In July 2015, I weighed 245 pounds. I remember looking in the mirror and hating it because I had not always weighed that much. My belly stuck out and I cringed every time I saw a picture of myself. I decided that it was time for a change and I decided it was time to lose the unhealthy weight that I had put on. So, I started dieting and exercising. I introduced jogging into my routine. I started doing push-ups and crunches. Since January, I have been anywhere between 200 and 205 pounds. My belly does not stick out like it did. I feel like I have more energy. I feel like I am sharper mentally. I enjoy doing more, and I might add that I am looking good!
As I think back upon what it took to get where I am today regarding my weight, it was no small task. I gave up sugar, though recently I’ve introduced it back into my diet at a healthy level. I gave up soda, and still will try not to drink soda with sugar in it. I gave up comfort in order to start jogging and exercising. I gave up eating whatever I wanted to. I gave up time so that I could try and be healthier. Without giving up these things, I would never have seen the results that I wanted to see. Even though it hurt at first, the newfound energy, strength, and passion I have was well worth the parts of me that were burned away.
In this world, we really like to take it easy. We enjoy relaxing. We don’t usually like change. We don’t usually like picking everything up and moving in a fresh, new direction. We don’t usually like changing our habits. We don’t usually like making sacrifices and giving things up. What makes us think that we will be able to live a worthwhile, satisfying life without some sort of conditioning or refining? If conditioning and strength training is required to remain physically healthy on this earth, why do we, as people in general, think that staying mentally or spiritually healthy would be any different? What does it actually take to be great?
Matthew 11:1-11 (HCSB)
When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples and asked Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news. And if anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.”
As these men went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothes? Look, those who wear soft clothes are in kings’ palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. This is the one it is written about:
Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You;
he will prepare Your way before You.
“ I assure you: Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
The kingly prophecies
Up to this point in the story and following, Matthew has given a number of prophecies that have been fulfilled and deal specifically with the fact that the Messiah would be a great king. Last time we looked at prophecies mentioned by Matthew dealing with the birth and infancy of the Messiah, and now we will look at what Matthew wrote regarding His kingly status. Keep in mind that these prophecies were written hundreds of years before Jesus was born on this earth.
In Psalm 2:7, we find a lyric that was recited over kings during their coronation and refers to the king of Israel as the Son of God. In Acts 4:25-26, this psalm is attributed to David, the kingly line to which Jesus belongs. This title belonged to Jesus literally and emphasized that the eternal king of Israel would be the Son of God. In Matthew 3:16-17, we read that God actually opened up the heavens and declared that Jesus is His Son.
In Isaiah 11:1, the prophet Isaiah wrote that a shoot would spring from the stem of Jesse and a branch would grow out of his roots. Nazareth was a place of insignificance, much like a branch on a tree. In fact, many people asked if anything good could come from Nazareth (John 1:46). Jesse was David’s father. Jesus was in David’s kingly line, and he grew up in Nazareth, a place of insignificance. In Matthew 2:23, Matthew states that Jesus would be called a Nazarene in order to fulfill this prophecy. In the Hebrew (the original language of the Old Testament), branch is pronounced “netser” (נער), and in the Greek (the original language of the New Testament) Nazarene is pronounced “Nazoraios” (Ναζωραιος). Even though Jesus did not have to grow up in Nazareth in order to fulfill this prophecy, his growing up in Nazareth as a netser or seemingly insignificant branch made it abundantly clear that this prophecy was fulfilled in Him.
Isaiah 9:1-2 states that the Messiah would bring a light to Galilee. Matthew records this fulfillment in chapter 4, verses 13-16.
Isaiah 6:9-10 contains an instruction from God to Isaiah and a warning that the people would hear and not understand. Jesus, being the full revelation of God, spoke in parables to fulfill this prophecy according to Matthew 13:10-15.
In Zachariah 9:9-10, the prophet Zachariah predicts that Israel’s king would come on a donkey and would extend His kingdom to all the people of the earth. Matthew 21 records Jesus arriving in victory on a donkey and Matthew 27 records Jesus as King of the Jews. We get to be a part of God’s kingdom on this earth!
Psalm 8:2 states that God treasures and uses the praise of children and infants and the same is true of Jesus in Matthew 21:16 as children actually praise Jesus as the son of David!
God is so good not to have kept us guessing about the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. I said it before and I will say it again: Jesus has proved Himself to be the Messiah and the only one who has the authority to return us to a right relationship with God.
That right relationship
If Christ is the only one who has the authority to bring us into right relationship with God, then we must recognize something very fundamental: we do not begin in right relationship with God. If we did, one wrong-doing would remove us from that right standing. We are in need of life and here I want to focus on a prophecy in the book of Malachi, a prophecy that Matthew mentions in our text above. In our text, John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to Jesus to ask this question: Are you really the guy? Are you really the Messiah?
Jesus answers their question, “the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.” When John the Baptist’s disciples walk away, Jesus addressed the crowds and he began praising John the Baptist because of his role. He called John a prophet and claimed that there was no one who was born of a woman who was greater than John. Jesus even quoted from Malachi claiming that Malachi predicted John’s role in relationship to his messiahship. Here is what Malachi wrote in chapter 3, verses 1 and 2:
God’s words through the prophet, Malachi:
“See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire — see, He is coming,” says the Lord of Hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire and like cleansing lye.”
God tells Malachi that He would have a messenger and would send that messenger to prepare the way for Him. Then, after the messenger prepared the way, God would be present among His people. After this God (through Malachi) poses a simple question, “Who can endure the day of His coming?” This Messiah, God in the flesh, who would come would not come to make life easy on people. He would not come to entertain. He would not come to make the nation of Israel rulers over the other nations on this earth. Malachi clearly states that the Messiah would come and be like a refiner’s fire to cleanse God’s people.
Here is the question I have to ask. Have we accepted Christ just to get into Heaven or just to escape Hell? If our answer is “yes,” then we have missed the point. Christ’s goal is to refine us. It is to take us through the pain-staking process of ridding ourselves of sinfulness. It is to restore us to right relationship with God and that requires part of us to burn in the refiner’s fire. If we want to become great people of God, we must be willing to let go of the things or turn from the things that are keeping us down. This is what it means to be sanctified and this is the process that Christ takes us through once we begin a relationship with Him, and it is for our good!
Just a little faith
As we look back at Matthew 11, we can see in verse 11 that Jesus also taught that the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. Earlier, Jesus claimed that there was no one greater than John. My guess is that Jesus was referring to John in the flesh. The one who has entrusted him/herself to Christ is greater because they have started that process of sanctification, or being returned to right relationship with God.
We all hold onto things that are unhealthy for us on this earth. Christ came like a refiner’s fire to purge what we hold onto that will eventually kill us and to accentuate what will bring life. The person who submits to even a small degree of Christ’s refining fire is greater than the one who is great according to the standards of this world.