We Have the How 5.07.2021
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women
there has arisen no one greater than John the baptist.
Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Chapter 11 of Matthew's Gospel tells of the questions of John the baptist brought to Jesus by some of John's followers. John is in Herod's dungeon from which he will not escape. Dungeons in those days were not pleasant places and it must have been exceptionally difficult for John who was a prophet used to the wide open spaces of the wilderness. He sends his followers to ask Jesus, "Are you the one to come, or shall we look for another?" Is this unbelief showing forth? Is John not the prophet sent to proclaim Jesus with the clearest word in all of scripture, (Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world)? Or is this just frustration on John's part, wondering why he is languishing in prison while Jesus does nothing about it? Is John expecting Jesus to rescue him with angels and power and might and establish a Messianic earthly rule, like so many other Jews expected from the Messiah? Or was he using this question as a pretext to expose his followers to the one he knew to be the Messiah? These and other questions have vexed believers since this story was recorded.
Jesus' answer to John's disciples is a classic in understatement. "Go and tell John what you hear and see." There is no promise of relief from imprisonment, no declaration of future power, not even a pleasant "I know, I know; we'll all be fine." Jesus is simply about his work, in his way. John is to accept that fact.
There is no doubt, though, of Jesus' view of John. "Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the baptist." That is very high praise. Of all the prophets, of all the people named in the Bible, Jesus singles out John for this compliment -- but there is a caveat. "Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." This is a thought provoking statement from Jesus. How can those of us who are in the kingdom of heaven (or so we believe), be considered greater than he?
John was the greatest of the prophets, Jesus says. Yes, even the second coming of Elijah, who was to precede the Messiah, according to the Jews. Prophets foretold a Messiah was coming, of the House of David, to redeem God's people, to reveal God's will, because humanity had fallen into sin and was unable to redeem itself. This kingdom would come in Jerusalem at a time of God's choosing. The prophets could answer the questions:
1) Why? To redeem people.
2) Where? In Jerusalem (born in Bethlehem)
3) What? Establishing God's eternal rule and reign among people.
4) When? When God chose to do so.
To this level of prophecy John had been given one additional insight -- Who: this Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary. But there was one nagging issue John did not have the answer to, which we who are in the kingdom of heaven do have -- the question is, How?
The "how" was unknown to John and the disciples. It was hinted at in the suffering servant passages in Isaiah and certain of the Psalms, but it was not recognized until after the fact. Jesus would die on the cross, drawing all the sins of the world into himself, and then be raised from the dead. No thundering armies establishing earthly kingdoms, no destructive angels forcing God's will on mankind, but a singular act of love from God's own son to free us from sin, death, and the devil by simply believing, trusting that He has done it. This is what separates us in the kingdom of heaven from all who went before. We have heard the "how" in addition to the who, what, where, when, and why. And the hearing is a gift of God for those, as Jesus says, "who have ears to hear."
Least in the kingdom of heaven -- give thanks for the gift of ears.
Remember Whose you are, and His cross,