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There is no pleasing some people, or so it seems. No matter what is done for them, it is never right. This applies as much in spiritual things as in any other area of life. A Christian little involved in society and one thoroughly involved are criticised equally. We see this with regard to John and Jesus. We turn now to consider Luke 7:18-35 John and Jesus compared.
1. Healing the sick
(i). John’s struggle. John is in prison for his faithful witness to Herod (3:19-20). Through his disciples he asks Jesus a strange question: ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ (v19). Why such a question from the man who knew Jesus was ‘the Lamb of God’ (John 1:29)? Perhaps it was discouragement due to harsh imprisonment. Maybe John is puzzled by Jesus’ ministry. Jesus preached good news but where was the judgment also spoken of in Isaiah 61:2? Why were the enemies of Israel not defeated? Perhaps John was disappointed by the results of Jesus’ ministry.
(ii). Jesus’ signs. Jesus is very gentle with John. He continues to perform miracles (v21) as a deliberate answer to John. His disciples are to ‘report what you have seen and heard’ (v25) – healings, raising the dead and especially ‘good news is preached to the poor’, fulfilling OT prophecies such as Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1-2. These are signs of the Messiah’s identity as the transformer of broken lives and the giver of salvation that is the key to all other blessings. Hence ‘Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me’ (v23) – a challenge to commit to the Messiah as he truly is, not as we might imagine him to be.
2. Raising the dead
Jesus takes this opportunity to ‘speak to the crowd about John (v24). Note:
(i). False expectations. ‘What did you go out into the desert to see?’ (v24) – the crucial question. John was not a ‘reed swayed by the wind’ or a ‘man dressed in fine clothes’, but rather a prophet ‘and more than a prophet’ (v26). A prophet was expected before the coming of the Messiah – but what did the crowd do with his preaching? The call to repentance was ultimately refused. Revelation requires a believing response.
(ii). Fulfilled prophecy. John’s role did fulfil prophecy, especially Malachi 3:1, the messenger preparing for the Messiah’s coming (as John realised, John 1:23, quoting Isaiah 40:3). But John was not the Messiah, but a kind of bridge between OT and NT. Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of prophecy. Through him alone sinners enter the kingdom. Hence the least in the kingdom is greater than John (v28) – our privileges in the kingdom are great.
(iii). Fickle crowds. There was a degree of positive response to John’s ministry (v29), but ‘the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves’ (v30). They were hardened in self-righteousness. In v31ff Jesus probes beneath the surface of ‘this generation’ – they rejected John’s ministry and also Jesus’ very different ministry (v33-34). But godly wisdom could see God at work in both ministries, when grace opens our eyes (v35).