“Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).
Somewhere around the house I have an old book with the wonderful title of “657 of the Best Things Ever Said.” It would not surprise you to know most of them are silly.
As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, doubtless it’s true that the “best things ever said” is also arbitrary.
With one exception.
Literally hundreds of millions of people across this world agree with the judgment of those early Galileans that “No one ever spoke like Jesus.”
Our Lord spoke a solid one thousand mind boggling things never heard before on planet Earth, all of them surprising and wonderful and memorable. And, let’s be honest, many who heard Jesus also found His words provocative, offensive, and even blasphemous.
When Jesus stood to preach, no one was bored.
May I direct your attention to Matthew 11:21-30? These seven words from Him are as amazing as anything He said.
Matthew 11 is pure gold. A mother-lode for sure. This treasure trove deserves far more attention than it has usually received.
Confession: Working on this over the past week, I have repeatedly cried out in my heart, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it” (Psalm 139:6).
True enough. I’m so out of my depth here. When we finish, we will have but touched the hem of His garment, this is so rich.
And yet, let’s give it a try anyway, while admitting that there is far more to any of this than our finite minds can comprehend. If the Lord’s people see through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12), it’s no stretch to say that we write through a glass darkly too. In the words of Paul, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).
Now, on to Matthew chapter 11, the last third.
One. “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (referring to the hard-hearted citizens of Capernaum, and just before that, the unresponsive population of Chorazin and Bethsaida).” (Matthew 11:21-24)
The Lord’s audience must have been outraged by this. The very idea, that wicked Sodom will fare better at the throne of judgment than they! But, there it is.
Some people are going to have it tougher at judgment than others in the same way that some will receive a greater Heavenly reward than others.
I would never have thought of that. We did not make it up. Jesus said it.
In I Corinthians 3:11-15, Paul spoke of Christians whose works are “wood, hay and stubble,” rather than the more imperishable “gold, silver, and precious stones.” Perhaps they never grew beyond carnality or were caught up in a cult and spread falsehood from door to door. Whatever the reason for their unworthy works, Paul says, “If any man’s work is burned up (in judgment when “it is to be revealed with fire”), he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.” Clearly, there are degrees of reward in Heaven with some people entering glory, as we say, “by the skin of their teeth.”
My understanding of the principle that comes to play here is: what you did with what you had. Those given only slivers of light but who served God well are the champions of faith. Likewise, those who had it all and became hypocrites and deceivers and abusers are destined for the lowest regions of hell. The inimitable Leonard Ravenhill made this point in a book titled “Sodom Had No Bible.”
Heaven’s champions are those who served God consistently while enduring the greatest opposition, while carrying the heaviest burdens, while persevering to the end.
The implications of this are enormous.
Two. “At that time, Jesus answered and said, ‘I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes” (Matthew 11:25).
The intelligentsia in the audience was offended.
I imagine, as the Lord spoke, some people were shaking their heads, refusing to believe Him even before the words left His mouth. Every pastor knows the feeling. You preach your hardest to get across some wonderful insight from scripture and some close-minded hearers reject the teaching without even considering it.
I can imagine some Mensa member wondering why Scripture seems like so much foolishness to him. With his unparalleled intellect, certainly he should be able to figure out God, if such a Being actually exists, and the mysteries of the universe should unfold before his scrutiny. To his everlasting consternation the living God has made them off limits to him and has given them to the children! The very idea.
On numerous occasions, Jesus said, “Except you humble yourself and become as a little child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (See Matthew 18:16 and Luke 18:16). People unwilling to do this will miss out on the greatest wonders of the universe.
No one will get to heaven by his own efforts. No one will arrive at the gates of glory boasting about having figured out God and circumventing the cross.
In Bethlehem, the entrance to the Church of the Nativity was partially bricked in during the Middle Ages (to keep enemies from riding their camels inside, we’re told) so that one has to bow to enter. That’s a great metaphor for the eternal life.
The implications and applications of the Lord withholding HIs truth from the self-important while freely revealing it to the humble are enormous.
Three. “Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight” (Matthew 11:26).
Why did God set things up so that the Nobel Prize winner has to struggle to get to faith and the childlike walk right in? Jesus gave us the only answer that makes sense.
“He wanted to.”
Not very theological, is it?
Some things God does simply because doing so pleased Him. “It pleased God that through the foolishness of preaching people who believe would be saved” (I Corinthians 1:21). A lot of people would like to change this. They don’t like sermons and have little use for a system that centers around preaching. Tough cookies. (Said with a smile.) We’re not given a choice in this.
We self-important earthlings who set ourselves up as Divine Advisors will just have to deal with this. It’s how things are. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
Psalm 115:3 states it unequivocally: “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
God has His plans and He knows what they are. I do not. I will trust Him or be forever frustrated.
Four. “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father….” (Matthew 11:27)
Just before delivering the Great Commission commanding disciples to take the gospel to the world and make additional disciples, Jesus announced, “All authority in Heaven and earth has been handed over to me” (Matthew 28:18). He’s in charge.
He has the right to issue commands to God’s people.
How the religious authorities must have become enraged over this! The Lord Jesus is clearly acting in the place of the Almighty. He forgives sin, gives new interpretations of scripture, and points to Himself as the Savior and the coming Judge. He is either a usurper of the first degree or the Son of God in the flesh.
The epistles enlarge on this truth in numerous places. This one is mind-boggling: “(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created…all things have been created by Him and for Him. He is before all things and in Him all things hold together. he is also head of the body, the church, and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:15-18). And this: “For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete; He is the head over all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10).
Jesus is Lord. He’s in charge.
There are no areas of life on earth in which this truth does not pertain. Jesus is Lord of all.
Five. “No one knows the Son except the Father…” (Matthew 11:27)
This one must have drove His hearers up the wall. The nerve of Jesus. Who does He think He is? We know Him. He’s the carpenter of Galilee. (They should wait. It gets worse!)
The full identity of Jesus–His being all God and all man in His earthly body–eludes us. It did then and it does now. And yet, scholars of every generation try to figure Him out.
“Who is this man?” the crowds wondered as they listened to Jesus teach and saw Him work. “Never man spake like this man.”
Jesus Christ was the Son of Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth, and the Son of God. He was Son of Man and Son of David. He was Mary’s Son and Mary’s Lord and Savior.
Good luck trying to figure all that out.
What are the implications of this? They are enormous, far reaching, life changing.
Six. “Nor does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27).
This may be the most enraging thing the scribes and Pharisees heard from this itinerant rabbi of Galilee. (The word “know” here is epignosko and means “full knowledge,” not just a passing acquaintance.)
What I find delightful and more than a little humorous is the sheer gall of this. Imagine saying, “No one knows God except me and the people I introduce to Him.” And then you turn around and say, “I am very humble.” But that is precisely what Jesus did.
Both realities are there.
What are the implications of Jesus being the only One who knows the Father and thus the sole access to Him? In John 14:6, He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Clearly, if you want to go to God (and thus Heaven), you’d better come to Jesus. He is the door. And that is where the self-important know-it-alls stumble, at the idea of Jesus being all of this.
He is indeed. Jesus is Lord. It’s all about Jesus. Take Him out of your religious faith and you end up with a bunch of pretty nonsense. The Apostle John said, “The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:17 and 18).
Seven. “Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my load is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Come to Me. I will give you rest. Learn from Me. My yoke. My burden.
It’s all about Jesus. Do not miss this.
We must not divorce this wonderful invitation from all that went before. Only after realizing that all authority in Heaven and earth is in the hands of Jesus, and that He alone knows the Heavenly Father and is the sole access to God, only then do we see the significance of “Come unto me.”
It was not a foregone conclusion that the Savior, the Lord Christ, once on Earth and doing His thing would be available, approachable, and kind. If there is only one God in the universe, nothing says He had to be good. He could have been the worst tyrant imaginable, toying with mankind as playthings, acting like a spoiled brat who delights in torturing his pets. (That, btw, is the precise charge militant atheists hurl toward Him. But it’s just so much foolishness. They read one another and feed off each other’s anger.)
God is love.
Heaven is available. Salvation is free. And we are invited in.
To the leper who, against all regulations, ran to Jesus and fell down before Him, saying, “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” our Lord said, “I am willing.” (Mark 1:41)
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a willing Savior. Rejoice!
The only precondition to knowing Him and receiving Heaven’s blessings is humbling ourselves and becoming as children.
Since we are indeed humble and childlike in the face of all the mysteries of this universe, the puzzle is why this is such an ordeal to many of us.
Publication Date: October 15, 2014.
Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.