When we left off in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus had sent out the twelve apostles to preach and heal. He Himself also departed and was teaching and preaching.
Meanwhile, John the Baptist was sitting in prison (Matt. 4:12). Word was getting to him of all that Jesus was doing.
But John seemed to be having a crisis of faith. Was Jesus the right guy? If so, why was John sitting in prison? But Jesus said, "Look at what I'm doing." You see, its not in our current situation that we're to base faith in Christ. It's in Who He is, and what He's done.
If anytime we have difficulty in our lives, we begin to lose faith, then we're never going to have any faith, because difficulty is par for the course. Instead of looking at your circumstances of the moment, look at what Jesus has done for you eternally.
Earlier, John the Baptist had been drawing huge crowds.
Matt. 3:5-6 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
Many of Jesus' followers had first come to John. Their hearts had been prepared for the Lord by John' message of repentance.
Now Jesus asks those same crowds, "What did you go out to see when you went to see John?" "You went to see a prophet. A real-life prophet in your day. But John is more than a prophet. He is the fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy, the messenger preparing the way of the Lord."
The people respected John, looked up to him, and thought he was great. Jesus tells them that John was the greatest. And yet, the least in the kingdom of heaven would be greater than John. Why? Because John was the last guy under the Old Testament covenant. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets.
But when someone has faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, their sins are erased, they are made a child of God, the Holy Spirit seals them, and dwells inside of them. They are made a temple of God. No Old Testament prophet ever had privileges like that! Even if you're the least person to be saved under the new covenant, you've got a better deal than the greatest person under the old covenant.
The comment Jesus makes about the kingdom of heaven suffering violence, and violent men taking it by force has been interpreted in several different ways.
The two most common interpretations are quite opposite of each other. First, it is believed that Jesus is saying, "Violent men like Herod are doing violence to the kingdom through their persecutions." Second, it is thought that Jesus is saying, "People are beginning to storm the gates of the kingdom. They are intensely wanting to be saved." I cannot say with certainty which meaning is intended.
The last promise in the Old Testament was from God:
Mal. 4:5-6 "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse."
In Luke, the angel Gabriel foretold that John the Baptist was going to come...
Luke 1:17 "...in the spirit and power of Elijah..."
If the Jews had received John's message of preparation for Jesus Christ, then he would have been the fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy. But they didn't. They ultimately rejected Jesus Christ, and so the promise of Elijah's coming before the day of the Lord is yet future. I believe we will see that fulfilled when the events of Revelation 11 take place. Jesus will talk more about this in chapter 17.
If they were willing to accept it, John would have been Elijah. But they weren't. And Jesus tells the crowds that they refused to be satisfied no matter who God sent. Jesus and John were radically different, and yet neither one was ultimately accepted.
John was criticized for fasting, and Jesus was criticized for eating. Like different songs played in the marketplace, all they got was, "Don't play the flute, I don't feel like dancing. But don't play a dirge, I don't want to be sad, either!"
But wisdom would be vindicated by her deeds. In other words, people found fault with what John did, but it was proven right. People found fault with what Jesus did, but it was proven right. Years ago, I was going through a particularly difficult time from faultfinders. And I was directed to this verse, being told, "Just outlive your critics."
When Jesus had gone out and preached, some cities had rejected Him. He began to name these cities and pronounce woes upon them for their unbelief. Why was the truth not believed? Because it was hidden from them. Why was it hidden? Because they were wise in their own eyes. They didn't need any of this faith foolishness. Many in the world today are in the same boat: "I'm too smart to have to believe in Jesus."
But maybe you're not one of those. Maybe you've discovered that you're not so smart and wise that you've figured out life. Life is tough, wearying, and difficult. There's an emptiness that you can't figure out. Jesus wants to give you rest today. And to fill your empty soul.