“12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” – Matthew 11:12 NIV
William Holman Hunt (English Pre-Raphaelite painter, 1827-1910), detail of “The Importunate Neighbor”(1895), oil on canvas,
Although John the Baptist was confused about Jesus… Jesus was not confused about John. You see in most people’s eyes John was a mystery. He was not a person you would expect to find when looking for a great spiritual leader. He lacked the religious pedigree for that. John looked nothing like a priest or teacher of the law and, in fact, to most people he came across as just plain weird. John did have something though. John’s faith in God was raw and untamed and he ministered with great spiritual power.
What I find interesting is that Jesus almost seems to mock or rebuke a crowd who once gathered around John’s disciples. He asked them what they came out to the wilderness to see? “A reed swayed by the wind?” (i.e. Someone easily molded by the expectations of the civilized). Or perhaps, He suggested, they came out to see “A man dressed in fine clothes?” (i.e. Someone seeking to impress the political or religious elite). In essence, Jesus was saying that if it were those kinds of people they sought, then they were looking in the wrong place. But if it was a prophet they sought, then John was their man! (See Matthew 11:7-9)
In order for God’s kingdom to radically advance, I believe it will take more men and women who are cut from a different cloth. A different breed of Christ follower who is typically found outside the mainstream of most institutionalized churches. It takes subjects who are assertive, initiators, and rigorous in their kingdom pursuits.
While antagonism in the world around us intensifies with many Christians seemingly content to watch from the sidelines, I believe the Holy Spirit is raising up kingdom soldiers. (Consider Paul’s estimation of this kind of soldier in 2 Timothy 2:3,4).
I think Jesus wanted to make it clear that, the greater the kingdom responsibility, the more a barbarian is required. A barbarian in ancient times was a member of a community or tribe not belonging to one of the great civilizations. Usually they were more uncultured and even brutish. Perhaps this is partly why the writer of Hebrews, as well as Peter, describes Christians using the terms: “strangers”, “pilgrims”, and “aliens” (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). We are meant to be Christ’s kingdom subjects who “advance the kingdom forcefully”!!! (Matt. 11:12)
In Matthew 11:11 Jesus not only celebrates the greatness of John the Baptist, but He also opens the floodgates of possibilities for the rest of us. Notice the last phrase of verse 11.
“11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” – Matthew 11:11 NIV
Jesus expected that a barbarian tribe was still to come, who would follow in the ways of John! The Judaism of Christ’s day had been domesticated, institutionalized, and civilized; it was only a hollow shell of what God intended. John didn’t fit into the organized religion of his time, but fortunately neither did God!
The Holy Spirit is making a “kingdom call” to all those who will listen and obey. Obedience, I have discovered, is not in the sensational but rather in the steady steps of courage amidst the small things of life. If we remain bold and faithful in the little things God calls us to, I believe He will expand our influence in much larger ways (See Luke 19:17).