In Luke 7, Jesus met the need of a man by the power of his bare word. In Luke 7, Jesus met the need of a mom by the power of his bare word. And in Luke 7, the word about Jesus went here and it went there; it went everywhere, even across the Dead Sea, up a hill, into a fortified palace and down into its dungeon.
In Prison Waiting, Waiting and Waiting
There sat a man nearly forgotten. Nothing like him and no one like him had been seen and experienced in over four hundred years. God had sent the most famous angel from heaven to announce his gender reveal and coming birth. He was the one to prepare humanity to behold the greatest joy in human history. His name was John the Baptist. And yet however long Luke 4 and Luke 5 and Luke 6 can be measured, some suggest a year, there has been no mention of him. And there he sat in prison waiting, waiting and waiting.
There now stood his disciples. What was John thinking when he saw them? He then was told about all these things. He was told about Jesus and that the sick are healed. He was told about Jesus and that the lame now walk. He was told about Jesus and that lepers – it seemed so impossible – are now made clean. He was told about Jesus and that the dead are restored to life. He was told about Jesus and that demons obey his voice. He was told about Jesus and that the gospel is not being limited to anyone. And could it be that John was now thinking, “But what has he done for me?” The only response he could muster was, “Are you the one to come, or shall we look for another?”
Does this question say anything about John? He is sitting in prison. He has been sitting in prison. He has been sitting in prison for a really long time. Is he downcast? Is he defeated? Is he disheartened? Is he disillusioned? Is he disappointed? What is he asking? What are you doing Jesus? What are you doing in my life? Can I be certain of you? Are you who I am supposed to put my trust in? Or is there another? Does this sound familiar to you? What should we do with questions like these? “When you doubt Jesus, do you know where you go? You go right to Jesus.” John called out two of his disciples to go up out of the dungeon, back through the fortified palace, down the hill, across the Dead Sea and go right to Jesus with this very question (cf. Luke 7:18-19).
Waiting, Waiting and Waiting Some More
The two disciples make their way to Jesus. The two disciples approach Jesus. Jesus turns his attention to them. The two disciples, without hesitation, ask Jesus this very question. “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” Jesus makes them wait, wait and wait some more. He says nothing. At the sound of that very question, Jesus begins to heal many people. He is demonstrating, right before their very eyes, his power and authority over the natural and the supernatural. And for the first time in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus restored sight to the blind. How long did Jesus make these two disciples wait to hear his answer? He turned his eyes toward them and finally spoke. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the sick are healed; the lame walk; lepers – it seemed so impossible – are made clean; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life; and the gospel is not being limited to anyone (cf. Luke 7:20-22). This answer sounds like the same thing, only different to what these disciples have already shared with John. This is what prompted John’s question in the first place!
This answer, like the things reported to John, reflect Old Testament passages like Isaiah 42:6-7 or Isaiah 61:1-2. However, those Old Testament passages also mention setting the prisoner free which is lacking in both Jesus’ answer and the things reported to John. And the question, which really is the reason for Luke 7:18-35, is asked by a man sitting where? He is in prison! And who is in prison asking this question? That’s right, John the Baptist sitting in prison waiting, waiting and waiting some more.
There is something, though, in Jesus’ answer. It is different than the things first reported to John by his disciples. Listen to Luke 7:23. “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Let’s pay attention to that word offend. This is the answer to John’s question. This is the answer that makes all the difference. John may have been waiting for more than what Jesus was doing and what Jesus answered. He may have been looking to be set free. He knew those Old Testament passages. And he could have been waiting for more. He could have been looking for Jesus, the Messiah, the long awaited promised One, to do the things Jesus was doing, but also to bring judgment down upon the wicked and the unrighteous and the oppressor. And he would be right. The Messiah would be doing the things Jesus was doing. And the Messiah will also bring judgment down upon the wicked and the unrighteous and the oppressor. So, why is Jesus, if he is really the Messiah, really the one I am supposed to put my trust in, taking his time? with me and with the wicked and the unrighteous and the oppressor? It is Luke 7:23. In a sense, Jesus is saying, “John, do get disappointed with the way I choose to work. You know the Bible. But I do things not according to your timetable. John, listen to what I am saying and you will be blessed.” Do you know what I think that blessing is? Peace. Contentment.
There is an Old Testament verse that fits what Jesus is saying here. “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165; the King James translation uses the word offend which is the identical meaning in Luke 7:23).
More Than a Prophet
Get ready. If not for John’s question, there would be no Luke 7:24-35. And we want to ask, what is it here for?
The two disciples of John get the answer and make their way back across the Dead Sea, up a hill, into a fortified palace and down into its dungeon, again. Jesus turns to the crowds which have gathered, to say something only they will hear. The two disciples of John will not hear it. John will not hear it. And most likely he will never hear it. “Why were you so eager to see John?” Jesus asks. “Why were you so interested in John? Did you want to meet some easygoing man, some man that just goes with the flow? No. Did you want to meet some man that keeps up with the latest and greatest cultural trends? No. Why were you so eager to see John? Was it because he was a prophet?” Jesus answers it for them. “Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet” (Luke 7:26). How was John more than a prophet? I love this answer. Listen to Luke 7:27. This is the answer. “This is he of whom it was written.” John was a prophet just like Isaiah and just like Jeremiah and just like…Malachi. But he was more than a prophet because this is he of whom it was written.
What was written? It is the rest of Luke 7:27 which is a recitation of Malachi 3:1. When was it written? It was written over 400 years prior to Luke 7:27. Who wrote it? It was written by the last prophet of the Old Testament. His name was Malachi. What is it about? How was John more than a prophet? He was the first prophet in a really long time. And Jesus is saying that John was the one Malachi foretold. Jesus is saying that John was the one to prepare humanity to behold the greatest joy in human history.
Now Jesus finishes it off by essentially saying that John was the greatest man to have ever lived (7:28). And part of his greatness is that he prepared humanity to behold the greatest joy in human history and he was steadfast and immovable when it came to this purpose God had for him. Mark that down. The culture had an expectation of him and he would not try to live up to it or give into it. He would not dance to their tune (7:31-33). This is something that I think Jesus also applies to himself (7:34-35).
They Rejected God’s Purpose For Themselves
But the reason for Luke 7:24-35, the reason it is here, is for us. There is something here specifically written for our instruction. And it is something that has been called one of the most terrifying sentences in the English language. It is Luke 7:29-30.
When the crowds heard Jesus talk about John “they declared God just,” which I think is a most profound statement. These crowds included tax collectors. Who were they? Enemies of Israel and therefore enemies of God. They worked for Rome, the enemy. This was a group of people treated as those kinds of people no one else wanted. And here they are declaring, “God is just! God is right! He is righteous!” Why are they responding like this? Listen to the rest of Luke 7:29. “Having been baptized with the baptism of John.” So this excitement has something to do with what Jesus said about John and John’s baptism.
What was John’s baptism? It was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, something that prepared humanity for the greatest joy in human history. The baptism did not give repentance or the forgiveness of sins. It was the response of those who had confessed their sins and their deepest need for forgiveness from a righteous and holy God. And when Jesus said that this man named John was more than a prophet, a man promised a long time ago to prepare you to meet the greatest joy in human history, they could not contain their excitement. They worshiped the Holy God because the purpose he had for John opened their eyes to God’s purpose for them, even for one who no one else wanted. What is God’s purpose?
Then comes the terrifying part. There was a group called the Pharisees and lawyers. This was a religious group filled with those who knew the Bible. It was filled with those who thought that their good works and their dedication to God’s commands would see them through to heaven. Listen to what Luke says about them. “They rejected the purpose of God for themselves” (7:30). How? “Not having been baptized by him [John].” They rejected the baptism! They rejected the message! They rejected the need to repent for the forgiveness of sins. In so doing, they rejected John and in rejecting John they were rejecting being prepared to meet the greatest joy in human history. This joy is Jesus.
What is God’s purpose? This word purpose [counsel, plan or will] is a word used in Acts 2:23 referred to there as definite – the definite purpose, the definite counsel, the definite plan or definite will of God. Meaning, this is pretty clear. This is pretty explicit. There is no debate, no wiggle room. This is God’s purpose. What is God’s purpose? Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Next big question is this: does God have a purpose for me? The answer is yes. What is God’s definite purpose for me? Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5). What is repentance? It is the turning of the heart away from sin and turning the heart toward God. It is turning the heart away from a behavior God hates toward a behavior God loves. It is turning away from relying on self and turning toward the mercy and strength of God. It is turning the heart away from the fleeting pleasures of sin toward eternal joys of God in Jesus Christ.
And so, what am I doing with God’s purpose for me?