Sermon title:  THE MEASURE OF SUCCESS

Matthew 11:2-19

 

    Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, June 3, 2018

 

 

Back to ImmanuelBaptistNB.org

 

 

We spent a few weeks looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount,

which fills Matthew Chapters 5 through 7,

and corresponding portions of the Gospel of Luke.

It deserved all that attention—and more—

because it is the most famous sermon ever given,

and the greatest sermon ever given.

 

But, in his human incarnation,

our Lord Jesus was both a preacher

and a man of action.

 

So, Luke Chapter 7 tells us[ OPEN ]

that after delivering the Sermon on the Mount,

Jesus came down from the mountain

and swung into action again.

 

We rejoin the account in Luke Chapter 7, beginning at Verse 1,

where our Lord immediately began performing miracles again.

 

In Luke Chapter 7, beginning at Verse 1, it says,

 

1 When Jesus had finished saying all this

in the hearing of the people,

he entered Capernaum.

2 There a centurion's servant,

whom his master valued highly,

was sick and about to die.

 

A centurion was a high-ranking officer

in the army of the Roman Empire.

 

And, of course, this centurion was a Roman, not a Jew.

 

Verse 3 continues,

 

3 The centurion heard of Jesus

and sent some elders of the Jews to him,

asking him to come and heal his servant.

 

The Gospel of Matthew reports on this same incident,

but does so more briefly,

with less detail.

 

Matthew tells of the centurion’s request to Jesus,

but does not mention

that he conveyed his request through elders of the Jews.

 

This is not a contradiction between Matthew and Luke.

It’s just that Matthew sums up the story briefly,

while Luke reports more of the details.

 

Verse 4 continues,

 

4 When they came to Jesus,

they pleaded earnestly with him,

"This man deserves to have you do this,

5 because he loves our nation

and has built our synagogue."

 

So, this Roman centurion

was very favorable to the Jewish people.

And he evidently had faith

that Jesus could heal his servant.

 

Verse 6 continues,

6 So Jesus went with them.

7 He was not far from the house

when the centurion sent friends to say to him:

"Lord, don't trouble yourself,

for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy

to come to you.

But say the word, and my servant will be healed.

 

The centurion had evidently served in Israel long enough

to know that Jews didn’t enter the homes of Gentiles,

so he did not want to put Jesus in that awkward position.

 

But he expressed faith

that Jesus would be able to heal his servant

from a distance,

without the need to enter his home.

 

He continued in Verse 8,

 

8 For I myself am a man under authority,

with soldiers under me.

I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes;

and that one, 'Come,' and he comes.

I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

9 When Jesus heard this,

he was amazed at him,

and turning to the crowd following him, he said,

"I tell you,

I have not found such great faith even in Israel."

 

The 8th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew

furnishes additional details here,

that Luke doesn’t tell us about.

In Matthew Chapter 8, beginning at Verse 11,

it gives us these additional words spoken by our Lord:

11 I say to you

that many will come from the east and the west,

and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

12 But the subjects of the kingdom

will be thrown outside, into the darkness,

where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

 

So, Jesus foretold here

that many Gentiles would come into his Kingdom,

while many Jews would be excluded.

 

And, in Matthew 8, Verse 13,

 

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion,

"Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.

 

And, returning to the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 7,

Verse 10 says,

10 Then the men who had been sent

returned to the house

and found the servant well.

 

So, Jesus showed that he could perform miraculous healings

long-distance,

without being physically present in the house.

That gives us confidence

that Jesus can heal today, too,

even though he is in heaven

where we can’t see him.

 

Luke 7, Verse 11, tells us

that Jesus followed this miraculous healing

with another miracle.

It says,

11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd

went along with him.

12 As he approached the town gate,

a dead person was being carried out—

the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.

And a large crowd from the town was with her.

 

This death was especially tragic,

since the dead man’s mother was a widow,

and he was her only son.

That meant he was her only means of support

back in that day before welfare and Social Security.

 

Verse 13 tells us,

13 When the Lord saw her,

his heart went out to her

and he said, "Don't cry."

14 Then he went up and touched the coffin,

and those carrying it stood still.

He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!"

 

15 The dead man sat up and began to talk,

and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

 

16 They were all filled with awe and praised God.

"A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people."

17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea

and the surrounding country.

 

It’s one thing to heal the sick,

but it’s quite another thing to raise the dead.

And this young man was obviously dead.

His body was lying in an open coffin,

as the pallbearers carried it

to a burial place outside of town.

 

Jesus stopped the funeral procession,

and brought the young man back to life.

 

No wonder Luke says in Verse 17,

17 This news about Jesus

spread throughout Judea

and the surrounding country.

 

The news reached even to the prison cell

where John the Baptist was being held.

 

John the Baptist was the one who baptized Jesus,

but that was many months earlier—

maybe around a year earlier.

And John had introduced his own disciples to Jesus,

telling them that Jesus was

the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

 

But then Herod had taken his brother’s wife

to be his own wife—in violation of the law.

And John had pointed out to Herod

that he was breaking God’s law.

 

Instead of repenting,

Herod reacted by having John arrested and put in prison.

 

Herod’s family had provided the money

to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

 

The rebuilding work was started and paid for

by this Herod’s father, King Herod the Great—

the one who murdered the babies of Bethlehem.

 

After standing for hundreds of years,

that temple had fallen into disrepair,

so King Herod had initiated

a 40-year building project.

 

Since he put up the money

for the temple where

the chief priests and religious leaders officiated

the Jewish priests kept silent

when Herod sinned by taking his brother’s wife.

 

Follow the money!

That money

bought the silence of those priests.

 

But John the Baptist spoke up,

and the result was that Herod put him in prison.

 

John the Baptist was a fiery preacher,

calling people to repent of their sins,

and warning them of the wrath of God

if they did not.

 

But John was also humble,

giving all praise and glory to Jesus.

His role was to turn people to Jesus,

and he was glad when Jesus began making more disciples.

 

But, by the time our Responsive Reading[  OPEN  ]

picks up the story at Matthew, Chapter 11, Verse 2,

John the Baptist

had been in prison for around a year or so.

 

And, even in prison,

he heard about the preaching and powerful miracles

that Jesus was performing.

 

So, at Matthew 11:2, we read,

 

2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing,

he sent his disciples

3 to ask him,

"Are you the one who was to come,

or should we expect someone else?"

 

It’s not clear why John asked this question,

"Are you the one who was to come,

or should we expect someone else?"

 

Back when he baptized Jesus,

he seemed to recognize

that Jesus was the one prophesied—

the one who would baptize in the Holy Spirit and fire.

 

And, shortly after that,

when he introduced his disciples to Jesus

as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,

he seemed to know who Jesus was.

 

But, after a year, sitting in a prison cell,

maybe John the Baptist was becoming discouraged.

 

Or, maybe he expected that the Messiah

would have overthrown the Roman occupation by now,

and would have set up the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

 

Or, maybe he just wanted his disciples

to see Jesus first-hand.

 

We don’t know what was in John’s mind

why he asked this question.

 

But we do know that he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus,

 

"Are you the one who was to come,

or should we expect someone else?"

 

And in Verse 4 we read,

 

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 are cured,

the deaf hear, the dead are raised,

and the good news is preached to the poor.

6 Blessed is the man

who does not fall away on account of me."

 

Jesus had just healed the centurion’s servant,

who was so sick he was on the brink of death.

And Jesus had just raised up

the dead son of the widow of Nain.

And then, after John’s disciples asked him this question,

Luke 7:21 tells us,

In that hour he cured many

of diseases and plagues and evil spirits;

and to many who were blind he gave sight.”

 

So, Jesus performed many powerful miracles

in the sight of John’s disciples.

 

They saw the powerful works Jesus was doing,

and they heard the salvation message he was preaching,

and that is what Jesus told them

to take back to John:

"Go back and report to John what you hear and see.”

 

Our Lord knew

that John would be satisfied with that answer,

because it proved him to be the promised Messiah.

 

And then at Matthew 11, Verse 7,

Jesus turned to the crowd of people who were present

and began to tell them

what a great prophet John the Baptist was—

John, who was now chained up in a jail cell.

He called back to their memory

how John had carried on his ministry

in the desert, not far from Jerusalem.

 

At Matthew 11, Verse 7, we read,

 

7 As John's disciples were leaving,

Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John:

"What did you go out into the desert 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.

 

John had been living alone in the desert,

wearing rough clothing of camel’s hair,

with a simple leather belt around his waist.

 

He wasn’t dressed in fine, fancy clothing like a prince.

But Jesus says he was a prophet,

and even greater than a prophet.

 

Jesus continues in Verse 10,

to say that John fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy

of Malachi 3:1,

about the fore-runner of the Messiah.

In Verse 10, Jesus says,

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.'

11 I tell you the truth:

Among those born of women

there has not risen anyone greater

than John the Baptist;

 

Imagine that!

This John, who is sitting chained up in a prison cell,

Jesus said he was the greatest man who ever lived.

“Among those born of women

there has not risen anyone greater

than John the Baptist.”

 

What a different measure of success

from the way the world looks at things!

 

Wasn’t a mighty conqueror like Alexander the Great

greater than John the Baptist?

 

Wasn’t Julius Caesar greater?

 

Wasn’t King David greater?

 

Wasn’t wise and wealthy King Solomon greater?

 

No, Jesus says,

“Among those born of women

there has not risen anyone greater

than John the Baptist.”

 

He was locked up in a jail cell,

but Jesus said he was the greatest man who ever lived—

until that time.

 

Then Jesus goes on, in the latter part of Matthew 11:11, to say,

 

yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven

is greater than he.

 

Christians would become greater.

Christians would end up

ruling as kings and priests

with Christ in heaven.

 

But John was the last and greatest

of the pre-Christian prophets.

 

Jesus continues in Verse 12 to say,

 

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now,

the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

13 For all the Prophets and the Law

prophesied until John.

 

So, John marked the end

of the old covenant in the Old Testament—

the books that the Jews called

the Prophets and the Law.

 

The Old Testament

was God’s way of dealing with mankind—

through the Law and the prophets—

until John.

 

And Malachi, the last book in our Old Testament

says at Malachi 4:5

that God would send Elijah the prophet

to turn people back to God.

Jesus said that John the Baptist fulfilled that prophecy.

John came with Elijah’s spirit and power.

 

So, at Matthew 11:14, Jesus continued,

14 And if you are willing to accept it,

he is the Elijah who was to come.

15 He who has ears, let him hear.

 

But John was sitting in jail.

He wasn’t appreciated

as he should have been.

------------------

Jesus went on to illustrate

how that generation of Jews in Israel

failed to appreciate John’s ministry

and Jesus’ own ministry.

In Verse 16 he said,

 

16 "To what can I compare this generation?

They are like children sitting in the marketplaces

and calling out to others:

17 "'We played the flute for you,

and you did not dance;

we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.'

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking,

and they say, 'He has a demon.'

19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking,

and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard,

a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."'

But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

 

John the Baptist had lived in the desert,

eating locusts and wild honey,

never touching alcohol,

and denying himself the ordinary pleasures of life.

The people who rejected

the message of repentance John preached

dismissed him as having a demon.

 

Jesus did just the opposite of John.

Jesus attended wedding feasts and banquets,

and even turned water into wine at one wedding feast.

But people who rejected

the message Jesus preached

dismissed him as “a glutton and a drunkard.

 

They weren’t happy with John or with Jesus,

because they hated the message both of them preached.

 

But the few who showed wisdom

by accepting the call to repentance

would eventually be proved right,

and would be blessed.

 

John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus

both came to bless those who would listen.

But both of them were rejected,

arrested,

and were finally executed.

 

Long before he came to earth

our Lord Jesus had been reaching out from heaven

to the people of Jerusalem

for centuries,

through the Old Testament prophets he sent to them.

 

At Matthew 11, Verses 28-30, he said,

 

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,

you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,

how often I have longed

to gather your children together,

as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,

but you were not willing!”

 

John the Baptist was the last pre-Christian prophet.

 

And then, after Jesus’ own death and resurrection,

his Apostles and disciples

were also jailed and killed.

 

We read in Acts how Herod had the Apostle James

jailed and then executed with the sword,

and how Stephen was stoned to death

and how Peter and Paul were jailed repeatedly. 

Subsequent history says

that the Apostles later met violent deaths

in various parts of the earth

where they had taken the Gospel message.

 

Does that mean they failed in their mission?

 

No!  From God’s viewpoint

they were faithful and were successful

in the work he called them to do.

 

This world measures successful ministries by numbers: 

large church buildings,

well-funded by wealthy supporters,

and sanctuaries overflowing with crowds of people. 

God looks at things differently. 

He looks for us to be found faithful. 

 

John the Baptist faithfully carried out his ministry,

but he was in prison when our Lord Jesus said of him,

“Among those born of women

there has not risen anyone greater

than John the Baptist.”  (Matthew 11:11)

 

For centuries in this country

the Bible was held in high regard,

and Christians were honored for their faith.

But the world is changing.

 

It has become popular to reject the Bible

and to honor people without faith—

people who boast of their un-Christian behavior.

 

But our goal is to be pleasing to God,

not to be popular with this world.

 

At Luke 6, Verse 26,

our Lord Jesus warned us,

“Woe to you when all men speak well of you,

for that is how their fathers

treated the false prophets.”

 

Churches everywhere are emptying out

while immoral rock stars are filling stadiums

with people swaying to music with immoral lyrics.

 

Churches are closing due to lack of attendance,

but Christians should not be discouraged.

 

Our Lord pronounced John the Baptist successful,

even when he was sitting in that jail cell.

 

And our Lord himself had his greatest success

when he went to the cross.