“Emmanuel’s Confirmation Part 1” – Matthew 11:1-19

August 30th, 2015

Matthew 11:1-19 (Lk 7:18-35)

“Emmanuel’s Confirmation Pt 1”


Service Orientation: Jesus does not call us to make a blind leap of faith.  He calls us to gather the evidence concerning Himself and submit to the truth.  When you know that truth, it will confirm your faith in Emmanuel and set you free.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.  — Romans 10:17


Background Information:

  • The prophetic office began with Moses and extended until the Babylonian captivity, after which for 400 years Israel had no prophet until John the Baptist. He was the valedictorian of the prophets, the most dynamic, articulate, confrontational, and powerful spokesman God had ever called.  As the last prophet, he would not only announce that the Messiah was coming but that He had arrived.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 254)
  • The first ten chapters of Matthew are, in general, a series of testimonies that prove who Jesus is. He presents the testimony of history (1:1-17), of the miraculous birth (1:18-25), of fulfilled prophecy (2:1-23), of Christ’s forerunner (3:1-12), of God the Father (3:13-17), of Jesus’ power (4:1-11), of His words (5:1-7:29), of His works (8:1-9:38), and of His disciples (10:1-42).  Matthew marshals all of that evidence in the courtroom, as it were, to testify that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah and Son of God.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 237)
  • Jesus had spoken of blessing for those who received a prophet because he is a prophet, and a righteous man because he is a righteous man (Mt 10:41). Here he applies those words to the crowd in respect to both John the Baptist and himself.  A prophet had indeed come, and a righteous man too.  But they had received neither, preferring their own errors to the truth and their own wicked ways to righteousness.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 192-3)
  • Up to this point the public ministry of Jesus has met with success. Now the atmosphere changes, and hostility begins to manifest itself.  Having finished giving instructions to the Twelve, Jesus departs (apparently alone) to teach and preach in nearby towns.  From this point on, healings are less frequent (cf. Mt 4:23).  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 102)
  • This opposition stemmed at least partly from the fact that at the time of John the Baptist’s appearance, prophecy seemed like a thing of the distant past in Israel. Between the delivery of Malachi’s final prophecy and the appearance of John the Baptist there were four hundred yeard.  Think about that.  At the time of this writing, it has not yet been four hundred years since the Pilgrims arrived in the New World.  That is how long the Israelites watched and waited for the fulfillment of this prophecy.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 342)
  • There is a link to the previous verses, particularly to Mt 10:41, since the story about John is an illustration of Jesus’ words about receiving a prophet because he is a prophet. It happens in two ways.  Some would not receive John, who came as a prophet (see Mt 11:7-19).  But also, John needed to receive Jesus by faith himself even though Jesus did not seem to be living up to what John had expected him to do.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 188-9)
  • (v. 2) Herod Antipas of Galilee had paid a visit to his brother in Rome. During that visit, he seduced his brother’s wife.  He came home again, dismissed his own wife and married the sister-in-law whom he had lured away from her husband.  Publicly and sternly, John rebuked Herod.  It was never safe to rebuke a despot, and Herod took his revenge:  John was thrown into the dungeons of the fortress of Mashaerus in the mountains near the Dead Sea.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 2)
  • (v. 2) Shortly after the banquet Matthew gave in honor of Jesus and to which he invited fellow “tax-gatherers and sinners,” the “disciples of John came to Him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’” (Mt 9:10, 14). And after Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain, “the disciples of John reported to him about all these things” (Lk 7:18).

Obviously John’s disciples had some access to him while he was in prison, and apparently he sent them out on various assignments, primarily to observe and report on Jesus’ ministry.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 239-40)

  • (v. 2) 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.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 7-8)
  • (v. 2) Armed with John’s question, they travel from the fortress Machaerus north through Perea alongside the Jordan River, crossing into Galilee near Capernaum (where Jesus was ministering)–nearly a hundred miles on foot. (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 412)
  • (v. 3) Every Jew of Jesus’ day would have known that to ask if He were the Expected One was to ask if He were the Messiah. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 240)
  • (v. 3) Noted commentators such as Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome, Luther, Calvin, Beza, and, more recently, John Ryle have argued that John’s question was asked not for his benefit but for the sake of the disciples. But Matthew says the question was John’s, and it is not strange that John should have had doubts about Jesus.  The greatest characters of the Bible all had weak moments, and there is no reason to think that John was any less subject to human weaknesses than figures such as Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, and others.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 189)
  • (v. 6) Stumbling (NIV – “”falling away”) is from skandalizō, which originally referred to the trapping or snaring of an animal. It was used metaphorically to signify an entrapment or stumbling block and carried the derived meaning of causing offense.  Jesus’ divine messiahship and the gospel of deliverance from sin through faith in Him are great stumbling blocks to sinful, unbelieving man, and Jesus did not want John to be affected by the world’s skepticism and unbelief.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 246-7)
  • (v. 7) As predicted before his birth, John had taken a life-long Nazirite vow. John “will be great in the sight of the Lord,” the angel told his father, Zacharias, “and he will drink no wine or liquor” (Lk 1:15).  Along with not drinking wine or liquor, the vow also involved never cutting the hair or touching anything, such as a dead body, that was ceremonially unclean.  Many Jews, both men and women, took a Nazirite vow for a few months or year.  But along with Samson (Jdg 13:7; 16:17) and Samuel (1 Sm 1:11), John the Baptist is one of only three persons mentioned in Scripture who took the vow for life.  His was a life-long, voluntary commitment to self-denial as an act of devotion to God.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 253)
  • (v. 7) Jesus declared that John was nothing less than the divine herald whose duty and privilege it was to announce the coming of the Messiah. John was nothing less than the herald of God, and no one could have a greater task than that.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 7)
  • (v. 7) To compare a person to a reed was to say that the person was without moral fiber or courage, easily tossed about by various opinions, never taking a stand on anything. Obviously, they did not go to see a “reed”–John’s fiery preaching was anything but that.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 221)
  • (v. 7) What drew them to make this improbable journey into the wilderness? Did they go to admire the scenery (reed grass being a very common feature of the area around the Jordan)?  That may be all this first question and answer intends, an ironical statement that this was more than tourism.  But the reed shaken by the wind is a natural symbol (sometimes used by the rabbis) for the type of man (and of preacher) whose message is adapted to fit the prevailing mood.  If so, they would be disappointed, because John was not that sort of man.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 426)
  • (v. 8) The people knew that John’s appearance meant that something new was about to happen; many believed the age of the Messiah had come. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 221-2)
  • (v. 8) Those who are “in kings’ palaces” is a sly cut at the man who was keeping John in prison. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 263)
  • (v. 9) John was not only a prophet but more than a prophet. In what respect?  In this:  Not only was he like other OT prophets, a direct spokesman for God to call the nation to repentance, but he himself was also the subject of prophecy–the one who, according to Scripture, would announce the Day of Yahweh (v. 10).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 263-4)
  • (v. 10) The quotation is from Mal 3:1 and reflects the LXX of Ex 23:20. Jesus changes “before me” in the original to “before you” and in so doing refers the passage to himself as Messiah.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 104)
  • (v. 13) Jesus used the expression “Law and the Prophets” to refer to the entire OT revelation (5:17); now he reverses their order, perhaps emphasizing the prophetic role of both the OT and John himself: “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.”  John is the culmination of a long history of prophecy that looked forward to the arrival of the messianic kingdom.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 417)
  • (v. 14) This man would not be a reincarnated Elijah but another prophet much like Elijah. That Malachi’s prophecy referred to John the Baptist and not to a literally-returned Elijah is made clear by the angel’s message to Zechariah about John:  “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk 1:17); and John himself denied that he was actually Elijah (Jn 1:21).  John was like Elijah–internally in “spirit and power” and externally in rugged independence and nonconformity.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 257)
  • (v. 14) Then, to the whole nation’s astonishment, a man appeared out of the desert, the traditional meeting place between God and His prophets. He wore camel skins and a leather belt, and he ate locusts and wild honey (Mt 3:4).  These characteristics were reminiscent of the biblical description of Elijah (2 Kgs 1:8).  Furthermore, this strange figure began to prophesy.  When word began to get around that the voice of prophecy was sounding forth the Word of God in Israel once again, people began to flock to the Jordan River to see this strange man.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 343)
  • (v. 14) The difficulty with this passage (Mt 11:7-15) is obvious. Here Jesus declares that John the Baptist was Elijah.  Yet when John was asked, “Are you Elijah?” he answered, “I am not.”  Was John the Baptist Elijah or not?  John said no, Jesus said yes.  However, when we look closely at the declaration of Jesus, we must see that His yes was a qualified yes.  He prefaced His declaration with the words “if you are willing to receive it…” (Mt 11:14).  Then immediately following the declaration Jesus added the remark, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (R.C. Sproul, The Glory of Christ, 57)
  • (v. 16) Jesus began, “Whereunto shall I liken this generation?” (11:16). Note the expression “this generation.”  It occurs sixteen times in the NT (Mt 11:16; 12:41, 42; 23:36; 24:34; Mk 8:12 (twice); 13:30; Lk 7:31; 11:30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17:25; 21:32).  It occurs another nine times with adjectives–“evil,” “wicked,” “adulterous,” “sinful” (Mt 12:39, 45; 16:4; Mk 8:38; Lk 11:29); “faithless,” “perverse” (Mt 17:17; Mk 9:19; Lk 24:34), the expression describes the generation that rejected the Messiah.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 205)
  • Thematically the three chapters (11-13) are held together by the rising tide of disappointment in and opposition to the kingdom of God that was resulting from Jesus’ ministry. He was not turning out to be the kind of Messiah the people had expected.  Even John the Baptist had doubts (vv. 2-19), and the Galilean cities that were sites of most of Jesus’ miracles hardened themselves in unbelief (vv. 20-24).  The nature of Jesus’ person and ministry were “hidden” (an important word) from the wise, despite the most open and compassionate of invitations (vv. 28-30).  Conflicts with Jewish leaders began to intensify (12:1-45), while people still misunderstood the most basic elements of Jesus’ teaching and authority (12:46-50).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 260)


The question to be answered is . . . What does Jesus tell us in this passage about the danger of unfounded expectations and doubts?


Answer:  That is it extremely dangerous for you to place your faith in a Jesus based upon your expectations rather than upon truth as God has chosen to reveal it to us.  The cure for these doubts is a heavy dose of God’s Word and submitting to that Word so as to confirm the real Jesus and bolster your faith and destroy your doubts.


Faith & Doubt:

  • You have to have the faith to doubt the faith (Chad Harmon May 12th, 2010)
  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. — Rene Descartes
  • Doubt can help lead us from error to truth. Doubt can be a vital tool for the achievement of assurance.  (R.C. Sproul; Doubt and Assurance, 10)
  • Doubt forces us back to first principles. (Ibid)
  • Doubt does not, indeed cannot, exist in a vacuum. Without some knowledge I cannot doubt at all.  It is the light of truth that doubt becomes a possibility.  But doubt cannot ever have the last word.  Only truth can establish doubt.  Truth demands that we doubt what does not conform to truth. (Ibid)
  • Doubt is not unbelief. It can, however, become unbelief.  (Ibid, 21)
  • Unbelief is the decision to live your life as if there is no God. It is a deliberate decision to reject Jesus Christ and all that he stands for.  But doubt is something quite different.  Doubt arises within the context of faith.  It is a wistful longing to be sure of the things in which we trust.  (Alister McGrath, “When Doubt Becomes Unbelief,” 8-10)
  • To believe is to be of one mind in accepting something as true; to disbelieve is to be of one mind in rejecting it; to doubt is to waver somewhere between the two, and thus to be of two minds. (Sproul; Doubt and Assurance, 32)
  • There is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is a matter of the mind:  we cannot understand what God is doing or why He is doing it.  Unbelief is a matter of the will:  we refuse to believe God’s Word and obey what He tells us to do.  “Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong,” said Oswald Chambers; “it may be a sign that he is thinking.”  In John’s case, his inquiry was not born of willful unbelief, but of doubt nourished by physical and emotional strain.  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Compassionate: A New Testament Study–Luke 1-13, 76-7)
  • If we are to doubt, perhaps like John we are experiencing hardship, we should doubt as John did–a faithful doubt, an I’ll-give-Jesus-the-benefit-of-the-doubt doubt. You see, John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask John’s question because his expectations about Jesus were not aligning with his experience.  But the fact that he went to Jesus for answers shows he knew where to go, and in faith he did go.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 294)
  • Doubt is often the beginning of wisdom. —M. Scott Peck
  • Faithfulness without temptation to infidelity is not true faithfulness. Faith without temptation of doubt is not true faith.  Purity without temptation to impurity is not true purity.  (Paul Tournier, Guilt & Grace, 45)
  • Christ distinguished between doubt and unbelief. Doubt says, “I can’t believe.”  Unbelief says, “I won’t believe.”  Doubt is honest.  Unbelief is obstinate. — Henry Drummond
  • Think of doubt as an invitation to think.
  • Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith. Doubts are what keep us moving.  — Martha Turner
  • We need to doubt many of our beliefs in order to know if they are true. If you believe that doubt is evil, especially doubt of theological teachings, this truth may be hard to digest.  I think, though, that doubt is a God-given ability that helps us to take what we hear and test its truth.  In fact, I think God wants us to doubt what we hear, even from a minister’s mouth, so that we know why we believe what we believe.  (Dr. Chris Thurman; The Lies We Believe, 171)
  • It’s not only okay to doubt, but I believe it’s often fundamental in order to grasp the truth. You can’t have secondhand beliefs and be emotionally healthy.  Constructive doubt can help you solidify your own beliefs.  (Dr. Chris Thurman; The Lies We Believe, 173)
  • Faith which does not doubt is dead faith. — Miguel de Unamuno
  • Alister McGrath said, “Doubt is natural within faith. It comes because of our human weakness and frailty.”  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 144)
  • When the NT talks about doubt, whether you’re talking about the gospels or the epistles, it primarily focuses on believers. That’s very important.  It’s as if you have to believe something before you can doubt it; you have to be committed to it before you begin to question it.  So doubt is held up as the unique problem of the believer.  (John MacArthur, “Solving the Problem of Doubt”)
  • Some of us who have preached the Word for years, and have been the means of working faith in others and of establishing them in the knowledge of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible, have nevertheless been the subjects of the most fearful and violent doubts as to the truth of the very gospel we have preached. (Charles Spurgeon, “Psalm 69:14)
  • Doubting does not prove that a man has no faith, but only that his faith is small. And even when our faith is small, the Lord is ready to help us.  (J. K. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, 170)
  • Francis Bacon said it well nearly four hundred years ago: “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” (Lee Strobel; God’s OUTrageous Claims, 107)
  • Kara Powell, executive director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry, pointed out a significant finding from the initial study (College Transition Study). “One of the most interesting findings from that pilot project was the importance of doubt in a student’s faith maturity.  The more college students felt that they had the opportunity to express their doubt while they were in high school, the higher levels of faith maturity and spiritual maturity [they had].”

“Whether it was with the youth group overall or with a specific adult leader, students who had the opportunity to struggle with tough questions and pain during high school seemed to have a healthier transition into college life,” stated the study by Powell and Krista Kubiak, youth worker and graduate of the Marriage and Family program at Fuller.  (Survey: High School Seniors’ Graduating from God’ www.christianpost.com/article/20060810)

  • Bible Heros who doubted: Moses: Nm 11:10-15; David: Ps 3-70; Elijah: 1 Kgs 19; Jeremiah: 20:7-9; 14-18 ; Paul: 2 Cor 1:8-9.


History records the case of men who sat down to disprove the Scriptures, and who, in order to qualify themselves for their disproof, honestly read them through, and then dipped their pens to write a vindication of the holy records.  Go then immediately to Christ, make yourselves perfectly familiar with every word and title in the four Gospels:  do not dimly and vaguely refer to portions, parts, and aspects of those Gospels, but have them in you as a living word, easy of allusion, literal in your quotations, perfect in your recollections, and then say what you think of this Man.  (Joseph Parker, Servant of All, Studies in Matthew 8-16, 133)


The Word for the Day is . . .  Expectation


Why do some of Jesus’ followers have doubts?:



I-  Doubt is encouraged when you are in the dark but you expected to be walking in the light.  (Mt 11:2-3; see also: Bk of Job; Lk 7:19)


I have observed that those who are not well—whose physical or mental constitution is under attack by illness—are prone to depression and often experience uneasiness about their relationship with God.  They may lose hope and even begin to believe that God has abandoned them. (R.C. Sproul; Doubt and Assurance, 83)


It’s often in the midst of challenging circumstances that faith is hardest to come by, especially when we have been walking with the Lord, faithfully serving and worshiping Him, and then tragedy hits, maybe even multiple tragedies.  We think, “God, where are You?”  We don’t’ understand why certain things are happening, especially when our trials seem to be getting in the way of our desire to serve God.  We know He’s good, but we can’t understand why the struggle won’t end.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 146)


God is in the business of bringing you to the end of yourself and the darkness and the doubt is His methodology.   (Steve Brown; message,  “The Tears of Jesus – Pt 01″)


He had been so sure that Jesus was the one who was to come.  That was one of the most common titles of the Messiah for whom the Jews waited with such eager expectation (Mk 11:9; Lk 13:35, 19:38; Heb 10:37; Ps 118:26).  Those who face death cannot afford to have doubts; they must be sure; and so John sent his disciples to Jesus with the question: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 2-3)


It was all right to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, still storms, preach righteousness, and announce the kingdom; but where was the judgment?  Had the corruptions and cruelties of Caesar been abruptly shut down?  Had the hypocritical temple leaders been banished?  Had the disgusting corruptions of Herod Antipas been confronted?  Why was he, John the Baptist, languishing in the stifling heat of the prison at Machaerus fortress for challenging the morals of Herod, while Jesus the alleged Messiah did nothing about this injustice?  (D. A. Carson, Gos with Us: Themes from Matthew, 62)


Where was God’s love and compassion, not to mention His justice?  Where was God’s promise that the Messiah would “bind up the brokenhearted…proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners;…proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning” (Isa 61:1-3)?  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 241)


Though Job is beset by suffering and loss on every side his trust endures even when understanding fails.  The scriptural document does not present his experience as a way to understand evil but as a way to live with it.  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 98)


Often trust begins on the far side of despair.  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 117)


John was imprisoned at an old fort at Macherus, located in a hot and desolate region five miles east and fifteen miles south of the northern end of the Dead Sea.  He was placed in a dark, stifling dungeon that was little more than a pit.  After some eighteen months in the limelight, this free spirit of the wilderness was confined and isolated.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 240)


The fact that you are unhappy or troubled is no indication that you are a Christian; indeed, I would go further and say that if you have never had any trouble in your Christian life I should very much doubt whether you are a Christian at all. (D. Martyn Lloyd- Jones; Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, 66)


Why was John the Baptist subject to dark thoughts?:

–    He was in prison ready to lose his head.

–    He was drained emotionally from confronting Herod and his adulterous affair with his brother’s wife.

–    Jesus was not living up to John’s expectations.


II-  Doubt gains a foothold in your heart and mind when your faith is based upon faulty expectations.  You will usually doubt what you do not want.  (Mt 11:3; see also: Jdg 6:11-40; Lk 7:20; Jn 3:16-21; 8:43, 47; 20:24-29; 2 Tm 4:3)


The people’s ideas about the Messiah were so distorted and ingrained that they disregarded or misconstrued whatever Jesus said or did that did not fit those ideas.  When some of the Jewish leaders said to Jesus, “How long will You keep us in suspense?  If You are the Christ, tell us plainly,” Jesus answered, “I told you, and you do not believe” (Jn 10:24-25).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 244)  


If Jesus was God’s Anointed One, John would have expected Jesus to say, “My armies are massing.  Caesarea, the headquarters of the Roman government, is about to fall.  The sinners are being obliterated.  And judgment has begun.”  John would have expected Jesus to say, “The wrath of God is on the march.”  Jesus said, “The mercy of God is here.”  Let us remember that where pain is soothed and sorrow turned to joy, where sorrow and suffering and death are vanquished, there is the Kingdom of God.  Jesus’ answer was, “Go back and tell John that the love of God is here.”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible:  The Gospel of Luke, 88)


John preached the gospel of divine holiness with divine destruction; Jesus preached the gospel of divine holiness with divine love.  So Jesus says to John:  “Maybe I am not doing the things you expected me to do.  But the powers of evil are being defeated not by irresistible power, but by unanswerable love.”  Sometimes people can be offended at Jesus because Jesus cuts across their ideas of what religion should be.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 4-5)


Augustine was right when he said that we love the truth when it enlightens us, but we hate it when it convicts us.  Maybe we can’t handle the truth.  (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 36)


People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.  — Blaise Pascal


We have been made for relationship with God.  Therefore it is not surprising that we long to meet and know God.  But the God we seek is the God we want, not the God who is.  We fashion a god who blesses without obligation, who lets us feel his presence without living his life, who stands with us and never against us, who gives us what we want, when we want it.  We worship a god of consumer satisfaction, hoping the talismans of guitars and candles or organs and liturgy will put us in touch with God as we want him to be.  (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 65-6)


Christians confess that they would desire an encounter with God.  But the church’s avoidance of this kind of transformation, underscored by its avoidance of daring encounters with God, suggests that we choose to live something other than what we confess.  We say we offer God our whole lives, but our practice (the evidence of worship that matters most) shows that we don’t really want God to do what we ask–to take us, mold us, fill us, use us.  (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 64-5)


Perhaps John was wondering why Jesus brought blessing but little judgment, for John had preached that Jesus would baptize with fire and separate the “wheat” from the “chaff” (3:11-12).  Jesus’ peaceful teaching and healing ministry may not have seemed to measure up.  Perhaps John was wondering about the veiled terms in which Jesus was giving his teachings.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 220)


Many Jews, however, did take offense at Jesus.  Some versions say “cause to stumble,” referring to Jews “stumbling” over Jesus because he did not meet their messianic expectations.  While Jesus’ words and deeds were worthy of the Messiah, he did not meet the Jewish leaders’ political and nationalistic interpretations of him.  So Jesus warned John and all the Jews not to allow their expectations to drive a wedge between them.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 221)


Accompanying the difficult situations were unmet expectations.  After all, this is the Messiah of whom it was prophesied, “He has sent Me…to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners” (Isa 61:1).  It was becoming clear by this point that Jesus was not meeting many of the expectations that a lot of Jewish people had for the Messiah.  John the Baptist had prophesied about the judgment that the Christ would bring about (Mt 3:11-12), but Roman rule was still in place–and John was in jail because of it!  It must have been confusing for the prophet to see Rome in charge, sin still rampant, and political and religious corruption still ruling the day.  Everything seemed to be just as it had been for generations.  Instead of overthrowing Rome, Jesus was spending time with irreligious sinners, teaching them about forgiveness, and to the great surprise of some, He wasn’t even fasting.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 145-6)


You cannot please men who are determined not to be pleased.  (Joseph Parker, Servant of All, Studies in Matthew 8-16, 137)


There are two ways to be fooled.  One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.  —Soren Kierkegaard


Contempt is conceived with expectations.  Respect is conceived with expressions of gratitude.  We can choose which one we will obsess over–expectations, or thanksgivings.  That choice will result in a birth–and the child will be named either contempt, or respect.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 67)


John had said, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12).  That is what the Messiah was expected to do.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 189)


His message had been a message of doom (Mt 3:7-12).  The axe was at the root of the tree; the winnowing process–the separation of grain from chaff, good from bad–had begun; the divine fire of cleansing judgment had begun to burn.  It may be that John was thinking:  “When is Jesus going to start on action?  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 3)


Not only may the Baptist have become demoralized, like his namesake Elijah, but the Baptist had preached in terms of imminent blessing and judgment.  By contrast Jesus was preaching in veiled fulfillment terms and bringing much blessing but no real judgment (cf. Dunn, Jesus, 55-62), and as a result the Baptist was having second thoughts.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 262)


John knew that what he preached was true, and he knew that Jesus was the one about whom he preached; yet Jesus had done none of those things.  The Messiah was to come in judgment, and John therefore expected Jesus to take “His winnowing fork in His hand” and start clearing the threshing floor and burning up the chaff.  He expected Jesus to display the blazing power of absolute, complete, and worldwide judgment.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 245)


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 offences; 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 offences, if we would continue in the faith of Christ; for Christ himself is justly denominated a rock of offence and stone of stumbling, by which many fall, (1 Pt 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 offences.  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.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 10-11)


Now “in prison” (11:2) and soon to die for proclaiming God’s righteousness and the coming Messiah, John wondered where this axe was and when Jesus was going to start swinging it.

Pretend you are John for a moment.  As the prophets foretold, you expect not just a Year of Jubilee but an era of full and final jubilee–when all the wrongs would be righted and all the prisoners set free (Isa 61:1).  Yet here you are–the most righteous of righteous men–imprisoned for months in the fortress of a scoundrel, the least righteous of unrighteous men.  And while you are imprisoned, out there Jesus is befriending Torah-breakers.  Jesus is not acting like God’s “Son” (remember what the heavenly voice said about Jesus at his baptism, 3:17, which John perhaps heard?), but like the “rebellious…son” of Dt 21:20–a boozer and a glutton.  It’s bad enough that Jesus is eating and drinking so much (what holy man would do that?); it’s even worse with whom he is eating and drinking (tax collectors and sinners, political and moral traitors).  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 292)


III-  Doubt grows as we drift from the Truth.  We become greater (more blessed) as we grow closer to the Truth.  Jesus confirms He is the Truth.  (Mt 11:7-11, 13-15; see also: Jn 14:6)  


If John the Baptist is a Super-prophet; what does that make Jesus?

If John is the greatest pre-kingdom man, what does that make Jesus as the King of the Kingdom?

If John is Elijah—not some reincarnation of Elijah (see Jn 1:21), but the one who has come, as the Jews expected, in the “spirit and power” of Elijah (Lk 1:17; cf. Mt 17:12). As the “Elijah” of Mal 4:5. the one who would prepare the way, not for the Messiah, but for God—who then is Jesus?  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell; Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth, 298)


The statement, ‘notwithstanding he that is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he,’ is difficult.  It obviously does not mean greater in intellect or in nobleness of soul or in devotedness, but in privilege.  One suggestion is that, as a child on a hill can see further than a giant in a valley, so he who is least in a higher dispensation has advantages over the greatest in a lower one.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 64)


John had never seen the cross.  Therefore one thing John could never know–the full revelation of the love of God.  The holiness of God he might know; the justice of God he might declare; but the love of God in all its fullness he could never know.  We have only to listen to the message of John and the message of Jesus.  No one could call John’s message a gospel, good news; it was basically a threat of destruction.  It took Jesus and his cross to show to men and women the length, breadth, depth and height of the love of God.  It is a most amazing thing that it is possible for the humblest Christian to know more about God than the greatest of the OT prophets.  Those who have seen the cross have seen the heart of God in a way that no one who lived before the cross could ever see it.  Indeed, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than anyone who went before.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 7-8)


What made John so special is that he had the privilege of actually pointing out the Messiah, which none of his predecessors had done.  John did no miracles (Jn 10:41), but he was greater than any of the earlier prophets (or anyone else who had come before him) simply because he had the job of announcing and then actually identifying Jesus as the Christ.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 191)


How can the least gifted, least significant, least prominent, least outspoken of today’s believers be greater than this greatest of OT figures, and therefore greater also than all the others?  For this reason:  because they can point to Jesus and witness to his work more clearly than even John could.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 191)


So often Christians want to establish their “greatness” with reference to their work, their giving, their intelligence, their preaching, their gifts, their courage, their discernment.  But Jesus unhesitatingly affirmed that even the least believer is greater than Moses or John the Baptist, simply because of his or her ability, living on this side of the coming of Jesus the Messiah, to point him out with greater clarity and understanding than all his forerunners ever could.  If we really believe this truth, it will dissipate all cheap vying for position and force us to recognize that our true significance lies in our witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.  (D. A. Carson, God with Us: Themes from Matthew, 65)


The least of the greater is greater than the greatest of the less.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 129)


In Christ’s eyes greatness is nearness to Him, and understanding of Him and His work.  Neither natural faculty nor worth is in question, but simply relation to the Kingdom and the King.  He who had only to preach of Him who should come after him, and had but a partial apprehension of Christ and His work, stood on a lower level than the least who has to look to a Christ who has come, and has opened the gates of the kingdom to the humblest believer.  The truths which were hid from ages, and were but visible as in morning twilight to John, are sunlit to us.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 129)


No man ever fulfilled his God-given purpose better than John.  Yet in God’s coming kingdom, all members will have a greater spiritual heritage than John because they will have seen and known Christ and his finished work on the cross.  The least in the kingdom of heaven are those of the faithful followers who participate in the kingdom.  John would die before Jesus would die and rise again to inaugurate his kingdom.  Jesus’ followers, because they will witness the kingdom’s reality, will have privilege and place greater than John’s.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 222)


Now in view of the fact that Jesus himself, in describing the nature of true greatness, always links it with humility (Mt 8:8, 10, cf. Lk 7:6, 9; Mt 18:1-5, cf. Mk 9:33-37 and Lk 9:46-48; Mt 20:26, 27, cf. Mk 10:43-45; Mt 23:11; and see also Mt 16:27, 28), is it not altogether probable that he does this also in the present case?  This humility, in turn, must be viewed as a gift which John had received from the Holy Spirit.  Thus the word of the angel addressed to Zechariah, “He shall be great…and filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15) had been and was being fulfilled.  Surely, all of this–a. John not only “the prophet of the Highest” but himself the fulfillment of prophecy, b. as such one who in a most humble manner fulfilled his task, c. being filled with the Holy Spirit and this from his mother’s womb–must be taken into consideration in order to do justice to the full meaning of Mt 11:11.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 487-8)


The contrast is between two eras, that of preparation, culminating in John, and that of fulfillment, the arrival of the kingdom of heaven which Jesus has now inaugurated.  John had proclaimed it (3:2), but he apparently remains outside while even the less important (cf. 5:19 for “least” and “great” in the kingdom of heaven) of those whom Jesus has now welcomed into the kingdom of heaven enjoys a privilege beyond that even of John himself.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 428-9)


The people longed for the Messiah to come and bring the day of the Lord.  However, they knew that the Messiah would not come before this prophecy from Malachi was fulfilled.  Elijah would come before the Messiah.  After Malachi gave this prophecy, whenever the Jews gathered to celebrate the Passover, they left an empty chair at the table in the event that Elijah should come that night and join their celebration.  To this day, when the Jewish people celebrate the Seder feast, they leave an empty chair for Elijah, because they are convinced he has not come yet.  And since they believe Elijah has not come, they believe the Messiah has not come.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 342-3)


True greatness is not being like John the Baptist but being like Christ.  That is the “one pearl of great value” for which it is worth sacrificing everything else (Mt 13:46).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 257)


IV-  Truth and light reveal and expose sin and demand repentance.  Truth violently cuts like a sword to gain preeminence.  (Mt 11:12; see also: Ps 119:11, 105; Jn 3:19-20; Rom 8:7; Heb 4:12)  


It sounds as if Matthew was saying:  “From the days of John, who was thrown into prison, right down to our own times, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and persecution at the hands of violent people.”

It is likely that we will get the full meaning of this difficult saying by putting together the recollection of Luke and Matthew.  What Jesus may well have said is:  “Always my kingdom will suffer violence, there will always be antagonism and people will try to break up the kingdom, and snatch it away and destroy it; and therefore only those who are desperately in earnest, only those in whom the violence of devotion matches and defeats the violence of persecution, will in the end enter into it.”  It may well be that this saying of Jesus was originally at one and the same time a warning of violence to come and a challenge to produce a devotion which would be even stronger than the violence.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 10)


Luke says that people storm their way into the kingdom; he means, as the NT scholar James Denney said, that the “kingdom of heaven is not for the well-meaning but for the desperate”, that no one drifts into the kingdom, that the kingdom only opens its doors to those who are prepared to make as great an effort to get into it as people do when they storm a city.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 9)


The parallel text in Lk 16:16 replaces the forceful advancing of the kingdom by the preaching of the gospel.  As the forceful men laying hold of the kingdom, this is exactly what is required.  The disciples of Jesus must not be like the indecisive persons of Mt 8:18-22.  Instead they must be bold, resolute, forceful, and determined.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 192)


A truly humble man does not fear being exposed.  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 121)


The great weakness in the North American church at large, and certainly in my life, is our refusal to accept our brokenness.  We hide it, evade it, gloss over it.  We grab for the cosmetic kit and put on our virtuous face to make ourselves admirable to the public.  Thus, we present to others a self that is spiritually together, superficially happy, and lacquered with a sense of self-deprecating humor that passes for humility.  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 122)


The violent irony is that his own people rejected him, while strangers accepted him.  His own people speak ill of him, while his enemies embrace him.  The act of adoption offers an inheritance, while the family rejects it.  Sons refuse to accept their father’s last will, while the slaves of the household receive it.  This is what is meant by the phrase “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.”  Earlier expectations are being torn apart.  The glory that was pledged to Israel by the patriarchs, which was announced by the prophets and which was offered by Christ, is now being seized and carried off by the Gentiles, through their faith.  (Hilary, The Kingdom of Heaven, on Matthew 11:7)


The kingdom, says Jesus, ever since the days of John’s first appearance upon the scene has been pressing forward vigorously, forcefully.  It is doing so now, as is clear from the fact that sick are being healed, lepers cleansed, the dead raised, sinners converted to everlasting life, all this now as never before.  Still, by no means everybody is entering.  Many, very many, even now are refusing and resisting.  But vigorous or forceful men, people who dare to break away from faulty human tradition and to return to the Word in all its purity, no matter what be the cost to themselves, such individuals are eagerly taking possession of the kingdom; that is, in their hearts and lives that kingship or reign of God and of Christ is being established.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 489-90)


From the days of John the Baptist until now (which has been a relatively brief period of time, perhaps eighteen months), the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.  Everywhere he went, John evoked strong reaction.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 256)


Ironically, Contact was based on a novel by the late Carl Sagan, an ardent evolutionist who believed in spontaneous generation and who was instrumental in starting the real SETI program.  The irony lies in the fact that Sagan was absolutely convinced that a simple string of prime numbers proves the existence of an intelligent being, but the equivalent of 1,000 encyclopedias in the first one-celled life does not.  (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 138)


V-  Doubts cannot be displaced in the hearts of childish, unrepentant, selfish, spoilt brats who expect their own way and are never satisfied until the world conforms to their agenda.  (Mt 11:16-19a; see also: Lk 7:31-34)


The reason why people don’t hear the truth is because they don’t WANT to hear the truth.


Depravity is man’s own way. ( Chuck Swindoll, James series, “How Fights Are Started and Stopped”)


Some of those who refused to believe the gospel covered their unbelief with criticism.  Jesus compared them to foolish children sitting in the market place who objected to everything the other children did.  They were like many people today who find fault with whatever the preacher and other church leaders do.  No matter what is said or done, such people pick it apart and use the objection–whether real of imagined, justified or unjustified–as an excuse for rejection.  Because they have no saving relationship to Christ, they refuse to receive His truth or serve in His church.  But they love to harp against both.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 260)


. . . the plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will easily enough find an excuse for not listening to it.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 12)


When children invite other children to join them in playing games, childish children insist on having their own way.  The current generation is like such children, who continually want to set the agenda of games.  They are like pouting, petulant children who criticize other children because they wouldn’t go along with their agenda.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 418)


Jesus was saddened by the sheer perversity of human nature.  To him, men and women seemed to be like children playing in the village square.  One group said to the other:  “Come on and let’s play at weddings,” and the others said:  “We don’t feel like being happy today.”  Then the first group said:  “All right; come on and let’s play at funerals,” and the others said:  “We don’t feel like being sad today.”  They were what the Scots call contrary.  No matter what was suggested, they did not want to do it; and no matter what was offered, they found a fault in it.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 11)


When men do not like the message, nothing that the messengers do, or are, is right.  Never mind consistency, but object to this form of Christian teaching that it is too harsh, and to that, that it is too soft; to this man that he is always thundering condemnation, to that, that he is always preaching mercy; to one, that he has too much to say about duty, to another, that he dwells too much on grace; to this presentation of the gospel, that it is too learned and doctrinal, to that, that it is too sentimental and emotional, and so on, and so on.  The generation of children who neither like piping nor lamenting, lives still.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 132)


In a word, Jesus regarded that generation of Jews, and particularly the leaders, as childish.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 344)


The problem was that the people’s expectations and preferences could not be satisfied.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 345)


As is John’s case, honest doubt can come even to a believer.  But the criticism and indifference Jesus mentions here came from unbelief.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 260)


It is no different today, of course.  God has many messengers with many varying gifts.  Some are powerful speakers who can move a crowd to tears.  Others are intellectual; they make a careful case for Christianity and present many powerful proofs of the gospel.  Some teachers are outgoing, talkative, people-oriented.  Others are retiring and thoughtful.  Some write books.  Others lead movements.  Still others speak on radio or appear on television.  Some are old and teach with the wisdom of their years.  Some are young and proclaim the truth with youthful vigor.  Some are prophetic.  Some are analytic.  None of this matters to a generation of determined sinners who say in opposition, “This one is too loud.  That one is too quiet.  This one is too intellectual.  That one is too superficial.”  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 193)


No one would listen to them and do what they asked, so the children were annoyed and dissatisfied.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 345)


John’s message and way of life were in the funeral mode, so to speak.  Some people become so resentful of his continual emphasis on repentance and judgment that they charged him with having a demon.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 261)


In contrast to John’s ascetic life-style, Jesus participated in all the normal social activities.  He traveled throughout most of Israel, going from city to city, village to village, synagogue to synagogue.  He had individual, intimate contact with many hundreds of people as He talked with them, healed their diseases, forgave their sins, and called them to follow Him.

Just as John lived in the funeral mode Jesus lived in the wedding mode.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 261)


Jesus said that God sent His messengers, but all the people did was to criticize.  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 146)


It is no wonder you have despised the dual path to salvation since you scorned poverty and wealth alike.  If you are pleased with poverty, why did John displease you?  If wealth pleases you, why did the Son of Man displease you?  You called one of these a man with a demon, the other a glutton and a drunkard.  Therefore, because you did not want to accept either teaching, “wisdom has been vindicated by her children,” that is, the direction and teaching of God.  (Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 2:11-16)


They called John’s self-denial madness; and they called Jesus’ sociability laxness of morals.  They could find grounds for criticism either way.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 11)


The one “mourning” refers to John the Baptist, who brought the message of confession and repentance to avoid the wrath of God.  He came neither eating nor drinking, yet that did not satisfy the Jews.  John was an ascetic; he did not seek out social occasions.  They assumed that he had a demon (or was merely deranged).  In contrast, the one “playing the flute” referred to Jesus (here he called himself Son of Man) who came eating and drinking.  He joined in social occasions, and his diet was like other people’s.  But that did not satisfy the Jews either.  They simply labeled him as a glutton and a drunkard who hung out with the lowest sort of people.  Many of the Jews in Jesus’ generation, including most of the religious establishment, simply refused to listen and went about their own “games.”  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 224)


It is clear that Jesus is here accusing these critics of being childish.  There is a difference between being childlike and being childish.  The Lord recommends the first (18:1-5 and parallel passages).  He condemns the second.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 491)


Although he drew crowds (vv. 7-8) and many were willing to enjoy his light for a time (Jn 5:35), yet the people as a whole rejected him, even charging him with demon possession.  Jesus came eating and drinking (9:10-11; Lk 15:1-2; cf. Jn 2:1-11) and was charged with gluttony, drunkenness, and bad associations (v. 19; cf. Prv 23:20).  Like disgruntled children, “this generation” found it easier to whine their criticisms and voice their discontent than to “play the game.”  Jesus says in effect:  “But all you do is to give orders and criticize.  For you the Baptist is a madman because he fasts, while you want to make merry; me you reproach because I eat with publicans, while you insist on strict separation from sinners.  You hate the preaching of repentance, and you hate the proclamation of the Gospel.  So you play your childish game with God’s messengers while Rome burns!”  (Jeremias, Parables, 161-2)


There are only two kinds of people in the end:  those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”  —C.S. Lewis


It is a hardhearted generation that distorts Jesus’ salvific association with those who need spiritual healing into an accusation of him being a rapacious and inebriated party animal.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 419)


For the first step in learning is the capacity to doubt, nor is there anything so inimical to learning as the presumption of one’s own erudition or excessive reliance upon one’s own wits:  the one takes away our interest in learning, while the other diminishes it, and in this way students unnecessarily deceive themselves.  The easiest person to deceive is one’s self, and there is no one our deceit damages more than ourselves.  (Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition, 323)


CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What is Jesus’ cure for doubts?:



  1. Doubt-crushing faith comes by hearing, really hearing, Truth. Not by a leap.  (Mt 11:4; see also: Isa 29:1-21; 35:1-10; 61:1-11; Mal 3:1-2; 4:5-6; Mt 13:9, 13-18, 43; 15:10; Mk 4:9, 15-16, 18, 20, 23-24; 6:11; 7:14; 8:18; Lk 8:8, 12-15, 18, 21; 9:44; 10:24; 14:35; Jn 10:1-27; 17:17; Acts 2:14; 3:22-23; 28:27-28; 1 Cor 14:21; 2 Tm 4:3;   Rom 10:17; Heb 3:7, 15; 4:7; Jam 1:19, 22; Rv 1:3; 2:7, 11,17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 13:9)


So the first antidote to doubt is biblical revelation.    (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 147)


Many believers today also doubt certain truths about God because of incomplete information, because they have inadequate knowledge or understanding of His Word.  The Christian who is immersed in Scripture has no reason to stumble.  When God is allowed to speak through His Word, doubt vanishes like mist in the sunlight.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 8-15, 242)


Thomas Merton wrote in his Asian Journal that trust increases through our fidelity to the search and leads to “a certitude which is very, very deep because it is not our own personal certitude, it is the certitude of God Himself in us.  (Thomas Merton, The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, 54)  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 105)


John was right in believing that the Christ must come to judge.  A Christ without the fan in His hand is a maimed Christ.  John was wrong in stumbling at the gentleness, just as many today, who go to the opposite extreme, are wrong in stumbling at the judicial side of His work.  Both halves are needed to make the full-orbed character.  We have not to “look for a different” Christ, but we have to look for Him, coming the second time the same Jesus, but now with His axe in His pierced hands, to hew down trees which He has patiently tended.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 123-4)


The very points in Christ’s work which may occasion difficulty, will, when we stand at the right point of view, become evidences of His claims.  What were stumbling-blocks become stepping-stones.  Arguments against become proofs of the truth when we look at them with clearer eyes, and from the proper angle.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 124)


In Jesus’ ministry are fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies that described the coming messianic ministry in these very terms:  The blind receive sight (9:27-32; Isa 29:18; 35:5), the lame walk (Mt 15:30-31; cf. Isa 35:6), those who have leprosy are cured (Mt 8:1-4; cf. Isa 53:4), the deaf hear (Mr 7:32-37; cf. Isa 29:18-19; 35:5), the dead are raised (Mt 10:8; cf. Isa 26:18-19), and the good news is preached to the poor (Mt 5:3; cf. Isa 61:1).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 413)


All four of the Isaiah passages refer to judgment in their immediate context; e.g., “your God will come…with vengeance; with divine retribution” (35:4); “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa 61:2).  Thus, Jesus was allusively responding to the Baptist’s question:  the blessings promised for the end time have broken out and prove it is here, even though the judgments are delayed (cf. Jeremias, Promise, 46).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 262)


Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith.  If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.  (James Tour, Nanoscientist)


Instead of condemning John, Jesus ministered to him from the Bible, reminding him of the messianic passages that had been fulfilled.  Then, when John’s disciples were on their way back to the prison, Jesus praised John to the people.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 190)


John fulfilled prophecy, for he himself was the Elijah who was to come, prophesied in Mal 4:5.  John was not a resurrected Elijah, but he took on Elijah’s prophetic role–boldly confronting sin and pointing people to God (Mal 3:1).  Jesus understood how difficult it was for the people to grasp all that they were seeing and hearing, for he said, “If you are willing to accept it.”  Indeed, many would be unwilling.  Only those who had ears would be able to truly hear what Jesus meant by the words he said.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 223)


When Descatres began by asking, “How do we know?” and answered by declaring his point of origin to be ‘cogito ergo sum,’ I think, therefore I am, he had already presupposed what he knew.  The orthodox Christian, who begins with the doctrine of the Triune God as taken from the infallible Scriptures, is assumed to be prejudiced and ignorant, in that he has already assumed all that supposedly needs proof.  But the modern man who begins with his own autonomous nature and establishes his reason as the unprejudiced and valid interpreter of God and the world has in fact assumed far more.  If God did indeed create heaven and earth and all things therein, then nothing can have any meaning or interpretation apart from God.  Inasmuch as all things came into being by virtue of His sovereign decree, all things have meaning only in terms of His eternal counsel.  The only true interpretation of any fact, including man, is in terms therefore of God the Creator and providential Controller.  (Rousas J. Rushdoony, By What Standard?, 9)


  1. Faith is encouraged when we submit whole-heartedly to the Jesus that God reveals to us in His Word and prevent our expectations and preconceived ideas of getting in the way. (Mt 11:6; see also: Ez 12:2; 33:31; Mt 13:1-23; Lk 8:21; 11:28; Jam 1:22)


Jim Wallis of Sojourners defines hope as “trusting God in spite of all the evidence, then watching the evidence change.”  This is also a good working definition of faith (trust in God) and of faithfulness (obedience to God in spite of all cost).  “No lack of trust made him waver,” says Paul, holding up Abraham as the model of the one who trusts God, “but he grew powerful in his faith as he gave glory to God” (4:20).  (A. Katherine Grieb, The Story of Romans, 53)


A few years ago I read something rather random, but I’ve never forgotten it:  “Dynamic properties are not revealed in the static state.”  Too many of us try to understand truth in the static state.  We want to understand it without doing anything about it, but it doesn’t work that way.  You want to understand it?  Then obey it.  Obedience will open the eyes of your understanding far more than any commentary or concordance could.  I think many of us doubt Scripture simply because we haven’t done it.  The way you master a text isn’t by studying it.  The way you master a text is by submitting to it.  You have to let it master you.  (Mark Batterson, Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, 80-1)


We humans have a fatal tendency to try to adjust the truth to fit our desires rather than adjusting our desires to fit the truth.  (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 32)


Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.  —Winston Churchill


Franciscan Richard Rohr writes, “Humility and honesty are really the same thing.  A humble person is simply a brutally honest person about the whole truth.  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 124)


The Bible is a supernatural book and can be understood only by supernatural aid.  (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 29)


The Church can make no impression upon the age so long as it indulges in merely wordy controversy.  What is the Church doing?  (Joseph Parker, Servant of All, Studies in Matthew 8-16, 134)


There’s a difference between proving a proposition and accepting a proposition.  We might be able to prove Christianity is true beyond reasonable doubt, but only you can choose to accept it.  Please consider this question to see if you are open to acceptance:  If someone could provide reasonable answers to the most significant questions and objections you have about Christianity–reasonable to the point that Christianity seems true beyond a reasonable doubt–would you then become a Christian?  Think about that for a moment.  If your honest answer is no, then your resistance to Christianity is emotional or volitional, not merely intellectual.  No amount of evidence will convince you because evidence is not what’s in your way–you are.  In the end, only you know if you are truly open to the evidence for Christianity.  (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 31)


The ascendance of the scientific method based solely in the physical realm over the past four hundred years presents a major problem:  we have lost touch with the deep mystery at the center of existence–our consciousness.  It was (under different names and expressed through different world-views) something known well and held close by pre-modern religions, but it was lost to our secular Western culture as we became increasingly enamored with the power of modern science and technology.

For all of the successes of Western civilization, the world has paid a dear price in terms of the most crucial component of existence–our human spirit.  The shadow side of high technology–modern warfare and thoughtless homicide and suicide, urban blight, ecological mayhem, cataclysmic climate change, polarization of economic resources–is bad enough.  Much worse, our focus on exponential progress in science and technology has left many of us relatively bereft in the realm of meaning and joy, and of knowing how our lives fit into the grand scheme of existence for all eternity.  (Eben Alexander, M.D., Proof of Heaven, 152)


Although we believe the evidence we’re about to present shows that the Bible is true beyond reasonable doubt, no amount of evidence can compel anyone to believe it.  Belief requires assent not only of the mind but also of the will.  While many non-Christians have honest intellectual questions, we have found that many more seem to have a volitional evidence to believe, it’s that they don’t want to believe.  (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 30)


. . . we battle doubt with joyful submission.  After Jesus recounts His great works to John’s disciples, He closes by saying, “And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed” (v. 6).  To not be offended because of Jesus is essentially to trust Him.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 147)


Jesus also said in essence, “And tell him not to feel slighted by what I’m up to, for ‘blessed is the one who is not offended by me’ [v. 6].  He can trust me, I’m the one.  I’m the right guy.”

Here Jesus speaks insider Bible-talk.  Without directly quoting the Bible, Jesus relays a message that John would understand.  He asks John to “see” and “hear” what the Word says about the Messiah and then, based on that word, to change his expectations.  If John could grasp that what Isaiah’s Messiah was to do, it would fit what Jesus has been doing.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 293)


So Jesus confirms for John that the blessings of the messianic age have arrived with his ministry.  But Jesus likewise mildly rebukes John and his disciples by calling them to see the bigger picture in his ministry:  “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”  This beatitude functions as both a warning and a challenge.  It is a warning to those who fail to understand correctly Jesus’ identity and ministry and so fall away from faith in his saving activity.  It is a challenge to those with eyes of faith to stand firm in what God has reveled about Jesus in John’s own message and in Jesus’ ministry.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 413-4)


I remembered Pascal arguing that God has given us just enough light so that we can understand and just enough darkness or obscurity to deny the truth, if we wish.  That was it.  Of course, God cannot reveal Himself in a rationally irrefutable manner.  If God were plain to us as the tree outside our window, as one great theologian once wrote, we would have no need for faith.  If we saw God in His true character, in His glory, in anything like the way we see the world around us, our free will would be meaningless.  We could not help but believe in God.  It would be impossible to deny Him.  This would destroy the possibility of choosing to believe–of faith–and with it the possibility of love, because love cannot be compelled.  We cannot love God if we are not given the option of rejecting Him.  Remember, God has given us just enough light to see by, but not enough to eliminate the need to see with eyes of faith.  Our pride has to get out of the way, and we have to recognize that faith is not faith unless it is accompanied by doubt–or at least, as Catholic piety would say, difficulties.  (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 380)


Perhaps it will help us to know what faith is if we first notice what it is not.  It is not the believing of a statement we know to be true.  The human mind is so constructed that it must of necessity believe when the evidence presented to it is convincing.  It cannot help itself.  When the evidence fails to convince, no faith is possible.  No threats, no punishment, can compel the mind to believe against clear evidence.

Faith based upon reason is faith of a kind, it is true; but it is not of the character of Bible faith, for it follows the evidence infallibly and has nothing of a moral or spiritual nature in it.  Neither can the absence of faith based upon reason be held against anyone, for the evidence, not the individual, decides the verdict.  To send a man to hell whose only crime was to follow evidence straight to its proper conclusion would be palpable injustice; to justify a sinner on the grounds that he had made up his mind according to the plain facts would be to make salvation the result of the workings of a common law of the mind as applicable to Judas as to Paul.  It would take salvation out of the realm of the volitional and place it in the mental, where, according to the Scriptures, it surely does not belong.

True faith rests upon the character of God and asks no further proof than the moral perfections of the One who cannot lie.  It is enough that God said it, and if the statement should contradict every one of the five senses and all the conclusions of logic as well, still the believer continues to believe.  “Let God be true, but every man a liar,” is the language of true faith.  Heaven approves such faith because it rises above mere proofs and rests in the bosom of God.  (A.W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 31-32)


“If someone says to me, “I don’t get anything out of reading Scripture,” my knee-jerk response is, “I will show you how to read it so that you can get something out of it.”   The operative word is “get”.   I will help you be a better consumer.  By this time the process is so far advanced that it is nearly irreversible.  We have agreed, my parishioners and I, to treat the Bible as something useful for what they can use out of it.  I, a pastor shaped by their expectations, help them to do it.   At some point I cross over the line and am doing it myself—looking for an arresting text for a sermon, looking for the psychologically right reading in a hospital room, looking for evidence of the truth of the Trinity.  The verb looking has taken over.  I am no longer listening to a voice, not listening to the God to whom I will give a response in obedience and faith, becoming the person he is calling into existence.  I am looking for something that I can use to do a better job, for which people will give me a raise if I do it conspicuously well enough.” (Eugene Peterson; Working the Angles, 99)


  1. Faith is confirmed by righteous and encouraging results. (Mt 11:4, 19b; see also: Prv 1:20; 8:1; Mt 3:8, 10; 7:16-20; 12:33; 21:43; Lk 3:8-9; 6:43-44; 13:6-7; Jn 15:1-16; Rom 7:4-5; Gal 5:22-23; 6:7-8 Eph 5:9; Phil 1:11; Col 1:6, 10; 2 Thes 1:4-5; Heb 2:10-18; 11:13-16, 39-40; 12:5-11; 1 Pt 1:3-9; Jam 1:2-4, 12; 3:17;  Jude 1:12)


If we are greater than John the Baptist, let us prove our greatness by our beneficence, our nobleness, our heroic self-sacrifice, our splendid service, our uncomplaining industry.  (Joseph Parker, Servant of All, Studies in Matthew 8-16, 137)


The best proof that his words are true:  It’s you!  Your life changed from the inside out by Jesus’ power is the best evidence to a skeptical world that Jesus speaks the truth.

It’s a big responsibility, but go easy on yourself.  Being a “perfect” person is impossible and self-defeating.  Instead, just let Jesus work inside your heart and mind.  The changes he brings will speak volumes to a watching world.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 225)


A wise course will yield positive “children,” that is, results.  So, Jesus was saying that the fruit that would come from His ministry and John’s ministry would demonstrate that they were godly men.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 346)


“The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor are evangelized.”  That was Christ’s graphic answer; not metaphysical, not doctrinal, not a matter of opinion elaborately stated and eloquently discussed, but facts, palpable results, active and noble beneficence.  A man’s work should praise him; a man’s life should be his vindication.  (Joseph Parker, Servant of All, Studies in Matthew 8-16, 133)


“Does my life manifest the fruit of sanctification?”  (R.C. Sproul; Doubt and Assurance, 52)


The faith that justifies is a living faith that brings forth the fruit of obedience.  That obedience does not save.  But if it is not present, that is the clearest proof that faith is no faith at all.  When James says a man is justified by works, he means that the man’s works demonstrate or vindicate his faith.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 346)


Elsewhere in the NT Jesus is referred to as “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24, 30), and the message of the gospel is “God’s wisdom” (1 Cor 2:7), which has become reality through Jesus’ death on the cross (1 Cor 2:8).  In this view, as Wisdom incarnate, Jesus’ deeds, including those criticized by his opponents, will ultimately vindicate him.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 419)


The answer is that our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth in Christ’s courtroom to demonstrate that our faith is real.  And our deeds will be the public evidence brought forth to demonstrate the varying measures of our obedience of faith.  In other words, salvation is by grace through faith, and rewards are by grace through faith, but the evidence of invisible faith in the judgment hall of Christ will be a transformed life.  Our deeds are not the basis of our salvation, they are the evidence of our salvation.  They are not foundation, they are demonstration.  All our salvation will be by grace through faith–demonstrated by what this book calls “living by faith in future grace.”  (John Piper, Future Grace, 364)


God’s wisdom is seen in Jesus’ deeds.  People could see the kingdom’s power through Jesus’ miracles.  These miracles vindicated (justified) Jesus’ teaching.  People might reject both the miracles and the teaching, but that will not change their truth nor will it hinder the kingdom’s arrival.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 224)


Worship Point:  If you struggle to worship Christ the King, it means you have failed to see Him as God has revealed Him to us.  Your expectations, doubts and preconceived ideas of a savior are getting in the way.


John’s perspective was limited, and so is ours.  Whenever we go through difficult situations with unmet expectations and questions rising up within us, we need to remember that our perspective is always limited.  In the end, we must trust that God knows what He is doing.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Matthew, 146-7)


If you are rejecting Jesus Christ as your Savior, it is not because the gospel has not been taught or because thoughtful preachers have not defended it.  It is because you do not want to repent of your sin and trust Christ instead of clinging to your own faulty character and weak works.  You excuse yourself by pretending you are wise to do as you are doing, too wise to be taken in by any cheap religious claims.  But you are not wise.  If you think you are, you are the greatest of fools.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 193)


If we would turn every doubt into greater faith, the Devil would soon stop allowing things that cause us to doubt to come into our view.  If we would turn every temptation into greater obedience and devotion to Christ, the Devil would soon stop allowing us to be tempted in any way at all. — Keith Porter contemplating Romans 4:18-25 (3-14-11)


The evidence which Jesus gave was that the prophet’s words were being fulfilled (Isa 35:5, 61:1), that the messianic age had dawned with the Messiah’s activities.  Jesus’ statement focused His authority to reinterpret the messianic expectation, saying, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 145)


All these passages describe physical miracles such as giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, movement to people who are paralyzed (Isa 35:5-6), restoring the dead to life (Isa 26:19), and helping the poor (Isa 29:18-19).  They are all explicitly messianic texts.  But the interesting thing is that all four of these passages also go on to speak of a work of messianic judgment, the very thing John had been proclaiming, but which Jesus pointedly leaves out.  This was most obvious in Nazareth where Jesus stopped his reading of Isaiah 61 just before the words “and the day of vengeance of our God” (v. 2).

Why did Jesus stop at this point?  Obviously, because this was not the object of his ministry at this time.  One day he would come in judgment and the second half of the prophecies would be fulfilled.  But for now, his goal was to teach the Bible, preach the gospel, and heal the sick.  In other words, the days in which we live are to be days of God’s favor, days of grace.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 190-1)

Some Christians fear they are the only believer who wrestles with doubts.  Consequently they often parade a facade of spiritual confidence and feel like a hypocritical fake.  Fortunately, God understands such frustration and has provided stories of similar struggles to help us in the midst of our doubt.  One of my favorites is found in Mk 9:24, but one that might hit closer to home comes from the founder of Methodism.  Many people have heard of John Wesley’s conversion at Aldersgate when he wrote of his experience as one in which his heart was “strangely warmed.”  He had previously taken a mission trip to America only to discover he was not a minister but a lost soul.  Most of the time the story ends at Aldersgate as if he lived “happily ever after.”  But less than a year later Wesley wrote in his journal, “I know that I am not a Christian.  I know it because I do not feel that I love God and His Son Jesus Christ as my Saviour.”  He would later lead England in a great spiritual awakening that sparked revival in America as well.  In 1784 he established the formal beginnings of the Methodist denomination.  Even great men of God have doubts.  What we do with those doubts will dictate whether or not our faith is strengthened or weakened.


Gospel Application:  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).  Jesus is everything for us and to us.  Jesus Himself told us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).


Spiritual Challenge:  It’s Friday, but Sunday is a comin.   And then there is Monday.


If the Bible is true, then God has provided each of us with the opportunity to make an eternal choice to either accept him or reject him.  And in order to ensure that our choice is truly free, he puts us in an environment that is filled with evidence of his existence, but without his direct presence–a presence so powerful that it could overwhelm our freedom and thus negate our ability to reject him.  In other words, God has provided enough evidence in this life to convince anyone willing to believe, yet he has also left some ambiguity so as not to compel the unwilling.  (Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, 31)




May all your expectations be frustrated,

May all your plans be thwarted,

May all your desires be withered into nothingness that you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and sing and dance in the compassion of God; who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  AMEN

— Brennan Manning






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