I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John, yet even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."
I. HIS SUPERIORITY IN RESPECT OF CHARACTER. The nobility of John's character has already been illustrated (see ch. 3.). Its most marked features were:
1. His cheerful acceptance of privation; living on in the wilderness with nothing to gratify taste, and barely sufficient to sustain life, though his popularity as a teacher and prophet would have enabled him to make a very different provision for himself,
2. His incorruptible fidelity to the work committed to his charge (Luke 3:15, 16)
3. His fearless, holy courage - a courage which was based on a sense of God's nearness to him and his Divine faithfulness toward him; a courage manifested in public (Luke 3:7-9), and, what is more and what is worthier, shown in private also in an interview with one strong man who held his earthly destiny in his hand (Luke 3:19).
4. His rare magnanimity. Not merely accepting without resentment the fact that he was to be supplanted by another, but going beyond that point in spiritual excellence, and positively rejoicing in the elevation of that other Teacher; stepping down and giving place gladly to one younger but greater than himself (John 3:29). We are not surprised that he "who knew what was in man," who knew the strength and the weakness of our human nature, said concerning John, "Among those that are born of women," etc. (ver. 28).
II. HIS INFERIORITY IN RESPECT OF PRIVILEGE. "But he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." We must take the word "greater" as signifying more privileged: it will not bear any other meaning. Most assuredly Jesus did not mean to say that the man who, being within his kingdom, was lowest in moral worth, stood higher in the favour of God than John. Such a sentiment is quite inconceivable, perfectly incredible. But our Lord may very well have meant that any one, however humble his position in the kingdom of grace, who yet stands within that kingdom, of which John stood outside, has a distinct advantage over the great prophet. To know what we, with all our obscurity and incapacity, do know; to understand and enter into, as we may do, the glorious purpose of God in Jesus Christ; to comprehend that, by that death of shame upon the cross, the Redeemer of the world is drawing all men unto him; and not only to understand all this, but to enter into it by a personal, living sympathy and co-operation ; - this is to stand on a height to which even John, though he came in sight of it (John 1:36), did not attain.
1. We are the children of privilege; we are "the heirs of all the ages" of thought, of revealed truth. If we will read reverently, and inquire diligently and devoutly, we may know the mind of God concerning us as the greatest of all the prophets did not know it.
2. Let us take care that we are the children of God; returned from the far country of estrangement and indifference; dwelling in the home of the Father's favour; walking with God daily; finding a filial joy in doing and bearing his holy will; entering by sympathy and effort into his holy purpose. - C.
For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.r: — John's greatness not that of function or office only, but of character. But his greatness bows before the excelling and incomparable greatness of the Lord. Further, our Lord here declares that every lowliest stoner who accepted Him as his very own Saviour, thereby passed into the kingdom of heaven, and by this one act and fact took a stamp of greatness besides which even that of John the Baptist was dwarfed. As our tidal rivers enlarge into bays and reaches of the sea by the sea's simple flowing into them, or communicating its own mass and strength and riches to them; so these relatively narrow beings of ours become spacious and Christlike by the indwelling and sway of the Spirit with all the new and august power of the new kingdom. Three practical remarks.
1. Be it ours who are privileged to work for Christ to emulate John the Baptist's type of work. No thought of self.
2. Be it ours in the full day of the gospel to realize our greater responsibility.
3. Be it ours to beware of assumption (or presumption) of this excelling greatness. Mere function, mere human recognition, will count for nothing beneath the eye of Him with whom we have to do.
I. It is a question which belongs not to the things of Christ nor to religious things alone. All life suggests it; for in all life there are two ways of estimating the probable value of men — one by the direct perception of their characters the other by the institutions to which they belong, and the privileges which they enjoy. Sense in which the school-boy of to-day is greater than Socrates. The two elements of greatness — greatness of nature, and greatness of circumstance. They are distinct from one another; they do not make each other.
II. Christ recognizes the two elements of personal greatness and lofty condition, and He seems almost to suggest another truth, which is at any rate familiar to our experience of life — that personal power which has been manifest in some lower region of life seems sometimes to be temporarily lost cud dimmed with the advance of the person who possesses it into a higher condition. What really is a progress seems, for a time at least, to involve a loss.
III. In ordinary life the power of the temptation to be satisfied with greatness in some lower sphere and not to aspire to the highest sort of existence, is constantly appearing.
IV. See how the truth of the text applies to the explanation and understanding of a true and noble life lived in a false faith. I believe that this is the simple truth which a good many puzzled people among us need to know. The Christian, with his unbelieving friend whose daily life, so pure, upright, and honest, shames the poor half-discouraged believer every day — what can you say to him?
1. Bid him rejoice that his Christ can and does do for that friend of his so much even when that friend denies Him.
2. Bid him see that if that friend of his could conscientiously know and cordially acknowledge the Christ who is doing so much for him already, he would give that Christ a chance to do still more which now He cannot do.
3. Let him, for himself, be filled with an inspiring shame which shall make him determined to be worthier of his higher faith. This is the true ministry which ought to come to any Christian from the presence of a man who believes far less than he does, and is a far better man than he is.
V. See how all of this must tell upon the whole idea of Christian missions. There may have been a time when, in order to make it seem right for the Christian world to send missionaries to the heathen, it required to be made out that all heathen virtue was a falsehood and delusion. That day is past, if it ever existed. May not the Christian glory in every outbreak of the heathen's goodness as a sign of the power with which his Christ, even unknown, may fill a human life which in the very darkness of its ignorance is obedient to whatever best spiritual force it feels? May not that very sight reveal to him what that aspiring heathenism might become if it could be made aware of the Christ whom it is in its unconsciousness obeying? May he not, even while he goes out to tell the heathen his completer gospel, be filled with an inspiring shame at his own poor use and exhibition of that gospel which he offers to the heathen world? This is the true attitude of Christendom to paganism. It is not arrogant; it brings no insult; it comes like brother to brother, full of honour for the nature to which it offers the larger knowledge of the Father's life. To such brave missionary impulse as that let us be sure that the increase of rational and spiritual Christianity will only add ever new and stronger impulse and inspiration.
(Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
1. Salvation by Divine mercy, not by penance.
2. New life by regeneration, not by reform.
(A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
(A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)The smallest diamond is made of more precious substance than the largest flint.
(Archdeacon Farrar.)John 10:41 it is stated that "John did no miracle," and to some this may seem inconsistent with what our Lord here declared concerning him. Mightiness indeed is reckoned, and very justly reckoned, a considerable element of a prophet's greatness. Let us, then, consider how John the Baptist deserves the title of the greatest of the prophets, in spite of his having never wrought a miracle.
1. It is a greater thing to exercise a wide moral and spiritual influence upon our generation, than to work a miracle before their eyes. To work a miracle is to exhibit power over matter; to exercise a wide moral and spiritual influence is to exhibit a power over mind. To be made the means, in God's hand, of swaying the human will, curbing the unruly human passions, arousing the human conscience to wholesome alarms and sincere inquiries after the way of salvation, is a higher distinction than to be made the means of reversing nature's laws, or restraining the fury of the elements, or calling forth the tenants of the sepulchre from their dreamt abode.
2. It is partly, I conceive, in his very lack of miraculous power, that the grandeur of John the Baptist as a prophet consists. Without the aid of miracles to give effect to his words he wrought a national reformation. Without supernatural resources he accomplished what other prophets were only able to effect with their aid.
3. John Baptist's magnanimity is another feature which enhances his greatness as a prophet. He sinks self, that he may exalt Christ.
4. Another element in his greatness is the relation in which he stood to Christ as His forerunner, and the opportunity which it afforded him of bearing testimony to the person of our Lord.Concluding lessons:
1. Learn to estimate aright, and not by the world's standard, the true greatness of man.
2. The testimony of Christ is the spirit of prophecy.
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