Summary: God hides himself from the arrogant and reveals himself to the humble, childlike people who love him.
Imagine that you hear the roar of a car engine outside your door. As you look out, you see a red sports convertible, and in it is a young man with flowing hair and mirrored sunglasses. You can see that he is well tanned because he doesn’t have a shirt on — just shorts and flip flops. His ears, as well as his nipples, are pierced. He puts down a beer into the cup holder in the car as he shuts off the engine. But there is a passenger in the car as well. She is wearing a halter top and shorts, and seems to be coming out of her clothing everywhere. You know her, because everyone in town knows her. People enjoy gossiping about her latest escapades. But, leaving the woman in the car, the young man hops out and comes to your door. He introduces himself as the new pastor of your church.
So you decide to move to the church down the street. At least you know what the pastor there is like. He is very serious and conservative. He always wears a black suit and white shirt with narrow tie — very narrow. He is never seen without a large KJV Bible. He isn’t married and has never had a girlfriend. For some reason, most of his sermons seem to center around hell’s fire and brimstone. No one who has a glass of wine with their meal can serve on the board, and is generally looked down on. And there are a whole host of other legalistic no-no’s. There aren’t many smiles in this church where everyone seems to agree that the world is a pretty awful and sinful place. You quickly decide that this pastor will not meet your needs any more than the other, so you shop around for another church that will satisfy you, but you never find it.
This is very much how the people saw Jesus and John the Baptist. I’ve tried to put it in a modern day parable so you really get the idea. They saw Jesus as a party animal. He drank too much and hung out with all the wrong people. He was always around prostitutes and other notorious sinners, and it did not matter that he was ministering to them and trying to bring them to God. He was wild and did not seem to fit the picture of someone who was supposed to be from God. He did not follow the accepted standards of righteousness. He was out of control.
On the other hand, John the Baptist was a wild man in a different way. People thought he was a crazy man, to the point that they said he must have a demon. He was always yelling when he preached. He looked wild-eyed, and he was dressed in a garment of camel’s hair that would have driven a normal person insane. He ate only grasshoppers and honey. His demeanor was dark and demanding. He was calling even the self-righteous Pharisees to repentance. He sounded like one of the Old Testament prophets, talking about judgment and repentance all the time. He was always talking about the need to turn to God or face the consequences. So they wrote him off and said he was some kind of radical.
They didn’t like the message and the methods of either Jesus or John. Jesus said the people were like children playing a game. These are unknown games to us, but well known to the people of the day. They were probably games in which children were acting out adult ceremonies — like weddings or funerals. One group of children called to another group to play a game. They played a wedding song with a flute and the others would not play and dance. They sang a funeral dirge and they would not play like mourners in that game either. Nothing they tried would work to engage the other group to play with them. Nothing would satisfy them.
The point of what Jesus was saying was that God had sent them every different kind of messenger, but none would do. God had sent his prophets with a funeral dirge and the warning of death and destruction if they did not mourn with repentance, but they did not respond. God had called them with the joyful wedding song that Jesus played, but they did not want to dance. They refused to come to his party. It was like the prodigal son who wanted to leave his father’s house because it was too restrictive and boring. But his older brother also refused to come to the party his father threw, and stayed outside sullen and angry. Jesus said that it was not the messenger that was the problem, the problem was stubborn unbelief. They would not believe anyone God sent. They would not mourn and neither would they dance. They refused to be a part of the party God was throwing. John was too holy for them, and Jesus was not holy enough. And in the end, both John and Jesus would meet violent deaths.