Please take your Bibles and open them to Matthew 11. Over the last two weeks, we have seen John’s disciples come to Jesus with John’s doubts. Jesus vindicated his messenger, John the Baptist, to the common people who had been baptized by John. They justified God in their thoughts, as Jesus says in our text tonight, “wisdom is justified of her children.”
Then Jesus turns to the critics and skeptics standing there and says,
Matthew 11:16-19, “But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.”
Jesus begins with a phrase often used by Rabbinical scholars. The Midrash, a collection of ancient Jewish teachings, would often say things like, “whereunto shall I compare,” or “what is the matter like.” Jesus uses a simile (after the manner of the Pharisees and lawyers) to show us a spiritual truth about humanity: Men love to exercise power in every realm. The spiritual realm is no exception and so we wind up with men and women who are spiritual dictators.
This type of spiritual leadership is the opposite of what Christ modeled on earth and the type of ministry to which he calls his ministers. Christ’s ministers are to be flames of fire who zealously guard, feed, guide, and serve God’s flock! Peter said,
1 Peter 5:1-4, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.”
The companion text of Matthew 11 is Luke 7. Please turn there because we need to see that this is a concentrated message towards the Pharisees and lawyers who have just heard his vindication of John. But it is more than that. Jesus is condemning the practice of ungodly men who claim to be truth speakers, but in actuality suppress God’s truth for personal gain. Paul said,
Romans 1:18-19, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.”
The Pharisees and lawyers find themselves in the crosshairs in our text, but every generation has these players on stage. You will find them in every area of life. They are teachers, politicians, pastors, priests, clergy of every kind, social instigators, musicians, comedians, and entertainers. They strive to move the masses to feelings and actions of their own design instead of pointing them to God and his will (as John the Baptist did).
These are men and women who are not interested in the truth of God. The actions of spiritual dictators serve the purpose of manipulation and self-promotion. Their labors in life do not lend to the propagation of God’s truth and accomplishing of God’s ends, but rather in exercising their power over the actions and emotions of others to achieve their own ends
Luke 7:30-35, “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children.”
The manipulative nature of humanity is a path to power. If leaders and influencers can cause people to dance to their tune and mourn to their dirge, power is easily obtained. That is what is happening on the surface level. As believers, we understand there is something spiritual happening. It turns out it’s much more personal than simply the obtaining of power.
Luke 7:29-30, “And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”
The manipulative nature of humanity is a path to self-justification. Why would a man try to convince everyone to believe his lie? Because it empowers him to actually believe it. A man can only believe a lie comfortably when all truth tellers have been silenced. Paul said,
2 Timothy 3:13, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
Those who seduce others into believing a lie are not secure in the truth. They are deceived and the more they have others agreeing with them, the more comfortable they can be in their lie. Adolf Hitler said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” In other words, “I will pipe and you will dance. I will mourn and you will lament.”
John came with a message and he was easily ignored because of his Spartan lifestyle. He was an interesting enough diversion for a sermon or two, but then the Pharisees and lawyers were ready to move on. Jesus came with the exact same message and a drastically different lifestyle, but he was rejected too. Here’s a hint: The Pharisees and lawyers rejected Jesus and John and it had NOTHING to do with the messengers and EVERYTHING to do with the MESSAGE.
The men of this generation (to whom Christ was speaking) hated the message of the gospel because it did not justify them in their sin. It condemned them in their sin. It told them that, in spite of their best efforts, they were doomed to eternity without God unless they humbled themselves and came to Christ in faith. Jesus’ message was,
Matthew 5:20, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Instead of humbling themselves, these spiritual dictators piped louder and mourned more conspicuously. John MacArthur said, “Instead of accepting John’s rebuke of their wickedness, they rebuked his righteousness… Because John and Jesus could not be reasoned down, they would be shouted down.”
The word, “children” is used twice in this text, but they are two different Greek words. In verse 16, the word, “παιδάριον” is used and in verse 19, the word, “τέκνον” is used. The difference is striking. “Παιδάριον” (verse 16) is from the root word that means, “A slave child.” “τέκνον” (verse 19) has to do with a naturally born child.
What are the men of this generation like? Slave children. Why? Because they are not only attempting to manipulate everyone else to play by their rules, they are being manipulated themselves. They are slaves to their passions and lusts. They cannot help themselves. The Pharisees and the lawyers could not have justified God in their minds because they had not yet been converted.
The word for “market is “ἀγορά.” That may sound familiar to you… or not! But the children in Jesus’ comparison are piping and dancing. Historians tell us that there were two games that children would play in the agora while their parents would shop: Wedding and Funeral. In those games, they would act out what they saw their parents doing.
Jesus' comparison does not really focus on those games. He focuses instead on the complaining nature of the spoiled bullies who expect everyone to dance to their tune. There are two interesting comparisons in Jesus’ lesson:
The bookends of joy and sorrow in the wedding music and the funeral dirge which shows us the totalitarian nature of these religious despots. They really were little dictators who wanted control over every area of human living. You won’t be surprised when I tell you there are people like this in government and in churches. There are pastors who are lords over the Lord’s flock and he will not treat them kindly when he returns, but will beat them with many stripes.
The comparison of action (dancing) and emotion (lamenting). You may think that forcing someone to act is extreme… it is. Laws are supposed to encourage right actions by punishing wrong, hurtful actions. It is extreme for a leader to think that people should act on his orders unless there is a prior agreement (such as joining a company or the military).
These religious leaders take it a step farther. They think they can tell you how to feel as well as how to act. I think of this text often whenever some leader for Black Lives Matter comes onto television to tell me how outraged I should be. Now, I think it’s terrible that 13 unarmed black persons were killed by police in 2019. It’s tragic, but not because of their skin color. It’s tragic because they are human beings created in the image of God.
But when you have a group clamoring over those 13 while there are twice that many unarmed black people killed every weekend in Chicago, something smells fishy. But they mourn and the mourning gets louder and louder and the emotions of people will swell to a fever pitch.
And, maybe someone says, “Hey guys! Did you know that there are actual slaves in the world right now? Did you know that there are more slaves in the world right now than at any other time in human history? Like, there is actual slavery happening, but we’re all worked up about this and we aren’t doing anything productive towards an ACTUAL problem.” But then that guy becomes the new enemy who is demonized and vilified.
These types of men crop up in every area and overtake a person's actions and emotions. In a word, they take the place of God and tell you how to think, how to act, and how to feel.
1. The Problems with Spiritual Dictatorship:
A. Spiritual Dictators are Insincere
They write the tune, but they do not dance to it themselves. Mourning is the verbal aspect of grief, but the lament (κόπτω) is to beat upon the breast, to tear your own garments. In other words, the Pharisees and lawyers had a lot of talk, but they didn’t put any skin in the game.
Matthew 23:1-4, “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
That is one of the biggest problems with a spiritual dictator. They are unconverted and require more from people than God does. They would lay heavy burdens on their hearers, but they could not offer them any relief.
I won’t preach it tonight, but I will be glad when we get down to the end of the chapter and see that our God is a wonderful King who is much different than the abusive spiritual dictators (the men of this generation).
Matthew 11:28-30, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
B. Spiritual Dictators are Inconsiderate (selfish)
They do not pipe or mourn for your sake, but unto you. Did you catch that phrasing in verse 17? The wedding pipes are not intended to benefit you in any way at all. The mournful dirge is not played because you are lamenting.
They are not interested in selflessly entering into the joy or pain of others. The thought, “how can I serve this person” never enters the mind. They do things at you, not for you. When they speak, whether they are piping or mourning, it is to create actions and feelings in others, never to sympathize with others either in their pain or joy. Their behavior is manipulative and not reflexive, self-serving and not others-serving.
It is easy to become this kind of leader. There will always be a temptation to use our church service times to manipulate the emotions and produce some kind of action through fleshly means. It can happen by turning the pulpit into a whipping post, by feigning emotion, or by playing certain songs certain ways or a certain number of times.
Genuine emotions are good and are produced by a genuine understanding of God’s work in Christ and his presence in our lives. When someone tries to produce emotions through any other means, it does not honor God, and in Jesus' message tonight, he condemns it!
C. Spiritual Dictators are Inconsistent
The man or woman who attempts to lead without God will ALWAYS be in the wrong because they lack the kind of spiritual discernment necessary for spiritual leadership. There is nothing wrong with mourning - John’s life exemplifies that (vs. 18) and they said, “he must have a devil.” There is nothing wrong with rejoicing - Jesus’ life exemplifies that (vs. 19) and they called him a drunkard and a glutton. The lost condition of the Pharisees and lawyers meant that they were bothered both by Jesus’ joy and John’s lament because they were beyond true feeling and lived for themselves.
They attack Jesus for eating and drinking (he dances too much) and they attack John for fasting and abstaining (he mourns too much). William Barclay puts it like this,
The plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will easily enough find an excuse for not listening. They do not even try to be consistent in their criticism. They will criticize the same person and the same institution from quite opposite grounds and reasons. If people are determined to make no response, they will remain stubbornly and sullenly unresponsive no matter what invitation is made to them.
~ The Gospel of Matthew [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958], 2:10
G.K. Chesterton pointed this fact out skilfully in his excellent book, Orthodoxy. In Chapter 6, The Paradoxes of Christianity, he points out that the skeptics of his day had successfully drawn him away from Christ. But the deeper he looked at their arguments, the more inconsistent they became!
For example, he had been told that Christians were far too gloomy and pessimistic. They were the cause of all of the negative feelings in the world and he said,
“But the extraordinary thing is this. They did prove to me in Chapter I. (to my complete satisfaction) that Christianity was too pessimistic; and then, in Chapter II., they began to prove to me that it was a great deal too optimistic. One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery.”
~ Orthodoxy, pg. 129
Skeptics also told him that Christianity produced such a calm, sheep-like man with mottos such as “turn the other cheek.” The real problem with Christianity was that it made men too much like sheep! Then he says,
“I read it and believed it, and if I had read nothing different, I should have gone on believing it. But I read something very different. I turned the next page in my agnostic manual, and my brain turned upside down. Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much. Christianity, it seemed, was the mother of wars… I had got thoroughly angry with the Christian, because he never was angry. And now I was told to be angry with him because his anger had been the most huge and horrible thing in human history.”
He goes on in typical fashion and comes to this conclusion: “It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with.” I concur. It is what happened with the Messiah and his forerunner and it has been happening through the ages. There is no consistent way for spiritual bullies to attack God’s truth, but any stick is good enough to beat it with.
2. The Solution to Spiritual Dictatorship
The solution is found in verse 19,
Matthew 11:19, “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.”
The accusation against Jesus was that he was a glutton (habitual overindulgence of food) and a drunkard (habitual overindulgence of alcohol). This is an attack based on some perceived truths. Jesus and his disciples did not fast as the disciples of John did, but feasted often with others as they entered into their joy. Jesus made wine for the wedding feast at Cana and enjoyed the fruit of the vine at Passover. These things allowed the Pharisees to lie by exaggeration. Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights in the desert. He was temperate in all things.
But they also said he was a friend of sinners. This continues in the vein of the previous accusations against John and Jesus. There was some apparent truth to this as Jesus was often seen conversing with the irreligious and immoral crowds. He was not afraid to call all men to saving faith. The accusation is that Jesus is guilty of committing sin by his association with sinners.
The reality is the opposite: Jesus identified with sinners, but not by entering into their sin. He entered into our fallen condition to endure the penalty of sin on the cross, not to enjoy the pleasures of it. By identifying with sinners on the cross, he died first and foremost for sins. By his resurrection, he offers life and relationship with God.
Jesus is a friend of sinners, but he is more. He is the way into God’s family. In Christ, God becomes our Father and Jesus becomes our elder brother. In Christ, we have a new life, a new family, and a new freedom.
Jesus says, “wisdom is justified of her children.” “τέκνον.” No longer slave children to sin, but natural born-again children of God. God’s children will justify him because he has been made wisdom to us.
How do we oppose spiritual dictatorship? Family is the key. Firstly, know that you are born again. Be certain that you are converted and have a relationship with God. If you do, you will hear and know his voice and he will help to deliver you from the wolves who would make merchandise of you and fill their bellies with your labor.
We should only follow regenerate people. Make this the gold standard for who you choose to listen to, watch, study after, etc… “Do they believe and teach the gospel?” Paul said,
Philippians 3:17, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.”
The walk of a person is critical. Ask, “Do these leaders follow the example of the apostles in their lives? Do they bear the fruit of conversion?” We should be certain to only ordain regenerate men and accept regenerate people into the fellowship of the church. This is how we protect ourselves and God’s flock!
When a person is saved and indwelt with God’s Spirit, he will teach them (by the gospel) to be God centered and others-serving. Paul spoke of the Christian attitude towards others:
Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”
Faith in the gospel delivers us from insincere leadership because we have been humbled by our own sin and failures and have experienced the healing, saving power of God. We have experienced love, acceptance, and forgiveness. We do not pipe, dance, mourn, or lament because someone tells us to, but because we know the true sorrow of repentance and the true joy of forgiveness!
Faith in the gospel delivers us from inconsiderate (selfish) leadership because knowing that God has accepted us as children and cares for us as a Father frees us from the need to focus on self. Because we believe the gospel, we can serve others selflessly.
Faith in the gospel delivers us from inconsistent leadership because knowing that our sins are forever forgiven frees us from the need to justify ourselves. Once we see God for who he is and accept him, all arguments against him fade away. Once we accept God, he will teach us to accept those whom he has accepted.
Like the publicans and sinners, all of the John the Baptist’s in our lives (those who know, believe, and speak truth) will be acceptable to us because they were accepted by God.
The world is full of spiritual dictators who seek to make us dance to their tune and mourn to their dirge. Within the realm of faith in the gospel, we are delivered from such men because we are subject together to Jesus as our one and only King.