Luke 7: 18 – 35 Jesus and John the Baptist
John’s disciples told him all about these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’
When the men came to Jesus, they said, ‘ John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, illnesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’
After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”
I tell you, among those born of women there is no-one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’
(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptised by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purposes for themselves, because they had not been baptised by John.)
Jesus went on to say, ‘To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling out to each other:
“We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a 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.’
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This is a very uncompromising passage!
It starts by referring us back to the context of this event: John’s disciples told him all about these things. ‘These things’ were the healing at a distance of the centurion’s servant and the raising from the dead of the widow’s son. These were big miracles, and yet John the Baptist asks, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’
Why would he ask this? What was John’s situation at the time?
John had told Herod he was sinning by taking his brother’s wife and Herod had thrown him into gaol (Luke 3: 19 – 20). The Old Testament prophesies that the Messiah will release captives. John’s thought process may have been something like, “The Messiah will release captives. I am a captive because I have upheld the Law of Moses. Why has Jesus not released me?”
John, despite his prophetic gifts, despite having recognised Jesus since he was in the womb (Luke 1: 41), despite having witnessed the anointing of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism (Luke 3: 21 – 22), John has doubts.
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, illnesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.
This sentence shows that John’s disciples asked the question at a public gathering. There were crowds of people listening. The question is a challenge to Jesus to declare openly that he’s the Messiah. It could be taken as an attempt to force Jesus’ hand. He can either openly declares himself as the Messiah, or he can tell his followers that he is not the Messiah and they have to wait for someone else.
Why would John the Baptist do that? I can only imagine that he had a fixed idea of what the Messiah should be like and how he should act, and Jesus was not conforming to it. It’s so easy to do that! We all have our own idea of what God is like, and when we come across a passage of scripture that challenges our idea, we’re tempted to overlook it. We shouldn’t!
I’m being rather harsh on John here, because he was, after all, the prophet sent to proclaim the Messiah, and to prepare the people to receive him. The question of the Messiah’s identity must have been the central question of John’s life.
How does Jesus deal with John’s challenge?
Firstly, he makes John’s disciples his witnesses.
‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard’.
John can be sure that these men have witnessed the signs that Jesus is performing.
‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’
These signs are prophesied by Isaiah as those that will attest to the Messiah. “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:18) and “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35: 5 – 6)
The words don’t merely answer John’s question; they remind him to constantly look to scripture to judge events. They are a gentle rebuke to him, but they must also have been a source of comfort.
Jesus then speaks about John. Although he has rebuked John, here he speaks strongly in his favour, saying: “among those born of women there is no-one greater than John”. And then Jesus adds something strange, and wonderful, and challenging. “…the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
This is why I said that this passage is uncompromising. Jesus is saying unequivocally that his followers are greater than any who have ever lived under the Mosaic Law. What a challenge that is! It is only the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that can cause it to be true.
Thank you for the redeeming work of Jesus. I repent of my sins, and ask you to fill me more and more with your Holy Spirit.
In Jesus’ name, Amen