John Abstained, Jesus Drank, Haters Hated

We are in the midst of Matthew’s section describing the kingdom of Heaven. So far, we have seen that Christ’s kingdom is

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

In tonight’s text, Jesus juxtaposes the kingdom of Heaven with the kingdom of this world. We will see what sets the church apart from the world and why Christ’s true church is so alien in the context of this world. In this part of God’s story, John was imprisoned and sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was really and truly the Messiah foretold by the Prophets. Jesus answered them and, as they departed, used John’s life as an illustration for the kingdom of Heaven. As Jesus speaks to the crowds, He continues to use John’s life as an illustration to expose the unrighteous ways of the world.

Matthew 11:12-19

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 are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

Kingdom of force (v. 12-15)

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. 

This can be a little difficult to understand because of the formulation. What does it mean that the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence? What does it mean that violent men take the kingdom of Heaven by force? Before we can answer these questions, we must realize something else about the kingdom of Heaven. Why does the kingdom of Heaven suffer violence? It suffers violence because all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John the Baptist. The timeframe Jesus references is from the beginning of the world up to the coming of the Messiah—from the days of John the Baptist, including all the Law and the Prophets, until now. Heaven’s kingdom was present even before Christ’s incarnation.

Jesus equates Heaven’s kingdom to the prophesy of the Law and prophets. The kingdom of Heaven, according to Jesus, is built upon the testimony of the Old Testament. We can’t understand anything about Christ’s kingdom unless we understand the Old Testament story. What is the prophecy Christ refers to? What is the message of the entire Old Testament? In sum, the Old Testament’s message is creation, fall, then redemption. God created. God handed people over to sin to show their insufficiency and His all-sufficiency—to reveal their unrighteous nature and His own righteous nature. God delivers His chosen people from their unrighteousness for His own glory. The Old Testament message is fulfilled in God’s redemptive work through His Messiah—Jesus Christ. Heaven’s kingdom was never a physical location (e.g. Canaan, Jerusalem, the third heaven, or some future New Jerusalem; comp. John 4:1-26). Instead, Heaven’s kingdom is the redeemed people of God—those who saw their insufficiency as a result of God’s Law, fell from their own prideful existence, and have been clothed with God’s righteousness in Christ. This includes the elect from the beginning of the world up until the Messiah was revealed and forevermore. Old Testament people were redeemed in Christ as we are still redeemed in Christ according to Christ’s teaching here. That’s the kingdom of Heaven!

What does it mean that the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence? It means God’s chosen people suffer violence. What does it mean that violent men take the kingdom of Heaven by force? It means that violent men, the worldly kingdom, overtake God’s chosen people by force in the context of this world. John is Jesus’s reference point. John is in prison and being persecuted like the Old Testament prophets were.

And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.

“And,” in addition to John’s identity as the last Old Testament prophet, John is the Elijah prophesied in Malachi 4:5-6,

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.

According to Jesus, John is this Elijah. The great and terrible day of the Lord began when John baptized Jesus—an act that was fitting to fulfill all righteousness (3:15). In Christ, hearts are restored, that’s redemption. As a result of Christ’s fulfilling all righteousness God the Father will not come and smite the land with a curse. That’s redemption!

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Not everyone has ears to hear. Not everyone who hears Christ’s message is able to understand it. There are two types of people—those who are able to hear Christ’s teaching and understand it and those who are not able. There are people brought into the light and people trapped in darkness. There are those who have ears to hear and those who do not. Jesus doesn’t waste His time trying to persuade spiritually deaf people. He speaks to the crowds. Those who have ears to hear will hear. 

Kingdom of faultfinding (v. 16-19)

But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

Referring to the kingdom of this world, the spiritually deaf and violent and forceful people, Jesus provides an illustration. This generation tries to move the kingdom of Heaven to its own tune. The kingdom of Heaven is not moved by worldly ways—cultural highs and lows. Worldly people still try to take the kingdom by force, or influence. They hope that, by complaining and influencing, they can get things to go their way rather than God’s. They are simply consumed by their own work, thoughts, beliefs, righteousness, power, preferences, plans, riches, and glory. They want others to follow their plans and preferences. They cannot hear or understand God’s Law and Gospel. Neither can they influence the kingdom of Heaven by their tunes. The kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of the world are so separate that Christians don’t dance to the world’s flute or mourn to her dirge, and heathens cannot understand God’s word or why Christians dance to Christ’s words rather than the world’s flute.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 

Jesus doesn’t end with His illustration. He explains how He has seen this process working out in the worldly kingdom at this time. John the Baptist, like other Essenes in the likeness of Elijah, took the Nazarite vow. The Nazarite law is found in Numbers 6:1-21, but we will only observe the first seven verses,

Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to dedicate himself to the Lord, he shall abstain from wine and strong drink; he shall drink no vinegar, whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice nor eat fresh or dried grapes. All the days of his separation he shall not eat anything that is produced by the grape vine, from the seeds even to the skin. All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long. All the days of his separation to the Lord he shall not go near to a dead person. He shall not make himself unclean for his father or for his mother, for his brother or for his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head.’”

The Nazarite vow was a special, voluntary vow someone could make. It separated the person from the rest of society for a time and was marked by a temporary abstinence from wine, strong drinks, vinegar, all grape products, hair-cutting, and corpses. John lived his life as a Nazarite. He religiously abstained from indulging in food, wine, and strong drink—especially grape products. People called him a demon. John doesn’t like fun. He’s a fun-sucker. We don’t want anything to do with that kind of restrictive religion! Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? John wasn’t teaching anything contrary to God’s Bible. He wasn’t giving people a list of requirements and restrictions. He was not telling people they had to be a Nazarite like him. Yet, they called him a demon.

Jesus’s ministry looked and felt nothing like John’s. Same Biblical message, different look and feel. Jesus was not a Nazarite. Don’t confuse Nazarene with Nazarite. They are two different things. Nazarene refers to biographic geography. Nazarite refers to the Old Testament vow. Jesus had not made a Nazarite vow. He came eating and drinking, here in contrast to the Nazarite vow. Jesus explicitly came eating grape products and drinking wine and strong drink. Don’t get hung up on that. The point of the text is not to condemn or condone drinking. It is to point out worldly people’s response to John’s and Jesus’s different ways of doing ministry and of living. People accused Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. 

Jesus was not antinomian (anti-Law) and John was not a legalist, yet worldly people always made a point to find fault. In the context of Jesus’s illustration, people point out faults in order to influence things according to their beliefs, preferences, plans, or whatever. I might quote the great theologian, Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate.” John did not sin in his abstinence. Jesus did not sin as He enjoyed the fruits of His creation. The problem was not with John or Jesus. The kingdom of the world is a faultfinding kingdom. If people are always looking for faults, they will see faults even where there are none to be seen.

Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

Even though haters will always hate, wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Who is her? Her can either refer to wisdom or the kingdom of the world. To see, we need to look at the Greek syntax, “και εδικαιωυη η σοφια απο των εργων αυτης.” Literally, “And vindication of wisdom by the deeds [of] her.” While the kingdom of the world is never mentioned by name, singularly, or in feminine form, wisdom, sophia, is both singular and feminine. The grammatical form of the pronoun agrees with the grammatical form of wisdom. So, wisdom is vindicated by wisdom’s deeds—here in reference to both John’s abstinence and Jesus’s indulgence. 

What does it mean that wisdom is vindicated by both John’s and Jesus’s actions as different as their lifestyles are? I will say often that our goal as Christians is to seek understanding, not confirmation. To merely seek confirmation is to find fault with everything I don’t agree with. That sort of mentality keeps me from understanding anything. It keeps me from being wise. It causes me to be accusatory. Worldly people, especially worldly people in the organized church, find many faults with the way others choose to live or do things. When we see John’s and Jesus’s ministries, we are forced to consider our ways and seek true understanding instead of confirmation. Some people’s lives today look more like John’s than Jesus’s. Are we guilty of accusing them of being too legalistic? Some people’s lives today look more like Jesus’s than John the Baptist’s. Are we guilty of accusing them of being antinomian? These men preach the same message, the same Law and Gospel. Let us be concerned about God’s word, not strive to find fault with outward appearance or mere method or lifestyle. That is an ad hominem and worldly way to live.

Kingdom of HeavenKingdom of This World
Kingdom of priestsKingdom of consumers
Kingdom of prestige even for the leastKingdom of comparison and contrast
Exists throughout time—even before Christ’s incarnation
A people not a physical locationDefined by visible structures and conquests
Kingdom of suffering in the midst of this worldKingdom of force
Able to hear and understand Christ’s teachingUnable to hear and understand Christ’s teaching
Kingdom of wisdomKingdom of faultfinding

Questions

  1. How are the kingdoms of Heaven and the world different?
  2. How do worldly people, even in church, fail to hear or preach God’s word because they are focused merely on outward action?
  3. What do we reveal about ourselves if we are predisposed to see the fault in everything?
    1. In contrast, how do Christians think about things?
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