Jesus and John the Baptist (Luke 7:18-35)
It’s easy to follow Jesus when we are getting what we want out of life. But what happens when that’s not the case? How do you respond when everything you touch seems to fall apart? What do you do when you are hindered from achieving your goals?
Do you turn to God? Can you be honest in prayer about how you’re feeling? Or, do you shut down?
Our response to Jesus, including how we deal with doubt, will either lead to a strengthening of our faith resulting in our perseverance, or it will reveal our rejection of Christ.
2 Timothy 2:11–12 ESV
The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;
If we deny him, he will deny us!
› Before we read this passage, let’s pray and ask for the Lord’s help in understanding it.
Luke 7:18–35 ESV
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ ” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,
“ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
1. John Questions Jesus (18-23)
John hears a report from his disciples about all that Jesus is doing. This report, presumably, would’ve included what Jesus had just finished speaking about (which included blessings/woes, golden rule, spritually fruitful/unfruitful disciples) and what he most recently did (which included healing the centurion’s servant and raising the widow’s son).
John sends messengers to Jesus to question whether he is indeed the Messiah, “the one who was to come.” His need to ask the question implies some level of doubt about the answer. This is admittedly hard for us to comprehend considering how obvious all of this was for his parents.
Didn’t John know all of the promises that were fulfilled surrounding the birth of Jesus as well as the ongoing fulfillment in his ministry?
If that was the case, and I think it was, then these questions are really about getting Jesus to move onto the next phase of his ministry. He is questioning the kind of ministry he is still engaged in. John had proclaimed a two-fold ministry of the Messiah,
Luke 3:16–17 ESV
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Essentially, he is asking Jesus why he has not done all that the Messiah is supposed to do, namely to bring judgment upon their oppressors. Maybe he also thinks he should have been released from prison by now (Luke 3:19-20).
Jesus’s answer is a clear reminder to John that he indeed is accomplishing the work of the Messiah. John would have been thoroughly familiar with the prophecies of Isaiah, especially Isa. 35:5-6; 61:1-2. The Qumran scrolls reveal that these prophecies were already largely understood as Messianic prophecies.
Ironically, the details of this report would’ve been quite similar the the report that John had already received from his disciples (v.18). Jesus’s final sentence is telling.
Luke 7:23 ESV
And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Had John become offended by Jesus’s lack of political action? Why hadn’t Jesus set John free? Was he even worried about John still being in prison? Jesus was basically telling John to wait.
John was looking for a fulfillment that remained in the future (Jesus’s second coming). Whatever lies behind these questions, they clearly indicate his lack of contentment. He is either discontent with his own circumstances or with Jesus’s overall ministry (and maybe both).
Unmet expectations are the root of a significant number of conflicts. If you’ve read just about any book on marriage, you have probably read a chapter on how unmet expectations can have deadly consequences. It’s not just an issue that’s relevant in marriage, but it has an impact on all relationships. It is especially relevant to our relationship with God.
The covenant people have rarely been content with the limited amount of revelation God has given them. They are often in search of answers that Scripture does not provide.
Have you learned to be content with the revealed will of God or do you constantly worry yourself about things that are off in the future?
Rarely does Jesus meet our every expectation in a given passage. At times we think he is too soft. At other times we think he is too harsh.
Are you satisfied with who Jesus is? Are you content to trust that he knows more than you about every situation you experience?
› Jesus turns his attention from John’s disciples to the crowd.
2. Jesus Questions the Crowd (24-30)
Jesus questions the crowd’s motives for going out to the Jordan to listen to John. The nature of his questions reveal what he believes about their intentions.
Jesus affirms that John was a prophet quoting from Exod. 23:20 and Mal. 3:1. In context, these passages encourage faithfulness among the covenant people of God.
In fact, there is no human being greater than John. But he adds a curious comment about the least being in the kingdom of God being greater than John. What does he mean by this?
Jesus seems to be referring to those who were able to witness the full ministry of Jesus Christ. The least person who accepts Jesus’s teaching, having entered into the new covenant kingdom of God, are better off because they have experienced the fulfillment of what John only prophesied would come. He is speaking of those who witnessed what John had only anticipated.
J.C. Ryle states:
“He declares that the religious light of the least disciple who lived after His crucifixion and resurrection, would be far greater than that of John Baptist, who died before those mighty events took place. The weakest believing hearer of St. Paul would understand things, by the light of Christ’s death on the cross, which John the Baptist could never have explained.”
As the recipients of the New Testament, we should be filled with gratitude that those of us with the humblest level of knowledge about the gospel have more light than the greatest prophets of the Old Testament!
Those who had been baptized by John agreed with everything Jesus said, but the Pharisees, who had not been baptized by John, rejected what Jesus said.
In other words, those who recognized their need to repent were willing to accept the gospel. Those who were filled with pride, justified themselves by their actions and rejected the notion that they needed to repent.
John Owen said:
“He that hath slight thoughts of sin never had great thoughts of God.”
Kent Hughes writes:
“A shallow or forgotten understanding of sin is a road to self-righteousness. Like the man who came to the preacher after the sermon and said, ‘I can’t swallow what you said about depravity.’ Fortunately, the preacher had his wits and responded, ‘That’s all right-it’s already within you!’”
Has pride prevented you from admitting your sin, repenting of it, and receiving the grace that is offered in the gospel?
Those who believe in Jesus recognize what Joseph Hart says so well in his hymn “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.”
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
› Those who reject the Lord will be the recipients of his condemnation.
3. Jesus Condemns this Generation (31-35)
Jesus condemns the generation, primarily the Pharisees and their followers, for their rejection of both the messenger (John) and the Messiah (Jesus).
He compares them to children who will not engage regardless of what the occasion calls for. They won’t dance at a wedding, nor will they weep at a funeral. They refuse to participate regardless of the activity.
Jesus follows this illustration with the explanation that this generation rejected John as crazy because he fasted, yet they reject the “Son of Man” as a glutton and drunkard because he enjoys feasts.
Interestingly enough, this is a direct example of the judgment that Jesus was bringing upon this generation. John the Baptist was unsatisfied with the lack of fulfillment of this judgment, but Jesus was not shying away from proclaiming several warnings throughout his teaching ministry.
The conclusion to our passage is a bit difficult to understand. How is wisdom vindicated? Who are wisdom’s children? I think it makes the most sense if Jesus is referring to those who accept his teaching.
The point seems to be that wisdom is proven by the fruit that it bears.
The fruit of wisdom, in this context, is the one who accepts Jesus and all of his teaching. Those who reject him, those who deny him, are condemned.
Are we willing to follow Jesus according to his terms?
› In summary…
1. John Questions Jesus, and we see a man who was filled with great understanding, still struggling with doubts of his own. But the key is where he took them. He brought his questions to Jesus.
2. Jesus Questions the Crowd, which is mixed with those who believe and those who have rejected him. Once again, their given the opportunity to respond to Christ with faith.
3. Jesus Condemns this Generation which, in large part, had rejected him and would put him on the cross.
I like how Darrell Bock puts it:
The NIV Application Commentary: Luke Contemporary Significance
The passage ultimately makes it clear that Jesus is the only way. The blessing of being greater than a prophet comes only from following his call to enter into God’s grace and to dance to the music of the divine musician.
Following Jesus begins with repentance and faith, and it continues in that pattern! Followers of Christ manifest their faith through their perseverance. Let’s trust him to complete that work which he began.