The Matthew Series 18. The Witness of the Kingdom
Matthew 11:1-15 New International Version (NIV)
Jesus and John the Baptist
11 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.[a]
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’[c]
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence,[d] and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.
So as we continue into our series through the Gospel of Matthew, we come to the end of Jesus second block of teaching and now move into another block of stories that Matthew tells us of the life of Jesus. Tonight comes an interesting realities, Jesus continues on his tour now moving out to the towns of Galilee and John, who has been at this point put in prison, sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is actually the Messiah.
The incredible thing of this passage is that John, the one who was to prepare the way of the Messiah who was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mothers womb, doubts Jesus.
Jesus answers his doubts by appealing to two things, what they see and how that lines up with Scripture. He says, Go back to John and report, or witness what you hear and see. Then he quotes Isaiah 35.
Church, today we continue in the same witness now to ourselves and to a fallen world, so I hope to show you tonight the witness of the coming Kingdom, how when we see how Scripture lines up to realities it overcomes our doubts.
As C.S. Lewis says,
"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen — not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
So, what do we witness in Scripture and into reality, what are we witnessing to the world?
1. The outcast gets it
Jesus calls the disciples to a wonderful OT prophecy, that is being fulfilled in the midst of the ministry of Christ. He shows them that
The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, deaf hear, dead are raised and the GOSPEL is proclaimed to the poor.
Now, this was an OT prophecy from the Book of Isaiah chapter 35, but in this we see the impact of the gospel and reality of how the gospel is not like any other religion or faith out there.
Firstly we see how there is impact in the helpless and outcast. It is the blind, deaf, unclean and poor that are coming into the kingdom, The gospel is for those who cannot help themselves.
And Jesus uses a peculiar word to declare this reality. In fact he goes beyond the Isaiah 35 text to declare what is happening as “gospel” to the poor.
Now gospel is a great word, and maybe a word we miss because it is used so often today; many of us think of gospel as truth, or as the first for books of the bible, or – because you have been coming to the evening service for a while – you know it as the work that Christ has done for us to win our salvation.
But the word is not a Christian word, it is a translation of the Greek word evangelion, good news, which is what Jesus says in verse 5.
The evangelion (gospel) was an announcement of a kings victory, or a declaration of a new age. It was used when a king has won a great battle and the city was now in peace, the herald would come in shouting evangelion.
This is the first reality of what we witness to the world church, we have a evangelion. It is good news why? Because unlike ever other religion and way to make your way through the world, the gospel alone says it is done!
What do I mean? Well every world religion, or self-help book, or modern day mantra, says you want life, you want peace, you want meaning, you want hope. Let me teach you the way. If you put into practice, my teaching, my 10 steps, my 7 fold path, you will find life, and salvation, peace for your soul.
Every religion in the world essentially says the same thing; follow this leader and he will teach you the way.
Jesus says I am the way, and the reason He says this, the reason He can say this is because Christianity is not about putting into practice a set of teaching, although there are doctrines to learn, and there is life change the hope of Christianity is not in what Jesus taught – even though what He taught is the most profound words ever spoken.
Your hope tonight, what you witness is not that Jesus was a nice guy, and a great teacher. Your hope tonight is that Jesus has dealt with your sin, by dying for it!
2000 years ago every single one of the actions that you have done that bring pain, shame and destruction in your life was fully dealt with through the death of Christ on the cross.
The gospel is a declaration of what was done! That is why it is good news.
The Gospel is not a good plan, a good teaching or a good way; it is good news!
No one says, good news everyone all your debt that you cannot pay, well I have made a plan that if you sacrifice everything, and suffer maybe you will be able to deal with it, but you’ll only find out when you die. No-one would be excited about that.
But if someone came it and said, good news everyone, I have just paid off every single one of your debts, you have nothing left to pay! That is good news, and who is it good news for? For those who know that they have debts.
For the younger of you, you don’t care, cause at the moment you “long” life ahead of you and your parents baring the brunt of your debts you don’t care, but to the person who is drowning in it. that it good news!
The gospel works, because the Bible is true we all have a debt of sin and guilt that we cannot escape or pay, the good news the gospel is not that it will be paid, but that it has been! You are free!
Secondly; (and this will be shorter)
2. The violent lay hold of it
Jesus says the kingdom has been subject to violence and the violent take hold of it. Now, in other translations you will see it translated simply violent it is done like that because this Greek word βιάζω (Biadzo) is in such a way in the Greek that it can be translated both ways; it can mean to suffer violence and it can mean simply violent.
The witnesses of the Kingdom (those who have truly experience the Gospel), know that the gospel is both violent; it will turn your whole life upside down; and only those who are willing to endure that complete upheaval of their life will enter, and it suffers violence, once you enter this you make yourself an enemy of the world.
As we have seen for the last couple of weeks, if you align yourself with Christ and the Gospel, you are putting your life in danger, this is the call and reality of the gospel. But not only this if you get the gospel, nothing in your life will be the same.
The gospel will violently upend your entire life!
The gospel messes up your life in the best way, because lets be real, you and the centre of your life, living your life the way you want; how is that going for you? The only way to get into the kingdom, the only way the kingdom matters is if you allow it to do violence to your way of life.
That is why only the violent – the forceful – those who are willing to risk it all, will take hold of it.
Thirdly what we witness is;
3. The least are greatest in it
Jesus finishes this portion with a call to look at John and see that truly he is the greatest.
No-one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist. But then he says something very peculiar. He says, that the least in the kingdom, and it is important to note that he is saying IN THE KINGDOM the least is greater than John.
What is going on here? And how does this help us in our witness to the world. Well Jesus is pointing to the fact that the Gospel is true and it lines up with Scripture because it offers a new way of righteousness that actually works. That is the righteousness that the Bible describes. What do I mean by that?
Well John came to prepare the Kingdom, and he preached a message of repentance, because of the coming Judgment, He lived a good life, he lived a life of self-denial, He was bold and Jesus says, dressed in camel hair clothes. A great prophet as Jesus says. In fact a prophet in the same spirit as the great prophet Elijah.
But then Jesus says, the least in the kingdom will be greater than he.
How does that work? John was great, he was righteous, he demanded repentance, He lived a life of self-denial and hardship, he was bold, even condemning Herod the King to his face so that Herod eventually cuts of his head.
But he will be least in the kingdom? Why? Because the gospel works! It is the same reason Paul declares in Romans 1:16-17
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[a] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[b]
In the gospel we are made right by Jesus’ righteousness. John was great because he lived a good life, the worst of sinners in the Kingdom is great because Jesus makes them perfect by His death!
As Tim Keller puts it beautifully:
“The worst sinner on the planet standing in Christ’s righteousness is more beautiful to God that the greatest person on the earth standing in his own.”
Now this works, because it kills our hypocrisy, it makes us humble and therefore gives us the true righteousness that God demands, a righteousness that none of us can ever hope to live up to.
So church, you are witnesses of this, because you are receivers of this good news; you are the poor who have received Good News, your debt has been paid, you have been set Free! Your life is turned upside down, and your righteousness is not your own.
We witness of something done, not something understood or argued about; so go out into the word and share how the Scriptures are right; there is good news for sinners, God does heal the broken, and your life is never going to be the same.