Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Series 4. Greater than Giants . The Greatest among Giants

. The Greatest among Giants


Christ's view of John the Baptist



Matthew 11:1-15 (ESV): When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. 2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, “ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.


Many years ago my heart was impacted by the words of Dr AN Martin when he said in a sermon on Romans 8: “what a man is before God, that is what he is, nothing more, nothing less.” I think he was quoting someone else but that does not matter. I heard him say it. This statement has stayed with me in my Christian walk and ministry. I came to realize that the true greatness of any person is not based on man’s view of man, but on God’s view of man. We will one day be judged on the basis of what He sees and not on the basis of what we see in man. This message came through strongly to the church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1-2 (ESV) “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” Sardis had to learn very quickly that no matter what man thought of them, it was what God thought of them that really mattered.

This is a serious lesson for us here at Logos Community Church today – it is not what we are reputed to be that matters; it is how God sees us that matters. God’s Word can be speaking to us as churches today and as individuals. “You have a reputation of being alive, and everybody is fooled, but I know you are dead and you know that you are dead, so therefore strengthen what remains and is about to die.” Maybe, just maybe if our biography was written by God it will look a little different than if it was written by man or even if we ourselves wrote it.

And here in Matthew 11 we have the biography of John the Baptist according to Jesus. The thesis of this biography is contained in the words found in verse 11: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Somehow we need to conclude that John the Baptist was Jesus’ favourite preacher. John the Baptist was truly great in the eyes of Christ to deserve such an accolade. We are living in a world today where we are bombarded with the names of great preachers and great churches, which somehow leaves us a little discouraged as we are a small, humble new community, who does not know what the future holds, but we know Him who holds the future. But one lesson that we must learn is that true greatness is defined by Christ and His view of things.

Remember how the Israelites struggled with this issue of greatness in the book of Haggai. After they eventually started building the temple after 18 years since their return to Jerusalem, they compare it with Solomon’s temple and they say it is nothing. As far as greatness is concerned this is pathetic. God’s view however is different. He says in Haggai 2:9 (ESV) “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.’ ” God does not measure greatness the way we do, God’s measure of greatness is based on the presence of His glory. When you look at John there was nothing spectacular about him. He was from a humble and common family, he had no education that you would rave about, he was poor, he lived in the dessert away from all the action, his dress code was questionable, no Levi’s or Gucci but dressed in animal skin. His diet was strange, ‘locusts’ and honey. By the way he was a sinner just like us that was desperately in need of the saving grace of God.

Not a successful man who would in any way make the front page of Time Magazine as one of the greatest, yet Jesus says: “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Here you have Christ’s view of John the Baptist and to emphasize the truth of the matter Jesus says very clearly: “truly I say to you”. Now when Jesus says, truly or I tell you the truth, it does not mean that He sometimes lies, He is simply putting weight on the matter stating that what He is sharing is not just truth from His mouth, but undisputable as far as anybody is concerned. John was a man, a human, he was not a deity. He was “born of women”. This term is often used in the Old Testament to describe someone’s identification with the human race. You see this for example twice in Job 14:1 and Job 15:14. I often joke with people and would ask them the following: “as an outsider, what do you think of the human race?”, to which I will normally get a stunned silence as people battle to see themselves as anything but human.

So Jesus says that as far as humanness is concerned there has been nobody greater than John the Baptist. What makes him great? Well there are many things that make him great. When you look at John you see a man who was bold, resolute, humble, unshakable and unmistakably used by God. All of this is clearly reflected in his character, his calling and the impact of his ministry. According to Jesus He was greater than Abraham, Moses, Jacob and David because John had the privilege of announcing the coming of the Messiah and the future Kingdom.  His message was clear in Matthew 3:2 (ESV) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Nobody spoke as powerfully as John did. He spoke so powerfully that he shook the foundations of Judaism and their empty rituals, he spoke so powerfully that he drew the attention of Herod, he spoke so powerfully that it cost him his life.

He was the greatest human being that ever lived based upon his unique calling and timing in human history. Even the term ‘arisen’ speaks of His greatness as this is often the term used in the Old Testament to speak of the arrival of a prophet of God. The same term is used by Matthew to speak of false prophets rising.  So if John is the favourite preacher of Jesus, I guess we need to take note of him this morning and learn some lessons from his life and ministry which we will continue to do throughout this series. Now before we even look at John the Baptist and his greatness any further we must take note of the further statement of Jesus when He said: “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This is critical, because this statement forces us to draw some implications for our own lives and churches when we compare ourselves with John the Baptist.

How do we understand this contrast? How can Christ say in one breath that John the Baptist is the greatest and the next breath that those who are the least in the Kingdom are greater? This sounds like a paradox that cannot be explained. There are different views but all boil down to the same emphasis.

  1. Dr John Mac Arthur says: “when it comes to human talent and playing a role in human history there has never been anybody as great as John the Baptist, but when it comes to the spiritual dimension the least person in the spiritual dimension is greater than the greatest person in the human dimension.”
  2. James Montgomery Boice says: “How can the least gifted, least significant, least prominent, least outspoken of today’s believers be greater than this greatest of the Old Testament figures, and therefore greater also than all the others? For this reason: because they can point to Jesus and witness to His work more clearly than even John could.
  3. Stanley Toussaint in his commentary “Behold the King” says that John the Baptist who was a forerunner to the King of Glory therefore announced the imminent coming of the Kingdom which made him the greatest, but now Jesus refers to those who are the least in the Kingdom that has come as being greater as their privilege is not to announce the coming King, but that the King has come, He has died on the cross as our substitute and He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven from where he will return, so what we announce is the reigning King of Glory, and that privilege makes the least in the Kingdom greater than John.

So for John it was all about privilege and not physical greatness and for those who are the least in the kingdom it is obviously not about physical greatness but privilege. So what makes John the Baptist great according to Christ? What can we learn from John that we can apply out of this text before us? Most commentators give five characteristics of John but I want to stand still with three based on the three fold question of Christ to the people: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”

Now before we look at this threefold question that Christ addressed to the crowd, we need a short reminder of the context. John is in prison, and he seems to be having some potential doubts about who Christ is. He then sends his disciples to Jesus to ask Him if Jesus was really the one to come or should they be looking for someone else. Now we will deal with that in a later sermon, but in the meantime Jesus then gives them an answer to give to John, basically referring John to what Jesus is doing and preaching. I am not sure how much of the conversation between Jesus and John’s disciples was overheard by the crowds. If they did, they would obviously be puzzled at John’s doubts. Now we could surmise that they did because Jesus turns to the crowd and uses this opportunity to teach about the character of John.

So what does Jesus say about His forerunner?

1. John was a witness marked by heroic firmness.

Matthew 11:7 (ESV) “ As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?

Now after all our statements about the greatness of John which becomes the backdrop for this whole sermon series, Jesus now affirms the greatness of the Baptist. Now what does this statement mean? ““What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? This question is born from the fact that people from all over Judea and Galilee were streaming to the dessert to listen to John, just like today you will find people going from all over to listen to these self-made prophets that are bombarding our televisions today.

Jesus turns the doubt that John had on its back by referring to their experience of John. They left Galilee and went out to the desert to see John. Why? What attracted them to him, why were they so curious about his message, was it because he was like a read in the wind, was it because they saw him as a vacillating, weak character, blowing back and forth with every new wind that came along? Well the obvious answer is no. If they wanted to hear men who were blown around by every wind, they could find them all over. They could find them in their very own religious system, they could find them in the temple amongst their own priests, and they could find them in the market place amongst the Pharisees. They did not have to travel to the banks of the Jordon River for that.

Jesus uses the example of the reeds on the bank of the Jordon that were very common in His day as a symbol of a man who yields to popular opinion, who is influenced by all the new ideas and fads, a man who vacillates on what he believes, a man who is without conviction and who says what the people want to hear. John the Baptist was not a man like that. His message was clear and based on conviction. His whole career was marked by decisiveness, consistency and courage. John was sure of his message and himself. I think they get the message. The Baptist was not a common compromising preacher of his day, if you wanted that, you go somewhere else. He was so straightforward and uncompromising that he called a spade a spade no matter how much it hurt.

When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism, what was his response? Praise God, more potential disciples to follow me, more church members so that my ministry can grow, and therefore he welcomed them. No listen to how he greets them. Matthew 3:7-8 (ESV) 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” John obviously never wrote a book on how to influence people and make friends. He was not into a social gospel here.  His calling was not to preach a positive message as many modern theologians do.  John was a man of such strong conviction that he did not just stand up against the Pharisees and Sadducees; he even stood up against Herod and his lifestyle. The very reason John was in prison and was soon to be beheaded was not because he was a reed shaken by the wind.

If John was dogmatic outside the Kingdom, how much more shouldn’t we be who are in the Kingdom? Today many of us who are least in the Kingdom are accused of being too dogmatic. I’ll tell you what we need in our pulpits today and what kind of churches and members we need today. We must stop being dogmatic we need to become ‘bull-dogmatic.’ My friends those in the Kingdom are announcing a crucified, risen and coming again Saviour, how can we not be dogmatic about it.

Why are you here today, what did you come out to see at Logos Community Church, a reed shaken by the wind. If that is what you are looking for you are not going to find it in a church that is serious about being faithful to the Word of God because they are in the Kingdom. There are enough churches where they are not dogmatic but who are “cat-matic”, because they rather pussyfoot around the great doctrines that we hold dear. Some will turn away from the truth and proclaim the lie. Doctrines like the doctrine of hell are either nullified completely or air conditioned so that people can hear what their tickling ears want to hear. John proclaimed right as right and wrong as wrong no matter if it was to a Tax collector or a soldier or a Pharisee or a King. He was no shaking reed.

John the Baptist reminds us much of the great Chrysostom. (Kris-es-tem). “He was a Bishop in the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople in the fourth century. He was well known for his eloquent sermons, from which he got his name, Chrysostom, which means, “Golden Mouthed”. He was a thorn in the side to the emperor because he preached against the widespread corruption in the government. Eventually he was arrested for His faith and told by the emperor to renounce Christ; otherwise he would have him banished from the kingdom. Chrysostom replied that he could not do that, “because the whole world is my Father’s kingdom.” “Then,” replied the emperor, “I will take away your life.” To which Chrysostom replied, “You cannot, for my life is with Christ in God.” The emperor then threatened to take away all his cherished possessions, Chrysostom replied, “You cannot, for my treasure is in heaven where my heart is.” Then the emperor said: “Then I will drive you away from here and you shall have no friend left.” But again Chrysostom calmly responded, “You cannot, for I have one Friend (meaning Jesus) from whom you can never separate me. I defy you, for you can do me no harm.” Needless to say Chrysostom and the emperor did not become friends. Sometime later the emperor ordered Chrysostom to be executed because he would not deny his faith in God.

Is this not what we are lacking in modern day Christianity namely more people with conviction? James 4:8 warns us against being double minded. Don’t be a reed. In Ephesians 4:14 (ESV) Paul is clear that the outflow of solid Biblical preaching is the equipping of the saints "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."

Throughout history, great people have been those with conviction and who stuck to their guns to the end. Can we ever forget the great preachers who preceded to us, men like Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Edwards, Whitfield and the like who set the world on fire through the single minded preaching of God’s word. It is the critics who have long been forgotten, but these men who were single minded are still published and re-published which is a true mark of greatness in the Kingdom.

John was not a reed my friends, he was a pillar of iron. This obviously calls for us to consider ourselves this morning. What are we, are we reeds shaken by the wind or are we trees planted in the dessert? Let us learn from John. To be a true Christian requires of us to be uncompromising as far as our faith is concerned with an attitude of being bull-dogmatic when it comes to defending our faith, whether it is at home, in the workplace or around our friends and family.  I pray that God will give us the grace to do so.


Logos Community Church:- 12 August 2012