VI. Confusion and Opposition (Matthew 11:1–12:50)
VI. Confusion and Opposition (11:1–12:50)
11:1-3 As his twelve disciples departed on their mission, Jesus continued to teach . . . in their towns (11:1). When John the Baptist heard in prison what the Christ was doing, he sent a message (11:2). Matthew doesn’t tell us until later about John’s arrest (14:3-5), but he tells us now about John’s confusion. John asked Jesus, Are you the one? (11:3). John had believed that Jesus was the Christ (3:14). But as he languished in prison, he began to have doubts. Wasn’t the Christ supposed to separate the “wheat” from “the chaff” (see 3:12)? Jesus’s miracles and healings were fine, but when would he judge God’s enemies?
11:4-6 We all need reassurance at times, and John was no different. So Jesus reminded him of what he had been doing. His healing ministry and his proclamation of the good news matched the expectations of the Messiah (11:4-5; see Isa 61:1). His words and deeds validated who he was. The judgment of the wicked would come in the future. Now was a time of good news and grace.
11:7-15 A As these men were leaving, Jesus spoke to the crowds about John. He was no reed swaying in the wind (11:7). John was a kingdom man, urging sinners to repent (3:1-12). He was a prophet (11:9) who wasn’t intimidated by the religious leaders or the king (3:7-10; 14:3-5). Moreover, he was God’s chosen messenger, as foretold in the Old Testament, who would prepare the way for Christ (11:10; see Mal 3:1). Like the great Old Testament prophet Elijah, he boldly proclaimed God’s word and faced violent opposition (11:12-14; see 1 Kgs 19:1-5; Matt 14:6-12). As John himself confessed, he was not the Messiah but a signpost pointing the way (John 1:19-23).
11:16-19 Jesus compared the generation that was rejecting his message to a group of fussy children who were never satisfied (11:16-17). John the Baptist lived an ascetic lifestyle, and they called him demon-possessed (11:18). The Son of Man ate and drank, and they called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. There’s just no pleasing some people, yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds (11:19)—that is, your ability to apply spiritual truth will be demonstrated by what you do. Those who scorned John and Jesus proved that their wisdom tanks were on empty.
11:20-24 Then Jesus got angry and named names. He denounced towns that had seen his miracles but did not repent: Chorazin . . . Bethsaida . . . Capernaum (11:20-21, 23). How bad would it be for them? Wicked Old Testament cities that incurred God’s wrath will find the day of judgment more tolerable than will those cities that rejected Jesus (11:22, 24). These Galilean cities had heard the word and seen the power of the King of kings, the God-man. Therefore, their actions would be weightier. The greater the knowledge of God’s revelation, the greater the accountability for those who reject it.
11:25-27 Few would claim to have burden-free lives. In 11:28-30, Jesus tells his disciples how to release the burdens they’re carrying. But first he lets them eavesdrop on a prayer pertinent to the topic: I praise you, Father, . . . because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to infants (11:25). That statement isn’t meant to disparage education. He’s referring to those who think they can figure out life without God.
The answers to life’s questions aren’t discovered in graduate school, where you can obtain information without spiritual illumination. That’s why Jesus said, in effect, “Thank you, Father, that you keep secrets from people who think they’re smart enough to figure out life independent of you.” God is happy to hide answers from those who don’t think they need him (11:25-26).
The answer to life’s burdens isn’t found via human wisdom but through accepting the divine viewpoint. We must become like infants that trust their daddy (11:25). And the only way to know and have access to our Father who hides things from self-sufficient people is through knowing and trusting his Son Jesus Christ (11:27).
11:28 Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened. If life is weighing you down—if the burden you’re carrying is too much to bear—come to Jesus. Why? Because only he can give you rest. In view here is the invitation to salvation. To rest is to put your burdens in God’s hands and enjoy his provision of forgiveness and eternal life.
11:29 Take up my yoke and learn from me. Once you’ve come to Jesus, he invites you to hook up to him as a disciple. A yoke is a wooden bar harnessed to the necks of a pair of oxen to bring them under submission and enable them to do the work that the farmer has for them. To train younger oxen, farmers would yoke them to older, experienced oxen. It provided maturation and development.
Hooking to Jesus’s “yoke” enables you to learn how to live. Therein you will find rest. When you come to Jesus, he gives you rest in terms of your salvation. When you accept the yoke of discipleship, you find rest and experience it in your daily life.
11:30 My yoke is easy and my burden is light. Following Jesus won’t make every problem in your life disappear. Jesus didn’t say you would no longer have burdens if you hitched to him. He said their weight would decrease. A suitcase packed full may be too heavy to carry. But, if the case has wheels, your burden will become lighter though your circumstances haven’t changed. God can put wheels on your burdens so that you can deal with them more easily.
12:1-2 The Pharisees were known for their knowledge of Scripture and their love of rules. When they saw Jesus’s disciples picking and eating grain on the Sabbath (12:1), they said, “They’re breaking the law!” (12:2). According to the Mosaic law, you couldn’t work on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees had created so many additional regulations and introduced so many scenarios to the way the Sabbath was handled that they considered the disciples’ actions equivalent to working in the grain fields.
12:3-4 Notice Jesus’s response to the judgmental Pharisees: Haven’t you read what David did? (12:3)—that is to say, “Don’t you know your Bibles?” To mention David was to mention a Jewish hero. When David and his men were running from Saul, he took the bread of the Presence from the house of God—the tabernacle—for them to eat, even though it was only for the priests (12:4). Scripture itself, then, testifies that God’s laws were never meant to get in the way of taking care of the necessities of life. The Sabbath was for the benefit of man, not for his destruction (see Mark 2:27).
12:5-8 Jesus also reminded them that the priests . . . violate the Sabbath all the time! They have to do God’s work on the Sabbath (12:5). The Pharisees were legalists, serving to remind us that whenever the commands of God prevent you from loving and serving God, you’re using his commands inappropriately. Jesus quoted from Hosea 6:6 to show that the Lord is a God of mercy, not judgmentalism (12:7). He’s not impressed if you know your Bible but have a heart of stone.
Finally, Jesus finished with the clincher: Something greater than the temple is here (12:6). The only thing greater than God’s house is God; therefore, Jesus was letting them know who he was. Then he added, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath (12:8). And since it’s his show, he gets to decide how the Sabbath is honored.
12:9-10 On another occasion, Jesus saw a man with a shriveled hand in a synagogue, and the Pharisees asked if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. However, they weren’t asking an honest question but looking for an opportunity to accuse him (12:10).
12:11-14 So Jesus turned the tables on them—as he so often did. Who wouldn’t help his sheep if it fell into a pit on the Sabbath? (12:11). No one, of course. The Pharisees, then, were willing to do for a sheep what they wouldn’t do for a hurting man! Jesus reasoned that acts of mercy don’t dishonor the Sabbath—especially since people are more valuable than animals (12:12). Then he mercifully healed the man (12:13), while the Pharisees showed their true colors by plotting to kill Jesus (12:14).
12:15-21 Though his crowds were growing as he healed them all (12:15), Jesus warned them not to make him known (12:16). He wasn’t seeking public notoriety. He wasn’t seeking to be a superstar. As Matthew says, he wanted to fulfill God’s Word as written in Isaiah 42:1-4, demonstrating the Messiah’s compassion (12:17-21).
12:22-24 Attacking Jesus for his Sabbath observance wasn’t enough for the Pharisees. When he healed a demon-possessed man and the crowds went wild (12:22-23), the Pharisees accused Jesus of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebul—that is, by Satan—the ruler of the demons (12:24).
12:25-29 Jesus observed how illogical their accusation was: If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself (12:26). Satan may be thoroughly evil, but he’s more clever than that. He doesn’t work against his own plan, and the Pharisees knew it. The only alternative was the truth: Jesus had driven out demons by the Spirit of God (12:28). To illustrate, he spoke about tying up a strong man in order to steal from him (12:29). Jesus was saying that he could plunder Satan because he’s stronger than Satan. His kingdom power over the forces of darkness had been displayed before their eyes.
12:30-32 Jesus’s power over the devil was evident, and he told the Pharisees that every sin and blasphemy could be forgiven. That’s why he came. But the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be (12:31). God revealed the reality of who Jesus is through his mighty words and works. If anyone rejects this demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power and attributes it to the devil, he is rejecting salvation.
To say from your heart (see 12:34) that the clear manifestation of Jesus Christ is the work of Satan reveals a hardened heart. If a person is worried that he has committed the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then he clearly has not done so yet. He must show repentance (see 12:33-35) and come to Jesus by faith for forgiveness and the free gift of eternal life. Jesus even gave this opportunity to the leaders who were accusing him and invited them to take their stand with him (12:30).
12:33-37 Jesus returned to the illustration of a tree and its fruit used in 7:15-20: A tree is known by its fruit (12:33). The quality of its produce reflects the character of the tree. And considering displays of the Pharisees’ fruit (12:1-32), Jesus called them what they were: a brood of vipers (12:34). The words the Pharisees spoke were windows into their hearts.
When you open your mouth, you reveal what’s deep down inside—whether good or evil. So you’ve got to watch your mouth. God is tape-recording our words, and we will have to account for every careless one (12:36). The way to tame your tongue is to address your heart. And the way to address your heart is to devote it to the King’s agenda.
12:38 Some of the scribes and Pharisees hadn’t had enough. They pushed Jesus further: We want to see a sign from you. In other words, give us proof that you are who you claim to be. Yet, he’d given them plenty of demonstrations of his power and authority, and they’d said he was doing the devil’s work (12:24)! Only spiritually stubborn and blind people request a sign in the face of overwhelming evidence.
12:39-40 The only sign Jesus would give them was the sign of the prophet Jonah (12:39), who was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights. Jesus would similarly spend three days and three nights in the earth (12:40). His resurrection from the dead would be the crowning demonstration that he is the Son of God.
12:41-42 On the day of judgment, many Gentiles will stand and condemn the wicked generation of Israelites who rejected Jesus. After all, the citizens of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, who had no great sign to show (12:41). The queen of the south traveled far to hear the wisdom of Solomon, who was a mere earthly king. But something greater than Jonah and Solomon had arrived (12:42). The heavenly King had come working miraculous signs, so they were without excuse for not repenting and believing in him.
12:43-45 Jesus compared the evil generation (12:45) that refused to receive him with a man who has an unclean spirit. The spirit comes out of the man, wanders, and decides to return (12:43-44). When it arrives, the spirit finds its old home swept and put in order (12:44), so it brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself so that the man’s condition is worse than it was (12:45). If you try to clean up your life with self-righteousness and religious activity, you’ll only make yourself worse. Without submission to the Lord and the presence of the Holy Spirit to fill the void, you’re simply opening yourself to greater demonic influence.
12:46-47 As Jesus spoke to the crowds, someone informed him that his mother and brothers wanted to speak with him. The Gospel of John says Jesus’s brothers didn’t believe in him during his ministry (John 7:1-5), so perhaps they’d come to take him home quietly. Regardless, this gave Jesus another opportunity to explain what true commitment to him is all about.
12:48-50 Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (12:50). True belonging in the family of God, then, transcends biological family relations. Our blood relationships—whether by family or race—are outweighed by our relationship to other Christians through Jesus’s blood. When you trust in Christ, you have a new family. This doesn’t mean you ignore your physical family. It means your obedience as a child of your heavenly Father takes priority.