Text: Luke 7:18-35.
1. Who is Jesus?
John was puzzled by Jesus’ ministry. If Jesus was truly the Messiah, and if he came to bring release to the captives, Lk 4:18, then why was he, John, languishing in jail? More importantly, if Jesus was the Messiah, why wasn’t he going about his ministry as John had expected, Lk 3:16-17?
Doubt and uncertainty seem to be leading characteristics for many spiritual leaders, as with Moses, Num 11:10-15; Elijah, 1 Kin 19; Jeremiah, 20:7-9,14-18. But doubt and puzzlement are not the same as unbelief. Compare the unbelief of Zechariah, with the amazement of Mary.
Hence the question asked by John through his messengers: “Are you the one who was to come?” John was the leading figure of a faithful band of Godly men and women who kept alive the hope of the coming of the Messiah, Lk 2:38.
The question is answered not by word, but by deed. Jesus is saying, in effect: “Observe the gracious works I am doing. Look again at the OT prediction of the Messiah. Do you not see that I am the fulfilment of these?” His were precisely the credentials that the prophets had spoken of (the blind, Isa 35:5; the lame, Isa 35:6; the deaf, Isa 35:5; the poor, Isa 61:1. See also Isa 29:18-19; 42:1-7).
Jesus adds a word which both comforts and challenges: “Blessed is he who does not fall away on account of me.” Christ is the great divider of men: those who are not for him are against him. His coming into people’s lives always forces a response. Some will look at him, and see only his humble birth and lowly appearance, and retreat into unbelief and despair, Isa 53:1. Others will see him as the Light of the World, and the only hope of heaven, and will embrace him as Lord and Saviour and King. Blessed indeed are the latter.
2. Who is John?
After John’s messengers had gone, Jesus addressed the crowd with biting satire. “When you flocked out to see John in the wilderness, what did you expect to see? A trembling reed? No – rather, a sturdy oak. A glamorous, well-groomed celebrity? No – a man who denied himself all the ordinary comforts of life in order to devote himself to his work of heralding the Messiah. You went out to see a prophet, didn’t you, and so he was.” John was ‘more than a prophet’, because they had anticipated the Messiah from afar, but he had welcomed him at the door. John was the one who came directly before the Messiah, preparing people’s hearts by the preaching of repentance and the ministry of baptism.
John may have been languishing in a dungeon, puzzled and confused. But Jesus knew his true greatness. This consisted in:
His insight: he recognised and announced the arrival of the Messiah, identifying the nature of his ministry, Jn 1:29.
His forthrightness: he fearlessly proclaimed the importance of repentance and conversion, Mt 3:2.
His humility: he called attention away from himself and towards the Messiah, Jn 3:30.
3. Who am I?
Our Lord adds this remarkable statement: “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Why so? Because John was the last of the old dispensation, which led up to Christ. But the meanest of those who come after Christ have the honour of ministering the fullness of the gospel. Ours is a superiority, not of character, but of privilege and position. John did not live to witness the death and resurrection of Jesus, nor experience the Pentecostal fulness of the Spirit. He belonged to the period of preparation; we belong to the time of fulfilment. John was a herald of the kingdom; Christians today are children of the kingdom, cf. John 15:15. We have great privileges, Lk 10:23-24; although we thereby have more to answer for. If Christ puts such value on membership of the kingdom, should we not hold it in similar estimation?