Our Great Defender
“And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”
Did you ever notice how often the Scriptures portray the Lord our God as our Shield and Defense? Particularly in the Psalms, we see our great God spoken of in this way. How often we see the man after God’s own heart running to him for defense, hiding in him for refuge, seeking protection behind the mighty God of Jacob as his shield. David’s son, Solomon, learned this valuable, soul cheering truth from his father (Psalms 119:114; 144:1-2; Proverbs 18:10; 30:5). He who is our shield and hiding place is our Defender. The psalmist sang with joy, — “God is my Defence!” (Psalms 7:10; 31:2; 89:18; 94:22). The Lord Jesus Christ, our great God and Savior, is the great Defender of our souls.
“Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation; he is my defence; I shall not be greatly moved. How long will ye imagine mischief against a man? ye shall be slain all of you: as a bowing wall shall ye be, and as a tottering fence. They only consult to cast him down from his excellency: they delight in lies: they bless with their mouth, but they curse inwardly. Selah. My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.” (Psalms 62:1-8)
Christ our Defender
In the passage before us God the Holy Spirit holds before us an instructive example of Christ our God defending one of his own. That is what we see in verses 24-28. Our Lord seems to have sensed that those who had heard his conversation with John’s disciples might, as sinful men are prone to do, put a bad construction upon what they had heard. He seems to have read the thoughts of their hearts, and what he read was not good. Perhaps the fact that John was imprisoned by Herod caused the multitudes to look upon him with suspicion. Perhaps the question he sent his disciples to ask caused those who heard it to look upon John as a weak, fluctuating, unsteady man, one whose faith had begun to fail. Whatever their thoughts were, they were obviously thoughts of unwarranted unkindness, harshness and evil regarding John the Baptist.
Whatever the reason was, our Lord Jesus immediately took up John’s cause. Without a moment’s hesitation, like a faithful friend, the Son of God takes upon himself the defense of his faithful servant. There is much to be learned here. Blessed are those who have Christ for their Friend; and blessed are those who follow his example as friends to others (Proverbs 17:17; 18:24).
The Lord Jesus pleaded John’s cause earnestly, with the strong, firm, unquestionable language of a loyal, faithful friend. He took it upon himself to silence the suspicious thoughts and doubts in the minds of those around him about John. He said that John was no mere reed, shaken in the wind. He was not a man of unstable, wavering character, but a prophet, a great prophet. He asserted that John was not a man living in luxury, courting the favor of men, particularly of powerful men. He did not hang around the king’s palace, groveling for the king’s smile. John was God’s prophet; and he acted like God’s prophet.
Indeed, John the Baptist was much more than a prophet. He was a prophet of whom the prophet Malachi wrote (Malachi 3:1), “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” John was that Elijah who came to prepare the way for the Christ, who came to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children by turning their hearts to Christ. Then, our Master said, “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”
What a blessed picture we have before us! I find it sweet beyond expression, touching and instructive. Just a few years earlier, John was the best known, most popular, most highly esteemed preacher in the land. There was a time when all Jerusalem and Judea hung upon his words. They followed him from one place to another, walking for miles at a time, just to hear him preach. All men were baptized by him (Matthew 3:5). But now John the Baptist was a prisoner in Herod’s hands, deserted by all, held in contempt by all but a few, friendless and alone. The only thing awaiting him was his execution. But he was not deserted by that One whose name is the Mighty God. John could say of him what all who ever knew him could, “This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend.”
“Jesus! What a Friend for sinners! Jesus! Lover of my soul!
Friends may fail me, foes assail me, He my Savior, makes me whole.
Jesus! What a Strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in Him;
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing, He, my Strength, my victory wins.
Jesus! What a Help in sorrow! While the billows o’er me roll;
Even when my heart is breaking, He, my Comfort, helps my soul!
Jesus! What a Guide and Keeper! While the tempest still is high;
Storms about me, night o’ertakes me, He, my Pilot, hears my cry!
Jesus! I now flee unto Him! More than all in Him I find;
He has granted me forgiveness. — I am His and He is mine!
Hallelujah! What a Savior! Hallelujah! What a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving, He is with me to the end!”
John the Baptist had in the Son of God a Friend who never failed him and never forsook him. He is that Friend who says to all his Jacob’s, “I am the Lord, I change not. – I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”
Let me show you what there is in all this for you. — Do you know what it is to be held in suspicion? Do you know what it is to be slandered, falsely accused, to have your name evil spoken of, to have your character assaulted? There are few of God’s children in this world who do not experience these things.
Noah’s son Ham sought to mar his father’s name among his own brothers. Moses was the object of much slander in Pharaoh’s house; but the slander in the house of Israel was more bitter; and the suspicions of Miriam and Aaron were even worse. Joseph’s brethren spoke evil of him. David was maligned by Saul, betrayed by Ahithophel, and cursed by Simeon. Jeremiah was falsely accused by those for whom he labored, to whom he carried the burden of the Word of the Lord. John the Baptist was praised as a great prophet one day and accused of being possessed of the devil the next. Our Lord himself was slandered, maligned, falsely accused, betrayed and looked upon by the multitudes, those who would not hear him, as a vile, reprehensible man, a glutton, a drunk, and the constant companion of sinners. The women who anointed the Savior had their motives suspected and were slandered, even by their fellow disciples. Paul was accused of being a self-serving false prophet, a promoter of licentiousness, and a wicked man.
These things are not easy to bear. In fact, there are few trials more difficult to endure. The fiend of hell is called “the accuser of the brethren” (at least in part), because false accusation is that which he most often uses as a weapon against our souls. Satan knows that a man’s character is the point at which he is most easily, most painfully, and most permanently wounded. He knows that men and women who seek to honor God are most sensitive about maintaining an honorable name, seeking to live blamelessly before others. Therefore, he most often assaults us there.
J. C. Ryle wrote, “Slanders are easily called into existence, greedily received and propagated, and seldom entirely silenced.” Lies and false accusations are the devil’s chosen weapons, by which he tries to injure the Lord’s people, seeks to destroy a person’s usefulness and disturbs our peace.
Knowing these things, by bitter and painful experience, there is nothing more comforting and assuring than this: -- We have an Advocate in heaven who knows our sorrow and is touched by that which touches us. That same Advocate who took up the cause of John the Baptist before this Jewish crowd is our Advocate today. The Son of God will never desert his own. Our names may be cast in the mud and evil spoken of by wicked men. The world may frown upon us. But our Savior never changes. He has undertaken our cause. He will protect and defend us in the best way. And, one day soon, he will plead our cause before the entire world (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
In verse 28 the Lord Jesus tells us that we live in an age of peculiar blessedness. — “For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” The last phrase of this verse has been interpreted by faithful men in a variety of ways. – “But he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Without question, these words apply to our Lord himself. The Son of God became the least among men, the very least in the kingdom of God, though he is greater than all. — “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-11). He who is God over all and blessed forever became a man. He who created all things became the Servant of men. He who is our Lord and Master washed his disciples’ feet. He who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. He who is life was made to die the painful, shameful, ignominious death of the cross, that we might have eternal life in him!
However, our Lord is here talking about his disciples in this gospel age. These words speak of the peculiar, distinctive privilege that is ours as the children of God in this gospel age. — “He that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Compared with the saints of the Old Testament era, believers in this gospel age enjoy a position of tremendous advantage and superiority. After describing and highly commending John’s gifts and graces, the Savior says, “but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
He is not suggesting that believers in this age are superior to those of the Old Testament in gifts, in faith or in faithfulness. If we had no other passage than Hebrews 11 to convince us, Hebrews 11 is enough to convince us that our Lord is not suggesting that believers in this age are superior to those of the Old Testament in gifts, in faith or in faithfulness.
What he is saying is this: — In this gospel age believers have superior light and revelation. We have the full, final, complete revelation of God in Christ inscripturated (Hebrews 1:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 peter 1:19-21). Living on this side of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ we live in a position of indescribably greater light than John the Baptist and those who lived in that age of types, pictures and prophecy.
I do not suggest that those believers of old did not know and believe the same gospel we do. They most certainly did. But they saw things as through a glass darkly. They were not given such a precise, exact and complete revelation of gospel truth as we now have in the full revelation of God. — They saw the Fountain. We see the Fountain opened. — They saw the veil. We see the veil rent in twain and the way to the holiest of all open. — Pricilla and Aquilla took Appollos home and instructed that great orator in the way of the Lord more perfectly.
This is exactly what God promised in the covenant. — “They all shall know me...A child shall lead them!” To put it in plain, simple terms, in so far as spiritual knowledge is concerned, the new born babe in this gospel age, knowing the wondrous doctrine of the cross, being taught of God, has greater spiritual knowledge than John the Baptist and those men and women of the Old Testament possessed. The Old Testament age was the church’s age of infancy and childhood. This is the age of the church’s maturity. The law was our schoolmaster unto Christ. But now that Christ has come we are no longer under a schoolmaster (Ephesians 3:1-11; Colossians 1:25-27; 1 Peter 1:10-17).
A Solemn Lesson
In verses 29-30 the Spirit of God sets before us a very solemn lesson. — All who are privileged to hear the gospel either justify God or reject the counsel of God against themselves.
“And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”
To some the gospel is made of God to be the sweet savor of life and salvation. Being born of the Spirit, convinced of our guilt and sin, looking to Christ, all true believers justify God (Psalm 51:1-5). Self-righteous rebels reject, despise and cast off the counsel of God against themselves (Proverbs 1:23-33; Isaiah 65:1-5; 66:1-2).
Listen to sermons at FreeGraceRadio.com