What Did You Go Out To See?

And Why Did You Go Out?

Matthew 11:2ish-15

“Now when John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples, and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. “And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.” And as these were going away, Jesus began to speak to the multitudes about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces. “But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. “And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'”

Yes, we are covering context considered last time and yes, it’s in a different translation. Reason: because we are continuing in the same scene and because it’s good to consider different translations. I am often asked, which translation is best? My answer is: the one that you will read daily. No translation is perfect and each has their strengths and weakness​es but most will allow the reader to understand if they use the CAGED method. Don’t look at chapter and verse, look at the context, aspirations, genre, examples, and divide rightly the word of truth. I can’t write it enough, the Bible is not written like an owner’s manual to a 2006 Toyota Corolla. It spans thousands of years and multiple genres. Therefore, before you read, take your vitamins C, A, G, E and D. And let the Scripture interpret Scripture. Don’t read things into the context and don’t let chapter or verse breaks cloud your conscience. And it is imperative that we admit that, unless we are learning for ourselves, we only know what we have been taught.

John had serious questions about Jesus, and Jesus answered him. As Isaiah prophesied about John, he also prophesized more about Jesus. Matthew goes to great lengths to prove Jesus as the Messiah, the long-awaited one. And in this context he puts the exclamation point on it. He demonstrates, using Christ’s own words that Jesus is the long awaited one prophesized by not only the prophets, but also the law. Jesus spoke to John’s disciples for not only John, but the disciples themselves, the  first century Jewish audience and us. Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. Jesus answers John as he answers us, not by way of what we want to hear but by way of what we need. Several hundred years prior, Isaiah foretold exactly how and what the Messiah would do. Yet they weren’t expecting it. They are our example, we are to learn from them, as Paul admonishes the Corinthian church. We have our culture and increasingly, it is far from Biblical. We blame everyone but ourselves for the decline in American culture but never look in the mirror. We provide pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, the ability to become financially rich, but Spiritually destitute, because we, like the people of old, want comfort on this earth and reassurance from them justifies our lusts.

I can’t help but dwell on this text and on the text of Isaiah. I can’t help but see John’s reaction from prison. Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else? The dead are raised, the deaf hear, the blind see and the gospel is preached to the poor. In Western culture it might as well read, the poor hear the gospel and are paid, the deaf hear and are paid, the blind see and are paid, the dead are raised to collect their checks. But that isn’t at all what it says, is it? You may think I am off on a tangent, and to a degree, I am, but it’s for two reasons. The first is obvious; we only know what we are taught unless we are learning for ourselves. The second is contained and confirmed in the context. To the context we shall go.

“And as these were going away (John’s disciples), Jesus began to speak to the multitudes about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces.'” John wasn’t in a king’s palace, was he? On the contrary, he was in a puppet king’s jail. The reason why is found in Luke 3, I call this, Vitamin E!

“John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.” John was not a soft-clothes wearing person, he was prison bound for daring to criticize the puppet king. John dared to speak out against the polyamorous king and was thrown into prison and eventually beheaded. Which brings us back to the context.

“Jesus began to speak to the multitudes about John, ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces. But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.'”

Jesus used rhetoric? I love how Jesus uses questions to make people think. Why did you go to the wilderness? Also notice Jesus brings up John’s anti-clothing. He didn’t wear soft clothes; Matthew states, “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” This is significant and Jesus, using the antithesis of camel’s-hair, reminds them of John’s garb. They didn’t go out see a man in nice clothes, they went out to see a man dressed like Elijah; we’ll come back to this.

Jesus also mentions “a reed shaken by the wind.” Now, in the CAGED method, context is king and genre is the general. Context is the most important and examples, aspirations and genres follow context and are part of the context. This passage is a prime example. In John chapter three, Jesus compares the Spirit of God to the wind. However, based on the context of Matthew 11, we don’t see the comparison of the Spirit to the wind. On the contrary, Jesus is speaking in a rhetorically negative tone. They didn’t go out to see a man dressed in soft clothes or a reed shaken by the wind.  The obvious metaphor, based on the context, is that John was resolute. He didn’t move to and fro based upon the proverbial prevailing winds. In fact, taking our vitamin E proves this. Other examples of John indicate that he was thrown into prison for his unwavering position. We also remember his seemingly wavering question to Jesus but upon closer examination we understand just how unwavering it was. Are you the one, (wavering) or should we look for another (unwavering)? John was heaven bent on the Messiah. Like Elijah who was imperfect and ran and hid, he was very zealous for the Lord. Which brings us back to Elijah.

“But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'”

Do I need to prove that although John denied being Elijah, Jesus confirms that John is the Elijah who was to come? We think too much. John was asked, are you Elijah? His response to the direct question was, no. Jesus, the creator and maintainer of all things says, “And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” I remind myself to “keep it simple stupid,” and see that John was not Elijah who was taken, he was Elijah who was to come. Bodily he is John, but he is in the mold of and spirit of Elijah. We need to take our vitamins. We have the luxury of taking vitamin E and G, and although I am reluctant to jump ahead in the context, because we will get there eventually, Lord willing, I am also thankful for the ability. The Bible is complete and translated into my language and these translations are at my fingertips; it’s a great time to be alive. Nevertheless, before we jump ahead, let’s look back. Why were they looking for Elijah?

In Malachi 4 we read, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 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.” That’s it, that one, tiny little prophecy is why wine and an empty chair are left out for Elijah during the Seder. Isaiah and the earlier context of Malachi prophesied that a MESSENGER would come to MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT,  but this is the only passage that says Elijah will be sent. Jesus states twice in Matthew alone, that this prophecy refers to John. First is in today’s passage and the second is in Matthew 17. My question therefore is, why the confusion? Let’s look at Matthew 17, immediately following the transfiguration of Jesus, standing with Moses and Elijah.

“As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’ And His disciples asked Him, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ And He answered and said, ‘Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.” The theological ramifications are staggering, but we’re running out of time. The good news is that, Lord willing, we will come back to this in a future missive.

Luke 7 and Mark 1 also make the same claim that John is the coming Elijah. But as Jesus states in Matthew 17, no one recognized him as such, despite the leather belt, camels hair and whatnot. Also remember that while the 12 disciples were not present in Matthew 11, they also needed to be told, or at least prodded into understanding that John was Elijah, do we? Jesus said so, that’s good enough for me. Jesus also said, “But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. “And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus clearly claims John is a fulfillment of prophecies, a prophet himself and the greatest human ever born. And yet, the least is greater than John. Let that digest until next time.

For those that hunger and thirst for application, consider; do we recognize John, even after Jesus confirms his fulfillment of prophecies? Do we still leave the proverbial empty chair for John the Baptist to come and restore all things? Do we recognize the signs of the times? No, not blood moons that make millions for the misleading, but how we repeat the story of Israel. Our civilization is crumbling and we can’t blame unbelievers, they don’t believe. We have only a need to look in the mirror. Elijah came and we missed it, metaphorically speaking. We don’t chase after righteousness but after the comforts of the American dream. We buy books begging for scriptural solutions that provide us health, wealth and happiness. Why? Because we don’t find it in the context of the Bible. Someone else must piece together a few verses taken out of context to help appease our appetites. Don’t get me wrong, I am a borderline activist for individual liberty, but I caution us to use that liberty for the cause of the kingdom and not for our own personal appetites. It’s this simple, the earthly person is focused on earth, the heavenly person is focused on heaven, where is my focus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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