Matthew 11:7-15 – As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'”
11 “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone 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 been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears, let him hear.” NIV
This question and the following one are both a part of the same encounter. John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod Antipas, and he sent his followers to ask if Jesus was the promised Messiah. Instead of answering with a straight “yes” or “no,” which would have given his enemies grounds for accusing Him of blasphemy, He simply tells John’s disciples to go back and report to John the miracles that were being performed. As they leave, Jesus turns to address the crowd.
Many in this crowd had evidently gone out into the desert to listen to John who was dressed simply and roughly, but who purported to have a message from God that was preparing the way for the Messiah. Perhaps many of these people had been baptized by John repenting of their sins, and perhaps some doubted his message now that Herod had placed him in prison. Jesus affirmed that John and his message were from God, and he went further to declare that John was the Elijah who was prophesied to come before the Messiah in the last words of the last prophet in the Old Testament.
Malachi 4:5 – “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” NIV
So how do we apply this question to our lives today? Many of us go and listen to individuals who purport to speak for and about God as teachers, preachers, or speakers. Unfortunately, we sometimes judge them more by their appearance, speaking style, or life situation than by their message. Is their message true to the Bible? Does their message seem to be empowered by the Holy Spirit?
I can think of several times when I have been nonplussed by the speaker but God confirmed their message. I was at a conference one night when the speaker got up to speak. In my opinion he was the very definition of the word, slick (manipulative and possibly phony). I immediately started looking through my Bible for some other inspirational thoughts to redeem my time; but the Holy Spirit convicted me of my bias, and redirected my attention. I gained some insights that night that I use in my devotional life to this day. I can sight other times when someone’s lisp, repetition of certain words, weight, or life situation was a distraction for me, and God urged me to look beyond the speaker to the message. Is the message being delivered from God? How does He want me to apply it in my life?
The Lord spoke through Balaam’s donkey according to Numbers 22; and if He can do that, He can speak though me or any other of His creation. It’s the message not necessarily the messenger! Discern the message and apply it to your life.