16 Jesus’ Encounter with John the Baptist


Matthew 11:2
Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,

  • This is talking about John the Baptist. He was in prison already at this time.

Why was he in prison?

  • Mark 6:17-18
    17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. 18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.
  • He called out Herod for committing fornication against his brother. When you do God’s work, you have to be brave. God allowed John the Baptist to be imprisoned. Following God and doing His will is not always a bed of roses.
  • For example, Joseph was honest in Potiphar’s house yet he ended up in prison. Paul was faithful and he had a long list of things happen to him. He was whipped, ship wrecked, imprisoned, stoned. King David, he didn’t do anything wrong yet he was hunted like a fugitive!

So John is in prison and he sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him something.

  • Matthew 11:3
    And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
  • John the Baptist was asking if Jesus was the promised Messiah or not. Why would he ask such a thing? John was meant to be full of faith! He was the one that declared himself that Jesus was the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world. John was the one who baptized Jesus and saw with his own eyes the Holy Spirit like a dove coming down on Christ and heard the voice from heaven.
  • So why did he doubt? You see, people were expecting Jesus to be a Saviour from the Roman rule and to set up literal Jerusalem again.
  • So John is in prison and he’s doubting and asking himself,  “Is Jesus the One? If He is the One, why is He not saving me out of prison?!”
  • John began to doubt because he had too much time to think! Stuck there in the prison he began to be down on himself and pity himself. He was just thinking of self.
  • That is like us so often. Anything bad that happens to us, we begin to question God, get angry at Him, begin to doubt Him because He doesn’t help us. When we go through trials or temptations, when we lose our job or get sick, or lose some money. We just about lose our religion isn’t it? We misunderstand God. We forget, like John, what God is like. The sun rises on the good and the bad. And it rains on the good and the bad!
  • We forget the stories like Job where God allowed him to be tested. We just expect good only at the hands of God. We misunderstand His will!

How does Jesus respond to the question from John’s disciples? Well, at first Jesus actually doesn’t respond.

  • Luke 7:21
    And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.
  • Jesus actually continues His work that He was probably doing before John’s disciples came to ask Him that question. He healed many people who were sick, who had evil spirits, and who were blind.
  • Matthew 11:4-5
    4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: 5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
  • After He’s done with the sick and the blind, Jesus turned around and gave His attention again to John’s disciples. He told them to go back and tell John simply what they saw with their own eyes. Their own personal testimony.
  • What did they see?
    • The blind received their sight.
    • The lame were walking again.
    • The lepers were cleansed.
    • The deaf could hear.
    • The dead were resurrected.
    • The poor heard the gospel preached to them.
  • They simply saw the good works of Jesus. Healing people and preaching the gospel.
  • What good works were these? Was there anything there of a political nature? Did it seem like He was recruiting an army or making a speech to gather funds to fund an army? Nothing of that sort!
  • Jesus, in performing these works, was trying to remind John of the true mission of the Messiah. He was trying to pierce the gloom of that dungeon and remind John that what he already knew was NOT incorrect – that He really was the Messiah, but that he had misunderstood, or forgotten, what the true mission of the Messiah would be.
  • Isaiah 61:1
    The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
  • Nowhere in this prophecy of the Messiah did it fortell a king coming to conquer the whole world! God’s Spirit would come down on the chosen One to preach, to heal.
  • Maybe he read the last part of that verse there where the Messiah would open the prison to those that were bound. Here he was sitting in prison and Jesus wasn’t helping him so he began to doubt. Doubt that Jesus was actually the Messiah when he had SO MUCH evidence that He actually was!
  • John the Baptist had seen the Spirit of God descend on Jesus with his own eyes when he baptized Jesus himself!
    • John 1:32
      And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
  • Just that in the gloom of the dungeon when he had time to think of his own life, he had just forgotten what the Old Testament had said about the Messiah. Remember, all they had was the Old Testament. The New Testament was not yet written! But it was in the Old Testament that it was made clear what the Messiah would do when He came.
  • Isaiah 42:6-8
    6 I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; 7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. 8 I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.
  • So Christ did not come outright to tell the disciples of John – YES, I am the Messiah. Rather, He did the works that lined up with the OT, what the Bible said of the Messiah. Without saying it in so many words, He reminded John again that He was.
  • This is really interesting. Because only those that were students of the word of God would be able to discern what that meant. John’s disciples were not the only ones that could see what Christ were doing. Yet the other by-standers did not discern it. They obviously were not students of the word! They were just glad to be healed, or had come to see a few miracles.

Jesus ends his little talk to John’s disciples with:

  • Matthew 11:6
    And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
  • John is feeling offended obviously because Jesus isn’t helping him. It’s just his human self, rising up. Jesus sends a gentle message of rebuke to John and asks him to maintain his faith in Him.
  • John had it correct. He had not misunderstood. Jesus Christ, whom John had baptized, really was the Messiah! But in the gloom of the dungeon, he had begun to doubt a little. So Christ sends this message of gentle rebuke, but also a message of comfort.
  • It would be this message that would strengthen John to hold on and endure, because John the Baptist would never come out of the dungeon. He would be be-headed by Herod.

However, after John’s disciples left to go back with the message from Jesus, Jesus then turns around to talk to the multitude that has been witnessing this whole encounter.

  • Matthew 11:7-11
    7 And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? 8 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. 10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before 11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
  • Jesus was praising John the Baptist! Just in case the people misunderstood about who John was, Christ has to set it straight.
  • Sure, his disciples came with a question directly from John. That question showed some doubt. It seemed like John’s faith waivered at the very time it should have been strong. But Christ made it very clear. Even though he gently rebuked John, it did not change anything as to who John was and his calling. Jesus does not give anywhere else a more glowing praise and adoration of a person.
  • It wasn’t in the hearing of John the Baptist of course. Christ made sure his disciples had left first so that pride did not get to him in his last moments in prison. But Jesus called John MORE than a prophet. And He also said of John in verse 11, “Among them that are born of a woman, there is no one greater than John the Baptist!”

You know, this is a comforting thought.

  • You would have thought that someone like John the Baptist who preached so strongly, so clearly, who had such a clear calling and prepared his whole life for his ministry. You would have thought that someone like that would have never doubted Christ as the Messiah. That his faith would not even waver for a second!
  • It’s not that we look for excuse to doubt or look for a way to lower the standard of our faith in someone in the Bible. But Christ was the One who said of John the Baptist that he was the great of all prophets – even right after he rebuked John!
  • It just goes to show that Christ is acquainted with the human heart. He understands what we go through and the struggles in the flesh. It was for this reason that He came to earth!
  • Though John was doubtful, he was not like how many of us react in going back to our old life of sin. John was just questioning. Yet in that questioning he did not let go of his hold of Christ. He just needed to be sure.
  • John was really just asking – Jesus, how come you aren’t coming to help me?! Though he was doubtful, he waited for his disciples to come back to him with an answer. And the answer from Christ would be sufficient. It would be enough to strengthen him in his last trial and it was enough for him to hold on to Christ as the promised Saviour of the world.

There is one interesting point that is made at the end of this passage that we read here in Matthew 11 though.

  • Jesus is singing the praises of John the Baptist. He is the greatest of all prophets. He was more than a prophet. And then at the very end, look at what Christ throws in here.
  • Matthew 11:11
    Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
  • He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. What does Jesus mean by that? John is the greatest, YET the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than him. So is John the greatest of not?
  • This text can be read in a different way. Those that are least in the kingdom of heaven will greater than John the Baptist is not because they are greater in their accomplishments, or greater in courage, or character, or moral worth.
  • Notice what the text says: He that is least where? He that is least IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
  • Those that make it into heaven will be greater than John the Baptist. WHY? Because John was at the door of the kingdom looking in. Whilst those that are in there are already greater than him!
  • But friends, we have to make sure we are there! And Jesus gives this glowing praise of John the Baptist. I’m sure he will be there on the resurrection morning. And if we want to be greater than him, we must make sure AT the LEAST we live like him.
  • Let’s go back to the description that Christ gave of John.
  • Matthew 11:7
    And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
  • John was not shaken by the wind. He stood up for what was right!
  • What does wind represent?
  • Ephesians 4:14
    That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

    • Winds represent the winds of doctrine. We should not be blown about with every wind of doctrine.
  • Proverbs 1:27
    When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

    • Winds also represent desolation and destruction. That’s the trials of our lives. Will we still hold on to Jesus if one day we end up in prison for the gospel’s sake? John, though wavered and questioned for a moment, he did not let go of his hold of Christ.
  • Matthew 11:8
    But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.
  • John was not dressed like kings and queens – in extravagant clothing or the latest fashion or the ultra rich clothing for showing off. He didn’t wear big gold chains about his neck. He lived a humble life. His lifestyle was simple, his mode of dressing was simple.
  • Why? His priorities was different. He was focused on giving the gospel message a certain sound. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness – to prepare the way for the first coming of the Messiah. He knew his mission and everything else was secondary to that.
  • If we are to be greater than John the Baptist, if we are to be in heaven at the end of time, we must have a firm resolute purpose to do that which is right – not to be blown by different winds of doctrine and trials that come into our life. And we must learn to have a simple lifestyle as well.

So in conclusion I want to remind you, that sometimes we have a misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches. We have an expectation of who God should be when He really isn’t that at all. But if we have experienced Christ and wait for the answer to come and not let go while waiting it, that God will show us clearly the thoughts and intents of our own hearts and guide us to a clear understand of His word. Let us open our eyes and see for ourselves, to taste and see that the Lord is good.

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