Summary: When Jesus met with messengers from John the Baptist, we are given an explanation of the ministry of Jesus, a clarification of the identity of John, and an illustration of the perversity of the people.
It has been several chapters since Luke has told us about Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. The last time we heard of John he was preaching and baptizing and drawing incredibly large crowds to his ministry in the desert in the region around the Jordan River. Eventually, Jesus himself was baptized by John (Luke 3:21), and began his ministry, which soon drew large crowds of people too. But then Luke notes ominously that because John dared to reprove King Herod for unlawfully marrying his brother’s wife (Matthew 14:3-5; Mark 6:17-18), Herod had John thrown into prison. After languishing in prison for 6 or 8 months, John began wondering whether Jesus was in fact the promised Messiah. And so he sent he sent two messengers to Jesus to ask him what was going on.
Let’s read about Jesus’ meeting with the messengers from John the Baptist in Luke 7:18-35:
18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ ” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,
“ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:18-35)
Charles Wesley wrote more than 7,000 hymns in his life, a number of which we sing today. He wrote the magnificent Advent hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” The lyrics express rich theological truth concerning the advent of Jesus:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art,
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born, thy people to deliver,
Born a child, and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.
Jesus was of course the “long-expected” one. He knew that, and, at the start of his own ministry, John knew that too.
However, after John had been imprisoned and languished there for many months, be began wondering whether Jesus was in fact the “long-expected” promised Messiah. And so John sent two messengers to Jesus to find out who he was.
Our lesson today pivots on three key questions. By asking and answering these three questions, we are given: