And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples…
I. THE MOTIVE OF THIS INQUIRY OF JOHN'S is not at once apparent. What was causing him perplexity, if not disappointment, about our Lord? He was disappointed because the works he heard of were not the kind of works he had himself expected the Messiah to perform. His own work had been to denounce prevailing iniquities, and to predict the advent of One who should cleanse with fire where he cleansed with water; who would come in the same spirit as himself, but with a mightier manifestation of it; One who would lay the axe to the root of the tree of evil, and quickly execute judgment in Israel. His whole soul went forth with expectation, and there was nothing to meet it. He had learned how short a time would be given to any one who was resolved to root out evil from the land. Why, then, this passive inactivity on the part of Jesus? Why was he content to go about in villages, helping beggars, speaking with uninfluential sinners, while the nation groaned under foreign tyranny and cried for its king? From this doubting inquiry of John's we may learn several things, as:
1. How entirely Jesus had to depend on himself. What must have been the clearness of aim and stability of purpose which could put aside not only the popular expectation, but the grave judgments and suggestions of men like John?
2. John's state of mind shows how apt people are to allow their own distresses to distort their views of Providence. When things go against us, and the despotic laws of the world move on and pay no respect to our prayers or our piety, we are apt to admit doubts where all was plain and sure to us.
3. When we ourselves are not used in God's work, we are tempted to think he is doing nothing. If a religious movement goes on without us, we think of it critically and with suspicion.
4. We see here how insignificant the effects of the gospel always seem. John saw only what he thought a good doctor could rival.
II. THE ANSWER SENT BY JESUS TO JOHN becomes at once intelligible so soon as the nature of the inquiry is understood. The important item in the report was the preaching of the gospel to the poor. it had always been recognized as characteristic of the Messiah that the poor were to be gladdened when he came. He would not overlook those whom all other governors overlooked. This was equivalent to saying that no human necessities were beyond the relief he brought. He was to bring in a religion available for all men - for those who had nothing but humanity to recommend, aid, or support them. Until his kingdom was fully established this could only be a proclamation of good news, and so works of beneficence went hand in hand with the preaching, to show that the promise was not mere word. The miracles were thus actual proclamations. To the report of what they saw and heard the messengers were to add the words, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me." As if he would say, "I have chosen my methods of action. Blessed is he who understands the characteristic features of the kingdom and can rejoice in them. Blessed is he who does not take offence at the Saviour of the world because he comes with mercy and not with judgment. Blessed is he who understands that the most penetrating, lastingly efficacious powers in the world are forgiveness, tenderness, and pitiful ministering to the common wants." This word of warning applies to several kinds of misapprehension.
1. There are those to whom it seems unintelligible that Christ's work is so slow, that he is so tardy in making any marked impression on the world, that things should go on so much as if he had no power in heaven or on earth. In times of need they are tempted to ask, "Art thou he that should come?" But blessed are ye who, thus tempted, are able to accept Christ's way, not in sullen resignation, but believing that it is unintelligible to you only because his aim is higher than yours, his love greater, his wisdom more unclouded, his methods more radical. He will not always explain; he expects you will trust him warmly and lovingly, and so grow to understand his spirit; he will trust you for coming at last to see as he sees, and he leaves with you this loving word.
2. Christ here shows in what spirit he meets honest doubt about his Person and work. He knew that beneath that question of John's, which so shocked the bystanders, there was a heart more capable of loyalty to him than was to be found in any of those who gave their easy assent to claims they scarcely understood. That question of John's was of more value to him than the unreasoning hosannas of thoughtless followers; for through that question he saw a man in terrible earnest, to whom the answer was eternal life or eternal darkness. Nothing can be more contemptible than the doubts which are paraded, as if to doubt were an intellectual achievement, as if the man who lives in doubt were in a more advanced stage than he who has found the truth. Of such doubters, who question truth not that they may be answered, but for the sake of display, we have more than enough in these days. But there are also doubters, like the Baptist, whose doubt is wrung from an agonized heart, whose whole happiness is bound up in the question they put, and who, if Jesus be not the Christ, will sink in infinite despair. They try to fit in Christ's Word and salvation to what they actually find in their own life; they try to make Christ's rule as real as their own worldly business, and find themselves forced to wonder whether Christ is indeed meaning to rule on earth. Then Christ shows them that the power he desires on earth is just that power he is actually and all round putting forth, in bringing light to darkened souls, life to the dead. This is the real work he came to do, and by doing which he proves his claim. If anything were needed to prove the absence of resentment with which our Lord viewed John's question, it is his defence of John from the reflections of the people. He points out to them that he had never been a man with whom the idea of weakness could be associated - a reed shaken with the wind. He was the very last whose opinion would be moulded by his position. But it was of small moment what they thought of John as a man compared to their right understanding of the comparative value of the preaching of John and the preaching of the kingdom - of the difference between the reformation urged by John and the regeneration proclaimed by himself. In order sharply to mark this he says, "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." He was a true prophet, yea, more than the greatest prophet bad been, but all his zeal for righteousness, for the unflinching application of the Law, bad, as it now appeared, unfitted him to appreciate the temper and spirit of the new era. Any one in the kingdom animated by the characteristic spirit of love is greater than he. It is not so much a comparison of any individual with John as of the new era with the outgoing era. It is rather the instrument than the man that is spoken of. John could point out a thousand wrongs that needed to be redressed, a thousand sins that must be abandoned; but Jesus, without much denunciation of sin, gave men a love for himself that ejected the love of sin. John put the righteousness of God in the front of his teaching; Jesus put the love of God. And he who has the smallest tincture of the spirit of Jesus has more influence than one who has the inflexible righteousness of John. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities.