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JOHN THE BAPTIST AND JESUS THE MESSIAH

Luke 7:18-7:35
Key Verse: 7:28

Thank Jesus who raised even a dead man by his word of command. He is resurrection and his resurrection power is true. Through him we have victory over death, and so in him there is no sorrow and no fatalism. May we especially remember Jesus’ command, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” and believe that we can get up from any situation with faith in him. Today’s passage is about the encounter between John’s disciples and Jesus, and Jesus’ comment on John and the people of that generation. This teaches us the importance of having eyes to see the work of the Messiah and how the work and history of God is going on.

First, the one who was to come (18-23). Look at verses 18,19. “John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” Luke began his gospel with the story of the parents of John the Baptist, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and of John’s uncommon birth in the providence of God. Then Luke wrote about the waiting people, Simeon and Anna, who had long-awaited the Messiah, finally saw the Messiah in the baby Jesus, and praised God in great consolation. And in Luke 3 John came as the forerunner of Christ Jesus to prepare the way for the Lord (1:76; 3:4). He preached a baptism of repentance and helped the people to turn to Jesus. When the people were wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ, he unambiguously told them that his baptism was merely water baptism, but that Jesus would baptise them with the Holy Spirit and fire, and he also preached the good news to them (Lk 3:15-18). Then John rebuked Herod the tetrarch of his immoral life and Herod locked John in prison (3:19-20).

Now Luke brings back the story of John, this time, along with John’s disciples. John’s disciples reported to their master all that Jesus was doing. After hearing all about the work of Jesus through his disciples, John called two of them and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Why? Nobody knows 100% what was going on in John’s mind. Did he have his own doubt about the Messiah, the one who was to come because of his hard situation of imprisonment, although Luke did not write explicitly here that John was in the prison? Or did he worry about the future of his disciples, who were not clear about the Messiah even at this transitional period of God’s history from John the Baptist to Jesus? Did John eagerly want to help them by sending them to the Lord with the very question they had in their hearts? Anyway, the question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” is of supreme importance in human life and history. For most of the Jews are still waiting for the messiah.

Look at verse 20. “When the men came to Jesus, they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” John’s sending his disciples to the Lord Jesus is written both in Matthew and Luke. But interestingly Luke recorded John’s disciples encounter with Jesus and their asking the question with their own mouth, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” So the question was reiterated in Luke’s gospel. Look at verse 21. “At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.” Luke also particularly wrote this, while Matthew did not. Through this Luke made sure that the two of John’s disciples could vividly see with their own eyes what Jesus was doing, his curing many and giving sight to the blind.

Then what was Jesus’ answer to the question of paramount importance? What did he say to the disciples of John sent to him? Look at verse 22. “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 cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.’” This reply of Jesus in this single verse could be the summary of Jesus’ whole messianic ministry. Isaiah wrote in 35:5-6, “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.” And he wrote in 26:19, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy…the earth will give birth to her dead.” In this way Isaiah prophesied what the work of the coming Messiah would be like. And also it is written in Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” So in his reply, Jesus helped John’s disciples to know that what he was doing was the very work of the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. All the work Jesus did was the work only the Messiah could uniquely do. All the work done by the Messiah was a deep expression of God’s love toward sinful mankind. And Jesus told them to go back and report to John what they had seen and heard.

The Messiah and the work of the Messiah cannot be separated. Jesus’ work was the very proof of his being the Messiah, the one who was to come. In the last description of his work, Jesus said “…the good news is preached to the poor.” Most importantly in the work and ministry of the Messiah the good news of his coming is preached and people are changed forever by the good news, having the hope of the kingdom of God in their hearts. The world is troublesome, but the work of the Messiah is constantly going on, because God is sovereign Ruler of history.

Look at verse 23. “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” This is the last part of Jesus’ reply. This is a gentle warning to John’s disciples and all those who come to him. This seems to be a negative ending in his reply, yet Jesus is speaking the truth out of his deep concern for them. Luke had written in 2:34 the words of Simeon’s prophecy, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many…” The falling and rising of people depends on how they respond to Jesus the Messiah. He can be the cause of falling or the cause of rising in this troublesome and deceptive world. Those who keep their faith in him with the eyes to see the work of God going on are truly blessed people.

In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah despaired at his people’s corruption. He was fear-stricken because of the possible invasion of foreign armies. One day, by chance he entered the temple and saw God seated on a throne, high and exalted; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, calling to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is 6:3). At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. In this, Isaiah saw the vision that God Almighty is on his throne ruling over the world. Then he realized that he was a man of unclean lips, for with his lips he had expressed his unbelief and doubts about God’s sovereign rule in world history. Since that time, Isaiah proclaimed the message, “Your God reigns!” (Is 52:7). We learn that when our situations are hard, it is not easy to see what God is doing in our personal lives and in God’s ministry. Still God wants us to keep our faith in the sovereign God, have eyes to see his work going on beyond ourselves, and serve God's work with beyond our situation.

Second, John’s greatness and the greatness of a kingdom member (24-28). After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John. Now Jesus wanted to help the crowd. Firstly, they needed to know who John was. Look at verse 24b. “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” When John preached a baptism of repentance in the desert, a crowd of people came to him. Certainly, they did not go out into the desert to see a reed. John was not a reed swayed by the wind of the trend of the world. He was not a man with compromise but a man of principle, faithful to God’s truth to the point of rebuking Herod tetrarch and being thrown into prison as a result.

Look at verse 25. “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.” As is written in the gospel story, John wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey (Mk 1:6). He wore simple clothes and ate simply to focus his life on God’s mission. He was far from a pleasure-seeking, luxurious life.

Jesus continued, “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” John was the last prophet of the Old Testament, and was the bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament as the forerunner of the Messiah. His coming was predicted and was himself the predicted forerunner of the Messiah. So Jesus said, “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” John’s coming was the prelude of the coming of the Messiah, preparing the way for the Lord. He was indeed more than a prophet.

Then Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” In Luke 1 the angel Gabriel spoke to Zechariah about John’s greatness before his birth, “…he will be great in the sight of the Lord…” His pure lifestyle, life of mission to bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord, and the spirit and power of Elijah would make him great. Indeed John lived such a life. Also, we cannot overlook his humility. At the highest point of his popularity, he denied it and exalted Christ. That was his true humility that added much to his greatness. So Jesus was willing to say, “Among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” We believe that what Jesus said is true. John’s greatness is outstanding in history.

But Jesus did not stop here by talking about John’s greatness. He said, “…yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John.” What an unexpected declaration! What does this mean? This is comparing two different things. The two are incomparable. Those who are born of women are born into this world. But those who are born again in Christ Jesus are born into the kingdom of God. This is trying to compare this world and the kingdom of God. Or this is the comparison between the greatest man in the world and the Christ. This does not mean that John was a worldly man. He was a man of God. But Jesus was talking in terms of greatness in this world. John the Baptist said of Jesus in John 3:30-31, “He must become greater; I must become less. The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” This is John the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus. A man can be a new creation in Christ and become a member of the kingdom of God. This is the reason Jesus came into this world. Jesus came to bring the people of this world back to the kingdom of God. So Jesus once said to his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Lk 10:23-24). In Luke’s gospel Jesus mentioned prophets and kings together as great people before Christ. The point is that through the coming of Christ people are so blessed, for they belong to the age of grace, rather than to time of law as before. According to 1 Peter 1:12, even angels long to look into this blessing. This is because through the coming of Christ, the kingdom of God has come. The people of this world must be made aware of this.

Third, assurance of God’s way and purpose (29-35). Look at verses 30-31. “(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)” The people of the time of Jesus were so blessed through the long-awaited Messiah’s coming. God had been working through Jon the Baptist and Christ Jesus. John’s role was essential through helping people to repent and be baptized and turn to Jesus the promised Messiah. Those who accepted John the Baptist also accepted Christ Jesus. They deeply recognized God’s way of working and were very thankful to God for his grace. But those who did not accept John the Baptist and did not repent also rejected Jesus and God’s purpose for themselves. They were throwing away the amazing heavenly blessings in their selfishness and self-centredness. Jesus’ heart was pained for their childish way of thinking and living. He said, “To what shall I compare this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to each other. ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’” They were earthly bound and did not look up to heaven. They were not open to God. They criticized all that did not fit to their idea. So Jesus continued, “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.”’” They could have learned from John his devotion to God and God’s given mission. Also, they could have seen in Jesus the God Incarnate, who came to be with sinners to save them from their sins and give them new life. God had a great purpose for them and their nation to be a holy and shepherd nation for the world, but they rejected it in their selfish, narrow-minded and bigoted plan.

Still, God’s work and history is going on. Jesus said, “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Wisdom can be God’s way of working and also Jesus. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:30 that Christ Jesus has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. In each and every generation there are people who repent and accept Jesus and become children of God and members of God’s kingdom. They love Jesus and serve God’s purpose for them. God’s work will continue as long as history goes until Christ Jesus comes again. God wants his people to have a sense of God’s history.

We thank God for the work of the Messiah, which is life-giving and life-changing. Through his coming the kingdom of God has come and he will bring his people back to the kingdom of God beyond this world. What a blessing it is to be a member of God’s kingdom through Christ Jesus! May we have eyes to see God’s work and serve God’s purpose for us in this generation, living in the streams of God’s history.

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