Live Your Best Life Now Or Be With Jesus?

Last week, we introduced this section of Christ’s teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s Gospel. In this section we learn the nature of Christ’s kingdom. So far, we have learned that Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of priests, not consumers. This week we will see the status citizens in Christ’s kingdom have in Christ.

Matthew 11:7-11

As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind. But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet.

This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, 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 the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

John the Baptists identity (v. 7-10)

As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind. But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet.

After Jesus answered John’s disciples, they went away and Jesus addresses the crowds that were who witnessed their conversation. When He addresses the crowds, He does so generally. “You” (εξερχομαι) is plural. So, it isn’t necessarily the case that every single attendee went out to see John in the wilderness. Generally, Jewish crowds went out to him as recorded in Matthew 3. Jesus asks the crowds what they went out to see. Why do you think Jesus asks this question of them after John’s disciples leave with their answer? The answer is simple. John’s identity and role have something to do with Jesus’s identity and work. Jesus will answer His own question.

First, He rhetorically draws the crowds’ attention to who John is not and the role John does not have. The people did not go out to see a reed shaken by the wind. They were not tourists going out into the wilderness for the scenery. Neither was John a scenic preacher—preaching a culturally attractive message designed to match the mood of society. They were not looking for sophistication or refinement, else they would merely stick to the synagogue and hear from the finely dressed rabbis. John was not a preacher of privilege or high religious or socio-economic status. The people went out to see a bona fide prophet.

What makes a prophet different from a cultural or privileged preacher? A cultural preacher preaches what is popular. His goal is to be relevant and relatable. He is motivated by the numbers of his followers or congregants. The cultural preacher desires to be praised, “Great sermon! I was really encouraged! Your message meant so much to me. I felt like you were talking directly to me.” Cultural preachers and teachers will often present hot cultural topics instead of preaching through Christ’s word. Preaching from popular movies and merely teaching parents how to raise their children in the age of self-identity exemplify cultural preaching. Many people desire this sort of preacher, but no one knows Christ as a result—though we readily admit that God works all things together and will bring His people to Him despite cultural preaching and teaching.

A privileged preacher preaches tradition. His goal is to defend the moral or methodological standard he perceives. He is motivated by a need he sees to preserve the faith in an ever-changing world. The privileged preacher desires to see people conform more to tradition, giving up things he perceives as sins and certain methods so that people can be good Christians. Privileged preachers and teachers make Christianity about what people do, how they dress, and what they must give up. Their message is often perceived as Biblical because it uses the Bible. Preaching about how to give up alcohol, how dressing up is required because we want to give God our best, and how to keep a standard of works for one’s life exemplify privileged preaching. Many people desire this sort of preacher because it feels religious, but no one knows God’s amazing grace as a result—though, again, we readily admit that God works all things together and will bring His people to Him despite privileged preaching and teaching.

The crowds were tired of these old, worldly ways because neither provided anything beyond the individual person to possibly hold fast. So, the crowds went to John who was preaching another way, a way more ancient than either cultural or privileged preaching. John was a prophet. Prophet meant he simply professed God’s word, whether in season or out (comp. 2 Timothy 4:2). He neither tickled their ears according to cultural acceptance nor bounded them to traditional religiosity. Instead, he called them to repentance according to the Old Testament Scriptures. People don’t normally desire this sort of preaching, but it exalts Christ, secures people in their eternal Father, and works out for the good of God’s elect. John was more than a prophet because he was the last Old Testament prophet, the second Elijah (v. 14), and the one who ushered in the Messiah.

This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’”

Who is John and why did he not simply preach culturally or traditionally? Jesus has already classified John as a prophet—one who professes God’s word and the last of the Old Testament prophets. We know he is the last prophet of this type because the Old Testament tells us as much in Zechariah 13:2-4. In the day of the Lord, Old Testament prophecy would cease according to the prophet and anyone who still prophesies in this particular way does so to his own shame. It is why we cannot believe latter day prophets like Joseph Smith, Muhammad, Ellen White, Felix Manalo, or any others. New Testament prophecy is explicitly the Spirit-led preaching of Christ’s word.

Jesus quotes Malach 3:1, which references the coming of the Messiah (God Himself in the flesh), “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming.” Jesus identifies John as this particular messenger. John was not establishing the Baptist church. He wasn’t building a religion. He wasn’t pursuing an audience. He wasn’t putting together a Jewish social club. He wasn’t advancing the cause of human religion. He was preparing the way for King Jesus. John was an Essene whose prophetic ministry was evidence that Christ is truly the Messiah and He is ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven during His bodily ministry in this world as recorded in the Gospels. Why? That is what the Old Testament prophets predicted, and it happened.

Citizens of Christ’s kingdom (v. 11)

“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Jesus praises John highly because of who John is. John the Baptist was a selfless servant. He was deprived of any luxury, without much sin or self-indulgence, and is now in prison because of the Gospel according to the Old Testament. There is no way anyone can measure up to John when we consider our own work or humility in this life. Here, we see the second truth about the nature of Christ’s kingdom. The one who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John. What do you think Jesus means?

Jesus’s teaching is a formulation of what He taught in Matthew 5:20, “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees strived to keep the whole Law, yet one must be better than that to enter Christ’s kingdom. Here, Jesus refers to those who are already citizens. Even if we are least in the Kingdom of Heaven, we are greater than John the Baptist was when the crowds went out to him on this earth—who, it seems, was near perfect and highly sought after.

We are, first, reminded that salvation is by grace through faith alone. If we cannot enter Christ’s kingdom by being good enough, for no one can keep the Law to a greater degree than did the Pharisees and scribes, then it must be a gift. We must receive Christ’s righteousness because He is the only righteous one. His righteousness must be imputed to us. We learn, second, that even to be least in Christ’s kingdom (yes, Jesus references degrees of greatness in His kingdom) is to be greater than any person can possibly be in this world no matter how great his ministry seems or how successful he seems to be.

So, we think of the greatest life we can possibly have on this earth and even the lowest life in Christ’s kingdom will be better. We are greater as the least in Christ’s kingdom than we would be as the greatest person in this world. John is in prison for following Christ. If we also follow Christ, though He gives us such an honorable place in His kingdom, the price we pay is rejection and persecution as Jesus taught in chapter 10.

As application, we do not have to worry about our education, employment, status, position, wealth, or success in this world. We certainly don’t have to prioritize it over participation with Christ’s body or service to Christ. We commit ourselves to Christ and He will give us a life better than all that. If we are trying to have our best lives now, we haven’t believed Christ and are probably not citizens of His kingdom.

The Kingdom of Heaven is

  1. A kingdom of priests, and
  2. prestige even for the least.

Questions:

  1. Why was John’s preaching different from other things people chose to listen to?
  2. How did John’s preaching exalt Christ and work for people’s good?
  3. How might Christ’s kingdom be a kingdom of prestige even for the least?
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Andrew Paul Cannon

Andrew has been in vocational ministry since 2011 after volunteering from his teens. He has served in the lead pastorate since he was 25. He holds both a Bachelor of Arts in Applied Ministry with an emphasis on Youth Ministry and a Master’s of Divinity in Christian Ministry with an emphasis on Apologetics. Andrew is currently in pursuit of his Doctorate of Philosophy, where he will specialize in Systematic Theology. Andrew has written several books, has served in both large and small churches, and started his own non-profit missions organization. Andrew’s wife, Kati, and family serve alongside him.

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