We like to believe things are true before we test them to see if they’re for real. We assume things before we ask questions. This makes us very shallow Christians, and easy targets for both non-Christians and the devil himself.
This is precisely what Jesus perceived when addressing the multitudes in Matthew 11. They were confused about John the Baptist, because they thought perhaps he was some feeble religious figure or even the Messiah himself. He confronts them with three questions:
1) “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?
The wilderness: There’s nothing out there in terms of personal amenities. In the wilderness, we are forced to resort to living off of what the land and environment provides. It’s uncomfortable, it’s unrelenting; you have to deal with the elements.
But people come here because they’re looking for something else, wandering about until they run into something interesting — they feel there’s more to discover and unveil. But they might also come because circumstances have driven them from what they know as stable, and they’re just looking for shelter elsewhere.
2) “A reed shaken by the wind?”
A reed: Weak, easily swayed, unstable. A reed stands for someone who isn’t really strong enough to stand their ground. Presumably Jesus is addressing a group of mockers, people that witnessed John the Baptist’s work and thought it was silly. They thought he had no foundation. But Jesus will later say in this chapter, “And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.” John the Baptist stands for fortitude and unwavering perseverance.
The point: Our dependence upon God and our relentless discipline to pray can be misconstrued as weakness. As long as we’re hooked up through the Word and the Spirit, we’re much stronger than that.
3) “A man clothed in soft garments?”
Soft garments: John the Baptist is infamous for his eccentric attire. But at the time Jesus is speaking, it’s possible that his renown caused people who hadn’t seen him to believe he indeed wore clothes more resembling royalty, being the Messiah and all. Or, perhaps this was a sarcastic remark, a hyperbole of a sort, venerating John the Baptist to a high position to contrast it with his humility.
The point: Similar to John the Baptist’s persona, Jesus resolved to make Himself common to man so we might actually identify. He went even further to make Himself a servant. God is not unreachable and unrelatable — He wants you to know that today.