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Matt 11-12: The Identity of the King Print E-mail
Monday, 15 August 2005

There is a group of scholars who meet on a regular basis with the intent of answering the question, ‘Who is the historical Jesus?’  They contend that the gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were not as concerned with historical facts about Jesus as they were with other agendas, such as growing or encouraging their young Christian communities or even silencing early critics of their faith.

Thus, due to their agendas, the true, historical Jesus has been lost in the gospels and these scholars have set out to ‘find him.’  Thus, they write papers, meet to discuss, and vote on what they believe the historical Jesus actually said or did.  They have even published their findings.

Obviously, the problem I have with such an approach is their discrediting of the gospel writers and their work.  Their quest involves at the outset a questioning of the truthfulness of Scripture.  Instead of dissecting the text, I simply have chosen based on conviction to approach the text as the inspired Word of God, which has no need of my editing.  The question for us is not what is true or what is not true in the text.  Rather, we simply want to understand what the text says and hold to it as truth concerning the historical Jesus.  In other words, we believe that the biblical Jesus, is in fact the historical Jesus.

Of course, as we have seen to this point in our study of the book, this conclusion leads to another question: if the biblical Jesus is the historical Jesus, then what does the Bible us about our Lord?  Who is Jesus according to the text?  And in light of our study of Matthew, we can ask this question of our text this morning: what can we learn about the identity of Jesus from Matthew 11-12?  We have seen that He is the promised King of Israel and that his coming has brought about the inauguration of not just an earthly Kingdom, but the Kingdom of heaven.  We have seen his instructions concerning how his people are to live in the Sermon on the Mount.  And we have seen his authority as King and his call to mission.  Yet, this morning we come to Matthew 11-12, continuing to ask the question: who is this King of glory that Matthew is teaching us about?  It is this question that I want to consider this morning as we look at our text.

The Identity of King Jesus (from Matthew 11-12).

First, we see that Jesus is the successor of John the Baptist.  Matthew teaches us this in 11:1-19.  John the Baptist, who has been placed in prison for speaking against King Herod for taking Herodias as his wife (see Matthew 14:3-4), sends his disciples to ask Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?  Although John knew that he was to be the forerunner to the Messiah, he did not understand why Jesus had not pronounced judgment on his enemies and their injustice, including John’s own imprisonment. 

Jesus responds to such questions by pointing John to the obvious.  He says to his disciples in verses 4-6, Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.  Jesus wants John to consider his ministry and what is being accomplished.  In echoing the language of Isaiah, Jesus is pointing out that he is fulfilling what the prophets had written about the Messiah.  Granted, even the prophets spoke of judgment, which was to come, but Jesus called John’s attention to the evidence that was apparent that John might not be offended by the need to wait on the coming judgment.

And even though we might be tempted to be judgmental towards John for such doubt, Jesus goes on to point out the greatness of John the Baptist in verses 7-15.  Yet, it is important that we see how Christ views John’s greatness.  Jesus asks the people who they went out to see in the wilderness.  Did they go out to see a King, dressed in soft clothing, or a prophet?  They went out to see a prophet and Christ says even more than a prophet (v. 9).  Going on, Jesus says, This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’  John was the one who was to prepare the way for Jesus.  And even though the Law and the Prophets spoke of Christ, it was John who said, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). 

Thus, why does Jesus conclude in 11:11 that among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist?  Because John was the actual forerunner to himself.  Jesus is saying that John’s greatness, and subsequently all of those in the Kingdom of Heaven’s greatness, rests not in themselves, but in their pointing to Christ.

It is vital that we understand what is happening here.  Jesus is saying that John the Baptist is greater than Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, indeed, all men, simply because of his witness to Christ.  And he goes on to say that even the least in the Kingdom is greater than he.  Why are we, the least in the Kingdom, greater than these?  Because what Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, and even John only saw in part, we see in full.  We know the entire story.  Because of our placement, under God’s providence, in redemptive history, we are those who can bear witness, under the authority of our King, of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We are those, who have been vested with the power of the Holy Spirit to speak the gospel to dead men that God might make them alive in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2).  Thus, today, greatness in the Kingdom is measured in faithfulness to proclaiming the King.

Thus, in Matthew’s account here, we see Jesus’ claim to who He is.  In claiming to be the successor of John, He is pointing out that He is the culmination of all the Law and the prophets.  Indeed, He is the culmination of all of history, as will be seen in full on that final day.

Second, we see that Jesus is the revealer of the Father.  In 11:16-19, Jesus teaches that even though John pointed to him as the Messiah, the people rejected him.  First they rejected John, who came neither eating nor drinking and they also rejected Christ himself, who did come eating and drinking.  With this parable of the children, Jesus is pointing out that the people rejected himself and John.

And going on, Jesus pronounces judgment on the cities that rejected him and refused to repent even though mighty works had been done among them.  In the end, they will be worse than Tyre, Sidon, and even Sodom, cities of great judgment in the Old Testament.  So, then, we might ask: Will no one accept Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah, the promised One?

No, and this is what brings us to the second identity of Jesus that is seen is this passage, namely that He is the revealer of the Father.  Look at 11:25-27.  Jesus makes it clear that no one knows the Son apart from the Father, and no one knows the Father apart from the Son.  And even though God has hidden these things, the truth about Christ, from the wise and the understanding, he has graciously revealed them to little children. 

Thus, we pray for humility that we might come to the Son and receive his yoke, for indeed his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Third, we see that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.  In chapter 12, we see a situation arise between Jesus, his disciples, and the Pharisees.  While walking through some fields on the Sabbath, the disciples begin to pluck some heads of grain to eat.  The Pharisees rebuke them for such action because according to their traditions, it is unlawful for anyone to do such. 

Yet, notice the bold claims of Christ in 12:3-6.  David was able to eat the bread reserved for the priests.  And even the priests themselves were allowed by the Law to not keep the Sabbath for the sake of the work of the temple.  Christ speaks of these instances and then boldly claims, I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.  Wow, Christ is claiming to be greater than the temple.  This may not mean much to us, but to those Pharisees this was a shocking claim.  In fact there are only two options, either Jesus is a blaspheming madman or He is indeed the Lord.  And just to prove his point, when the man who has the withered hand is brought before him, Jesus heals him on the Sabbath.  In seeking the identity of the King, we indeed see Jesus making some bold claims in these two chapters.  But there is more…

Fourth, we see that Jesus is God’s chosen servant.  In 12:15-21, Matthew quotes from Isaiah 42:1-3, a passage that speaks of the coming Messiah as one who will care for the broken and needy and will not try to draw undue attention to himself.  Jesus fulfills this passage in his work among the Gentiles and his continual care for the broken and needy and his continual insistence on not making him known until the appointed time.  Thus, we see yet another way in which Matthew identifies Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Fifth, we see that Jesus is the One who binds Satan.  Normally when we read Matthew 12:22-32 we focus on the question: what is the unpardonable sin?  Yet, as we have been learning on Sunday nights, we must approach this question and this passage in its context.  Once again, as Jesus’ popularity continues to grow due to his ability to cast out demons, the Pharisee’s respond by saying that he heals by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons (see 12:24). 

Yet, Jesus points out that Kingdom divided against itself cannot survive.  It does not make sense for him to cast out demons if he is doing by the power of Beelzebul.  Rather, look at what Jesus says to them in v. 28-30.  Here, Jesus splits the world into two opposing sides.  Jesus has come to bind Satan, or the strong man, and to plunder his goods.  And in the end, we are either with him or against him.  Yet, the reality is this: God will win in the end.  The opposition is no match for our God.  Even as we learned in VBS: God always wins.  Christ has bound the strong man, he has inaugurated the Kingdom, and he will come again in victory.

Thus, as for the question of the blasphemy of the Spirit in this context, it seems that Jesus is referring to the fact that the Pharisee’s are crediting the work of the Spirit to the work of Satan.  In the end, this will only lead to unbelief in Christ and a total rejection of his identity as our Savior.  It is this in context that seems to be what Jesus is condemning as the unpardonable sin.

In these chapters we learn more and more of the identity of King Jesus.  He is the successor of John the Baptist, the revealer of the Father, the Lord of the Sabbath, God’s chosen servant, and the One who binds Satan.  Not only this, but we also continue to see how we can respond to the identity of Christ.  I see two responses this morning:

Responses to King Jesus

First, we can respond by rejecting the Lord.  Over and over again in these chapters we see the growing rejection of Christ.  The wicked generation would not accept John and they would not accept Jesus, as we see in 11:16-19.  The cities, where Jesus worked mighty deeds, rejected the Lord.  The Pharisees continue to reject him and even begin to conspire against him (see 12:14).  Thus, we see Jesus’ condemnation of them in his teaching about blasphemy of the Spirit (12:22-32), his teaching about good fruit and bad fruit (12:33-37), his response to their asking for a sign (12:38-42), and the teaching about the unclean spirit which will return after being cast out (12:43-45).  In all of these passages, we see this growing rejection of the Lord.  Yet, hopefully we recognize the error in rejecting the King.  Rather, we should come to the King with a different response.

Second, we can respond by repentance and faith and obedience to the will of the Father.  Why does Jesus condemn them for the asking of the sign, because they would not repent, even after the sign of Jonah was given to them.  And did Jesus provide the sign of Jonah?  Yes, and yet many of them still refused to believe.  Even today, many refuse to believe that Jesus is indeed King of their life and the only One who can save their souls.  Do we realize this morning the greatness of our Jesus?

You may be saying at this point in our series: It seems William that you keep calling us to do the same thing, namely repent, believe, and strive to be obedient to the Father’s will.  You are exactly right, I am calling us to do the same thing.  Why?  Because I believe this is the overwhelming call of the book of Matthew, the overwhelming call of the gospels, and the overwhelming call of the Bible.  And why is it so necessary that we continue to teach such truths?  Because we often take belief for granted.  Oh, of course I believe that Jesus is the Successor to John, I would just rather spend my life fighting for my glory than willingly laying it down for the glory of my King.  Sure I believe that Jesus is the revealer of the Father, I just figure good methods and more programs will guarantee success.  Yeah, Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, just as long as he doesn’t try to call my traditions and the way I do church into question.  I guess Jesus may be the One who binds Satan, but he’ll never tell me what to do.

Chapter 12 ends with a story about Jesus’ mother and brothers coming to see Christ.  Jesus makes the point that his mother and brothers are those who do the will of his Father (12:50).  Are you a part of the family of the King?  Have you responded to the identity of Christ with repentance, faith, and obedience or with rejection?  Are you still searching and wondering about the historical Jesus?  Brothers and Sisters, he is the King, as revealed in his Word.  So, do you believe? 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 February 2006 )

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