His Voice Was Not Heard in the Streets?

He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets.
–Matthew 12:19

Some people think that this means Jesus didn’t do any street preaching; and that, because Christians are to imitate Christ, that they should not do any street preaching or open air preaching either. Whoa! No, that’s not what this is referring to!

John Wesley spent much of his life street preaching, and in commenting on this verse, he says, “That is, He shall not be contentious, noisy, or ostentatious: but gentle, quiet, and lowly. We may observe each word rises above the other, expressing a still higher degree of humility and gentleness.” The word “voice” in the Greek is usually translated as “voice” in the New Testament, but occasionally this word has been translated as “noise” or “blast,” which would indicate to me from the context a paraphrase like this, “Jesus shall not fight, nor cry out; neither shall any man hear Him screaming violently in the streets.” The expectation among many of the Jews of the first century was that Christ would be like Judas Maccabeus, a violent political revolutionary who would conquer the Roman Empire. But this prophecy of Christ suggests the opposite; He would not fit the description of a war-mongering, battle crying, war chief. He would be no Zealot; He would not be responsible for rousing violent, angry mob uprisings against the government; so in this sense, He would not be the type of person, like Barabbas was, who stirred up violent mobs in the streets, issuing forth rebellious and seditious political speeches, calls for revolution against Rome, or guerrilla warfare attacks on Roman soldiers. Jesus would not be like that; on the contrary, when “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself” (John 6:15). Jesus was not a fighter, not a warrior, not a soldier; He was a friend of the Roman centurion with faith (Matt. 8:5-13). “He shall not strive,” shall not fight or go to battle, although He did debate with Pharisees on some points, He was soon to escape from them afterwards; the Gospel of John is full of Jesus rebuking and debating with the Pharisees; Jesus did not “strive” or physically fight or engage in war; Jesus did not do this, but rather said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders” (John 18:36); He did not “cry” out with violent and war-inspiring speeches, as leaders of revolutionary movements do, to stir up the violent passions of young men, to enlist them to join the army of the revolutionary; “neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets” giving Zealot-like revolutionary speeches, arousing the rebels against the Romans, for the purpose of violent uprisings, and promoting civil unrest and discord, for the overthrow of Herod and the Romans.

Adam Clarke had his share of open air preaching. Commenting on this verse, he says, “The Spirit of Christ is not a spirit of contention, murmuring, clamour, or litigiousness. He who loves these does not belong to Him. Christ therefore fulfilled a prophecy by withdrawing from this place, on account of the rage of the Pharisees.” Argumentative rebuking is not what Jesus is about; however, He did not shrink from this in the Gospel of John, nor on certain occasions with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Petty nitpicking and heated meaningless arguing is of the flesh and is not of the Holy Spirit. Strong rebukes in agreement with the holy Word of God are sometimes in order, when great outrageous rebellions against God are committed in God’s name; these are things that Jesus seems free to argue with on occasion (especially the false teachings and blasphemies of bad church leaders). But the litigious man will search in vain to find Jesus just sitting there arguing with people to no great purpose. Jesus was not a contentious, annoying gnat, not a obnoxious jerk who just argued about this and that petty little matter, making mountains out of molehills, and picking fights with people. Any street preacher (and I would say the “confrontational evangelism” guys do) who carries on like this, is not carrying on in the Spirit of Christ and the Gospel. Hecklers, if they do pressure you to be litigious with them, must be handled gently, firmly, lovingly, and patiently.

Matthew Henry says this at length concerning Matthew 12:19:

“He should carry on his undertaking without noise or ostentation. He shall not strive, or make an outcry. Christ and His kingdom come not with observation, Luke 17:20-21. When the First-begotten was brought into the world, it was not with state and ceremony; He made no public entry, had no harbingers to proclaim Him King. He was in the world and the world knew Him not. Those were mistaken who fed themselves with hopes of a pompous saviour. His voice was not heard in the streets; “Lo, here is Christ;” or, “Lo, he is there:” He spake in a still small voice, which was alluring to all, but terrifying to none; He did not affect to MAKE a NOISE, but came down silently like the dew. What He spake and did was with the greatest possible humility and self-denial. His kingdom was spiritual, and therefore not to be advanced by force or violence, or by high pretensions. No, the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.”

If you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John it will soon become obvious by a natural reading of the stories that Jesus preached in houses, synagogues, and outdoors (by the lake, on the mount, in the temple, outside the temple, and in the streets). Jesus did His share of street preaching as He visited certain towns healing the sick and casting out demons, as crowds surrounded Him. So did His apostles. We see them continuing to street preach in various places outdoors in the Book of Acts.

Matthew 12:19 is not an anti-street preaching verse. It’s a verse against nitpicking, it’s against picking fights, it’s against contentious and litigious argumentation in the streets. It’s a strong rebuke to those street preachers who follow the “confrontational evangelism” teaching.

So the Great Commission is not overthrown! Mark 16:15: “GO INTO ALL THE WORLD and preach the Gospel to every creature!” That means go street preaching, open air preaching, anywhere: into all the world, where preaching to creatures is possible. Do it!

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