daily biblical sermons


THE LEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS GREATER THAN JOHN THE BAPTIST
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, the Second Week of Advent, December 13, 2018
Isaiah 41:13-20, Psalm 144, Matthew 11:11-15


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:11).


Today Jesus says that John the Baptist is the greatest person, the greatest "among those born of women" (Matthew 11:11). This makes him the greatest of all the prophets, for he not only prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, but actually saw him, pointed him out to the people as the one who would take away their sins, and baptized him, thus helping Christ institute the Christian sacrament of baptism.


John the Baptist's saying that Jesus is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) not only pointed Jesus out as the world's Savior but also, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, revealed to us how Jesus would be the Savior of the world, namely by sacrificing himself as a lamb of sacrifice that would take away our sins, which weigh us down and depress our spirit, because they separate us from God by offending him who is the only source of true human joy.


This saying of John the Baptist tells us a great deal about the role and work of the Messiah, namely that his life's work is to be a sacrifice for sins, to make atonement for them before God. A sacrifice for sins makes substitutionary satisfaction for our sins to God, who is offended by our sins. The sacrifice is substitutionary because the victim substitutes for the sinner in being punished in the sinner's place for the sinner's sins. The victim's death is vicarious, that is, it is done on behalf of someone else, namely for the sinner who offers it.


John the Baptist's saying that Jesus is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) means that Jesus will offer himself as a lamb of sacrifice to die vicariously for our sins, instead of us dying in punishment for them. Jesus' death will thus be a substitutionary death, substituting for us sinners, suffering our punishment for our sins for us.


All of this is what the Jewish sin offerings did, but only symbolically, because "it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). But God gave the Jews this symbolic sacrifice for a reason, namely to prepare them for Christ so that when he came, they would be able to understand his work and his death on the cross. They would thus see that what the lamb of sacrifice, as an offering for sins, only did symbolically, because it was only a lamb, an animal, Christ, on the other hand, as the Lamb of God, does in reality, because he is the Son of God, who takes upon himself all the sins of the world and suffers our death penalty for them for us, in our place, dying vicariously (that is, for us) to fulfill divine justice on our behalf, namely that sinners should die for their grave sins.


By doing this Christ saves us from eternal death for our sins and pays our outstanding debt with God of suffering in punishment for them, and so God declares us righteous; and so our alienation from him, caused by our sins, is overcome, and we are fully reconciled with God.


Thus Jesus' death saves us from our number one enemy that we cannot save ourselves from - sin and its punishment. Christ's death thus unites us to God, the only source of true happiness, and enables us to inherit eternal life with Christ in heaven after our death.


What God requires of us on our part for this to happen is faith; and genuine saving faith must always also include genuine repentance for our sins, that is, we must stop sinning gravely and intend to immediately amend our life.


God will not force his salvation on us. We can't save or forgive ourselves or declare ourselves righteous or cause ourselves to feel forgiven by our own strength. Only God can do that, and he does it to all who will humbly accept Christ as their Savior and genuinely turn away from their sins and turn toward Christ to receive a new life in him and be made righteous.


Jesus says today: "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:11).


We can see John the Baptist's greatness because of his key role in pointing out Christ, telling us how he would save us, and actually baptizing Christ, thus helping him institute for us the Christian sacrament of baptism.


But why does Jesus go on to say, "Yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John the Baptist]" (Matthew 11:11b)?


This means that the least significant Christian is greater than John the Baptist, the greatest man of the Old Testament. Why is that? It is because a Christian fully has what John the Baptist only pointed out for others as something they could one day have in the future.


We live after the decisive death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and after Pentecost. Christ's saving death has already taken place, and we can benefit from it, while John the Baptist died before Jesus was crucified. So a Christian actually experiences the fullness of Christ's salvation that John the Baptist still only looked forward to and was still prophesying about as something yet to come in the future.


When a Christian puts his faith in Christ and confesses and abandons his grave sins, he is justified; that is, he is declared and made righteous by God, because of the atonement that Jesus Christ made for our sins on the cross. As a justified Christian, when he dies, he will inherit eternal life with God in heaven forever; but this is something that was still closed off for the people of the Old Testament, including John the Baptist. None of this would John the Baptist have received, for Christ had not yet died for our sins; and John the Baptist died before Christ died. This is why "he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he [John the Baptist]" (Matthew 11:11).


Then Jesus says, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force" (Matthew 11:12).


This seems to mean that during the public ministry of Jesus, prepared for by John the Baptist, people were violently entering into the kingdom of God by renouncing all things, all that they had, to follow him, or by radically turning away from sin and turning toward Christ, such as the wealthy tax collector Zacchaeus, who on meeting Jesus, promised to give half of all his goods to the poor, and if he has defrauded any one of anything, he promises to restore it fourfold (Luke 19:8). This is certainly entering the kingdom of God violently, that is, in a radical, complete, and literal way.

 

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