor and the eternal salvation of our own souls.
The second prayer when studying Gods Word was composed by the “Angelic Doctor,” one of the Church’s greatest theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas. His writings, provide essential commentary and teachings about our Catholic faith.
When St. Thomas first attended the University of Paris, his quiet manner and heavyset frame earned him the nickname “the Dumb Ox”. Yet his teacher and mentor, St. Albert the Great, upon seeing his amazing memory and grasp of detail, said famously “we call him the dumb ox, but one day he will emit such a bellowing in his teaching that it will be heard throughout the world."
Note in this prayer how Aquinas appeals to Mary, to help him receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas honors, our Blessed Mother with his petitions.
O Mary, Mother of fair love, of fear, of knowledge, and of holy hope, by whose loving care and intercession many, otherwise poor in intellect, have wonderfully advanced in knowledge and in holiness, thee do I choose as the guide and patroness of my studies; and I humbly implore, through the deep tenderness of thy maternal love, and especially through that eternal Wisdom who deigned to take from thee our flesh and who gifted thee beyond all the saints with heavenly light, that thou wouldst obtain for me by thy intercession the grace of the Holy Spirit that I may be able to grasp with strong intellect, retain in memory, proclaim by word and deed, and teach others all things which bring honor to thee and to thy Son, and which for me and for others are salutary for eternal life. Amen.
Remember the key element in both of these prayers when studying is-calling on God (as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary) to help you succeed!
In 11:28, Jesus said, "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you." This is the fulfillment of the Old-Testament Sabbath. The new-covenant Sabbath is not only a day of physical rest, but an inner rest that Jesus gives us. He gives it first of all, to those who come to Him acknowledging that they are weary and heavy laden. There are people who have left their Parish saying, they wanted to find a different Parish" When asked why they wanted to join a different Parish they reply, "Because I am sick and tired of my present Parish." One Priests answered them in this way, "If you are sick and tired of your present Parish, after a little while, you will become sick and tired of us too. So don't join us. We are actually a bunch of people who are sick and tired of ourselves, not sick and tired of others. If you are sick and tired of yourself, then you are welcome to join us; and we will have a wonderful time together.
Many pastors are constantly seeking to increase the numbers in their churches. But Jesus invited only those who were sick and tired of their defeated lives to come to Him. Are you sick and tired of your depressed, gloomy life and of the failures in your family life? Are you fed up of the lack of freshness and Holy Spirit anointing in your life? Then the Lord invites you saying, "Come to Me and I will give you rest."
It is not God's will that we should ever be agitated or upset.
He wants us to be at rest 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year, whatever may happen around us. But we can live such a life only if we acknowledge our defeated state first and come to the Lord and say, "Lord, give me this Sabbath-rest at any cost."
In 11:29, Jesus said, "Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls". A disciple is a learner and he comes to Jesus to learn from Him, like a teachable child. What does the Lord want us to learn from Him ? The Lord wants us to learn meekness and humility from Him first of all. There are many Catholic who want to learn the Catechism and learn how to live the Catholic life, but there are not many Catholics who are eager to learn these two virtues. And that is why they do not experience His Sabbath-rest either.
Priest, when you see another godly priest with an anointed and effective ministry, you may long to have a ministry like his. But that is the wrong thing to pursue after. What you need to emulate first is his godly life.
The Lord may call us a spiritual vocation in His Church. But He wants us to live "in rest" first. If we are not at rest in our own hearts, we will have many problems ourselves and cause problems for others as well.