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John the Baptist

Jun 9, 2024

by: Jack Lash Series: John the Baptist | Category: Worldliness | Scripture: Matthew 11:16–19

I. Introduction
A. Today we come to the last of four sermons on John the Baptist.
1. The first was entitled Jesus’ Forerunner, about how John’s mission in life was to signal the coming of Christ.
2. The second was Only a Man, about how John, while he was in prison, had a crisis of faith, sending a question to Jesus if He indeed was the coming promised One or whether they should be looking for another.
3. The third was Honored by Jesus, about how, in spite of John’s faith faltering, Jesus honored him in front of the crowd, praising him more highly than any other person in the gospel record.
4. And today is Nonconformist.
B. And in case you haven’t noticed, this series of four sermons, ending today, hasn’t just been about John the Baptist. It’s been about John the Baptist in Matt.11:2-19.
C. And if you think we had a strange passage last week, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
D. Matthew 11:16-19 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating 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.”
E. We don’t have many of Christ’s words in the NT. If you removed them from the rest of the text, they could be printed in a few pages and easily read in an hour or two.
1. And since He not only called His followers to keep His words, but to teach others to follow all that He commanded, it seems like all followers of Christ should make it a goal to at least be familiar with all the words of Jesus, including these.
F. This is not a well-known nor a well-understood passage. But a priceless gift is concealed here.
G. Remember that John’s question to Jesus about whether He was the One revealed that he was struggling with being stuck in prison and with the way things were going with Jesus’ ministry.
1. And the crowd heard all this, and Jesus knew they were judging John because of it.
2. And so Jesus turns to them to praise and exonerate John.
3. And in morning’s passage, Jesus is still responding to the criticizers of John in the crowd when he begins to challenge “this generation” of their critical spirit toward John and toward Him.
4. And to do so He uses an analogy of children playing in the marketplace.
II. Explanation
A. Matt.11:16-17 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
1. For many years we go off on vacation as a family for a week with Mary Ann’s family and a week with my family. When our kids were young, every year during vacation, a certain cousin would organize a play for the cousins to perform together in front of the adults.
a. At first it was well-received by the other cousins, but as time went on they began to get annoyed that every year this cousin wanted to up the story, and decide who would play which part, and direct the play, telling everyone else what to do. And eventually, the whole enterprise broke down because of conflicts and disagreements between the cousins.
b. How long do you think this kind of thing has been happening among children, where one kid tries to get everybody else to play their game but eventually at least some of them refuse?
c. Since the beginning, right? Surely Jesus had witnessed this kind of playground behavior Himself as He was growing up, probably among his own siblings. One child or group of children decides to play a certain game or activity, and they try to get the others to cooperate. But sometimes the other kids don’t want to do it, and refuse to do what the others tell them to do. So, this argument takes place between the initiators and the refusers.
d. That’s the kind of situation Jesus has in mind here in this passage. Kids are playing together in the marketplace. Some of them start playing a happy song on a flute and want everyone else to dance. Or they want to play a sad song and want everyone to pretend like they’re wailing and weeping like someone died.
e. But the other kids don’t want to play along. So the kids with the flute are complaining, “We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance; we sang a dirge, but you didn’t mourn.”
2. He is using this scenario to illustrate how that generation had expectations of John and of Jesus, and were upset because John & Jesus wouldn’t cooperate or go along with who they thought they should be or what they thought they should do.
a. That generation of people were like kids playing music and wanting Jesus and John to play along. And because they wouldn’t, they criticized Jesus and John for not cooperating.
3. Why were they so critical of Jesus and John, men of God who lived upright lives?
a. There’s a hidden reason. It is criticism being used as a defense mechanism.
b. You see, God is not a conformist. He is who He is. He can’t be pressured or manipulated. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
c. He speaks the truth, and it isn’t always pretty.
d. This is why so many people don’t like the Bible.
e. This is why so many people don’t like the God of the Bible.
f. This is why they’re so critical of God and His word.
g. They have guilty consciences. By criticizing, they are really defending themselves from God.
h. When you criticize someone in this way, you’re really justifying your refusal to listen to them.
i. It’s a way of avoiding, dodging the truth you won’t want to hear.
j. If we can paint another person as someone not deserving of our respect, not deserving to be listened to, then we can refuse to listen to them and not feel so bad or look so bad.
k. Attack the accuser to avoid the accusation. Usually folks don’t do this consciously, but I think we all do it unconsciously. We are so desperate to escape exposure.
l. Think about Adam and Eve, our first parents. First, they covered themselves with fig leaves, then they hid, then they blame-shifted, they even blamed God, they minimized their sin, they used half-truths, they avoided admitting it even after being directly confronted by God.
(1) And we’re the same way. Like father, like son. And like mother, like daughter.
m. You see, there are real advantages of a critical spirit: You don’t have to face your own failings.
(1) The Bible is constantly urging gratitude: Be thankful in all things.
(2) But it’s much easier to focus on what’s wrong with everything in our lives and in the world.
(3) Then we never have to take responsibility for our own unhappiness. It’s all THEIR fault!
B. Matt.11:18-19a For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
1. John was the one they criticized for not dancing, not being more upbeat and carefree, since he lived a life of deprivation and had a somber, intensely serious ministry.
2. And Jesus was the One they criticized for being immoral, since He ate and drank with sinners and went to parties the Pharisee-types would never have gone to.
3. Each of them lived a life which communicated a message.
a. John’s life of deprivation was designed to demonstrate the desperation of waiting for the messiah. It’s one of the way John prepared the way for Jesus.
b. Jesus’ life, on the other hand, was characterized by attending dinners and parties because His life communicated the joy of the messiah coming and the grace He came to extend to sinners.
c. (See Matthew 9:14-15.)
4. But Jesus’ point is that they find something to complain about in both of them. They have a critical spirit. They can find something wrong with everything. They’re impossible to impress. They don’t notice the good things, the true things, the wonderful things – even though it’s staring them in the face. But they can always find something to criticize.
C. Matt.11:19b “Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
1. In the end, the truth will be vindicated.
2. Jesus set Himself to do the right thing and let the chips fall – trusting God to vindicate Him.
3. Right now, polls show that you are ahead in the popularity contest. But just wait. The tables will be turned. The first shall be last and the last first. Wisdom will be justified by her deeds.
III. John’s nonconformity and our nonconformity
A. I said earlier that God is not a conformist. He doesn’t go along with what man says. Even when He answers prayer, He does not do so against His own will, but He goes along with what is asked because in His perfect wisdom, what is asked is His will.
B. Those who become followers of Jesus are also not conformists. They don’t go along with the world and its ways because they follow Jesus instead.
C. And John was a splendid example of this.
D. And though we’re not all called to dress in camel hair with leather belts and eat locusts and wild honey (Matt.3:4), John does become for us a model of not conforming to this world.
E. God wanted John to stand out outwardly, but the biggest way John was different was inward.
F. The biggest way John was different than other men wasn’t His appearance or His diet or His childhood or His wilderness existence. It was the location of His joy.
G. Other people got their pleasure from winning a game or singing a song, from eating their favorite food or from laughing with friends. Other people got their pleasure from going along with the crowd and enjoying the approval of the group.
H. But John’s pleasure was not in the approval of the group. John’s pleasure was all located in one place, in one person. John’s joy was in Jesus. From the womb to the grace, that was the defining characteristic of His life.
I. And it’s why he was hated. And it’s why he was criticized. And it’s why he was killed.
J. People like John are too big a threat to the world and its ways.
K. People like John who won’t play the game threaten to expose the world’s charade.
L. The Bible tells us that God’s people must not be conformists to this world.
1. Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind” according to the word of God.
2. But this is difficult because we all want to be loved. We all want to be accepted. We all want to belong. And so, we’re always inclined to go along with what generates approval from others.
3. Some have tried to be different by dressing differently, or eating differently. Or living in isolation. Or refusing to use technology. But this is not the point.
4. The real issue is, where is our joy? Where is our pleasure?
5. Is it in the world and all the things it offers? Or is it in Jesus?
M. And if your pleasure is in Jesus, there will be a cost. The world will punish you.
1. Jesus and John refused to dance according to the desires and expectations of the society in which they lived. And this is one of the big reasons they were rejected, and why they ended up with their head on a platter and their body on a cross.
2. You’ll be called a haters, no matter how much you love. You’ll be called a bigot just for listening to the word of Jesus instead of listening to the world. You’ll be accused of trying to impose your own beliefs on others. You’ll be accused of being an extremist, even though you’re just holding firm to what Christians have always believed. It’s won’t be easy.
3. Think about it. Jesus came into a messed up world, a world of those who’d gone astray. But instead of meeting a lot of folks who were asking for help to get back on track, He was met by great crowds of people who not only thought they were doing just great, but who thought that their big problem was Him! They were full of criticism of the way He was going about being the messiah. “You’re doing it all wrong. You should be saying that we’re the ones doing it right and that all of our enemies and our accusers are the bad guys!”
4. The perfect One was met by an avalanche of criticism from those who were experts in corruption. He came doing miracles: making the blind see and the lame walk, healing lepers and making the deaf hear, raising up the dead and preaching good news to the poor. But they were not impressed. They were unmoved. Instead they played their flutes and wanted John and Jesus to dance. And when wouldn’t, they criticized them as if THEY were the problem.” (See Matt.11:20-24.)
5. And they do the same thing to us.
6. Now, there’s plenty of failings of Christian believers which deserve valid criticism.
7. But no one refuses Christ because of the failings of Christians. That’s one of the main points of this passage. The crowd is judging John for his failure instead of recognizing their own failings which make John’s look tiny.
8. Their criticisms of Jesus expose their own deficiencies.
N. But there is a word of encouragement here.
1. It may seem like Jesus in this passage is focused on the antagonism of the crowd and the rebellion of that generation. But don’t forget the way He stood up for John. Don’t forget about the Lord’s immense appreciation for John and how He honored Him with affection and praise.
2. And in this we see the affection of Jesus for those whose greatest pleasure is in Him.
3. O how He delights in the one who desires to do His will.
4. How He delights in the one who is listening to and dancing to the music He is playing.
5. How He loves it when He plays a love song and we love.
6. How He loves it when He blows the trumpet and we march forth in courage!
7. How He blesses the man who is not disagreeable with Him, who is not always trying to tell God what He must do, but who receives the instructions of the Lord with a willing spirit, who delights in His ways.
8. The world and its pleasures can have an intoxicating effect upon people. We can get lured into enjoying its little delicacies and live sleepy lives of creature comfort and ease.
9. But how the Lord cherishes those who refuse to be lulled to sleep.
10. Luke 12:35–37 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home ... so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.”