Way Pointers. Matthew 11.7-11
What would it be like to have your name inserted into any of these descriptions from the Bible?
Abraham was God’s friend.1
Moses was the humblest man on the face of the earth, 2
God himself called David a man after his own heart, 3
Of Job, God said, ‘There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’4
And here we have Jesus saying of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.5 And Jesus said this immediately following the question from John the Baptist, ‘are you the One, the Messiah, or should we look for another?’ Jesus did not castigate the Baptist, whose sole purpose was to prepare folks for his birth, instead he goes on to commend him.
John had sent his disciples to Jesus to get his question answered, and once satisfied, prepared to take Jesus’ reply back to the imprisoned John the Baptist, they departed.
Matthew writes, “As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say,
‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way before you.’
“I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is!”6
Jesus reminds the people of John’s place in their lives—his value to them, and how they had flocked out to the Judean desert to hear him preach, primarily a message of repentance, and their need to turn from sin. Yet they went by the drove to hear him. Intriguing. They wanted their hearts prepared for the Messiah, who’s coming they anticipated—the conquering king who would free them from Rome. Jesus reinforces their decision by saying John-the-Baptist had been anything but a weak voice, a wishy-washy preacher or teacher regaled in finery; John was the prophet who had been prophesied of by Malachi. And then he pays him the highest compliment, “of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.”
But Jesus does not leave it at that—in the same breath, Jesus goes on to say something that seems to contradict the beautiful accolade: “Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is!” Sometimes it seems Jesus makes these statements that can totally catch us off guard, leaving us unsure of how to take them—have you ever noticed? How could Jesus say that, and not explain it?
What did Jesus mean by the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven? It seems like it was a foretelling that John indeed would not live to see the Cross or the victorious risen Lord; John the Baptist would not know of the gift of the Holy Spirit or the early Church. Therefore, anyone who was born on the other side of the crucifixion would be greater than he. We are a blessed people indeed—to know the conquering King, the one who died for us and set us free from punishment for sin and the domination of the Law.
Indeed Jesus had a way of saying things succinctly that could cut straight to the heart, as did Paul. They were master wordsmiths. “What the world owes to Jesus and to Paul is immense; things can never be, and men can never think, the same as things were, and as men thought, before these two great men lived."7
John-the-Baptist, the one who pointed the way, would never see the love of God hanging on a Cross. Some of us are meant to be Way-pointers, even though we may never get to see our heart’s desire perfected . . . yet it will be! For instance, how many parents, how many grandparents have ardently prayed for the hearts of their dear progeny, never to see them come to Jesus before they pass this life, when in fact, the child ultimately finds his way to the truth of God.
Once again, I am reminded that life is eternal. What we see and experience is not all there is.
1 – James 2.23
2 - Numbers 12.3, ironically written by Moses himself
3 –1 Samuel 13.14; Acts 13.22
4 - Job 1.8
5 – Matthew 11.11
6 – Matthew 11.7-11
7 - C. G. Montefiore, Englishman, brilliant scholar of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish religious leader; keeping mind, Montefiore was not a Christian