“What then did you go out to see?”

August 8, 2014.

“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.”
(Matthew 11:7-11a)

What did you go out to see? In this passage, Jesus begins to teach about John the baptizer, the one sent from God to prepare the way for the Christ. I truly enjoy reading this section of scripture because I like how Jesus formulates the introduction of John to the people. “What did you go out to see?” John had entered the public scene just before the time of Jesus, and stood in the wilderness preaching and baptizing with water, calling for repentance. He did not hide his manner of life; he did not sugar coat the truth. He stood in the open, proclaiming the time was at hand, and he drew a lot of attention. But why? Why did the people go out to see John?

It is certainly true that many went out and believed John’s message, being baptized by him and repenting of their former deeds. But others went out much for the same reasons we slow down and look when there has been a wreck on the side of the road. Well, what did we expect to see? Jesus is either questioning their intention of going out to see John before he was put in prison, or he was questioning their response after they had seen him. Jesus was asking why they went out. To see a man dressed in fine clothes? Surely not! Then why were they surprised to see John?

Perhaps John had the mannerisms of a prophet. Perhaps the people had read of the prophets in the Scriptures and imagined them as John would have looked like. A wanderer, a man from the wideness who’s pillow a stone. And a prophet John was indeed, even more so, the greatest according to the words of Christ. So what did the people go out to see? What did they expect?

John was indeed great, but Jesus continues to reveal something more:

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 11:11b-15)

The Law was established, the kings had ruled, the prophets had proclaimed the word of God, but now was the time of fulfillment. Now was the time of a better covenant. Now was the time of Christ. In John’s own words “he must increase, and I must decrease.” (Jn. 3:30) While John was great, the kingdom of heaven is greater. Christ is greater. For everything in the law and the prophets pointed to Christ. John was merely the last trumpet to sound. What did the people go out to see?

I think Jesus’ purpose in this statement is highlighted at the end of the above passage. “and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The people did not seem to accept the message of John, at least not all of them, though they had gone out to witness him. Why did they go out? What did they expect? I believe a point is being made here that the people should have known what they were going out to hear. They should have known that John was a prophet. Instead, they took him as a spectacle, and denied the truth. They did not want to believe the truth, so they justified themselves apart from the truth. No matter what they saw, no matter what they heard, they were not going to believe. They were going to take the situation at hand and turn it into something they could accept without realizing the truth. This is made evident by Jesus’ next statement:

“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

“‘We played the flute 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 cameeating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
(Matthew 11:16-19)

“John? Oh, he’s just a crazy man. Jesus? No, he’s just a common man.” Who would they accept? What did they go out to see?

Perhaps its easy for us to look back on this story and point out the flaws of the people. But let me ask you, what did you come here to see? What are our expectations when we go to hear the truth? Do we listen with ears ready to learn and bibles open to discern? Or do we go with our result already in mind, listening for flaws that we might exploit in argument? Do we go willing to justify? How about when we read the word of God? Do we go with an open mind, ready to read the truth and accept it? Or do we go with preconceived notions, looking for proof texts of our own beliefs?

What do we go out to see? When we read the bible, we should know what to expect. We should know to expect the word of God, and to expect that those words are not always going to be easy or fit with our way of thinking. But this does not mean we should go looking justify ourselves. We should go, expecting the truth.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
(John 8:31-32)

So what do we go out to see? John was indeed a spectacle, but he was the one who had been long prophesied about to come in the spirit of Elijah announcing the appearance of the Messiah. The people in this day lived in an exciting age, though they might not have realized it. The Messiah, the Christ, had been prophesied time and again. The Jews were in continual waiting for their King. And now he had arrived. But they did not go out expecting to see what they should have. They went out to see what they wanted to see, and that they did- John, the lunatic, and Jesus the glutton. Only, they had missed the greatest event in human history, that is the coming of Christ. They had not missed it physically, but mentally.

Do we miss things mentally as they did due to our preconceived ideas? Perhaps we do. Perhaps we need to change our way of thinking and expect the truth. Not our truth. God’s truth. Else, what did you go out to see?

Suggested Daily Reading: Matthew 3, 11, Luke 3, John 1.

The Lord guide you into all truth.

-Walter

 

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