- 11 December 2022
- Stuart Robinson
“So, what’s the news from the outside?’, was a phrase I’d hear fairly regularly, when I’d visit people in Goulburn Correctional Centre – especially those in the maximum, or super maximum-security sections.
They’d hear snippets of goings-on, of course, but there is no substitute for a personal report, or for an eye-witness account.
And that is what John the Baptist seems to be longing for as he whiles away the hours in Herod’s dungeon; we learn more of that story in Matthew 14.
John had been arrested for publicly accusing Herod of gross immorality…and in due course, Herod ordered that John be summarily executed.
So, as John is languishing in prison, he is receiving filtered reports of Jesus’ ministry – not it would seem, of the Messianic fire and judgement that John himself had prophesied (in Matthew 3:12); a judgement, I should quickly add that Jesus himself bore for the sins of the world.
No, ‘the deeds’ (Matthew 11:2) about which John hears, pertain to Jesus’ compassion for the marginalised, his powerful raising up of the downtrodden and the broken, his authority over disease and death, and his radical preaching about God’s Kingdom – good news for those who believe it and follow him (verse 6), not so good for those who find his ministry offensive, a stumbling block (verse 6).
So, John’s friends are dispatched from their prison visit to clarify if Jesus truly is the Messiah – as per John the Baptist’s expectations.
And Jesus neither confirms nor denies their enquiries.
He simply invites John’s friends, his disciples, to report what they themselves have seen and heard of Jesus’ ministry.
That said, in his reply, Jesus does allude to Isaiah’s vision of the coming Messiah – “God will come…he will open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf, the lame will leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy” – Isaiah 35:34-6.
And Isaiah 61 (in relation to Messiah) – “…the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to release from darkness the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’.
Yes, by his words and actions, Jesus has inaugurated a new age, a new prophecy-fulfilling epoch.
The previous age or epoch included the prophets and preachers sent by God to call his people back to himself as they anticipated the Messiah, and ended with John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13) as he announced the Messiah (Matthew 3).
So that era might reasonably be described as the ‘age of expectation or anticipation’ when righteous people looked to God for his promised Messiah.
Now did you note how Jesus speaks of John the Baptist as being without peer or equal in his leadership as forerunner to Messiah in that epoch?
He says, “truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
But now, in the ministry of Jesus we have moved from the ‘age of expectation’, to the ‘age of fulfillment’.
Messiah has come – as evidenced by his prophecy fulfilling ministry.
Yes, the lame walk, the leprous are cleansed, the dead are raised, the good news is proclaimed (Matthew 11:4-5).
The King is exercising his rule and his reign.
And unlike those ‘born of women’ (to borrow Jesus’ terminology as he described John the Baptist) members of the Kingdom of God, have been born of God.
God has revealed himself to them, through Jesus (Matthew 11:27).
This results in a ‘spiritual rebirth’ (John 1:13).
Key verses worth committing to memory are the ‘3:5’s’; John 3:5 and Titus 3:5.
- Jesus said, ‘truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit…you should not be surprised in me saying, you must be born again’. John 3:5ff.
- ‘But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life’.
Those ‘born of God’ are also referred to as ‘children of God’ (John 1:12); sisters and brothers of Christ (Hebrews 2:11); heirs of God (Romans 8:17), reigning with Christ (II Timothy 2:12); a position of privilege and status unknown to John the Baptist (verse 11).
I have two points of closing application.
First – are you, in your heart, acknowledging that Jesus is in fact the Messiah?
Are you living under his loving rule?
Or is his claim on your life a stumbling block?
Are you resisting?
Let me urge you to listen carefully to Jesus’ words at the end of this very chapter when he invites his listeners, ‘come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ – Matthew 11:28-30.
Second, like John in that prison, our perspective on life and our identity in Christ can be influenced by our circumstances, our unmet longings, and the pain and loss of agency that accompanies decline and death.
In some ways, like those prophets who were anticipating the first in-breaking of the Messiah, we now await the second coming (the second Advent) of our Lord Jesus; the final piece in this ‘age of fulfillment’…when tears, and crying, and mourning, and pain, will pass away – Revelation 21.
In the meantime, we have the words of Jesus’ half-brother James (from our epistle reading – James 5) to comfort, steady and encourage us.
He writes in the plural – to the church.
To us, this very day.
We are to urge one-another to be patient as we anticipate the Lord’s coming. James 5:7.
Like a farmer anticipating a crop, we must keep before us that the best is yet to come.
The toil and the struggle will bear fruit.
Do you believe that?
Together then, we are to exercise forbearance, persistence, and assiduity – the meaning of patience in verse 8.
Together – we are to urge each other to stand firm; to not lose heart; to focus on the Lord’s coming verse 8.
Together – we must not find fault with one another, or grumble and complain about our sisters and brothers – which tends to happen when we compare our circumstances with people who appear to ‘have it all’.
‘Don’t fall into those holes’, says James…for the one to whom we must all give an account- our Lord, the Judge, is ‘at the door’!
His return is imminent, and our task is to be alert and to be ready!