Continuing in our study of Matthew, we see this week in chapter 11 how Jesus handles confusion from John the Baptist, how He handles unrepentance in this 1st century generation, and how He cares for the broken.
Last chapter, Jesus began equipping the disciples with all they needed to begin ministry teaching, preaching, healing and performing miracles.
Now in chapter 11, they are headed out to various cities to preach when Jesus is interrupted.
John the Baptist, the one who we met in chapter 3 proclaiming the coming of the Messiah and calling people to repent, is having a crisis of belief.
Ironically, John’s crisis of belief pertains to the One whom he prophesied about: Jesus.
In verses 2-6, John the Baptist sends his own disciples to ask Jesus a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
That’s pretty bold of John to ask that. Especially considering all He knew about Jesus. John’s even the one who baptized Him! But John is skeptical about Jesus’ identity. He wonders if Jesus is actually for real. Why? Because John is in an unfortunate situation and He doesn’t see Jesus coming to save him. Jesus isn’t restoring Israel like John expected. Jesus isn’t taking political office. Jesus isn’t reclaiming the throne. Jesus isn’t ushering in the kingdom of God the way John thought He might.
As one whose sole mission was to prepare the way for Christ, the coming king, the Messiah, it’s no wonder that John is a little confused.
He doesn’t see what he anticipated happening when the Messiah finally showed up. He thought everything would get better for Israel and that judgment would reign on the earth. But it’s not.
Not only that, but John himself is imprisoned at this time. He is in captivity under Herod Antipas, one of the 4 tetrarchs in the region who rules over Galilee. John scolded Herod, telling him it was wrong to have his brother’s wife for himself. Herod didn’t like that and threw him in jail. This is mentioned later in chapter 14, as Matthew recounts this scene in retrospect.
John had every right to be frustrated.
It’s not his fault he doesn’t understand.
No one in the story fully comprehends what Jesus is doing, nor will they until Jesus has died and been resurrected and we see the church emerge in the book of Acts.
So put yourself in John’s shoes and imagine what it would have been like to be completely in the midst of uncertainty about this whole kingdom of God stuff.
Jesus knows this.
That’s why He is so kind and gracious to John in his skepticism.
Jesus tells John’s disciples to report to him all the miracles that he is doing.
Then Jesus tells them to say, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
What does Jesus mean by this?
Why would anyone be offended?
Well, I think this just reveals Jesus’ own discernment and empathy of human weakness…Jesus can tell that John is frustrated that His methodologies have not matched what John expected…thus, Jesus can tell where this is going…Jesus can see that John, if not gently warned, will end up being offended by Jesus and how He is doing things. Jesus doesn’t want that to happen. So he tells him gently, even though you don’t understand, don’t be offended by me and you will be blessed.
This gentle warning gives John some room to struggle with his confusion but to also have peace that God will not forget about him.
This is very kind of Jesus to do.
John’s disciples go on their way and then Jesus turns to talk to the crowds of people.
In verses 7-15, Jesus begins to highly esteem John the Baptist in front of all the people.
Jesus declares in verse 11, “Among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”
That’s pretty great of Jesus to say about John.
So I’m a little confused.
Why didn’t Jesus just tell John’s disciples to tell John all of this really encouraging affirmation that He just said?
Wouldn’t He want John to know how He feels about him?
I don’t have a good answer for this, except that Jesus apparently didn’t want John to have that encouragement at this point of time. Maybe it wouldn’t make sense to John to be affirmed. Maybe that’s not what he needed to hear. Maybe he just needed to hear the gentle warning that Jesus gave.
And I get the sense that Jesus didn’t want John to know how great he was, because he wanted John to wait for that gift of hearing that encouragement from God the Father Himself, in heaven. Jesus knew -*spoiler alert* – that John would be dying soon. We will read about this in chapter 14.
So maybe Jesus wanted John’s suffering to produce a greater moment of relief with God the Father when he met Him in heaven.
Jesus goes on to talk about heaven in the next few verses, saying that even the least person in heaven is greater than John the Baptist is on earth. So John does in fact have a far greater life ahead of him in heaven. Jesus just told us that. So maybe Jesus wants something far better for John than John even knows is possible. So Jesus doesn’t give him affirmation just yet. Only the gentle warning John needs right now.
In verse 14, Jesus also conveys to the people how John the Baptist fulfilled the prophesies of Elijah found in Malachi 4:5-6:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Matthew is characterizing John the Baptist, literarily and symbolically, as a type of Elijah who would come to prophesy to the people before the arrival of the Messiah. The Jewish people would understand this Old Testament reference made by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel and would start to see the connection between the two, and also better understand John’s significance. Jesus wants the people to see how influential John is to the story. And so does Matthew. So he includes this passage in his narrative.
This is very smart on Matthew’s behalf because he’s aiming to reach a Jewish audience with the gospel of Jesus Christ. So he uses references from the Old Testament to weave in to his story in order to help them better understand and say “Oh, Wow! Jesus really is the One!”
Going back to verse 10, Matthew also includes a reference to Malachi 3:1 in Jesus’ dialogue:
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
Who will prepare your way before you.”
This is brilliant.
The last book of the Old Testament before we get to Matthew’s gospel is Malachi.
It leads right into Matthew.
Silence for hundreds of years.
Then Matthew begins.
And John the Baptist comes on the scene declaring the arrival of the Messiah and calling people to repentance.
So by referencing Malachi here, the reader notices that John the Baptist was indeed the one who had been prophesied about to come and also prophesy about the Messiah, who we are finding out is Jesus.
Such a great connection.
Very smart on behalf of Matthew as the writer.
In verse 15, Jesus repeats an idea we’ve already heard before: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
In chapter 5, Jesus constantly articulated “You have heard it said to you, but I say…”. In chapter 7, Jesus tells the crowds that those who “hear these words of mine will…”.
Jesus emphasizes “hearing” a lot in Matthew’s gospel which is a literary tool Matthew uses to remind the reader to pay attention, while also communicating Jesus’ desire for people who want to listen to what He is saying. Not everyone will truly hear what Jesus is saying. Only those who want to hear it. Only those who repent. Only those who are humble to admit they need saving.
Then Jesus shifts his dialogue from talking about John to talking about their generation as a whole.
In verses 16-24, Jesus first evaluates and critiques their generation and then starts to denounce places of unrepentance.
He talks about their ambivalent reaction. He talks about their disbelief. He talks about their suspicion. He talks about their wicked hearts. And Jesus is disgusted by it. He doesn’t give them grace like He did John.
Jesus gave John grace in his skepticism because it was rooted in a misinterpretation of Jesus’ methodologies and a discouraged heart based on his circumstances, but not a distrust in God.
The people who are unrepentant, however, not only distrust God but also dishonor Him.
Therefore, Jesus doesn’t handle unrepentance the same way.
When Jesus rebukes the people for their unrepentance, He does not give them a pass.
He says “woe to you!” in verse 21, concerning 2 cities and then rebukes Capernaum, His home town, in verse 23. Even His own home town, He does not give a pass when it comes to unrepentance.
Jesus cannot help an unrepentant heart.
Only those who hear him and come to Him broken and in need of Him to heal them.
In verses 25-27, Jesus gives thanks to God the Father in heaven.
Jesus thanks God that He reveals Himself to little children instead of those who think they are wise and full of understanding. Jesus always draws near to lowly people throughout the gospels, and this passage clearly communicates that. Jesus calls this God’s “gracious will” in verse 26. God in his grace makes Himself available to all people, regardless of who they are.
Jesus goes on to thank God for the authority that God has given Him. Matthew includes this monologue here for the reader to understand a little better how the Father-Son relationship works between Jesus and God. Jesus says that nobody knows Him except the Father. Jesus also says that nobody knows the Father except Jesus and also anyone that Jesus reveals Him to.
This is interesting.
Ultimately, God is in charge and gives Jesus authority. But Jesus is in charge of revealing God to humans. And nobody right now is able to fully understand who Jesus is yet. So Jesus is giving people a glimpse of God through Himself. Then later, they will understand who Jesus is after his death and resurrection, like we established before.
So it’s Jesus’ decision at this point in the story who He reveals God to. And from what He has said already about “hearing,” He is inviting all who will hear. All who are open. All who listen. All who want Him.
We know this because in the next 3 verses, 28-30, Jesus invites all who would come to Him.
Jesus says, “Come to me…and I will give you rest…Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…my yoke is easy…”.
I’ve read this passage so many times.
And I’ve never fully understood the whole “yoke” thing.
Researching more, it seems that a yoke is something that was used to pull oxen or other animals. So Jesus is using this metaphor of a yoke, while saying that His yoke is light in order to help us understand both what this looks like and what it feels like to be under a yoke.
But why would I want to take Jesus’ yoke upon me?
I’m already overwhelmed with my own.
I’m already overwhelmed with what I’m carrying in life.
That’s what I would be thinking if I were hearing this message as a 1st century Jew.
It seems that Jesus is suggesting an alternative isn’t He? The whole time He’s been preaching He’s been offering people a new message, a new way to think, a call to repentance, and a call to change our hearts. It’s obvious that Jesus has come to offer hope to people.
So if Jesus is in fact suggesting an alternative to the old way of living, then maybe His yoke isn’t about taking upon an additional thing to carry.
Maybe He’s suggesting that we drop every other yoke that we were carrying and decide to carry His instead…one that’s easy.
Maybe God wants us to stop carrying our own yokes and start carrying His.
Jesus goes on to invite the crowds to “learn from Me…and you will find rest for your souls…” in verse 29.
Key point: “learn from Me.”
Jesus wants us to learn from Him.
And in learning from Him, we will find rest as we begin to live and think in a new way.
Jesus really desires to bring rest to the people. He’s not offering them some extra thing to be believe in or extra rules to follow. He’s inviting them to come to Him. With everything. To come to Him! Only Him! And He alone will be what they need. All that they need. Life with Jesus will be a life where the people find rest.
This is what Matthew wants the reader to understand about Jesus at this point in the story.
Especially since Jesus is communicating many ideas and doing many things and offering so many viewpoints on what He sees happening around Him, it can be easy for the reader to get tired at this point.
It can be easy for the reader to be subconsciously exhausted at all that’s been articulated in the narrative that they start to disconnect with Jesus out of fear that His message is too difficult and too challenging.
But Matthew is a brilliant writer.
Matthew uses this passage to put the reader at ease.
Matthew includes this dialogue of Jesus to, yes, communicate who Jesus is – but also, Matthew includes this dialogue right here at the right time, to ease the reader and remind them that Jesus really is one who can soothe them and give them rest.
Seeing this is probably my favorite part of studying this chapter, realizing how timely this passage is to Matthew’s storytelling.
Next time, we will dive into chapter 12 where Jesus faces conflict with the Pharisees. One of my favorite passages is in this chapter when Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath even in the company of religious people who condemned Him for it. I love the heart of our Savior. He is a Savior of justice and compassion. May we not forget it.
As we close out chapter 11, we are left with Jesus’ words: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
May it put your soul at ease and remind you of Jesus’ ability to be all that you need. Praise God for our compassionate Savior. Praise God for the story we get to read about Him through the eyes of Matthew.
Summary of Matthew 11
Jesus finishes equipping his 12 disciples with instructions; Jesus goes on mission to His disciples’ cities to teach and preach there; Jesus is interrupted by John the Baptist’s disciples; John the Baptists’ disciples find Jesus and ask Him some questions on John’s behalf – John wants to know if Jesus really is who is says He is; Jesus tells them to remind John of all the miracles He has done and is still doing; Jesus affirms John the Baptist to the crowds around Him, saying there is no greater prophet then John; Jesus evaluates their generation; Jesus critiques their generation; Jesus denounces many unrepentant cities; Jesus thanks God the Father for His authority and bestowal of authority in Him; Jesus invites the people to come to Him.
Jesus in Matthew 11
Jesus finishes instructing the disciples (v. 1)
Jesus goes to the disciples’ cities to preach and teach (v. 1)
Jesus is constantly on mission (v. 1)
Jesus is dedicated and passionate about His purpose (v. 1)
Jesus is in charge (v. 1)
Jesus is doubted by John the Baptist (v. 2-3)
Jesus tells John’s disciples to encourage him in all the miracles Jesus is doing (v. 4)
Jesus is healing the blind (v. 5)
Jesus is healing the lame (v. 5)
Jesus is cleansing lepers (v. 5)
Jesus is making deaf people hear (v. 5)
Jesus raising the dead (v. 5)
Jesus is preaching good news to the poor (v. 5)
Jesus is a miracle worker (v. 5)
Jesus desires to see people healed (v. 5)
Jesus cares for people (v. 5)
Jesus calls “blessed” the ones who are not offended by Him (v. 6)
Jesus does not rebuke John for His skepticism and confusion (v. 6)
Jesus gently warns John (v. 6)
Jesus is kind to John (v. 6)
Jesus speaks to the crowds about John the Baptist (v. 7)
Jesus affirms John even though John doesn’t know it (v. 7)
Jesus calls John the Baptist “more than a prophet” (v. 9)
Jesus references a prophecy found in Malachi 3:1 which foretold about John the Baptist (v. 10)
Jesus was prophesied about by John the Baptist (v. 10)
Jesus says there is no one born of woman greater than John the Baptist (v. 11)
Jesus declares the least in the kingdom of heaven as greater than John the Baptist (v. 11)
Jesus clarifies the magnitude of heavenly existence compared to earthly existence (v. 11)
Jesus declares the kingdom of heaven is suffering violence from the time John the Baptist arrived until now (v. 12)
Jesus says that the violent are taking the kingdom of heaven by force (v. 12)
Jesus points to how the Prophets and Law (books of the Bible) prophesied until John (v. 13)
Jesus reveals how John the Baptist fulfills the prophesies of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6) (v. 14)
Jesus exhorts them to hear what he is saying (v. 15)
Jesus always talks about “hearing” (v. 15)
Jesus evaluates this generation (v. 16)
Jesus talks of this generation by means of analogy (v. 16)
Jesus compares this generation to children calling to their friends, whom do not answer (v. 16-17)
Jesus points out how they disbelieved John the Baptist and ridiculed him (v. 18)
Jesus reveals how they did not honor John the Baptist the way he deserved (v. 18)
Jesus reveals how they do the same to Him (v. 19)
Jesus is perceptive (v. 18-19)
Jesus is bold to call people out (v. 18-19)
Jesus calls Himself the “Son of Man” (v. 19)
Jesus denounces the cities where He had performed many great miracles (v. 20)
Jesus reveals the unrepentant heart of a city (v. 20)
Jesus calls out Chorazin (v. 21)
Jesus calls out Bethsaida (v. 21)
Jesus says woe to both of them (v. 21)
Jesus talks of how Tyre and Sidon were destroyed and yet would have repented faster than them (v. 21)
Jesus says Tyre and Sidon will face more bearable judgment than them (v. 22)
Jesus condemns Capernaum for unrepentance (v. 23)
Jesus says Sodom will face more bearable judgement then them (v. 24)
Jesus is very harsh on cities with people who will not repent (v. 21-24)
Jesus does not give a pass for unrepentance (v. 21-24)
Jesus shifts his discourse (v. 25)
Jesus stops talking to the crowds (v. 25)
Jesus starts talking to God the Father (v. 25)
Jesus prays to God giving Him thanks (v. 25)
Jesus thanks God for hiding things from the wise (v. 25)
Jesus thanks God for revealing things to little children (v. 25)
Jesus acknowledges the Father as ultimately in charge (v. 25)
Jesus recognizes God’s gracious will (v. 26)
Jesus gives credit to God the Father as the one who has handed all things over to Him (v. 27)
Jesus has been granted authority by God’s initial authority (v. 27)
Jesus clarifies that no one knows Him, the Son, except the Father (v. 27)
Jesus clarifies that no one knows the Father except Him, the Son, and anyone the Son chooses to reveal Him to (v. 27)
Jesus is saying that nobody truly knows who He is yet– only the Father does (v. 27)
Jesus is in charge of revealing the Father to humans (v. 27)
Jesus invites the people who labor to come to Him (v. 28)
Jesus invites the people who are heavy laden to come to Him (v. 28)
Jesus promises that He will give them rest (v. 28)
Jesus invites the people to take His yoke upon them (v. 29)
Jesus invites the people to learn from Him (v. 29)
Jesus assures the people that He is gentle (v. 29)
Jesus assures the people that He is lowly in heart (v. 29)
Jesus assures the people that they will find rest for their souls if they come to Him (v. 29)
Jesus assures the people that He is comforting if they would just trust Him (v. 29)
Jesus assures the people that His yoke is easy (v. 29)
Jesus assures that people that His burden is light (v. 29)
Jesus wants to comfort his people (v. 28-29)
“At that time Jesus declared, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.”
Questions for Today:
- Why did John’s disciples come asking Jesus if He was who He said He is?
- Why did Jesus not tell John’s disciples all the encouraging affirmation He said about John?
- What is the significance of the Malachi references in this chapter?
- What does Jesus use the yoke metaphor?
- How does Matthew use the passage about Jesus’ yoke being light to help the reader?
- Why does nobody fully understand who Jesus is yet in the story?
“Great is Your Faithfulness” by Hillsong Worship