John’s Greatness: Strong Convictions

“As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?’” (Matthew 11:7).

The world uses many standards—intellectual achievement, public service, wealth, athletic skill, and others—to measure greatness. But here Jesus begins to portray real greatness in the character qualities of John the Baptist. Strength of conviction was one of those qualities, and it was even more remarkable given his doubts about Jesus that John’s disciples had just presented. His foundational convictions were strong enough that raising some doubts was not a cause for embarrassment or shame for John.

But hearing of John’s doubt caused perplexity among the onlookers. Was the Baptist, the model of boldness and certainty, no longer trustworthy in view of his public admission of misgivings about Jesus?

To reaffirm that John’s convictions were strong, Jesus appealed to the listeners’ own experiences, asking in effect, “Was the spokesman you saw preaching and baptizing uncertain and vacillating, like ‘a reed shaken by the wind’?” The reed was common to the riverbanks of the Middle East, a light and flexible stalk that easily bent back and forth in the wind. But the people knew that if ever there had been a man of unswerving belief, it was John. In fact, his bold stand for righteousness had landed him in prison.

“A double-minded man [is] unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8; cf. Eph. 4:14). But that was not John the Baptist, who like William Penn believed that “right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”

Ask Yourself

In what ways has your life exhibited reed-like qualities, bending to challenges that required a sturdy backbone and a steady faith? How, on the other hand, has God enabled you to mirror the boldness of John in your obedience to Christ’s call? Thank God for His provision and empowerment.

From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008.