22 March 2010

Jesus Commends John the Baptist - Pt. 1

"When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then 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,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)
“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 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 wailed, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
Luke 7:24-35

While John's messengers return to John with the message Jesus gave to them about all the lives changing from Jesus baptising people with the Holy Spirit, Jesus used the occasion so that no one would have doubts about the ministry of John the Baptist.  "I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John;"  High praise indeed.  And keep in mind he is speaking to descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the people of David and Elijah.

What made John the Baptist the greatest of those born of women?  We could guess that he had integrity.  Certainly the simplicity of his dress and where he lived suggested he was not corrupted by want of any kind.  It is also true that he carried out the task that God had given him to prepare the way for the Lord.  Indeed, many of John's disciples became close disciples of Jesus.  He carried out his orders even when he didn't understand them such as when he baptised Jesus.  Even after the start of Jesus' ministry, he carried on being a prophet of God to the point of being imprisoned.

Jesus also uses the occasion to give a brief glimpse of the kingdom of heaven which is not a surprise since it was Jesus' favourite subject.  He says that this one who no one born of women is greater than was not greater than anyone in the kingdom of God.  Why?  We are given a clue by the commentary given by the author Luke.  Luke suggests what Jesus states here is that John is not greater than the people he baptised.  The key to understanding this is to understand the main task in John's ministry:  baptism.

John is described by the prophet Isaiah before him as one who was to prepare the way of the Lord by making straight paths for him.  How?  By proclaiming to all "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near" and those who accepted this message were baptised by John.  People, including tax collectors, who accepted this message accepted the justice of God and people, including religious leaders, who rejected this message rejected God's purpose for themselves.

What an extraordinary comment by Luke.  Remember what Jesus taught in Matthew 7?  That the kingdom of heaven is not inhabited by those who merely hear Jesus' words but does what Jesus says.  The Christian faith is an active faith.  The kingdom of God is populated by those who demonstrate their faith in God by DOING what their Father says.  

Paths are made straight for the Lord when hearts are straightened.  Hearts are straightened when we acknowledge our rebellion against God, we turn back from those rebellious ways and we acknowledge that the only way for us to truly live is to ask God to forgive our rebellion and give ourselves completely to the only one who is just and true.  He is the giver of life.  We are His.  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 

Many in the crowd would have been baptised by John and from what we can glean from the inspired words of Luke, they eventually understood the full implications of what Jesus was teaching here.  John prepared people for the Lord through baptism because when people were baptised they acknowledged the coming of the kingdom of heaven which was ushered into their lives by Jesus.  Even today, we don't see the full glory of the kingdom yet, but because of what Jesus did for all of us, it soon will be.

I pray that everyone I know will have a path straightened for the Lord.  I pray that everyone will acknowledge the justice of God, that it is he who rules over his kingdom.  I pray that everyone will accept God's wonderful purpose for them.

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