Scripture: Matthew 11:11-15 (alternate reading: Luke 1:26-38)
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Eli'jah who is to come.15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 41:13-20
13 For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I will help you." 14 Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. 15 Behold, I will make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff; 16 You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them. And you shall rejoice in the LORD; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory. 17 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. 18 I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. 19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together; 20 that men may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Meditation: Who is the greatest in the kingdom of God? Jesus praised John the Baptist as the greatest person born. Who can top that as a compliment? But in the same breath Jesus says that the least in the kingdom of God is even greater than John! That sounds like a contradiction, right? Unless you understand that what Jesus was about to accomplish for our sake would supercede all that the prophets had done and foreseen. John is the last and greatest of the prophets of the old covenant. He fulfilled the essential task of all the prophets: to be fingers pointing to Christ, God's Annointed Son and Messiah. John proclaimed Jesus' mission at the Jordan River when he exclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). John saw from a distance what Jesus would accomplish through his death on the cross – our redemption from bondage to sin and death and our adoption as sons and daughers of God and citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
John the Baptist bridges the Old and New Testaments. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets who point the way to the Messiah. He is the first of the New Testament witnesses and martyrs. He is the herald who prepares the way for Jesus the Messiah. Jesus confirms that John has fulfilled the promise that Elijah would return to herald the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5). Jesus declares that John is nothing less that the great herald whose privilege it was to announce the coming of the Messiah. Jesus equates the coming of his kingdom with violence. John himself suffered violence for announcing that the kingdom of God was near. He was thrown into prison and then beheaded. Since John's martyrdom to the present times the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and persecution at the hands of violent men. The blood of the martyrs throughout the ages bear witness to this fact. The martyrs witness to the truth – the truth and love of Jesus Christ who shed his blood to redeem us from slavery to sin and Satan and the fear of death. The Lord Jesus gives us the power of his Holy Spirit to overcome fear with faith, despair with hope, and every form of hatred, violence, jealousy, and prejudice with love and charity towards all – even those who seek to destroy and kill.
God may call some of us to be martyrs for our faith in Christ. But for most of us our call is to be dry martyrs who bear testimony to the joy of the gospel in the midst of daily challenges, contradictions, temptations and adversities which come our way as we follow the Lord Jesus. What attracts others to the gospel? When they see Christians loving their enemies, being joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, pardoning injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless. Jesus tells us that we do not need to fear our adversaries. He will give us sufficient grace, strength, and wisdom to face any trial and to answer any challenge to our faith. Are you eager to witness to the joy and freedom of the gospel?
"Lord Jesus, by your cross you have redeemed the world. Fill me with joy and confidence and make me a bold witness of your saving truth that others may know the joy and freedom of the gospel."
Psalm 145:1, 9-13
1 I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name for ever and ever.
9 The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made
10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
12 to make known to the sons of men your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.