Matthew 11:2-6, 25-26
2 Timothy 4:16-18
There are times when all of us are particularly aware of the weakness that marks us in our Christian pathway: weakness in our faith, weakness in our understanding, weakness in our localities, and in many other ways. There are many ways in which that is brought home to us, and that is what led me to these three Scriptures.
John the Baptist was marked by weakness of faith; suddenly his faith wobbled. Sometimes that happens to us. Then in John 6 we have Philip overwhelmed by the need that he was faced with. Finally, we see the apostle Paul at his first defence, finding that all his companions left him, and in that situation he could only rely upon the Lord. I trust, as we consider these three passages, we may be encouraged ourselves, as seeing how the Lord strengthens people and brings in help and blessing.
In Matthew 11 we see that John the Baptist is in prison. He had spoken against Herod’s improper marriage, and as a result he was imprisoned, and in the prison, reports were reaching him of what the Lord was doing, blessing and healing, and so on. Perhaps John was beginning to think, ‘Well, if this is what is happening, why is not some of this power devoted to getting me released, getting some help for me?’ Whatever it was, John’s faith began to wobble and he began to doubt.
Has your faith ever wobbled? Mine certainly has. I think this happens more than we realise. I remember speaking to an elderly sister; she was sitting in her kitchen beside one of those range-type fires, and she looked at me rather gloomily and said, ‘There are times when I wonder if it is all true.’ Perhaps you and I have known that type of thing as well.
I think this account of John the Baptist is given to us so that we might see the blessedness of the way the Lord meets the problem. Perhaps we might be surprised; if we did not know something of our own hearts, we might be surprised that John said, “Are we to wait for another?” We might have thought, ‘Surely, John, you of all people should know.’
But when the disciples of John come to Jesus, the first thing I want you to notice is that the Lord does not upbraid John at all. He does not make any critical comment. You see, the Lord knows our hearts, and He knows just how we are feeling and why we are feeling the way we are. In fact, He knows us better than we know ourselves. How often we read in the Gospels in relation to the Pharisees, for instance, of the Lord “knowing their reasonings” (Luke 5:22), and “knowing their hypocrisy” (Mark 12:15)! I think in John’s case you could say, ‘Knowing his genuineness, knowing how true he was.’
So the Lord does not upbraid him. But, equally, He does not just send a message which says, ‘Yes, I am the One; you do not have to wait for somebody else.’ The Lord does not do that either. He does something rather more wonderful. He sets out to prove to John just Who He was – proving it to him by this list of things that were actually happening in their midst. Nobody could gainsay them. These disciples of John saw blind men made to see, lame people healed, lepers cleansed; “Deaf hear; and dead are raised, and poor have glad tidings preached to them.” I do not think I am going too far in saying that I believe that dead persons were actually raised at that time. Christ was marked out Son of God in power by resurrection of the dead (Rom 1:4). That is not a reference to His own Resurrection; it is the resurrection of dead persons. I think there were some dead persons who were brought to Him here, and the Lord raised them.
All this was done so that John’s disciples might be able to go back to John and tell him, ‘This is what we have actually seen.’ Not just a message, ‘Yes, I am,’ but a message that would carry its own conviction and power because the evidence of Who was there was demonstrated to them – demonstrated in a way that could not be set aside. I think that is rather wonderful! That is the length to which the Lord goes to bring John’s faith back to life!
It was so important that John should not lose faith. I think you see that same thing illustrated with that doubting disciple, Thomas (John 20:24‑29). It was so important that Thomas should not lose faith. The Lord came back a second time just to present Himself to Thomas, so that Thomas might not be unbelieving but believing. Again, I think, you can say that the Lord Jesus knew exactly the reality that lay behind Thomas’s doubt, and as a result the Lord moved to remove it, just as He did with John the Baptist.
I love to think of Christ here, just taking these simple steps in His grace, going out of His way, as it were, to convince John that He was truly the One that was to come, the One that John had faithfully testified to.
But then the Lord does something else. Later on in the chapter (vv7‑14, which we did not read), He speaks about John the Baptist. He is not going to allow anybody to denigrate John for this failure of faith. He brings home just how great John was.
Then, where we read (vv25‑26), the Lord brought out for His own disciples, and for us, the wonderful way that He Himself responded, when He found Himself in what you might describe as the same kind of situation that John was in. The background to verse 25, “At that time,” is found in verse 20, “Then began He to reproach the cities in which most of His works of power had taken place, because they had not repented. Woe to thee, Chorazin! woe to thee Bethsaida! … And thou, Capernaum, who hast been raised up to heaven, shalt be brought down even to Hades. For if the works of power which have taken place in thee, had taken place in Sodom, it had remained until this day.”
The feelings of the Lord expressed here are what Isaiah speaks of when he writes, “I have spent my strength for nought and in vain” (Isa 49:4). That is how the Lord felt. Yet, what does He say here? He falls back on something that was absolutely reliable. “Jesus answering said, I praise Thee, Father, Lord of the heaven and of the earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to babes. Yea, Father, for thus has it been well-pleasing in Thy sight.”
He delighted in the Father’s will; He delighted in the Father’s pleasure; He rested in the Father’s love. Whatever the outward signs, whatever the circumstances that the Father had allowed, He was resting in His confidence in the Father. And He was resting, too, in His delight in what pleased the Father, “Yea, Father, for thus has it been well-pleasing in Thy sight.” The Lord had particular delight, as Man here, in doing the Father’s will.
“My food is that I should do the will of Him that has sent Me,” He says (John 4:34). There was never the slightest variation in the Lord Jesus between the Father’s will and the Lord’s actions or thoughts. It comes out extraordinarily at times. I once came across a comment that somebody had made, that if the Lord had not prayed on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), the Father would have swept the world with judgement. But nothing could be further from the truth, because when the Lord uttered those words, they were the expression of the Father’s heart. The Father’s will, the Father’s delight, the Father’s interest – if it was of the Father, then the Lord Jesus was absolutely at one with it.
I think He draws it forward for us in times of discouragement. The Lord had faced discouragement. The cities where He had laboured so much, and so fully, had all rejected Him. He does not question it or argue about it; He simply says, “Yea, Father, for thus has it been well-pleasing in Thy sight.” If it was well-pleasing to the Father, it was well-pleasing to the Lord.
He invites us in this passage here – not that I read it, perhaps I should have done, but He invites us – to come into the same relationship with the Father as He had. He says, “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son but the Father, nor does any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom the Son may be pleased to reveal Him.” And then He says, “Come to Me, all ye who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest to your souls; for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
No one can know the Father but the Son, and he to whom the Son is pleased to reveal Him. And that is what He immediately proposes to do by saying, ‘Come into this place of sonship, come into this place of knowing the Father, knowing the Father’s will and pleasure.’ It was pre-eminent with the Lord, so it is to have the first place with us.
The Lord brought this forward as a follow-up to His answer sent to John the Baptist. It was something that the disciples would take account of, and would come down to us. Just as the Lord rested in the Father’s will, so can you and I, in absolute confidence, absolute assurance. He set the blessed example of it.
Now, in John 6 we see another type of pressure – arising from an overwhelming need with no apparent hope of being able to meet it. Have you ever felt like that? I find it very interesting that the feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels. I think that means that it must have some particular significance for our own time. This miracle has often been spoken of in the way that I am using it tonight, as an illustration of overwhelming demand made, here, upon Philip.
Philip’s first reaction is a very natural one. He says, ‘However can we do this?’ The testimony of our Lord is full of demands that we cannot meet in our own power. Philip was quite right to say, ‘How can we do this?’ and we can be thankful that the Holy Spirit adds this little comment that the Lord had said this “trying him, for He knew what He was going to do.”
I love that expression, “He knew what He was going to do.” The Lord always knows exactly what He is going to do. We may not see it, we may not understand it, but He knows very well what He is going to do. Andrew, as a man of faith, picks up on this, and brings forward what little was available. It might seem impossible that those few loaves and fishes that the little boy had could come anywhere near to meeting the need, yet Andrew, in bringing them, shows that he had faith – faith in Christ.
Do not look around for a solution, look to the Lord. He knows what He is doing. The solution that He comes up with may not be what we thought of at all. I do not suppose Andrew expected these loaves to be made into this huge quantity that was far more than at the beginning. But the Lord had that solution.
Andrew says, “There is a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two small fishes; but this, what is it for so many?” I think the message of this Scripture is a very simple one; we feel our limitations and the smallness of what we have, but, like Andrew, we have to put what we have in the hands of Christ. “Jesus took the loaves, and having given thanks, distributed them to those that were set down; and in like manner of the small fishes as much as they would.” There was no lack at all!
This account is given to us to remind us that, whatever the demands and whatever the limitations – and there are plenty of both in the present time – as we look to the Lord, He will come in with an answer. Maybe a different answer from what we thought, but He has limitless power at His disposal: “All power,” He says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “has been given Me in heaven and upon earth.” Then He goes on in Matthew to say, “I am with you all the days, until the completion of the age.” The Lord’s power in relation to His people goes on for as long as it is needed!
So there is a message of encouragement and hope that comes to us through this passage. However small what we can bring forward, if it is brought in a spirit of dependence and faith, the Lord can make it sufficient. He has all power in heaven and upon earth.
I think Paul proved that in what he tells us in 2 Timothy. The Epistle begins with an exhortation to Timothy himself not to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner” (2 Tim 1:8). Then at the end of the Epistle Paul tells of how he had proved the support and blessing of the Lord. I think that I am right in saying that the “first defence” that Paul speaks of was not before Nero, but rather a preliminary hearing. Even so, it must have been a very frightening experience, and I think we can well understand why everybody rather slunk into the shadows. Paul was there alone, “but,” he says, “the Lord stood with me, and gave me power, that through me the proclamation might be fully made.”
I think this was one of the high points of Paul’s ministry. I say that because when he was commissioned by the Lord, he was told that he was to “bear My name before both nations and kings” (Acts 9:15). I think Paul would have gone to this first defence with the consciousness that this was part of his calling as an apostle and that the Lord would support him.
The Lord had said to His own, “When they bring you before the synagogues and rulers and the authorities, be not careful how or what ye shall answer, or what ye shall say; … whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak; for ye are not the speakers, but the Holy Spirit” (Luke 12:11, Mark 13:11). So I do not suppose that Paul would have prepared a long address for this occasion. He would have known there was no need, because the Lord was going to stand by him.
One of the things that our weakness brings home to us often is that, as we were reminded in the reading, the Lord said to His own, “Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). We find that is true in all kinds of things, and the practical effect is that we do not want to do anything that the Lord will not support us in. Paul had the certainty here that the Lord was going to uphold him. It was part of that promise that had been made to him, so he went forward with more certainty than we might imagine. “But the Lord stood with me, and gave me power, that through me the proclamation might be fully made, and all those of the nations should hear.”
Paul had an objective; he laboured to “present every man perfect in Christ” (Col 1:28). There was no idea of limitation, and I think he would have rejoiced in this opportunity whereby all those of the nations might hear. Then he adds, “And I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth.”
But more than that, he says, “The Lord shall deliver me from every wicked work, and shall preserve me for His heavenly kingdom; to Whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen.” At the present time I think a great deal about believers in those parts of the world where they face persecution, and vicious attacks, and things like that – quite rightly and properly, we pray for their preservation. But Paul here looked beyond the immediate preservation – which the Lord did grant to him – to a far greater deliverance. He writes, “The Lord shall deliver me from every wicked work, and shall preserve me for His heavenly kingdom.” That is far greater than merely being preserved from the spite and anger of Nero!
Sometimes, when we pray for persons who face persecution, we find that the Lord answers those prayers in a different way from what we had hoped, and the persons concerned are not saved, in the sense of being preserved in their natural lives here. But nothing alters the fact that they are preserved for something far, far better – the Lord’s heavenly kingdom. The light of that was in Paul’s soul; it was a heavenly kingdom, something that would far transcend everything else. It leads Paul to worship: he says, “To Whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen.”
Elsewhere he says, “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the coming glory to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). That was something that had laid hold of Paul, and it meant that while Paul desired to remain for the sake of the saints and for the sake of the gospel, he also desired to depart to be with Christ, which was very much better (Phil 1:23‑24). Paul had the assurance that, whatever way things worked out, he would be preserved for that heavenly kingdom.
He had that confidence, because the kingdom did not depend upon Paul or anything that he did. All depended upon Christ. It is an absolutely reliable, heavenly kingdom. It leads him to burst into praise: “To Whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen.” Doxologies are prompted by a variety of things in Scripture, and some of the things that lead to praise are quite surprising. When Paul speaks of the way that God has shut up all in unbelief that He might show mercy to all, it leads him to praise: “O depth of riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable His ways!” (Rom 11:33). When he writes to the Romans of the evil of men who “honoured and served the creature more than Him Who had created it,” he is led at once to add, “Who is blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom 1:25).
Paul had in his heart something that was far, far greater than anything here – that heavenly kingdom – and it led him even then to say, “To Whom be glory for the ages of ages. Amen.”
I just present these things for our encouragement, and I trust that as seeing the way the Lord came in in relation to John the Baptist, and in relation to the pressure on Philip, and in relation to this need of the apostle Paul, we might be encouraged and blessed.
May it be so!
10 May 2014