Expository Sermon on Matthew 11
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 10/15/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch
To watch this entire worship service, click the link just below:
Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 11.
Every week, as I’m getting ready to preach the sermon, I go to the back of my sermon notebook and pull out a little laminated card. On that card is a list of the “reading ranges” of the read-the-Bible-through-in-a-year plan I’ve been using this year. These are the same reading-ranges you find each week in the church bulletin. And as each of those weeks goes along, I’ve been getting a sermon ready on a passage which shows up in that week’s reading range.
I think it was this past Sunday that I took a look at that card, and discovered that we have left the Old Testament and have moved into the New.
And suddenly, I felt a feeling of real excitement. As far as I can tell, the reason was that all through this year so far, I have been studying Old Testament Bible books trying to discover what they say about the heart of God.
But now, all of a sudden, here we are reading about the life of Jesus. If anybody can tell us, personally and directly, what is in the heart of God, it is He. After all, in John 14:9 – 11, Jesus said this:
. . . He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me . . . .
Right here, Jesus Himself is telling us that He can give us the absolutely clearest picture of what is in God’s heart. And Jesus didn’t come down from Heaven to simply pose for a few portraits and then vanish back to heaven. John chapter 1 calls Him the “Word of God.” Jesus came to speak to us – through His words and His actions – about the one He called almost nothing else besides “Father.”
As I say, when that “clicked” with me again on Sunday, I actually felt a little electric tingle of excitement. Because in our year-long search for the heart of God, Jesus is the most reliable source. All of the Bible is inspired, of course, but we’ve just heard Jesus Himself say, “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.”
This week’s Bible reading range was Matthew 11 through Mark 3. So I started reading these chapters through, but I kept coming back to the first one, Matthew 11. The more that I studied them, the more I decided that in these verses, Jesus is doing just what He did it in all the other Gospels – He’s showing us how to enter the Kingdom of God.
And you don’t need me to tell you how important this is. Sure, you and I could go read religious books written by well-meaning people, and a lot of these are good, but there is no substitute for learning the path to heaven than listening to the One who came to earth to invite us there, and took all our sins on Himself so we could live forever.
As you know, a lot of “kingdom-building” is happening these days. Russia is trying to do it in Ukraine. Any country who holds elections is trying to build a kingdom. But no matter how well-meaning and well-functioning any earthly kingdom is, none of them is perfect.
Jesus knew this. Just a few chapters earlier here in Matthew, Matthew 6:33, Jesus told us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . . .” So we need to keep looking for that kingdom.
And this week I discovered what I think are four steps Jesus wants us to take which will bring us safely into God’s kingdom. And as He invites us to follow Him in these steps, He will open up the heart of God to us, maybe in ways we hadn’t thought of before.
So let’s get started. Let’s discover Step One.
Matthew 11:1 [NKJV] Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.
Jesus has just finished doing some ministerial training for His disciples, and now He is continuing His own ministry travels. But before He gets a chance to start telling His parables, He gets interrupted.
Verses 2 – 3: And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
Matthew 14 gives some more history about why John was in prison in the first place. As a prophet, he sternly rebuked King Herod for committing adultery, and Herod locked him up in prison, and later had him executed.
Anyway, John was the one who had baptized Jesus, and had proclaimed Him to be the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. And now, confined in prison and maybe suspecting his final fate, he sends a couple of disciples to double-check that Jesus is really who He claimed to be.
Here’s how Jesus responds:
Verses 4 – 6: Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
Every once in a while as a pastor, I hear about someone who is losing heart about God’s kingdom. As people look around them and watch what is happening, and how little our world looks like the kingdom of God, it’s tempting to let their shoulders sag and turn aside from the kingdom trail.
But Jesus has told us what I think we could consider this chapter’s first step on the path toward the kingdom of God.
If you’re taking sermon notes, here comes Sermon Point One. What’s the first Matthew 11 step on the path to God’s kingdom?
Watch God work.
When John the Baptist’s worried disciples show up with their question, Jesus doesn’t quote Bible verses. He doesn’t lecture them in theology. He simply says, “Look around you. God is working. Watch Him work.”
I like to go to the Fairwood public library to work on my sermons. I spent parts of two or three days there this week. My favorite place to sit on a tallish chair at a long counter. I think it was on Monday, as I sat at that counter, that I glanced to my left and saw a bug. It was a tan color, and looked like the upper half of a tiny flying saucer about three quarters of an inch wide. It just stood there and looked at me.
Different human beings tend to develop different philosophies about how to deal with unexpected bugs. If I had still been a farm boy, and if this bug had been a housefly, and if I’d had a flyswatter, I would have of course swatted the fly. Flies bring disease. If a wasp gets in your house, you have to track that wasp down and destroy it.
But aside from flies and wasps, my feeling toward bugs is not militant but tolerant. I am not a bug-smasher but a bug-flicker. I say to non-harmful bugs, “I will allow you to exist, just go exist someplace else. I will help you get there.” And I will curl back my middle finger, brace it against my thumb, and I will flick that bug.
So I flicked this bug down to the end of the counter, but it stayed on the counter, so I went and flicked it off the counter.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I remember that this bug is the result of God’s work. Genesis 1:24 talks about “creeping things” which God created, and this bug had descended from those first creeping things.
And therefore, that bug was amazing. I felt no need to make friends with it, or entertain its company, but that bug was a work of God.
I think you and I need to get into the habit of calibrating our minds to recognize ways God is working. The less we take for granted, the more we will realize that God has been at work.
One of the interesting things about Jesus’ miracles is how calmly He did them. When He fed thousands of people on a mountainside, He could’ve had a large string of fiery chariots descend from heaven loaded with manna. But instead, He simply took loaves of pita bread and started breaking them into pieces, and those pieces multiplied.
And there on that mountainside, people did not run away in terror at this miracle. They just sat there and kept on eating bread and fish. If any of them felt like they were in the presence of the supernatural, it was a warm and friendly and very natural-seeming supernatural.
Wednesday nights at 7:30, an average of probably 10 or 15 people call into our prayer call. It’s sort of like a longer version of the Celebrations and Concerns segment we have during the worship service. First we hear about things people are thankful for, such as answered prayers. Not a lot of these answers, or positive outcomes, are really that dreamatic. But we’ve learned that, whether or not God chooses to directly or immediately respond to our prayer requests, He is still at work.
And I believe that if we remember how often Jesus used parables about birds and lilies and seed-sewing and seed-growing, these stories can turn our minds back to the everyday miracles that happen all around us. As the song says, “This is my Father’s world: O let me ne’er forget That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.”
And God is the ruler of that kingdom Jesus is leading us toward. So as we watch God work, let’s look for another step toward His kingdom.
Verses 7 – 11: As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
What’s the second Matthew 11 step on the path to God’s kingdom?
The first step is to watch God work. The second step is to hunger to enter God’s kingdom.
I mean, what else can we do with Jesus’ statement? Jesus said that John was greater than any other human being – yet human beings who are least in the kingdom of heaven are greater than he is.
To me, one of the most startling things about that statement is that human beings who aren’t nearly as significant as John the Baptist can enter the kingdom of heaven, and that they can be greater than John the Baptist.
I mean, this is a statement of incredible hope. John the Baptist spent his entire life living simply, dressing simply, shouting in the wilderness, calling people to repent, and eventually pointing them to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And Jesus called John the greatest human being in the world.
And yet, according to Jesus, John is less than even the least of those in the kingdom of heaven.
That makes me want to take this kingdom very seriously. If someone asked me, “Do you want to enter God’s kingdom?”, my answer must be far more than a mild, “Okay, sounds good to me. Sign me up.”
No, I need to hunger for the kingdom of heaven. I need to be one of those characters in Jesus’ parables, the people who sold everything they had for an immensely valuable pearl. I need to be like the man who found a treasure in someone’s field, and went and bought that field in order to lay claim to that treasure. (By the way, this was not stealing, because in those days someone generations further back would hide treasure in fields, and then circumstances would change, and those people would die, and somebody else would take over the land. So that treasure didn’t actually belong to the current owner – it belonged to people who bought the land and dug up the treasure.
Again and again, Jesus made statements like the one in Luke 9:62 about how if you put your hand to the plow, and look back, you’re not fit for the kingdom of God. Just like a farmer wants a straight row so he can put more and more straight rows beside it, he can’t be distracted.
Jesus made statements like how if we gain the whole world and lose our own soul, how could that be profitable to us? To one young man obsessed with money, He said, “Sell everything you have. Give it to the poor, and, and follow Me.” In other words, seek first the kingdom of God.
How do we develop that kind of hunger for God’s kingdom? We’ll learn more in this chapter, but first we need to discover a third very important step to God’s kingdom.
Verses 12 – 19: And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: ‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”
What is Jesus’ third step on the path toward God’s kingdom?
The first step is to watch God work. The second step is to hunger to enter God’s kingdom. The third step is to flee religious nationalism.
Somebody says, “Wait a minute. Where did you get religious nationalism from those verses?”
Mainly from verse 12: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”
The New International Version tweaks the meaning here, but every other major literal-leaning translation follows the New King James Version’s lead. The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
Which is what of course happened in the original kingdom of heaven. Lucifer, through deception and eventually through some kind of literal combat, tried to take over God’s kingdom. He was a champion of “Lucifer nationalism.”
These days we are hearing more and more about “Christian nationalism,” the idea that America should proclaim itself a Christian nation. Alarmed Christians of several denominations are fighting back against this trend. Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists have long been worried about religions who take over governments and gradually intimidate as many people as they can into that religion’s mold. I hope nobody in this room is toying with that idea.
And that’s because Christian nationalism does not work without doing a lot of damage. Back in Jesus’ time, the Jewish nation were “Jewish nationalists.” They believed that God had given them their land – which He had. But they believed that anyone who didn’t follow their concept of who God was, was a dangerous outsider. And since Jesus didn’t fit their mold, they murdered Him.
And when Christianity came along, Saul of Tarsus began to persecute these Jesus-believers because their ideas didn’t fit the Jewish ideas.
And then, of course, when Christianity spread throughout Europe and Asia, Christians themselves became “papal nationalists.” Many people who taught something besides the state religion were eventually suppressed and persecuted.
And then along came the Protestants. That should make everything okay, right? But the Protestants established various kinds of “Protestant nationalism.” Woe to the Anabaptists and anybody else who tried to be missionaries for their own ideas. It just wasn’t tolerated.
The Puritans fled religious persecution and came to America. But they set up their own “Puritan nationalism.” And it became so severe that Baptist preacher Roger Williams had to leave and establish the state of Rhode Island.
And of course nowadays you have whole countries that are “Muslim nationalists,” which makes it very difficult for Christians who want to spread their ideas.
And Jesus was very concerned about how coercive and even violent people were trying to take over God’s kingdom. I mean, how many crosses and other Christian symbols did we see on those photos and videos from January 6?
So what do we do, on our way to the true kingdom of God? We need to run from religious nationalism of any kind. In John 18:36, Jesus flatly told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world.”
And we need to vote against religious nationalism. Years ago, a man who was the education superintendent in our Washington conference of Seventh-day Adventists, would once in a while be asked how he planned to vote in an upcoming election. He would always smile, and say mildly, “I’m voting for religious liberty.” And I’ve taken that little motto for myself. I vote for religious liberty.
So far, we’ve heard Jesus list some steps on the way to the kingdom of heaven. But now He will tell us the final step. What we are about to hear are precious words, words which have encouraged millions of people down through the years.
Verses 25 – 27: At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.
These are encouraging words, especially to people who haven’t had a lot of educational opportunities. My dad only went to high school for one week, and then went back to the farm to help his own dad pull the farm out of debt. Dad always was embarrassed at his lack of education. But he was one of the most humble and spiritually mature people I have ever met.
Now let’s learn the final step into God’s kingdom. And I’ll show you something very interesting.
Verse 28: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Isn’t that a familiar verse? Songs have been written about it, and poetry. But watch what I discovered this week, something I hadn’t realized before. Do you see where it says “I will give you rest”? I had always assumed that, if I looked it up in the Greek, I would see the word for “I,” then the word for “give” and the word “you,” and finally the word “rest.”
But that’s not what it literally says. When I read it through in the Greek, it literally says “I will ‘rest’ you.” Most English translations will say “I will give you rest,” because that makes the most sense in English. But it literally says “I will ‘rest’ you.” After all, English can say “I will nourish you,” or “I will protect you.” This verse has Jesus saying “I will rest you.”
The main reason I bring this up is that when Jesus says He will “rest” us, it’s like He is coming as close to us as a nourishing mother or protecting father. There is no extra word between Jesus and the “rest” He promises us.
Verses 28 – 30: Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
He says “come” to Me, not fight your way to me, or deceive your way to me, or manipulate your way to me, or buy your way to me, or even educate your way to Me, or punish yourself to get to Me. Jesus says “come.”
What’s the last step toward the kingdom of heaven?
The first step is to watch God work. The second step is to hunger to enter God’s kingdom. The third step is to flee religious nationalism. And the fourth step is to simply come and follow Jesus.
Entering God’s kingdom is simplicity itself. Over the last few months we’ve been inviting you to “come” to our Rosario church retreat starting this coming Friday night. Many of you have accepted our invitation. Accepting Jesus’ invitation is easy—if we’re willing to seek His kingdom first, make that our first priority. That’s what our closing song tells us. It’s a beautiful little song, filled with thoughtfully-written poetry which exactly expresses Jesus’ wishes. Let’s stand and sing it together. And as we sing, let’s resolve to follow Jesus into His kingdom.
Closing Song – “Seek Ye First the Kingdom” – #224