You are better than the greatest super-hero!

Continuing to slowly examine what Jesus said about John the Baptist this next verse has been misinterpreted (again) by the Jehovah Witnesses to prove that John the Baptist never made it to heaven:

“Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11 v 11)

This weekend many people in Britain will be taking on the ‘100 challenge’. Captain Sir Tom Moore now famously having walked 100 laps of his garden before he turned 100yrs last year and raised nearly £33 million for the NHS charities will not be here to see people like Dame Mary Berry bake 100 cakes. He had inspired Britain with his achievement but having died on 2nd February will not see stars like Joe Root hit a cricket ball a 100 times or Dame Judi Dench eat 100 chocolates! He had talked with his daughter about this weekend’s challenge to raise more money but he isn’t here to experience it. His daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, said: “He would have loved to have done this. We talked about it and he was really, really looking forward to it.”

It may not be the best example but it helps to reveal what Jesus was meaning.

John the Baptist will always be remembered for being Malachi’s ‘messenger’ who prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah with the message that a new kingdom was near. It is this role that set him apart from all the amazing servants of God. Jesus says there is no one greater in that old era and so we think of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, the prophets and King David. John the Baptist beats them all because of his crucial role in preparing the way for this new Messianic Kingdom. But Jesus also indicates that John is going to die. He won’t make it into experiencing what he foretold. His mission was great in the old kingdom in fact there was no one greater than him. But, as the Message translation helps, “No one in history surpasses John the Baptizer; but in the kingdom he prepared you for, the lowliest person is ahead of him.”

So who are the lowliest people in the new Jesus’ Kingdom? The gospels all reveal even though the disciples at the time may not have perceived it that the least likely are the greatest. The blind, the lame, the deaf, the poor, the widow, the child who accept Christ and follow Him though least are greater than John the Baptist.

But there is one other person who is least and yet who is greater than John the Baptist and all the super heroes before him. You!

You in your own prison of doubt, pain and confusion perhaps.

You who have nothing to give to Jesus except brokenness and sin.

You who feels like a failure and a disappointment to so many.

You, me, we are the least.

You, me, who have and continue to experience grace upon grace. Forgiveness, love, mercy, cleansing, freedom, the words just tumble out. All because of the death and the resurrection of Christ. We are greater than any character in the Old Testament and this one man stuck in prison having prepared the way for Christ, John.

So think on that, the next time you are hard on yourself. You are experiencing what many before you only longed for and you have what many still don’t have, a Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Jesus believes in you more than you believe in Him.

John is in prison, stronger than he thinks; the weak one, the reed blowing in the wind is Herod not the Baptist. When John was in the wilderness he didn’t have finery found in Palaces like Herod’s. But he adapted to the wilderness and survived.

Jesus continues …

“Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you” (Matthew 11 v 9-10)

Jesus is quoting the prophet Malachi whose name means ‘messenger’. Written before the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah and after the rebuilding of the temple, it is placed at the end of the Old Testament so that it can flow into Matthew’s gospel; the connection being that of the fore-runner and the Messiah, John the Baptist and Jesus.

John cleared the road ahead of King Jesus to come. He removed the obstacles and filled in the potholes as Jesus headed to the Temple, just as Malachi prophesied (3:1).

Now here is my one thought today and I hope it blesses you.

You may doubt at times. You may be in a set of circumstances that mean you feel stuck, trapped and not where you thought you would be. Why doesn’t Jesus get me out of this prison? Jesus doesn’t chastise you for struggling with these doubts. What he does want you to hear is this: He believes in you; He has no doubts about you and your role that you are playing in the big story of God; you are meant to be; “John you were prophesied about” and you? Well, before you entered the world your life was ordained by God who saw you coming!

We are all messengers clearing the road for King Jesus to return. We all find ourselves at times doubting whether He is coming and why He doesn’t do what we want Him to do. But not for a second does He not know who we are and where we are. He believes in you! He is not seeing you the way at times you see you.

When this truth sinks deep into your understanding then it enables you to even go to your own death for Him.

Adapt not conform

This last year the world has had to adapt within a pandemic. We have changed the way we live. The verse today and this thought has made me realise that as a follower of Jesus there isn’t anywhere we go nor situation that we find ourselves in that we cannot adapt/change our lives in order to continue.

John the Baptist isn’t a reed blown in the wind. That is weak Herod with his reed-emblazoned emblem who put him in prison. John is stronger than Herod.

“If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.” (Matthew 11 v 8)

Again in contrast to Herod in his palace with all his finery looking successful, John doesn’t look like that.

“John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” (3 v 4)

Fine clothes in a wilderness is out of place. But if God had called you to the palace then that is a different matter.

The point is not that we shouldn’t wear fine clothes but that we should embrace the environment we are in and our purpose for being there.

There are wonderful examples from the animal kingdom of how in order to survive and thrive animals have adapted to their surroundings. For the sake of time, I won’t explain how they do it but just what they do. You can do your own research!

Alaskan Wood Frogs freeze their own bodies to survive the harsh -80 degrees F winters. In spring time they thaw out and come back to life.

Cuttlefish change their colour and texture to blend into their surroundings.

Antarctic fish, the notothenioid make their own anti-freeze to survive the cold harsh waters of the Southern Ocean.

But it’s not just the animal kingdom. Travel anywhere in the world and you will ask the question, how do people live here? Whether that be in the heights of the Himalayas or the scorched places of the deserts. But they do. They have found a way to adapt and it is fascinating.

John’s appearance had adapted to the wilderness years that he lived there and the message that was growing inside him.

When the people went out to see him they saw a man who looked like the wilderness man.

Here is my thought: Within the environment you are in right now (no matter how difficult your circumstance) lies an opportunity for you to adapt. You can find a way to evolve in order not only to survive but to thrive. You may be exactly where God wants you to be and He is waiting, speaking, helping you adapt, change and fit your life into that environment. It may be permanent or seasonal but you can do it. This is not weakness, this is strength. This is not conforming but adapting. It is different. To conform is to fulfil expectations of others and to behave in the way they want you to. To adapt is to adjust to new conditions and it is a huge accolade. You can do this!

You are more than what you may think you are!

Do you ever think you haven’t accomplished all that you wanted to accomplish? Do you ever doubt your life? The circumstance that you are in now is it what you had hoped for? Do you ever feel that there is some hypocrisy attached to you? What people see and who you really are. How have things worked out for you?

For John the Baptist, now in prison and who would never be released, death being very near, these are his thoughts. “Is this the Messiah?” “Will he rescue me if he is?”

John’s disciples are leaving and Jesus addresses the crowd and speaks about John.

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” (Matthew 11 v 7)

This rhetorical question of Jesus is a wonderful accolade of John and would be a huge encouragement. What Jesus says about you is always far greater than even what you say about you!

Everyone knows where John is. Imprisoned by Herod Antipas (4 BC-39 AD).

Previously John was in the wilderness calling people to repent for the Kingdom was near.

Crowds went out to see him. Many became his disciples. But look at him now.

Was John following the latest fad, speaking the latest teaching, regurgitating what others were saying? Was he simply a showman? With no depth?

The emblem of Herod Antipas was printed on his own coins. The emblem was a reed!

Isn’t Jesus so clever?!

Who was a reed blowing in the wind? It wasn’t John. Don’t look at his circumstance in that way. John is where he is because of his resolve. He wasn’t afraid to speak up, to say the truth and challenge injustice. He isn’t tossed around like the wind. Not John. Now Herod on the other hand ….!

Friends, look at your predicament today. Look at your problem. It isn’t perfect right? It’s not what you hoped for. But that doesn’t make you weak or a lesser of an individual, a second class disciple. You may have doubts and all kinds of emotions because of your circumstance. However, what Jesus says about you is greater. You are not like others who are in better circumstances but blown here and there. You are strong. You are determined. You are a man/woman of faith and are still following the Messiah!

5 ways to handle people – how Jesus did it.

John is in prison. He begins to doubt and those doubts play havoc in his mind.

So he sends his disciples for proof. He just needs to know Jesus is the One. Even if he never gets out of the prison, even if he dies, he needs to know it has all been worth it.

Jesus has given them his response. He has been gracious and encouraging to John. They will return to the prison to confirm that Jesus is the One, the Messiah.

But then Matthew describes in a few words a scenario that will further strengthen John.

“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John” (Matthew 11 v 7)

They could still hear Jesus speaking and that is the whole point. They would have more things to tell John. Maybe they slowed their pace down as they were listening?! That’s what I would have done.

  • What you say about someone is more powerful than what you say to them especially when they get to hear it from others.
  • When people are leaving you make sure they leave with the sound of Jesus.
  • Changing people’s allegiances isn’t always the most important thing, timing is everything. (They came and left as John’s disciples).
  • Your predicament (the prison) entrusted to Jesus can be an opportunity for a crowd to hear the good news.
  • Jesus is never embarrassed with your situation but will use it for His glory. (Jesus was more than willing to speak about John even if though he looked like a failure)

They missed it.

How can the enlightened ones get it wrong; the ones who knew their Scriptures better than anyone else; how can religious leaders lead people down the wrong path? But they did.

“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence,and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear. ‘To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the market-places and calling out to others: ‘“We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.’” (Matthew 11 v 7-19)

You got it wrong.

  1. About John:
  2. Jesus applauds his cousin and raises him up before the people.
  3. He was not someone following the latest fad, speaking the latest teaching, regurgitating what others are saying.
  4. He was not some lavish, wealthy, super rabbi!
  5. He was more than you thought he was when you met him.
  6. He was the Messenger that the prophets Isaiah and Malachi spoke of.
  7. He was not part of the new day, this new kingdom and so is not as great as you may think he is. You got it wrong.
  • About Jesus:
  • I am who the Messenger introduced and prepared the way for.
  • I am who was prophesied by the prophets.
  • I have brought the new kingdom of God that you have for generations longed for.
  • This new kingdom is not what you were expecting. It is an upside down kingdom. So the least of it is greater than the one who heralded it. We touch the lepers and the unclean and make them well. We have parties with those who are barred from the synagogues of worship. We eat and work on the Sabbath. You got it wrong.
  • Regarding your own life
  • Jesus was saying, “God had a purpose for your life but your rejection of John and ultimately of me has meant you rejected that purpose.”
  • You rejected your purpose but you held on to your pride. You resisted John’s baptism for repentance because there was no need in your life to do so.
  • Those you counted as sinners, like the tax collectors, are further on than you, because they accepted what you turned down. You got it wrong.

They got it wrong about John the Baptist, they got it wrong about Jesus and then got it wrong regarding their own life.

The religious got it wrong.

Those on the outside who look good, got it wrong.

Those who regularly worship the Creator God and the coming Messiah, got it wrong.

Those who are nearest to the kingdom of God, got it wrong.

AND those who you least expect, got it right. They still do.

When you are stuck assurance is needed.

When we are trapped doubts come.

When there is no visitation from heaven to our prison cell, the nights are long and the days become night.

“After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matthew 11 v 1-6)

Don’t be disappointed in John the Baptist.

He is stuck in a prison cell, forgotten, his only future is death. One thing plagued him in the darkness and loneliness. Had he got it wrong? There was no mistaking at the time the revelation he had of Jesus at the Jordan river. This was who he had become the messenger for. But now, here, trapped. He doesn’t want to die in vain. Did he point out the right Messiah? After all there had been so many false ones.

John begins to doubt and those doubts play havoc in his mind.

So John sends his disciples for proof. He just needs to know Jesus is the One. Even if he never gets out of the prison, even if he dies, he needs to know it has all been worth it.

Jesus’ response is amazingly compassionate and kind. Truly!

  • He gave John’s disciples first-hand experience of the miracles he was doing and his teaching. They saw and they heard. They were there. When they returned to John that prison cell came alive with testimony. Light shone in the darkness. There are times when we all need to hear of a miracle. We all need to hear a transformational story. That Jesus saves.
  • He quoted Isaiah, especially chapters 29, 35 and 61: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. But how amazing that he stops short and doesn’t say also: to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. John knew Isaiah’s prophecies about what the Messiah would do. The startling omission is an obvious message to John. Will you still believe even if I leave you in prison? If I don’t do what you expect me to do, is that okay with you?
  • He blessed John with the instruction to remain strong. Don’t stumble at this point. Hold on John, your blessing is coming. We too receive this message. Wherever we are, even if we are trapped, let the light of Jesus penetrate the cell you are in. He is the One. There is no other. Don’t let go of the truth. Blessing is coming. It is yours.

It will be tough but Jesus has people ready to take care of you.

We have come to the end of this teaching before Jesus sends his disciples out on mission. How does Jesus close? By talking about unnamed people that will not make the headline news but who will make it possible for the mission-sent disciples to do their work.

The focus is not on the prophets and the righteous ministries nor even the less prominent ones, called ‘little ones’ by Matthew. This is about the unnamed people who will welcome, encourage and take care of them.

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.’” (Matthew 10 v 40-42)

In 1992 I launched out of Bible College with my wife who was expecting our first child ready to change the world for Jesus. I became the Pastor of a rural small church plant of 15 people. In the next 4 years we saw the numbers grow rapidly with wonderful stories of transformation of people’s lives. But when I look back I am always thankful for the unnamed people who took care of our needs, who encouraged and supported us even when we faced opposition. Let me name them:

Philip and Sylvia; Joe and Dorothy; John and Rachel.

Who are they? Just ordinary people who are the unnamed part of the story but without them the story would not have happened.

The Message translation says: “Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger.”

You may be a minister or a missionary reading this thinking of those who have and still take care of you today. Or you may be one of the unnamed people behind such ministries.

Jesus tells us that those who take care of the ‘worker’ is equal to the worker even to their reward. If you are one of them reading this, thank you, for all you are doing. For those of us who wouldn’t be where we are today without such people may we continue to acknowledge these wonderful Jesus people who take care of us especially when the mission is tough!

It will be tough but it’s never about your own importance.

The English flag is a red cross on a white background and associated with St George and today is the day we celebrate St George.

In 1940 King George VI created the GEORGE CROSS medal for “acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.” It is the second highest ranking medal and given mainly to civilians. It is valued at £120,000.

Children will study the story of St George the dragon slayer. But here are some interesting facts:

He wasn’t English, but born in Turkey.

He wasn’t a knight but probably a Roman officer.

He never visited England.

He never slayed a dragon.

He doesn’t belong only to England but other nations like Ethiopia and Portugal.

We celebrate an historical figure today yet much of the stories attached to his life are only legends.

But one thing is true. He was a martyr for refusing to worship false gods and that is where the honour for courage comes. George carried the cross.

Throughout the centuries people have lived and died by the courageous cross.

The cross is the greatest accomplishment, nothing else.

“As soon as enough people give you enough compliments and you’re wielding more power than you’ve ever had in your life, it’s not that you become … arrogant … or become rude to people, but you get a false sense of your own importance and what you’ve accomplished. You actually think you’ve altered the course of history.”
—Actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

There is only one who has altered history and his name is Jesus. His accomplishment was through the cross. It is still the mark of the mission-sent disciple.

Broken people carry the cross in their heart; it is easy to see the nail prints and the thorn damage; they walk with a limp; they have been pierced, marked by God.

“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10 v 38-39)

Today maybe you are being forced to carry something that was unexpected and you have not been able to refuse it, you could do nothing about it, it seemed it was chosen for you. Some would say it was fate and an unlucky roll of the dice. However you describe it, one day you woke up and your life changed forever. You are now carrying the cross following Jesus. You are walking in His footsteps. You are following the road and even to death.

You may have many questions revealing your deep reluctance and anxiety. However, your children are watching you. Your family and friends are around you. There is a generation in wonder at you. How will you do? What will you say?

Will your family be able to say when you are long gone, he/she carried the cross of Jesus?

What is the cross for you today that you are carrying?

Is it George’s cross, the cross of courage? If it is it belongs to Jesus.

It will be tough and your allegiances will be disrupted.

Believing in anything disrupts nothing. But the moment you become serious about what you believe and start to follow the demands of those beliefs then that is when others become affected. The time you give, the finances you spend, your behaviours that change disrupt the status quo for others. Here are some of the most difficult verses to read and understand but a true experience for many today.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10 v 34-37)

Remember this verse: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5 v 9)? Five chapters later Jesus tells his mission-sent disciples that he didn’t come to bring peace. We are going to read eventually Matthew 26:52 when Jesus says: “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Yet here in our verses today Jesus says, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Jesus is actually quoting from the prophet Micah, 7:5-6:

“Do not trust a neighbour; put no confidence in a friend. Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips. For a son dishonours his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.”

The Jewish thought was that prior to the Messiah coming there would be family discord. This would come about by an attack from an outside enemy resulting in the very essence of society, the family, breaking down. Jesus alludes to this thought indicating he was that Messiah.

Jesus is not saying we must hate. However, he is saying that his presence means that the very fabric of society (the family) will fall apart when the Messiah comes. Relatives will be divided because some will break free from sinful family customs.

The sword is never physical but always a metaphor and is wielded in that following Jesus will disrupt others who choose not to, even the most secure of places, the family.

There are tremendous and powerful loyalties within family. However, Jesus commands even a higher price of loyalty to him. Some are paying a high price today in following Jesus.