Imagine what it would have been like to be John the Baptist sitting in jail because you told the truth to Herod the king about his marriage to a woman that was already married to his brother. John had been a faithful witness for Jesus from the day Jesus came to him to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He knew of Jesus miracles, his teaching and his work with all kinds of people. I would have been thinking, why doesn’t he come to get me out of here? The fact that Jesus never came and that he wasn’t turning out to be the kind of Messiah that John thought he would be, began to eat away at his faith. He continued to hear from his disciples of all that Jesus was doing, but there was no word for him. So he sent his disciples with a single question to Jesus. “Are you the one who should come or should we look for another?” Luke’s account of this incident is in Luke 7:21-23.
Jesus response to them was likely very different from what either John or his disciples expected. Jesus said to them, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” I think John would have picked up on the point immediately. It was the plea for John to recognize that while he was disappointing him by his actions he was doing what God had Isaiah the prophet to proclaim about him and he was meeting the crying needs of the people. It’s a hard lesson for one who has been on the front line proclaiming God’s word and leading others to the Lord to realize that it really isn’t about him, but about the Messiah doing what God wants, to help the hurting and reach the lost. Sometimes God’s will is best served for the proclaimer to stay in jail and to die for his faith.
I suppose the disciples of John left immediately and didn’t hear the rest of what Jesus said to the people after they left. He pointed out to the crowd that John was truly a prophet of God and that he was the voice of one crying in the wilderness that God had promised. Jesus even said of John, that there is none greater than John of those born of women. That is quite a compliment. I hope somehow John got the message of what Jesus said of him because I think he was deeply discouraged at the time and likely wondering if his whole ministry had been useless. Often the work we do doesn’t show up to us until we’ve gone home to the Lord.
Jesus then made this statement, “Of those born of women none is greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” What is the world does that mean? John is great. None born of women are greater. But that one who is the very least in the kingdom is greater. I want to look back and say, “Lord did you realize who some of the people who would be born into your kingdom were and what they are like?” I think the point is that all of us are born of women. But those in the kingdom are born again. They have a spiritual birth and become sons and daughters of God, thus heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. It certainly isn’t that all in the kingdom have greater worth, value or influence. But no one who wasn’t part of the kingdom and didn’t have that new birth can compare with one who is now in Christ’s kingdom. It does shout the message to us that the kingdom of Christ wasn’t in full existence when John was here. He was certainly submitted to God. But Christ would establish his kingdom after his death and resurrection and after John had gone on to the Lord. It demonstrates the value in the Lord’s sight of being in His kingdom.
Luke follows up on this statement with two others that are important for us to see. First he said, that even the tax collectors on hearing Jesus acknowledged God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. The Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they were not baptized by John. (Verse 29) That is vital for us to see. The most sinful turned to God and by submitting to be baptized by John showed God’s way was right. Those who refused John’s message and baptism rejected God’s purpose for them. Do you suppose that ones who refuse to be baptized in our time reject God’s purpose for them like these religious leaders did? After all it is by being born of the water and Spirit that one has that new birth into the kingdom (John 3:3-5).
Luke then laid down a comparison that Jesus gave. He said this generation is like children sitting in the market place and calling out to each other. “We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang and dirge, and you did not cry. For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Verses 31-35) Picture the scene that Jesus referred to and the people would have seen in their mind. Children are in the city playing. Different ones come up with some game for them to play but whatever game is suggested the crowd doesn’t want to do that. It would be like our children saying to each other, “Let’s play wedding and I’ll be the bride.: The other children declare, no they don’t feel like playing wedding right now. So one of them says, “Well let’s play funeral and I’ll be the one who died and you can be the one who preached my funeral.” But no they don’t want to play funeral either. They neither want to be happy and dance or want to play funeral and be sad. So they do nothing. Jesus said, that is how this generation is. They didn’t like John because he was too strict. They didn’t like Jesus because he wasn’t strict enough and he ran with the wrong crowd.
I’ve met lots of people, especially religious leader types that are of the John sort. They are careful about every thing they do and won’t participate with anyone who does anything questionable. They are such separatist that many feel turned off to faith by them. Then other religious leaders are more of the type that love to hang around with the wrong crowd and will at times do some things that many of their religious friends will consider questionable at the least and likely feel it is plain wrong. Two powerful lessons stand out in this point. One is that God used both and rejecting either was a rejection of HIs purpose. The other lesson is that no matter what you do or refuse to do it won’t please most of the people.
We must all take care that we don’t reject God’s purpose by excluding the teacher we feel is either too hard or the one we feel is too soft. God may well be using both for His purpose.