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Messengers from John the Baptist

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus Praises John the Baptist

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15Let anyone with ears listen!


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2. Now when John had heard. The Evangelists do not mean that John was excited by the miracles to acknowledge Christ at that time as Mediator; but, perceiving that Christ had acquired great reputation, and concluding that this was a fit and seasonable time for putting to the test his own declaration concerning him, he sent to him his disciples. The opinion entertained by some, that he sent them partly on his own account, is exceedingly foolish; as if he had not been fully convinced, or obtained distinct information, that Jesus is the Christ. Equally absurd is the speculation of those who imagine that the Baptist was near death, and therefore inquired what message he should carry, from Christ’s mouth as it were, to the deceased fathers. It is very evident that the holy herald of Christ, perceiving that he was not far from the end of his journey, and that his disciples, though he had bestowed great pains in instructing them, still remained in a state of hesitation, resorted to this last expedient for curing their weakness. He had faithfully labored, as I have said, that his disciples should embrace Christ without delay. His continued entreaties had produced so little effect, that he had good reason for dreading that, after his death, they would entirely fall away; and therefore he earnestly attempted to arouse them from their sloth by sending them to Christ. Besides, the pastors of the Church are here reminded of their duty. They ought not to endeavor to bind and attach disciples to themselves, but to direct them to Christ, who is the only Teacher. From the beginning, John had openly avowed that he was not the bridegroom, (John 3:29.) As the faithful friend of the bridegroom he presents the bride chaste and uncontaminated to Christ, who alone is the bridegroom of the Church. Paul tells us that he kept the same object in view, (2 Corinthians 11:2,) and the example of both is held out for imitation to all the ministers of the Gospel.

3. Art thou he who was to come? John takes for granted what the disciples had known from their childhood; for it was the first lesson of religion, and common among all the Jews, that Christ was to come, bringing salvation and perfect happiness. On this point, accordingly, he does not raise a doubt, but only inquires if Jesus be that promised Redeemer; for, having been persuaded of the redemption promised in the Law and the Prophets, they were bound to receive it when exhibited in the person of Christ. He adds, Do we look for another? By this expression, he indirectly glances at their sloth, which allowed them, after having been distinctly informed, to remain so long in doubt and hesitation. At the same time, he shows what is the nature and power of faith. Resting on the truth of God, it does not gaze on all sides, does not vary, but is satisfied with Christ alone, and will not be turned to another.

4. Go and relate to John As John had assumed for the time a new character, so Christ enjoins them to carry to him that message, which more properly ought to have been addressed to his disciples. He gives an indirect reply, and for two reasons: first, because it was better that the thing should speak for itself; and, secondly, because he thus afforded to his herald a larger subject of instruction. Nor does he merely supply him with bare and rough materials in the miracles, but adapts the miracles to his purpose by quotations from the Prophets. He notices more particularly one passage from the 35th, and another from the 61st, chapter of Isaiah, for the purpose of informing John’s disciples, that what the Prophets declared respecting the reign of Christ was accomplished and fulfilled. The former passage contains a description of Christ’s reign, under which God promises that he will be so kind and gracious as to grant relief and assistance for every kind of disease. He speaks, no doubt, of spiritual deliverance from all diseases and remedies; but under outward symbols, as has been already mentioned, Christ shows that he came as a spiritual physician to cure souls. The disciples would consequently go away without any hesitation, having obtained a reply which was clear and free from all ambiguity.

The latter passage resembles the former in this respect. It shows that the treasures of the grace of God would be exhibited to the world in Christ, and declares that Christ is expressly set apart for the poor and afflicted. This passage is purposely quoted by Christ, partly to teach all his followers the first lesson of humility, and partly to remove the offense which the flesh and sense might be apt to raise against his despicable flock. We are by nature proud, and scarcely anything is much valued by us, if it is not attended by a great degree of outward show. But the Church of Christ is composed of poor men, and nothing could be farther removed from dazzling or imposing ornament. Hence many are led to despise the Gospel, because it is not embraced by many persons of eminent station and exalted rank. How perverse and unjust that opinion is, Christ shows from the very nature of the Gospel, since it was designed only for the poor and despised. Hence it follows, that it is no new occurrence, or one that ought to disturb our minds, if the Gospel is despised by all the great, who, puffed up with their wealth, have no room to spare for the grace of God. Nay, if it is rejected by the greater part of men, there is no reason to wonder; for there is scarcely one person in a hundred who does not swell with wicked confidence. As Christ here guards his Gospel against contempt, he likewise reminds us who they are that are qualified to appreciate the grace of salvation which it offers to them; and in this manner, kindly inviting wretched sinners to the hope of salvation, raises them to full confidence.

5. The poor receive the message of the Gospel By the poor are undoubtedly meant those whose condition is wretched and despicable, and who are held in no estimation. However mean any person may be, his poverty is so far from being a ground of despair, that it ought rather to animate him with courage to seek Christ. But let us remember that none are accounted poor but those who are really such, or, in other words, who lie low and overwhelmed by a conviction of their poverty.

6. And blessed is he who shall not be offended in me. By this concluding statement Christ intended to remind them, that he who would adhere firmly and steadfastly to the faith of the Gospel must encounter offenses, which will tend to interrupt the progress of faith. This is said by way of anticipation, to fortify us against offenses; for we shall never want reasons for rejecting it, until our minds are raised above every offense. The first lesson, therefore, to be learned is, that we must contend with offenses, if we would continue in the faith of Christ; for Christ himself is justly denominated a

rock of offense and stone of stumbling, by which many fall,
(1 Peter 2:8.)

This happens, no doubt, through our own fault, but that very fault is remedied, when he pronounces those to be blessed who shall not be offended in him; from which too we infer, that unbelievers have no excuse, though they plead the existence of innumerable offenses. For what hinders them from coming to Christ? Or what drives them to revolt from Christ? It is because he appears with his cross, disfigured and despised, and exposed to the reproaches of the world; because he calls us to share in his afflictions; because his glory and majesty, being spiritual, are despised by the world; and in a word, because his doctrine is totally at variance with our senses. Again, it is because, through the stratagems of Satan, many disturbances arise, with the view of slandering and rendering hateful the name of Christ and the Gospel; and because every one, as if on purpose, rears up a mass of offenses, being instigated by not less malignity than zeal to withdraw from Christ. 77     “Pource que tous non seulement sont bien aises de se retirer de Christ, mais aussi tachent malicieusement d’entrouver les moyens;” — “because not only are all strongly disposed to withdraw from Christ, but they even endeavor maliciously to discover the means of doing so.”

Matthew 11:7. And while they were departing Christ praises John before the people, in order that they may state from recollection what they have heard from him, and may give credit to his testimony. For his name was widely celebrated, and men spoke of him in lofty terms: but his doctrine was held in less estimation, and there were even few that waited on his ministrations. Christ reminds them, that those who went out to see him in the wilderness lost their pains, if they did not devoutly apply their minds and faculties to his doctrine. The meaning of the words, you went out into the wilderness, is this: “Your journey would have been an act of foolish and ridiculous levity, if you had not a fixed object in view. But it was neither worldly splendor nor any sort of amusement 1212     “Ni autre passe-temps et amusement vain;” — “nor other pastime nor vain amusement.” that you were in quest of: your design was, to hear the voice of God from the mouth of the Prophet. If therefore you would reap advantage from your undertaking, it is necessary that what he spoke should remain fixed in your memory.”

8. Clothed with soft garments Those who think that Christ here condemns the extravagance of a court are mistaken. There are many other passages in which luxury of dress, and excessive attention to outward appearance, are censured. But this passage simply means, that there was nothing in the wilderness to attract the people from every quarter; that every thing there was rude and unpolished, and fitted only to inspire disgust; and that such elegance of dress as delights the eyes is rather to be looked for in the courts of kings. 1313     “Que pour voir de beaux vestemens et autres choses agencees bien proprement il faut plustost aller es Cours des Rois;” — “that in order to see fine dresses, and other things very neatly arranged, we must rather go to the courts of kings.”

11. Verily I say to you These words not only maintain the authority of John, but elevate his doctrine above the ancient prophets, that the people may keep in view the right end of his ministry; for they mistook the design of his mission, and, in consequence of this, derived almost no advantage from his discourses. Accordingly, Christ extols and places him above the rank of the prophets, and gives the people to understand that he had received a special and more excellent commission. When he elsewhere says respecting himself that he was not a Prophet, (John 1:21,) this is not inconsistent with the designation here bestowed upon him by Christ. He was, no doubt, a Prophet, like others whom God had appointed in his Church to be expounders of the Law, and messengers of his will; but he was more excellent than the Prophets in this respect, that he did not, like them, make known redemption at a distance and obscurely under shadows, but proclaimed that the time of redemption was now manifest and at hand. Such too is the import of Malachi’s prediction, (Malachi 3:1,) which is immediately added, that the pre-eminence of John consisted in his being the herald and forerunner of Christ; 1414     “Pource qu’il est le Heraut marchant devant Christ pour luy faire honneur;” — “because he is the Herald marching before Christ to do him honor.” for although the ancient Prophets spoke of his kingdom, they were not, like John, placed before his face, to point him out as present. As to the other parts of the passage, the reader may consult what has been said on the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel. 1515     Harmony, volume 1. p.20.

There hath not arisen Our Lord proceeds farther, and declares that the ministers of the Gospel will be as far superior to John as John was superior to the Prophets. Those who think that Christ draws a comparison between himself and John have fallen into a strange blunder; for nothing is said here about personal rank, but commendation is bestowed on the pre-eminence of office. This appears more clearly from the words employed by Luke, there is not a greater Prophet; for they expressly restrict his eminence to the office of teaching. In a word, this magnificent eulogium is bestowed on John, that the Jews may observe more attentively the commission which he bore. Again, the teachers who were afterwards to follow are placed above him, to show the surpassing majesty of the Gospel above the Law, and above that preaching which came between them. Now, as Christ intended to prepare the Jews for receiving the Gospel, we ought also, in the present day, to be aroused to listen with reverence to Christ speaking to us from the lofty throne of his heavenly glory; lest he take revenge for our contempt of him by that fearful curse which he pronounces on unbelievers by Malachi in the same passage.

The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God denote the new condition of the Church, as in other passages which have already occurred; for it was promised that at the coming of Christ all things would be restored. He that is least in the kingdom. The Greek word μικρότερος, which I have rendered least, is in the comparative degree, and signifies less; but the meaning is more clearly brought out, that all the ministers of the Gospel are included. Many of them undoubtedly have received a small portion of faith, and are therefore greatly inferior to John; but this does not prevent their preaching from being superior to his, because it holds out Christ as having rendered complete and eternal satisfaction by his one sacrifice, as the conqueror of death and the Lord of life, and because it withdraws the veil, and elevates believers to the heavenly sanctuary.

12. Since the days of John I have no doubt that Christ speaks honorably of the majesty of the Gospel on this ground, that many sought after it with warm affection; for as God had raised up John to be the herald of the kingdom of his Son, so the Spirit infused such efficacy into his doctrine, that it entered deeply into the hearts of men and kindled that zeal. It appears, therefore, that the Gospel, which comes forward in a manner so sudden and extraordinary, 1616     ”Laquelle tant soudainement gaigne les coeurs des hommes d’une facon non accoustumee, et y cause des mouvemens merveilleux;” — “which so suddenly gains the hearts of men in an unusual manner, and excites in them wonderful emotions.” and awakens powerful emotions, must have proceeded from God. But in the second clause is added this restriction, that the violent take it by force The greater part of men were no more excited than if the Prophets had never uttered a word about Christ, or if John had never appeared as his witness; and therefore Christ reminds them, that the violence, of which he had spoken, existed only in men of a particular class. The meaning therefore is, A vast assembly of men is now collected, as if men were rushing violently forward to seize the kingdom of God; for, aroused by the voice of one man, they come together in crowds, and receive, not only with eagerness, but with vehement impetuosity, the grace which is offered to them. Although very many are asleep, and are no more affected than if John in the wilderness were acting a play which had no reference to them, yet many flock to him with ardent zeal. The tendency of our Lord’s statement is to show, that those who pass by in a contemptuous manner, and as it were with closed eyes, the power of God, which manifestly appears both in the teacher and in the hearers, are inexcusable. Let us also learn from these words, what is the true nature and operation of faith. It leads men not only to give, cold and indifferent assent when God speaks, but to cherish warm affection towards Him, and to rush forward as it were with a violent struggle.

Matthew 11:13. All the Prophets and the Law itself Prophesied. The word prophesied is emphatic; for the Law and the Prophets did not present God before the eyes of men, but represented him under figures and shadows as absent. The comparison, we now perceive, is intended to show, that it is highly criminal in men to remain indifferent, when they have obtained a manifestation of the presence of God, who held his ancient people in suspense by predictions. Christ does not class John with the ministers of the Gospel, though he formerly assigned to him an intermediate station between them and the Prophets. But there is no inconsistency here: for although John’s preaching was a part of the Gospel, it was little more than a first lesson.

14. And if you are willing to receive it He now explains more clearly in what manner John began to preach the kingdom of God It was in the character of that Elijah, who was to be sent before the face of God, (Malachi 4:5.) Our Lord’s meaning therefore is, that the great and dreadful day of the Lord, which Malachi described, is now beheld by the Jews, when Elijah, who was there promised, discharges his office as a herald. Again, by this exception, if you are willing to receive it, he glances at their hardened obstinacy, in maliciously shutting their eyes against the clearest light. But will he cease to be Elijah, if he shall not be received? Christ does not mean that John’s official character 1717     “L’estat et la commission de Iean;” — “John’s rank and commission.” depends on their approbation; but having declared that he is Elijah, he charges them with carelessness and ingratitude, if he does not obtain that respect to which he is entitled.

15. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. We know that it is customary with Christ to introduce this sentence, whenever he treats of subjects which are highly important, and which deserve no ordinary attention. 1818     “Et qui ne doit pas estre escoutee par acquit;” — “and which ought not to be listened to in an indifferent manner.” He reminds us, at the same time, of the reason why the mysteries of which he speaks are not received by all. It is because many of his hearers are deaf, or at least have their ears closed. But now, as every man is hindered not only by his own unbelief, but by the mutual influence which men exercise on each other, Christ here exhorts the elect of God, whose ears have been pierced, to consider attentively this remarkable secret of God, and not to remain deaf with unbelievers.




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