Jesus Speaks of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:1-15)
After commissioning the twelve and sending them out to preach the gospel of the kingdom Jesus went alone to minister in other cities. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples came to inquire of the Lord whether He was indeed the coming One or whether they should look for another. The Lord Jesus answered by demonstrating His power over disease and demons, and took occasion to give due recognition to John and his message.
We need not speculate whether doubts had entered the mind of His forerunner John, or whether he simply sent his troubled disciples to the Lord with their questions so that Christ Himself could reassure them and confirm their faith. John was in prison at this time because of his faithfulness in reproving Herod for his wickedness in taking as his paramour Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. John’s day of popularity was over. As he languished in the gloomy fortress of Machaerus (if tradition be correct) he may have wondered if in some way he had misunderstood the testimony regarding Jesus.
In answer to the questions, Jesus reminded John’s disciples that all the credentials of the King were manifested in power. The mighty miracles He did were to attest His claims: the blind were made to see and the lame to walk; lepers were cleansed; the deaf were made to hear; even the dead were raised up. What greater signs could be looked for? To the poor the glad tidings of the kingdom were proclaimed. But it was a time of testing. There was no outward pomp or show such as might be naturally expected in connection with the advent of a king. Therefore faith in God and His Word was important. Jesus declared, “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended [or scandalized] in me.” It took real faith to see in the meek and lowly Jesus of Nazareth the royal Son of David, destined to rule all nations with the iron rod of righteousness.
After the departure of John’s disciples, Jesus spoke in highest terms of the Baptist and his testimony. What was it that had attracted the throngs to him? He had no outward show of magnificence or grandeur. John did not appear in gorgeous robes or other costly array such as might have been found on royal attendants in kings’ palaces. He came, Elijah-like, in poor clothing, subsisting upon the simplest food. Yet of all born of women up to that time, he was the greatest because he was given the honor of introducing the Messiah to Israel. But great as his privileges were, the simplest and poorest member of the kingdom of Heaven is greater by far. For though John pointed to the open door, it was not given to him to enter into the new condition of things which the kingdom suggests. He closed one epoch; Jesus opened another. “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” He fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy that Elijah was to come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
Having said this, Jesus exclaimed, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” It is so easy to hear with the outward ear but fail to receive the truth in the heart.
Jesus Condemns the Lack of Response (Matthew 11:16-19)
The Lord brings out in vivid contrast the difference between John’s ministry and His own, but shows that there was very little response to either. As He continued His gracious ministry it became increasingly evident that by far the great majority of Israel was in no mood to receive His message. The leaders and the people generally refused to acknowledge Him as the anointed One sent by God to deliver them from their bondage, not only to the Roman authority but to sin and Satan. If we did not know something of the hardness of our own hearts until subdued by divine grace, it would seem incredible that men could resist clear and evident proof of the messiahship of the Lord Jesus.
“Children sitting in the markets.” Jesus likens the people to whom the message had come to irresponsible children who could make a play of the happiest or the saddest experience of life, but had little realization of the importance of either.
“Ye have not danced… ye have not lamented.” Whether a wedding or a funeral it was all the same. There was no response to either. Neither the glad note of the gospel nor the solemn call to repentance seemed to have any effect on the great majority of the people.
“John came neither eating nor drinking.” John was an ascetic, a man of the wilderness, who denied himself all ordinary comforts. But they declared he was a demoniac.
“A man gluttonous, and a winebibber.” Jesus was a man of the people. He moved freely among them and participated in their feasts. But His very geniality was misinterpreted. They accused Him of pampering His appetites.
Christ is revealed to men only when they bow before God in repentance. It has been remarked often that the same sun which softens the wax hardens the clay. So it is with the preaching of the gospel. Some respond to it with gratitude and enjoy its blessings; others turn from it in unbelief and so are hardened in their sins. “To the one,” said Paul, “we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life” (2 Corinthians 2:16). It was so when the prince of all preachers was here. There were those, chiefly among the poor and the outwardly sinful and degraded, who received the message eagerly and found life and healing. But the proud, self-righteous religionists, who did not feel their need of God’s grace, spurned the message and the messenger, even blasphemously declaring that the Lord Himself was an agent of Beelzebub, the prince of the demons.
Jesus Condemns Unrepentant Cities (Matthew 11:20-24)
In this section the cities that had enjoyed the greatest privileges were rebuked by Jesus because the majority of their people persisted in their unbelief. The cities that had heard His words and seen His works of power refused to change their careless attitude, and so continued in their sins. We may well be amazed at the impenitence and hardness of heart of the residents of the cities where Jesus had done so many of His mighty works, but have our own hearts been any more ready to receive the truth?
“Woe unto thee, Chorazin [and] Bethsaida.” These were cities situated near the northern end of the sea of Galilee, the one a little to the west, and the other on the shore. Chorazin is today an almost unidentifiable ruin; Bethsaida is a very poor little village.
“It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon.” These were Phoenician cities noted for their wickedness and destroyed centuries before. But their people are still awaiting the day of judgment. Note that there will be degrees of punishment according to the measure of light received and rejected.
Capernaum was blessed above all other cities of Galilee, for thze Lord performed more mighty works there than in any other place. In this sense it was indeed exalted. But it was condemned to utter ruin, because it knew not the time of its visitation.
Sodom had become a synonym for the vilest and most unnatural sin. But the people of Capernaum were guiltier because they had much greater light and far more privileges, yet they persisted in their sins.
Jesus Offers Rest for the Weary (Matthew 11:25-30)
With what relief of mind we turn to the closing verses of this chapter! Though spurned by so many to whom His heart went out in pity and compassion, our Lord was not soured, as we might have been. Ungrateful people responded to His love and grace with coldness and ill-treatment, but He accepted it all as from His Father’s hand, and continued to offer deliverance and blessing to all who would come to Him.
“I thank thee, O Father.” At the very time when our Lord was experiencing the bitterness of man’s indifference and opposition, He turned in worship and praise to the Father, rejoicing that though the great ones in Israel rejected Him, the humble received His words. His prayer is the language of complete subjection to the Father’s will. As the dependent man on earth, He was wholly resigned to that which the Father had foreseen.
“No man knoweth the Son, but the Father.” The mystery of the incarnation, God and man in one person, is insoluble and past human comprehension. But the Father may be known “to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” The fatherhood of God, unknown by human wisdom, is revealed by the Son. He has made God known to those who receive His words, as the Father of all the redeemed.
“Come unto me… and I will give you rest.” Surely, none but God revealed in the flesh could rightly use such language as this. The best man earth ever knew could make no such declaration. All others who speak as directed by the Spirit of God point men from themselves to Christ for rest of conscience and peace of mind. Jesus alone could make this offer to the burdened and heavy-laden. He has proved His deity times without number by His ability to fulfill this promise.
All who are truly subject to Him find rest of heart in the midst of the cares of life as they learn of Him, the meek and lowly One. A yoke is designed to curb the will and bring one under control. He who exchanges sin’s heavy burden for the glorious yoke of subjection to the Lord finds it blessed indeed to serve so good a Master.
“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Many shrink from submitting to His yoke, fearing it may involve greater sacrifices than they are ready to make. But all who acknowledge His authority and blend their wills with His find they enter a rest such as the weary of this world never know.
The Two Rests. The rest that the Lord Jesus gives freely to all who come to Him is rest of conscience in regard to sin. The distressed soul, burdened with a sense of guilt, comes to Him and finds peace when he trusts Him as the great sin-bearer. The second rest is rest of heart. Adverse circumstances may rise up to alarm and fill the heart with fear and anxiety, but he who takes Christ’s yoke and learns of Him is able to be calm in the midst of the storm. He finds perfect rest as he trusts all to Him who rules over the waterfloods and is Lord of all the elements.
These two rests are the same as the two aspects of peace presented in the Epistles. Rest of conscience is the equivalent of peace with God that is the portion of all who are justified by faith (Romans 5:1). Rest of soul is the same as the peace of God that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7), and is enjoyed by all who learn to commit everything to the Lord.