SCRIPTURE: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
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VERSES 16-19: A CONTRARY GENERATION
16"But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to their companions 17and say, 'We played the flute for you, and you didn't dance. We mourned for you, and you didn't lament.' 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' 19The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is justified by her children."
Jesus likens "this generation" (v. 16) to children who refuse to play with each other. "We played the flute for you, and you didn't dance. We mourned for you, and you didn't lament" (v. 17). A flute and dancing are appropriate for a wedding. Wailing and mourning are appropriate for a funeral. Whether the game is happy (weddings) or sad (funerals), the children refuse to play.
This wedding/funeral imagery depicts the differences in style between Jesus and John the Baptist. Jesus came eating, drinking and mixing with sinners, and they said, "Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" (v. 19). If Jesus is, in fact, a glutton and drunkard, God's law prescribes that he shall die a violent and dishonorable death (Deuteronomy 21:20-21). This verse gives us a veiled hint of the cross that awaits Jesus. John lived an ascetic life in the desert. They said of him, "He has a demon" (v. 18).
The root problem, of course, for those who reject Jesus, is their awareness that taking John and/or Jesus seriously requires that they change their lives. But if they can find fault with John and Jesus, they can ignore their demands.
"But wisdom is justified by her children" (v. 19). The meaning of this proverb is much the same as "By their fruits you will know them" (7:16, 20). Jesus challenges his critics to judge him based on the effects of his ministry.
VERSES 25-27: REVEALED TO INFANTS
25At that time, Jesus answered, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants. 26Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in your sight. 27All things have been delivered to me by my Father. No one knows the Son, except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whom the Son desires to reveal him."
Jesus addresses God as Father and as "Lord of heaven and earth" (v. 25), thereby capturing both the nurturing and the majestic sides of God.
The focus changes from those who have rejected Jesus to those who have accepted him. God has hidden the truth from "the wise and understanding" (v. 25) but has revealed the truth to "infants" (v. 25). The mood also changes. In verses 16-19, Jesus expresses frustration tinged with anger toward "this generation," but in verses 25-27, his mood is optimistic and thankful. Jesus' optimism is based, not on any recent success, but rather on God's gracious authority and the intimacy between Father and Son.
"you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants" (v. 25). This reflects Jesus' personal experience. Those in high office reject Jesus, but common people –– including sub-common tax collectors and sinners –– flock to him.
There are exceptions to this rule –– Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Paul. The Gospel can be good news even for the rich and powerful, but it is difficult for such people to receive Jesus humbly.
"The interpreter should realize that the passage is a unity, with vs. 27 as its core" (Buttrick, 388). Verse 27 has been called a "thunderbolt from the Johannine heaven," because its language seems more in keeping with Jesus' prayer in John 17 than with the rest of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus prays, "All things have been delivered to me by my Father. No one knows the Son, except the Father; neither does anyone know the Father, except the Son, and he to whom the Son desires to reveal him" (v. 27).
To understand the intimacy between Father and Son, imagine the relationship that Jesus must have enjoyed with his carpenter father. They would have worked together and communicated easily. Now multiply that relationship times infinity, and you have the relationship between Father and Son.
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VERSES 28-30: TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU, AND LEARN FROM ME
28"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle (Greek: praus –– meek, humble) and lowly (Greek: tapeinos –– humble, lowly) in heart; and you will find rest (Greek: anapausin –– respite) for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
In their original context, these verses spoke specifically to those burdened by the Jewish law. In the hands of the rabbis, it had become an insurmountable burden.
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me" (v. 29). Jesus does not propose that we go yoke-less, but that we accept his yoke, which is chrestos –– "manageable, i.e., mild, pleasant (as opposed to harsh, hard, sharp)" (Thayer, 671). A well-made yoke distributes the load evenly, making the task easier.
A yoke usually joins two oxen together to work as a team. When Jesus invites us to take his yoke and to learn from him, he is inviting us to join him in harness –– to allow him to take the lead –– to let him help us through difficult places.
"for I am gentle (praus –– meek, humble) and lowly (tapeinos –– humble, lowly) in heart" (v. 29). Moses was humble (Numbers 12:3), and Jesus blessed the praus (meek), promising that "they shall inherit the earth" (5:5). Just as Jesus transformed the world by his meek submission to the cross, so also, by God's grace, the praus –– those who submit their will to God –– will find themselves possessed of power that transcends their natural skills and abilities.
"and you will find rest (anapausin –– respite) for your souls" (v. 29). Anapausin "denotes a temporary rest, a respite, e.g. of soldiers" (Thayer, 40). Jesus does not invite us to the lay-about rest of an easy chair but to the discipleship rest of a purposeful life.
Today, we are burdened by many things:
• concerns about jobs, marriage, money, health, children, security, and old age
• tough choices
• criticism or opposition
• and a thousand other things
Jesus' concern for our burdens is as real as his concern for law-burdened Jews of his day. His promise is also as real. "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest." Jesus still does that! Jesus still gives us rest!
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1957)
Blomberg , Craig L., New American Commentary: Matthew, Vol. 22 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Boring, M. Eugene, The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV –– Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Bruner, Frederick Dale, Matthew: Volume 1, The Christbook, Matthew 1-12 (Dallas: Word, 1987)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, A (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1992)
Gardner, Richard B., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Matthew (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1990)
Hagner, Donald A., Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 1-13, Vol. 33a (Dallas: Word, 1993)
Hare, Douglas R. A., Interpretation: Matthew (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993)
Johnson, Sherman E. and Buttrick, George A., The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1951)
Keener, Craig S., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Matthew, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997)
Long, Thomas G., Westminster Bible Companion: Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997)
Morris, Leon, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1992)
Senior, Donald, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998)
Thayer, Joseph Henry, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (NY: American Book Company, 1889)
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