Matthew 11:7-15 (NIV) As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert 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.’
“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who 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 forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of 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. He who has ears, let him hear.”
John the Baptist was held in high regard by all the lay people of Jesus’ day. The religious elite didn’t think much of him because he was outside the mainstream. His clothing, his demeanor, and his tell-it-like-it-is speech was very off-putting to people who prided themselves on their meticulous religious observance and their self-made holiness.
The common people accepted John as a prophet after the mold of Elijah, and he was indeed that. But Jesus identified more about John’s relation to Elijah than just his clothes and his fire-breathing sermon style. The prophet Malachi had foretold a messenger who would be sent before God Himself visited His people (Malachi 3:1). At the end of his prophecies, Malachi identified this messenger as Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6) – not a reincarnation, but a messenger who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah, who would precede the Messiah, and prepare God’s people for His arrival (cf. Luke 1:17).
Jesus identified John as the greatest man born up to that time, but then He throws a curve ball: “Yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” John was the last of a breed, the full-blooded, sold-out, Old Testament prophet. And with him that line would end on a definite high note, to be replaced by a new breed of God-follower: the blood-bought, Spirit-filled, saved-by-grace disciple who would not only be able to speak God’s truths, as John did, but who would literally be able to change the world one soul at a time.
John foretold the coming of God’s kingdom (cf. Matthew 3:2), but with Jesus’ appearing, the kingdom became real. And ever since that day, God’s kingdom had been advancing, pushing forward, bringing light into the dark places of Jewish society. And Jesus had been joined by a group of men who were actively working in His authority to push the kingdom forward.
It is vital that we remember that when Jesus showed up, everything changed. Jesus was not about reviving a hide-bound Judaism. He was about instituting a whole new thing: the world-transforming kingdom of God. John did his job, and did it well. But he actually appeared to ring out his generation of believers, and to ring in a whole new thing: a new breed of people, purified by blood and fire, who would move forward in the power of the Holy Spirit to change the world.
Father, You have left me speechless! We are so much less than what Jesus came to enable us to be. Forgive us, Lord, and help us to recalibrate what we believe is possible for us according to Your vision of who we are to be. Amen.