John asks his disciples to ask Jesus the question of the hour: are you “the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Whether John at this moment is facing some extra doubt, or whether instead he is looking for this issue to be clarified publicly in the eyes of the disciples, either way it leads to a fascinating piece of teaching from Jesus comparing and contrasting himself and John the Baptist.
First of all, Jesus does more miracles right there and then, and tells those who came to ask him the question to report back to John what they have seen and heard. The prophecy with which Jesus began his ministry is being fulfilled (Luke 4:18-19). Blessed, therefore, is the one who is not offended by Jesus—that is, who does not stumble at Jesus but instead puts his or her trust in Jesus. That is the path to true blessedness, real joy, the right life to live both now and forever. Jesus’ blessing in this world does not come without suffering; in fact, we are blessed if we suffer for Jesus’ name. But it always and also brings the true statement of the right way to live now and forever.
With John’s messengers returning to John, Jesus now uses the opportunity to teach the crowds (7:24-35). John (though John is not the Messiah) was far more than a “reed shaken by the wind”; that is, he was far more than merely a temporary passing fad. He was also far more than someone “dressed in soft clothing”; that is, he was far more than merely a fashionable celebrity or aristocracy or royalty. He was a prophet, yes, but more even than that. He was the one who fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi 3:1, to “prepare” the way for Jesus.
In fact, in the whole old covenant there is none who is greater than John—for while the Old Testament prophets all, in one way or another, point to Jesus, it is John alone who sees him and says “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Therefore, among those born of women there is none greater than John. BUT “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he,” for to be in the kingdom of God is to actually be a follower of Jesus and not merely pointing to Jesus but having Jesus’ Spirit within you and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom yourself.
This immediately splits opinion (7:29-30). The people, even the tax collectors, “declared God just” or literally they “justified God.” That is, they said “that’s right! God is right! This is the right thing! God be praised!” They did this because they had been baptized by John. That is, John’s ministry of preparing the way for Jesus was effective and working. However, the Pharisees rejected the “purpose of God for themselves” because they had not been baptized by John. What a woeful thing it is to reject the “purposes of God” for ourselves. May that not be true of us! May we receive God’s Word and God’s Christ and follow Jesus ourselves today!
Then Jesus, noticing this split opinion, points to the nub of the issue. They are superficial reasons why they rejected John. And there are superficial reasons why they rejected Jesus. John was too ascetic, so they said “he has a demon.” Jesus ate and drank, so they said he was a “glutton and a drunkard.” Jesus, brilliantly, compares them to children who refuse to join the game of others because they didn’t like the happy song, and then they didn’t like the sad song. The point is that the superficial reasons are not the real reason. They are just using such excuses to reject the purposes of God in their own lives.
Of course, this raises the question: how then are we to judge what is right, if not by such superficial things as tone or style? The answer is that “wisdom is justified by her children” (7:35). In other words, the way you know what is right is by the results, the effect, or the “children” of a certain person’s principles or actions. As Jesus said elsewhere, we are to judge by “fruit.”
It is all too easy to reject someone’s teaching because they do not fit into our preconceived idea of what a teacher or preacher should be. Perhaps they wear the wrong clothes or like the wrong music, or they have a style or delivery that we do not appreciate. But someone who really wants to hear from God will ignore such superficial matters and be only concerned whether the Word is being taught and whether there is good fruit. If there is, they will “justify God,” that is praise God by saying “yes, that’s right, that’s the truth.”
Would you this morning make sure that you do not reject true Bible teaching just because it is taught in a way that is not your preference? And would you this morning make a fresh effort to come to church on Sunday ready to hear what God has to say—whether you like the illustrations, the style, or any of the superficial elements? If we focus on the superficial elements, it really says something more about us. Let us receive God’s Word with open hearts today.
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