Matthew 11:1-6


Matt. 11 is a chapter in which Jesus is speaking all the time; and, as he speaks to different people and about different things, we hear the accent of his voice vary and change. It will be of the greatest interest to look one by one at the six accents in the voice of Jesus.


Matt. 11:1-6

And when Jesus had completed his instructions to the twelve disciples, he left there to go on teaching and to go on making his proclamation in their towns.

When John had heard in prison about the things that the Anointed One of God was doing, he sent to him and asked him through his disciples: “Are you the One who is to come, or, must we go on expecting another?” “Go back,” said Jesus, “and give John the report of what you are hearing and seeing. The blind are having their sight restored, and the lame are walking; the lepers are being cleansed, and the deaf are hearing; the dead are being raised up, and the poor are receiving the good news. And blessed is the man who does not take offence at me.”

The career of John had ended in disaster. It was not John’s habit to soften the truth for any man; and he was incapable of seeing evil without rebuking it. He had spoken too fearlessly and too definitely for his own safety.

Herod Antipas of Galilee had paid a visit to his brother in Rome. During that visit he seduced his brother’s wife. He came home again, dismissed his own wife, and married the sister-in-law whom he had lured away from her husband. Publicly and sternly John rebuked Herod. It was never safe to rebuke an eastern despot and Herod took his revenge; John was thrown into the dungeons of the fortress of Machaerus in the mountains near the Dead Sea.

For any man that would have been a terrible fate, but for John the Baptist it was worse than for most. He was a child of the desert; all his life he had lived in the wide open spaces, with the clean wind on his face and the spacious vault of the sky for his root And now he was confined within the four narrow walls of an underground dungeon. For a man like John, who had perhaps never lived in a house, this must have been agony.

In Carlisle Castle there is a little cell. Once long ago they put a border chieftain in that cell and left him for years. In that cell there is one little window, which is placed too high for a man to look out of when he is standing on the floor. On the ledge of the window there are two depressions worn away in the stone. They are the marks of the hands of that border chieftain, the places where, day after day, he lifted himself up by his hands to look out on the green dales across which he would never ride again.

John must have been like that; and there is nothing to wonder at, and still less to criticize, in the fact that questions began to form themselves in John’s mind. He had been so sure that Jesus was the One who was to come. That was one of the commonest titles of the Messiah for whom the Jews waited with such eager expectation (Mk.11:9; Lk.13:35; Lk.19:38; Heb.10:37; Ps.118:26). A dying man cannot afford to have doubts; he must be sure; and so John sent his disciples to Jesus with the question: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” There are many possible things behind that question.

(i) Some people think that the question was asked, not for John’s sake at all, but for the sake of his disciples. It may be that when John and his disciples talked in prison, the disciples questioned whether Jesus was really he who was to come, and John’s answer was: “If you have any doubts, go and see what Jesus is doing and your doubts will be at an end.” If that is the case, it was a good answer. If anyone begins to argue with us about Jesus, and to question his supremacy, the best of all answers is not to counter argument with argument, but to say, “Give your life to him; and see what he can do with it.” The supreme argument for Christ is not intellectual debate, but experience of his changing power.

(ii) It may be that John’s question was the question of impatience. His message had been a message of doom (Matt. 3:7-12). The axe was at the root of the tree; the winnowing process had begun; the divine fire of cleansing judgment had begun to burn. It may be that John was thinking: “When is Jesus going to start on action? When is he going to blast his enemies? When is the day of God’s holy destruction to begin?” It may well be that John was impatient with Jesus because he was not what he expected him to be. The man who waits for savage wrath will always be disappointed in Jesus, but the man who looks for love will never find his hopes defeated.

(iii) Some few have thought that this question was nothing less than the question of dawning faith and hope. He had seen Jesus at the Baptism; in prison he had thought more and more about him; and the more he thought the more certain he was that Jesus was he who was to come; and now he put all his hopes to the test in this one question. It may be that this is not the question of a despairing and an impatient man, but the question of one in whose eyes the light of hope shone, and who asked for nothing but confirmation of that hope.

Then came Jesus’ answer; and in his answer we hear the accent of confidence. Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples was: “Go back, and don’t tell John what I am saying; tell him what I am doing. Don’t tell John what I am claiming; tell him what is happening.” Jesus demanded that there should be applied to him the most acid of tests, that of deeds. Jesus was the only person who could ever demand without qualification to be judged, not by what he said, but by what he did. The challenge of Jesus is still the same. He does not so much say, “Listen to what I have to tell you,” as, “Look what I can do for you; see what I have done for others.”

The things that Jesus did in Galilee he stiff does. In him those who were blind to the truth about themselves, about their fellow-men and about God, have their eyes opened; in him those whose feet were never strong enough to remain in the right way are strengthened; in him those who were tainted with the disease of sin are cleansed; in him those who were deaf to the voice of conscience and of God begin to listen; in him those who were dead and powerless in sin are raised to newness and loveliness of life; in him the poorest man inherits the riches of the love of God.

Finally comes the warning, “Blessed is he who takes no offence at me.” This was spoken to John; and it was spoken because John had only grasped half the truth. John preached the gospel of divine holiness with divine destruction; Jesus preached the gospel of divine holiness with divine love. So Jesus says to John, “Maybe I am not doing the things you expected me to do. But the powers of evil are being defeated not by irresistible power, but by unanswerable love.” Sometimes a man can be offended at Jesus because Jesus cuts across his ideas of what religion should be.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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