“I tell you the truth…” Matthew 11:11
ITYTT is next used in Jesus’ description of John the Baptist, who – at the time – was in prison. John the Baptist had sent a few of his own followers to ask Jesus, “Are You the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3) Jesus’ instructed John’s disciples to report on the evidences of the miracles paired with the preaching of the Good News to the poor (v.’s 4-6). Sending John’s followers away, Jesus described itinerate desert preacher as more than a prophet (v.9), because he was the fulfillment of prophesy – being the one Malachi described as preparing a way for the Lord (Malachi 3:1). Jesus then followed that statement with the phrase we are discovering. Jesus also provided insight into citizens of God’s Kingdom:
“I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it. For before John came, all the prophets and the law of Moses looked forward to this present time. And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. Anyone with hears to hear should listen and understand.” Matthew 11:11-15
The eternal truth spoken here focuses on Jesus’ declaration of the least in God’s Kingdom being greater than John the Baptist – who, up to that point, Jesus described as the greatest man to have ever lived on earth. To the Jews, this would have been a politically incorrect statement, for they considered Moses as the greatest person to have ever lived, and placed significance on other notables such as: Adam, Noah, Joseph, Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, and Queen Esther. What makes the least in heaven greater than John the Baptist? Their faith – a faith that is exercised without the benefit of seeing Jesus. Jesus spoke of such faith in His priestly prayer (see John 17). Additionally, John never experienced the full work of Christ: the meaning of His death on a cross, His resurrection, the Great Commission, and His ascension.
People consider an object’s worth by what they see with their eyes (either by reading assessments by others, or by exercising one’s own value system). When someone wants to buy a car these days, the online tool, Bluebook, is utilized to rightly appraise the value of a used car, as well as other search engines used to scour the internet for the best deal on a new car. We use our eyes to determine the value of a car and what we are willing to pay for it. And you know what? We end up treating people the same way. We judge people by the way they appear: by physical appearance, by awards given, by education, by popularity, by wealth, etc. God’s standards are quite different.
God values a contrite heart and a humble spirit. Jesus taught that those who demonstrate John’s attitude will be called greatest in Heaven: that the one who is least will be the greatest in God’s economy. (Luke 9:48) John’s, attitude was reflected in his own words: “He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
As John’s disciples were returning to the prison, Jesus asked the crowd, who must have overheard the conversation, what they were expecting to see (vv. 7-9). He challenged the way they perceived things – the way they valued or judged John’s importance. Anything or anyone that eclipses the truth of the Savior is valued less in Heaven’s eyes. Here is an example:
When the nation of Israel was being led through the desert, they began complaining and offended God by stating it would be better if they were back in Egypt. They had forgotten that they had been tortured slaves under forced labor! God sent poisonous snakes into the camp, leading to the deaths of thousands. The people asked Moses to intercede for them. God instructed Moses to erect a sculpture of a snake wrapped around a pole. The people were to look at the pole every time a snake bite occurred and the one bitten would not be affected by the poisonous bite of the viper. (read Numbers 21:4-9) The statue was preserved until King Hezekiah realized that the people were worshiping the image as an idol… even giving it a name! King Hezekiah then had the statue destroyed. (read 2 Kings 18:1-4) The people forgot the statue’s original purpose: to remind the people of their sin when they complained against God. The value of the statue changed and became ungodly, just as anything that obscures Christ as Lord and King. John’s followers were missing John’s own message: “Behold the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
The Bible tells us that God’s ways are not discerned by one’s own strengths, but only by walking in the Spirit (read Colossians 1:9-10). We are to discern the spirit of others from God’s perspective (see 1 Samuel 16:7); for God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
God does play favorites with His children: just as He chose the nation of Israel as His own, so He ‘grafted-in’ the Gentile branch, the least compared to the chosen nation of Israel, who have placed their trust in Christ - trusting in the redeeming work of the cross, the triumph of His resurrection, the resolve of The Great Commission, and the glory of His ascension. Those who have not seen and yet believed are the ones that will be deemed even greater in God’s sight (Matthew 11:11; John 17:20).
Thank God with me for His indescribable gift of salvation through the atoning work of Christ, Who, like the serpentine sculpture, was lifted up for all to see and experience healing from sin’s venom.