Q&A With Jesus: Matthew 11:1-15 (Sermon)



Thank you, worship team. As we turn to Scripture, here is a personal question: Have you ever doubted? Perhaps you haven’t doubted God. Have you ever questioned him? Maybe that is where you are today. Most everyone has had spiritual questions at one time or another. God’s Word can be confusing, and life doesn’t always make sense. For example, you might imagine that once you get married, it will be bliss, but instead, it’s work. Or, you might think parenting seems pretty straightforward, and then it is not. You might picture college as fun, but when you get to finals week, it’s the last place you want to be. Not everything in life works out. Challenges come and go. Difficulties greet us with unpredictability and a frequency that is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Things in life go from mountains to valleys to mountains to valleys. Straight A’s turn to failures, close friends move away, health turns, blessings beget losses, and death follows birth. They all seem to be residents in the same apartment complex of life. We believe God is sovereign and good. He is in control and loving, yet the Devil, the world, and our flesh have a freedom that works overtime in our lives. And we experience the consequences of it. God can bring good out of evil, but what if we don’t see it? Where do we go with that? In our passage, I think John the Baptist wrestles in this way. He was experiencing injustice, suffering for the truth, and went to Jesus for answers. We read that John was the most extraordinary man ever to have lived. If he had questions, I wager it is normal. Jesus helped him with an answer, and he will also help us.   


If you have your Bibles, open them to Matthew chapter 11. We will be reading from the ESV. J.H. will read for us. Would you please stand with me in honor of God’s Word? 


When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. 

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” 

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 

            “ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, 

      who will prepare your way before you.’ 

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one 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 suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:1–15,ESV)


Let’s pray. Dear Father, thank you for your Word. It is like a flashlight for a dark path ahead, a scalpel in the hand of a skilled surgeon; it is like water for a desert traveler; it is like food for a famished migrant. In it, we read that Jesus is the one to save people from death and hell. We read that he has authority over nature, sickness, and the Spiritual realm. Please help us, heavenly Father. Remind us of what you have said and done by the Holy Spirit for your glory and our joy; in Jesus’s name, we pray, amen. You may be seated.


Let’s refresh our memory. We are preaching through the book of Matthew. He tells us that Jesus is the king that God promised. Matthew, the author, was a tax collector and close follower of Jesus. His book began with genealogy and described the events surrounding Jesus’s birth and early years. When Jesus was in his 30’s, John the Baptist, his relative, baptized him. The Father spoke from heaven and blessed him. The Holy Spirit led him out into the wilds, and he fasted for forty days. There, the Devil tempted him. He didn’t give in. Jesus called many men to follow him in ministry when the Devil left. He began teaching and healing in the area of Galilee. Crowds gathered, and so did his opposition. Matthew wanted his readers to follow the promised king into his kingdom. This king, Jesus, and empire are unlike any other. The king had (and has) authority to teach God’s Word and do miracle after miracle. In chapter 10, he gave that authority to his disciples. They would go out and spread the word about a new era. Some would receive this message, and others would not. Some would attack them, and others would support them. We see this reality illustrated in the life of John the Baptist in chapter 11. He had his followers and his haters.  


Let’s dive into chapter 11. I see four sections: 

  1. Setting (vs. 1) 

  2. Defining Jesus (vs. 2–6)

  3. Defining John (vs. 7–14) 

  4. Summary (vs. 15) 

I will use this structure to guide our time through each verse. The organization helps relate the passage to our lives today. 


In reading the Bible, we want to ask, “What does the passage say?” Repetition, contrast, summary statements, change of scenery, audience, or subject can help identify the point of a passage. Another essential question is, “Why are these verses here?” Both questions help us understand the meaning, which allows us to apply it correctly to our lives. 


These fifteen verses are Q&A, questions, and answers regarding the identity of Jesus and John. I think they are here to tell us:  

When facing trials, recall God’s words and work

Let me say that again. 

When facing trials, recall God’s words and work

God wants to encourage us when we face difficulties. John was in a difficult place. You may be in a difficult spot. 


Let’s dive into the text. Look at verse 1. 

“When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities” (Matthew 11:1, ESV).  

Jesus was going out to the disciple’s cities. Perhaps that is where they were from, or they had just ministered when he sent them out in chapter 10. We don’t know for sure. But we do know what he did. He preached. What did he preach? Likely, it was the same thing he had already preached, the king was here, and the kingdom was on its way. The prophecies of old are coming true. This was good news. 


Look at verse 2, here we see a problem and the second part of this passage, Defining Jesus


  1. Setting (vs. 1) 

  2. Defining Jesus (vs. 2–6)

  3. Defining John (vs. 7–14) 

  4. Summary (vs. 15) 

John, as I said, was in jail. Look at verse 2.  

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Matthew 11:2–3, ESV).  

In chapter 4, verse 12, Matthew tells us that authorities had John incarcerated. In chapter 14, we learn why. Why was John arrested? John had confronted a ruler by the name of Herod. You may recall that name. We have heard it before. Matthew featured Herod the Great in chapter 2. That Herod attempted to kill Jesus as a child. He didn’t get any information about the whereabouts from the traveling wise man, so he had all the children two and under in Bethlehem slaughtered. The Herod in chapter 11 was Herod the Tetrarch: Herod the Great’s son. We learn in Matthew 14 that John confronted him about his wife. Before being Herod’s wife, she was his living brother’s wife. Herod took her from him for his own. John told him that wasn’t right and Herod didn’t appreciate that. He was offended. Who was John to lecture Herod on legal matters? 


Thus, John sat in prison, waiting for what prophecy of the Old Testament spoke justice, judgment, and the end. For example, Isaiah 35 verse 4 states. 

      Say to those who have an anxious heart, 

      “Be strong; fear not! 

                  Behold, your God 

      will come with vengeance, 

                  with the recompense of God. 

      He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:4, ESV)

I imagine John wanted this verse to come to fruition right then. He probably wanted to be saved, comforted, and see the vengeance of the Lord. In chapter 3, John said of Jesus: 

I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11–12, ESV)

Jesus spoke like he was going to bring about justice and judgment. He quoted Malachi to the listening crowd about who John was when his disciples left. The passage he quoted in Malachi states: 

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire. (Malachi 3:1–2, ESV)

I guess that John wanted Jesus to do a little refining, threshing, and winnowing as he rotted behind bars. It would be nice to clean the house of this perverted Israelite ruler. Yet, vengeance was slow in coming, and John experienced a thrashing. He suffered injustice, judgment, and his imminent demise. We will read in chapter 14 that John will lose his head for his truth-telling. From John’s vantage point, things were horrible. If Jesus was doing beautiful things, John wasn’t experiencing it. 


Have you ever felt like you were planning on God coming through for you, and he didn’t? God does what he wants when he wants. His Word is not like an appliance manual or a to-do list. Sometimes he speaks directly. Other times, he gives a story with veiled points. When it comes to future things, he communicates with metaphors and images that, at times, even the brightest don’t make sense of. God can throw a curveball better than any pitcher. John, a devout follower of God and his Word was unsure of what he once knew. He had questions. His life world was telling people that Jesus was the one. Now, he was second guessing that. 


Look at verse 4. Jesus answer,   

“Go and tell John what you hear and see” (Matthew 11:4, ESV).

What did they hear and see? Verse 5 and 6 tell us: 

the blind receive their sight 

and the lame walk, 

lepers are cleansed 

and the deaf hear, 

and the dead are raised up, 

and the poor have good news preached to them. 

And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. (Matthew 11:5–6, ESV)

Jesus gave seven footholds for faith. If you have been following along on Sundays, Matthew has laid out specific examples of each, minus the deaf hearing. Jesus gave sight to two blind men in chapter 9; he made two paralytics to walk, one in chapter 8 and one in chapter 9. In chapter 8, he cured lepers. In Mark chapter 7, a person who could not hear received back his hearing. In chapter 9, a dead girl comes back to life. In chapter 5, Jesus spoke good news to the poor. Did Matthew include these stories to fit Jesus’s catalog? I don’t think so. Matthew didn’t mention casting out demons or calming storms. Were these the specific things that John’s disciples had witnessed? That could be. However, I think Jesus had another purpose with his list. I believe that this list refers to specific miraculous markers of the Messiah in the book of Isaiah. Let me show you. 

Isaiah 29: 

In that day the deaf shall hear 

      the words of a book, 

and out of their gloom and darkness 

      the eyes of the blind shall see

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, 

      and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 29:18–19, ESV)

Isaiah 35: 

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened

      and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 

then shall the lame man leap like a deer (Isaiah 35:5–6, ESV).

Chapter 42: 

Hear, you deaf

      and look, you blind, that you may see!” (Isaiah 42:18, ESV).

Chapter 61: 

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, 

      because the LORD has anointed me 

to bring good news to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1, ESV).

Jesus concluded his list of seven things with a beatitude we didn’t read in chapter 5. He said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” This echoes Isaiah chapter 8. Chapter 8 speaks the converse. Those who are offended by the Messiah are not blessed.

And he will become … a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken. (Isaiah 8:14–15, ESV)

The fact is that Jesus was and is the Messiah. John’s disciples have seen and heard the proof. It is what Isaiah predicted. To some Israelites, this Messiah would be offensive. To others, he was their last-ditch hope. 


The Bible says that Jesus came to save us from our sins. We cannot save ourselves. He alone is our Savior and Redeemer. He made it possible for us to be right with God forever. That is the good news. 


If that is the good news, why would Jesus be offensive? To be saved requires an admission that we are in dire straits. Such an acknowledgment requires us to relinquish our pride and autonomy. Jesus told people to repent, to turn from self to God. A Jesus-centered allegiance challenges our agendas. Jesus’s invitation for life begins with death. We must take up a cross to find life. His words were hard to hear for the proud and self-satisfied. 


In our day, if you were to say what Jesus said, you too could come across as offensive. We don’t like change, bosses, or confrontation, and neither did many in Jesus’s day. They thought they were doing pretty well. They gave to the poor. They prayed. They fasted. They didn’t break the Ten Commandments. They didn’t think they needed Jesus let alone a person highlighting their spiritual bankruptcy. Jesus was offensive.  


John’s disciples left with what they had seen and heard. Jesus then turned to the crowd and defined who John was. Verse 1 gives us the setting, and 2 through 6 help define if Jesus was the one. Now, verses 7 through 9 define John’s role. Who was this guy? 

  1. Setting (vs. 1) 

  2. Defining Jesus (vs. 2–6)

  3. Defining John (vs. 7–14) 

  4. Summary (vs. 15) 

Who was John the Baptist? Look at verse 7 with me, please. 

“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?’” (Matthew 11:7, ESV).  

The answer is no. They didn’t go out to see a waving piece of grass. People didn’t flock to the wilderness for a nature hike. One commentator said that this refers to a speaker who adapted his message to fit the audience’s mood. They didn’t go out to hear that. John told people the truth. He called them to change. He was engaging in a rough way. It reminds me of the attraction of the restaurant in Chicago called Ed Debevic’s or a talk show loudmouth calling people names to make a point. John was not a reed waving around in the countryside for nature lovers. That is not what they went out to hear. 


In verse 8, Jesus asked the question again. 

“What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses” (Matthew 11:8, ESV). 

John was in the wilderness, not a palace. He was tough, not effeminate. He wore camel hair and ate grasshoppers, not royal robes and peppermint bonbons. 


In verse 9, Jesus asked the question a final time. 

“What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:9, ESV).

John the Baptist was a prophet but unlike any other. He was austere, disciplined, and the only one predicted in Malachi chapter 4:  

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.  (Malachi 4:5–6, ESV)

John the Baptist was Elijah, in a sense. He was the last of the prophets before the day of the Lord. John was not Elijah reincarnated. The angel Gabriel told John’s father this: 

He will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. (Luke 1:15–17, ESV)

John was in the spirit and power of Elijah. The same spirit was in him, and the same power rested on him as God’s spokesperson, Elijah, hundreds of years prior. 

VERSES 10-14

Jesus knew that John was whom Malachi predicted. He went on to tell the crowd: 

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11, ESV).

How do we understand Jesus here in verse 11? John the Baptist was the greatest, more significant than Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. In what way? Hebrews chapter 11 tells us that all those before Jesus looked forward to the reward of God, the good news. Yet, none of them could enjoy it because Jesus had not completed his mission. John was at the end of the line as one era transitioned to the next. He was the herald of the Messiah. And he died before he could see the death and resurrection of Jesus. On the other hand, the least follower of Jesus can look back and see the truth in the rearview mirror. 


When it comes to verse 12, what did Jesus mean? 

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12, ESV).  

From John’s day, there has been aggression against heaven. I found this verse to be confusing. The pastors, interns, and an elder discussed the meaning of this verse for some time this Monday. Here is what one commentator, R.T. France, wrote:


The “days of John the Baptist” are clearly located in the past, and have been succeeded by the kingdom of heaven, which already has a history between John’s time and the present. At the time of Jesus’ ministry that history is still very short; by the time Matthew is writing it has extended another generation or two. That history, short or long, is not one of unmixed triumph for God’s purpose, but paradoxically has been marked throughout by “violence.” John himself has already suffered the “violence” of imprisonment, soon to be followed by execution. Jesus and his followers have already been received with a hostility which, if it has not yet resulted in physical violence, will soon do so both for Jesus himself (16:21 etc.) and for his disciples (10:17–23, 28, 34–39). (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 429.)

The kingdom of heaven has suffered by Herod the Great and Herod, his son, by wolves in sheep’s clothing, by Pharisees and teachers. And as they persecuted the prophets before Jesus’s disciples, they will do so again. On the flip side, in a way, those who are violent move towards the kingdom of heaven in good ways. Jesus encouraged people to gouge out their eyes, cut off their hands, and carry their crosses. The kingdom of God has been under attack since the Fall. And following Jesus requires radical devotion. Both are simultaneously true and hard. John knows each interpretation personally.


Let’s conclude with The Summary

  1. Setting (vs. 1) 

  2. Defining Jesus (vs. 2–6)

  3. Defining John (vs. 7–14) 

  4. Summary (vs. 15) 

Look at verse 15. What did it say? 

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15, ESV). 

Hear what? What was Jesus saying? He reminded his people about what he said and did. Remember:  

When facing trials, recall God’s words and work

Remember what he said and did. God’s truth answers our doubts. It is normal to struggle. Jesus cited experience and Scripture like Isaiah 8, 29, 35, 42, and 61. He referred to Malachi 3 and chapter 4. When we go through disasters and disappointments, let’s remember what we have seen and heard, God’s Word and work. God answers prayer. He is with us. He has not left us or forsaken us. Jesus was and is still the King on the throne. He operates on his time, not ours. He does what is best, not what we think is best. And we are better off turning to him repeatedly in our trials. Here are a couple of questions: 

  • How do you deal with life’s disappointments? 

  • What Scripture is particularly helpful for you when you face trials? 

  • What might it look like for you to see and hear Jesus this week? 


Let’s pray. 

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