JOHN, JESUS AND JUDGMENTS ON A GENERATION
One of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament was Elijah. His prayers shook the world. He stood before kings and queens and condemned their sinful lifestyle. He confronted a multitude of false prophets upon Mount Carmel, calling down fire from heaven in the presence of all.
And yet, our picture of Elijah would be incomplete if it did not also include the period of disillusionment and discouragement as he hid in a lonely cave, praying that God might end his miserable life.
As we come to this section of the book of Luke, our story opens with a similar picture of a discouraged prophet. This time it is John the Baptist.
DOUBTS FROM THE DUNGEON
This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.
The disciples of John reported to him about all these things.
Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?"
When the men came to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ĎAre You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?í" (Luke 7:17-20).
The ministry of John the Baptists had started out strong. He had come on the scene, proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was at hand and people had flocked to hear him preach and to be baptized by him.
When Jesus appeared at the Jordan River, John had pointed Him out as the Messiah, the Lamb of God who was come to take away the sins of the world. As the ministry of Jesus grew and He gained in popularity, there seems to have been some professional jealousy on the part of Johnís disciples. But John had never taken part in this and he had been quick to point out that his whole purpose in ministry was to announce the coming of another.
Then Johnís ministry had taken a serious turn for the worse. After he had denounced the sinful lifestyle of the local ruler, Herod Antipas, John had been arrested and was now in prison.
Luke assumes that we are aware of this and makes no mention of these facts. John was in prison and had apparently been there for some time. Josephus tells us that the place of his imprisonment was the Fortress of Macherus, located on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. It was a lonely, desolate place.
Humanly speaking, Johnís ministerial career has ended in disaster. His followers have gone. He is no longer able to pronounce the coming kingdom to anyone. Only a small handful of his original disciples remain.
Can you imagine what he must be feeling? He has proclaimed to Israel that the kingdom of God is at hand. And now he is waiting. Weeks go by and weeks turn into months. Still there is no kingdom. Questions begin to creep into Johnís mind. Things tend to look very dark from the inside of a prison cell and though John is a prophet, he is only too human.
Why hasnít the kingdom come yet? Could John have been mistaken? What has gone wrong? Is this to be his reward from the Lord? Where is the kingdom? Didnít Isaiah promise that the Messiah would set loose the prisoners and free the captives?
And then Johnís disciples come to visit him. They bring news from the outside world. John hears of some of the things that Jesus has been doing. The problem is that they do not completely parallel all of the things that people think the Messiah ought to be doing.
Messiah is supposed to get rid of the Romans, isnít He? He will bring judgment upon the unbelieving world and then He will set up His unconquerable kingdom for His people. He will pour out all of His blessings upon His people and they shall never suffer want again. Each man will have his own vine and his own fig tree.
Furthermore, the Messiah is supposed to come and set prisoners free, yet here is John and he is in prison and he has not been set free.
Do you see what has happened? John has become a victim of the thinking of the day. Incidentally, the disciples of Jesus suffer from these same misconceptions. They are looking for a physical kingdom with its capital at Jerusalem. Even when the time comes for Jesus to ascend into heaven, they will still be asking if it is now time for the kingdom to come.
People today often have the same problem. Have you ever been asked, "If God is so loving, then why is there so much suffering and pain and disease?" John is going to learn some important lessons. And we can learn those lessons with him.
Healing of the Centurionís servant
Healing of the Widowís son
Messengers from John: "Are you the One?"
Jesus speaks on the ministry of John
The Power of Jesus
The Messiahship of Jesus
When the men came to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ĎAre You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?í" (7:20).
"The Expected One" is a title for the Messiah. Johnís entire ministry had been to announce that Jesus was the Messiah, the coming King of Israel. Now as he sits in prison, he begins to have his doubts. Perhaps he was mistaken. Maybe he misunderstood the prophetic word given to him from heaven. He believed, but now he was not so certain that he should be believing what he believed. His faith was facing difficulty.
NEW ANSWERS FROM OLD PROPHETS
At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind.
And He answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them.23 Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." (Luke 7:21-23).
Notice the attitude of Jesus toward Johnís doubt. He could have said, "You tell John that I am absolutely shocked that someone who claimed to be a prophet from God would doubt his own message. Whatís wrong with him, anyway? Just tell him to repent and to read his Bible." But Jesus did not do that.
Do you ever doubt? Are you afraid to admit your doubt to others because you think that you will be rejected by them? There is an important lesson here. It is that God is accepting of us even when we doubt.
A young mother was trying to cook her very first Thanksgiving Day Turkey. In the past their family had always gone to grandmaís house but now they were going to start a new tradition. She was a bit nervous about the outcome and so she said to her family, "If we taste the turkey and it doesnít taste good, we will just put on our hats and coats and we will go out to eat." She came out of the kitchen with the platter of turkey and her family was standing there, all dressed up in their coats and hats.
I do not think that God honors that kind of doubt. But He does accept the doubt of one who has already committed himself.
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13).
Are you having problems with doubt? It is okay. God hasnít changed just because you are doubting. You continue to follow Him with your doubts and you will find that He is ready to meet you where you are.
A second thing that I want you to see from this passage is that Jesus did nothing to change Johnís outward circumstances. Jesus could have said the word and the chains would have fallen off and an earthquake would have opened the cell doors and an angelic escort would have broken John out of prison. But it didnít happen.
There is a lesson here. It is that suffering is sometimes a part of the divine agenda. God never promised that His people would not suffer. To the contrary, He said that His people WOULD suffer persecution. But He also said that they would not suffer alone.
When you suffer, you remember that Jesus suffered, too. He knows what you are going through because He went through the same thing. And knowing that will make it better.
The third thing I want you to notice is that Jesus did not answer the question of John in the affirmative. Johnís question called for a simple "yes" or "no" answer and Jesus didnít give it to him. Why not?
Jesus could have said, "Yes, I am the Messiah." But had he done that, John would always have wondered whether Jesus had been telling the truth. It is very easy to mouth the words.
And so, Jesus gives evidence. We are not called to believe without evidence. Some people seem to think that Christians have a big basket at the entrance to the church with a sign on it that says, "All thinking is to cease, so leave your brain here. Donít forget to pick it up on the way out or you might lose your mind." But that isnít so. We are commanded to have REASONS for our faith.
And so, Jesus gives evidence. The evidence that He gives comes from the Old Testament. His words are taken from the book of Isaiah.
Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.
Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you."
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:3-6a).
Jesus points to the miracles that He was performing as His credentials. He says to Johnís disciples, "Look around you and see what is happening." Seeing eye dogs were wandering aimlessly about. The stocks on wheelchair companies had suffered a drastic decline. Hearing aid companies were going out of business. Funeral homes were being asked about refunds.
These miracles pointed to who Jesus really was. They were signs that were promised in the Old Testament. Isaiahís prophecy had been for those who were discouraged and who were beginning to doubt. The works of Christ are the answer to that discouragement and doubt.
A ROUSING VIEW OF A DECLINING MINISTRY
When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?25 But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces! 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet."
"This is the one about whom it is written, ĎBehold, I send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.í
"I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (Luke 7:24-28).
As the disciples of John leave to make their way back to the prison at the Fortress of Macharus, Jesus takes the opportunity to affirm the person and ministry of John.
This is significant because John is still in the midst of his doubt. We usually hold up someone as an example after they have proven themselves. But Jesus affirms John while he is still in the midst of his doubt. He holds up John as a model, even though John is still discouraged.
He begins this section with a series of rhetorical questions: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?"
The fact that people went out into the wilderness to look at John was an indication that they were looking for something that they could not find in the comfort of their temple or their synagogues. There was something about the ministry of John that attracted people. What was it?
Was it because he was so agreeable - that he was flexible like a reed shaken by the wind? No. If they had wanted someone like that, they could have stayed home and listened to the teaching of their own rabbis. They would not have had to journey out into the wilderness to hear such a man.
Was it because he was such a sharp dresser? Was it because he purchased his suits from Gordon Taylors and always picked the right color suit with the tie that did not clash? No. Fashion statements do not live out in the wilderness. They live in kingís palaces.
Was it because he was a prophet? Was it because John had a Masters degree in propheteering from the Jerusalem Baptist Seminary? Was it because he had joined the right denomination and had graduated from the right school and belonged to the right doctrinal camp? No. John didnít fit into any of these categories.
And yet, John was a prophet. He was a prophet about whom other prophets had prophesied.
"This is the one about whom it is written, ĎBehold, I send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.í" (Luke 7:27).
Jesus is alluding to the words of the prophet Malachi: "Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 3:1).
Malachi wrote about the coming of the Lord. The coming of the Lord takes on different aspects to different people. To those who are keepers of the covenant, His coming is a delight. But to covenant breakers, the coming of the Lord brings judgment.
Before the Lord came, He was to be preceded by a messenger. The duty of the messenger was to clear the way before the Lord. John was that messenger. He was the prophet of the Lord. He was the man of God.
The designation among those born of women is a Hebraism found in the Old Testament (Job 14:1; 15:14). It refers to one who is of the human race. Jesus is saying that John the Baptist is the greatest man who ever lived.
This brings us to a question. Why is Jesus speaking of the greatness of John the Baptist? Does He merely want to glorify John for a little while? Is it "Be Kind to John Week"? No. Jesus is going to make a point. The point is found in the latter part of this verse.
Here is the point. When it comes to human talent, there has never been anyone greater than John the Baptist. But when it comes to the spiritual dimension, the least person in the spiritual dimension is greater than the greatest person in the human dimension.
History books talk about Alexander the Great and Herod the Great and Frederick the Great, but that is not how God counts greatness. As Christians, we tend to think of such men as John Calvin or Martin Luther or John Wesley or Billy Graham as being great. But the position that is held by one who is a citizen of the kingdom of God is greater than any human position, whether prophet, priest or king.
Who is great? God is great. And we have been made sons of God. We have been united with Jesus Christ, sharing the same relationship with God that Christ shares. That is what makes us great.
TWO REACTIONS TO THE BAPTIST
When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged Godís justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.
But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. (Luke 7:29-30).
There are two reactions described by Luke to the evaluation that had been given of Johnís ministry.
All the People and the Tax Collectors
The Pharisees and the Lawyers
Acknowledged Godís justice
Rejected Godís purpose for themselves
Having been baptized with the baptism of John
Not having been baptized by John
The point that Luke makes is that those who followed John were following the Lord while those who rejected John were also guilty of rejecting Godís purpose for themselves. This is significant because if anyone ought to have known and accepted the purposes of God, it should have been the Pharisees and those who were experts in the Law of God.
JUDGMENTS ON A GENERATION
"To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like?
"They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ĎWe played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.í
"For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ĎHe has a demon!í
"The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ĎBehold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!í
"Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children." (Luke 7:31-35).
We have just read about how John the Baptist was rejected by the Pharisees and the experts in the Law of God - the two groups who should have been the first to accept his ministry. Now Jesus goes on the deliver a blistering rebuke against those who had partaken in this rejection.
Did you ever stop to think that there are types of criticism that, when you consider the source, ought to make you feel good about yourself? I recall a man saying to me once, "John, you are a religious fanatic. You have devoted your whole life to religion. It is okay to do it a little, but you have gone too far." I thought about this for a moment and then I thanked him for what I considered to be one of the highest compliments I had ever received. You see, he was an unbeliever. He was an atheist. He had rejected God. And the criticism which was meant to put me down had exactly the opposite effect.
That is what happened to John and Jesus. When we look at the criticisms that were leveled against them, we see that the critics were judged by their own criticisms.
I have been criticized by a lot of people. I have expected to be criticized by some of them, In fact, if I were not being criticized by some of them, then I would start to worry. You can tell what kind of person I am, not only be looking at who are my friends, but also by looking at what kind of people DONíT like me.
Here is the principle. If you are standing for Jesus, then you will be criticized by those who arenít.
In the Midrash, this is the most common formula for introducing a parable. Jesus is going to present an analogy. It is an analogy of children at play.
Children would often come to the marketplace with their parents. As people were milling around, going about their business, the children would be running in and out, playing childrenís games among themselves. In these games, they would pretend that they were adults, doing things that adults do.
One game might be the wedding game. Another might be the funeral game. Why these? Because they were both public and social events. These are the things that children had seen adults doing (they didnít have television back then, so they couldnít play Cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers or whatever kids play these days).
Jesus paints a picture of sulking children who are never happy with anything. There is just no pleasing them.
Do you see the point of the parable? Jesus and John have been condemned because they do not dance to the tune of the religious systems of the day.
John is ascetic. He has led an austere lifestyle. He fasts and he doesnít drink and he has lived most of his life out in the wilderness. We would characterize his life as the "funeral mode." The religious establishment concluded that he was demon possessed.
Jesus leads a more normal lifestyle. He eats with people and He attends wedding parties and He does not refrain from drinking wine. He has even been questioned by the disciples of John as to why He and His disciples do not fast (Matthew 9:14). The answer that Jesus gave to that question is that you donít fast at a wedding feast. Jesus is in the "wedding mode." The religious establishment concluded that He was a glutton and a drunk.
There is a lesson here. It is that you will never be able to please everyone. There are some people who donít want to play the game, no matter how it is played. They just want to sit on the sidelines and criticize.
I have already suggested that one of the tests of truth is that it is opposed by the right people. But another test for truth is that it WORKS. It brings about a change in peopleís lives.
Which one are you? Your choice will determine whether or not wisdom is vindicated by you. And your choice will also determine whether you are vindicated by wisdom. It is not enough to know about spiritual wisdom. If you are truly a child of wisdom, it will bear a parental resemblance in your life.