Jesus said that in spite of John’s greatness, “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11.11). How can that be? How can the least gifted, least significant, least prominent, least outspoken of today’s believers be greater than this greatest of Old Testament figures, and therefore greater also than all the others? For this reason: because they can point to Jesus and witness to His work more clearly than even John could.
Do you understand what a great position and privilege that is? And how highly valued you are in God’s sight because of that privilege? If you really did understand it, wouldn’t you be more active in telling others about the Lord Jesus Christ than you are?
But remember: Your greatness is because of Christ and your opportunity to point to Him, not because of what you are yourself. D. A. Carson wrote: “So often Christians want to establish their “greatness” with reference to their work, their giving, their intelligence, their preaching, their gifts, their courage, their discernment. But Jesus unhesitatingly affirmed that even the least believer is greater than Moses or John the Baptist, simply because of his or her ability, living on this side of the coming of Jesus the Messiah, to point Him out with greater clarity and understanding than all His forerunners ever could. If we really believe this truth, it will dissipate all cheap vying for position and force us to recognize that our true significance lies in our witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The disciples of Jesus must not be like the indecisive persons of Matthew 8.18-22. Instead they must be bold, resolute, forceful, and determined.
John came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” and was therefore called Elijah by Jesus: “I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize Him, but have done to Him everything they wished.” Matthew then says that “the disciples understood that He was talking to them about John the Baptist.” Accepting John as Elijah would have meant accepting him as the forerunner of the Messiah and thus accepting Jesus as the Messiah, which is what the generation Jesus refers to next did not do.
Jesus had spoken of blessing for those who received a prophet because he is a prophet, and a righteous man because he is a righteous man. Here He applies those words to the crowd in respect to both John the Baptist and Himself. A prophet had indeed come, and a righteous man too. But they had received neither, preferring their own errors to the truth and their own wicked ways to righteousness.
The analogy of the children can be read in two ways. There can be two groups of children, one representing Jesus (who played the flute), the other John (who sang a dirge). Each group was dissatisfied with the other. This preserves a strict analogy, but it suggests that the disciples of Jesus were dissatisfied with the disciples of John, and vice versa. On the other hand, the people can be identified as these spoiled children who will not play regardless of the game that is proposed. They will neither dance nor mourn. They don’t like John’s way of teaching, but neither do they like what Jesus does. This is not as perfect an analogy, but it does a better job of leading into the point of verses 18 and 19: “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 at Him! a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners!’”
It is no different today, of course. God has many messengers with many varying gifts. Some are powerful speakers who can move a crowd to tears. Others are intellectual; they make a careful case for Christianity and present many powerful proofs of the Gospel. Some teachers are outgoing, talkative, people-oriented. Others are retiring and thoughtful. Some write books. Others lead movements. Still others speak on radio or appear on television. Some are old and teach with the wisdom of their years. Some are young and proclaim the truth with youthful vigor. Some are prophetic. Some are analytic. None of this matters to a generation of determined sinners who say in opposition, “This one is too loud. That one is too quiet. This one is too intellectual. That one is too superficial.”
So it is that we play the flute for those of our time, and they will not dance. We sing a dirge, and they will not mourn. What is to happen to such people? They will perish at the judgment, as Jesus explains (Matthew 11.20-24).
Don’t let that happen in your case. If you are rejecting Jesus Christ as your Savior, it is not because the Gospel has not been taught or because thoughtful preachers have not defended it. It is because you do not want to repent of your sin and trust Christ instead of clinging to your own faulty character and weak works. You excuse yourself by pretending you are wise to do as you are doing, too wise to be taken in by any cheap religious claims. But you are not wise. If you think you are, you are the greatest of fools. The only wise course is to abandon any attempts to save yourself and repent of your sin and commit yourself to Jesus.
Jesus says in the last verse of this section, “Wisdom is justified [proved right] by her deeds [actions].” That is as true today as it ever was, and it is as true in spiritual matters as in the mundane matters of daily life. If you are a wise person, you will act rightly, and acting rightly means to turn from sin and follow Jesus.