Wednesday, January 15, 2014

DOUBTS AND DISREGARD (Matthew Chapter 11)

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus once asked His disciples that question (Matthew 16:13).  They gave several answers reflective of the prevailing opinions of that day.  And so it is still—people respond in various ways to the truth about Jesus.  Matthew chapter 11 speaks to some of these various responses and opinions…

Belief but with doubts.  John the Baptist was sent by God as the forerunner of the Christ (John 1:6-7; Mark 1:1-3).  He preached in the wilderness calling people to repentance (Matthew 3:1-2).  He faithfully bore witness of Jesus identifying Him to be the Christ (John 1:19-28).  He was later imprisoned (Matthew 11:2).  From prison, having heard of “the deeds of the Christ,” he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? (Matthew 11:2-3).  How are we to account for this change in John?  What caused him to doubt?  We should note that there is no record of Jesus rebuking or criticizing John.  In fact, Jesus would go on to both assure him and commend him to others (Matthew 11:7-15).  He doubted not as a skeptical unbeliever, but as one who believed but had questions.  No doubt John’s doubts were rooted in Jesus’ failure to measure up to his preconceived expectations.  John was in prison.  Jesus was not acting like a King--hence his doubt.  But John did the right thing.  He took his doubts directly to the One who alone could address them.

Criticism no matter what.  Jesus used the example of John the Baptist to address the problem of critical unbelief that was characteristic of the masses.  They were like “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’ (Matthew 11:16-17).”  In those days the marketplace was a busy place filled with families and children.  Children would gather and play.  What would they play?  The main social events of that day were weddings and funerals.  And so the children would play games related to both.  But whether with the flute and a dance (as in a wedding) or a dirge (as in a funeral), there were some who would in either case refuse to join in.  John the Baptist came “neither eating nor drinking” and they said “He has a demon” (Matthew 11:18).”  Jesus came “eating and drinking” and they said, ‘Look at him!  A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ (Matthew 11:19).”  William Barclay commented on this kind of response: "The plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will easily enough find an excuse for not listening. They do not even try to be consistent in their criticism. They'll criticize the same person and the same institution from quite opposite grounds and reasons. If people are determined to make no response, they will remain stubbornly and sullenly unresponsive no matter what invitation is made to them."

Apathetic disregard.  Jesus’ harshest criticism was reserved for the cities “where most of his mighty works had been done” (Matthew 11:20).  Despite the clear evidence of his miracles they “did not repent” (Matthew 11:20).  Hard-hearted in their unbelief they refused to concern themselves with either Jesus or their sin.  No amount of evidence, no matter how substantial, could work to pry open their sin-shut eyes and ears.  Their apathy would be their undoing as they would ultimately experience the severity of God’s judgment for their unbelief (Matthew 11:20-24).  Some will never be convinced “even if someone should rise from the dead” (Matthew 16:31).

Childlike faith.  The chapter ends with a reassuring truth and an invitation.  The reassuring truth is that God desires to reveal Himself to us.  It is the “gracious will” of the “Lord of heaven and earth” to make known His truth to those who are as “little children” before Him (Matthew 11:25-26)  This precious reality is reaffirmed in Jesus’ invitation to the weary and heavy laden to find rest for their souls in Him (Matthew 11:28-30).  Criticism and apathy are the norm in this sin-weary world, but Jesus promises relief to those who come to Him for rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

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