Key Verse: 7:29, “(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John.”
Read verses 18-20. What were the things John’s disciples told John about? Where was John (Mt 11:2)? With what question and for what reason did John send his disciples to Jesus?
Read verses 21-23. What was Jesus doing? What report did Jesus send back to John? What does his answer reveal about him and the work of the Messiah (18; 4:18; Isa 35:5,6)? Why was it important for John to know what God was doing in his time (23)? Why is it important to have a sense of history?
Read verses 24-28. What did Jesus tell the crowd about John (24)? What kind of prophet had they gone into the desert to see (26)? According to Jesus, what did Malachi say about John (27)? Why is John great (28)? Why is one who is least in the Kingdom greater than John?
Read verses 29-30. Why did ordinary people who heard Jesus’ words say, “God’s way is right”? What is “God’s way”? How did the Pharisees respond? Why? What was their sin before God?
Read verses 31-35. How did Jesus describe these religious leaders? How did they show childish rebellion in their attitudes toward John and Jesus? Who are the children of wisdom?
In today’s passage Jesus is doing the life-giving work of the Messiah. At the same time, John the Baptist was in prison. John sent messengers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (18) It indicates uncertainty, even doubt. Jesus said to them, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard.” Through this report, Jesus wanted John to see what God was doing and have conviction that God was ruling, carrying out his good purpose without fail. Like John, we can doubt God’s love, goodness and power as we see terrible things happening, such as social injustice, mass shootings, wars, Covid outbreaks, severe storms, wildfires, political scandals, and economic woes. We may also see painful relationship problems in our families and trouble in our church community. When we see these things, we fall into sorrow and distress. We feel helpless and hopeless. We may think that God is indifferent to our sufferings. But that is not true. Amid these things, God is doing life-giving work. We need to see what God is doing among us. Let’s pray to see what God is doing through today’s Bible passage.
First, Jesus demonstrated the work of the Messiah (18-23). Verse 18a says, “John’s disciples told him about all these things.” What are “all these things”? These are the things Jesus was doing: proclaiming the good news, healing a centurion’s dying servant with just one word, and raising a dead young man back to life (7:1-17). God was working mightily through Jesus. It was a time of transition. Until then, John’s ministry had been most prosperous; everyone went to him to be baptized (3:7). But when John was imprisoned, his following dwindled (3:18-19). At the same time, Jesus was preaching the good news, healing the sick, and driving out demons, and many people were going to him. This is what John’s disciples reported to him. Then John sent two of his disciples to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (18b,19) Why did John do this?
While sitting in prison, John was lonely. He worried about the future of Israel and his disciples. When he heard about God’s mighty work through Jesus, he was happy. Yet he still had some questions in his heart. He was a righteous man. He had expected Jesus to judge evil–perhaps beginning with King Herod–and to establish God’s righteous kingdom (Lk 3:8-9). But Jesus did not focus on fighting social injustice. He did not work for John’s release from prison, or even visit him. Jesus spent his time among common and even notorious people, humbly serving them. It was not what John expected. So, he wondered if Jesus really was the Messiah. To answer the question, John did not depend on his own insight and understanding. He asked Jesus.
John also sent his disciples to Jesus for their sake. John knew that they were in a spiritual crisis. They felt sorry for John and themselves. People no longer came to them; they felt like “has-beens” in God’s work. They worried about their future. John seemed more concerned about them than himself. He did not send them to Jesus to ask for his release, but for them to find assurance that Jesus was the Messiah. He sent them to Jesus in their time of crisis. He was a good shepherd.
When they went to Jesus, he was doing amazing things: curing many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and giving sight to many who were blind (20-21). Those suffering from paralysis and leprosy were healed completely. They were singing and dancing and praising God. Those who had been tormented by evil spirits were set free, shouting, “Praise the Lord!” The blind received sight, and could see Jesus and their loved ones. People were filled with wonder and awe at the amazing grace of Jesus.
So Jesus replied to the messengers: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news news is proclaimed to the poor” (22). Jesus’ answer was not, “Yes, I am he.” Jesus demonstrated that he is the Messiah by his works (Jn 5:36b). Jesus’ words echo the prophecy of Isaiah. Isaiah 35:5-6a say, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” Isaiah 61:1a says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” Just as Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was doing the work of the Messiah. It was the work that only the Messiah could do–the best evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. As we analyze Jesus’ works, we can discover the character of God. God heals; God restores; God liberates; God gives life. God is good, loving and mighty to save his people.
God’s miraculous work is not just an old story. God’s work is continuing today. Did you know that there is a great work of God in the Pacific Northwest? Forty years ago, there was one small and lonely UBF chapter on the entire west coast–at Oregon State University. P. Abraham Kim’s family and a few students, including me, met for Bible study and worship. We frequently prayed for God to bless the Pacific Northwest. Last month, I visited major cities there: Seattle, Vancouver (BC), Victoria and Portland. I saw six flourishing UBF chapters. They are led by dedicated families with vibrant faith and missionary vision. Through them God is raising Jesus’ disciples. For example, M. Joshua and Helen Park in Victoria have humbly raised their sons Joshua and James as their coworkers. Now these men are each teaching the BIble to two or three college students faithfully out of love for Jesus. Joshua Jr. was just engaged to Joanna Cho of Washington. They both pray to establish a Jesus-centered, mission-oriented house church. There are many other growing disciples of Jesus. When I saw them, I was amazed. God is working in many other countries–even in Ukraine. Deborah in Odessa has been actively teaching the Bible one to one. She experienced the power of God’s word as one disciple is being raised. In Kyiv, Shepherd Vlad has decided to live as a pastor for the Podil chapter. At the age of 23, he is preaching powerful Sunday messages. God’s work is going on, even amidst the terrible war. God is working mightily in the USA in many ways. Last week, Khari Willis, a 26-year-old pro football player, suddenly retired. He gave up millions of dollars and years of fame. Why? He posted on Instagram, “...to devote the remainder of my life to the further advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am both humbled and excited to pursue the holy call that God has for my life which brings me much joy and purpose.” There are always elements of darkness in the world. But we can look beyond them to see what God is doing. Let’s see what God is doing!
Then Jesus said, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me” (23). After seeing clear Biblical evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, John’s disciples needed to make a decision of faith. There was a danger that they would fall away if they had their own concept of the Messiah. It is easy to seek a messiah who solves our immediate problems–one who brings justice against evil, heals diseases, or provides financial relief. Surely Jesus does not ignore these needs. But his work is much greater than that. As the Messiah, Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead. Jesus forgives our sins and gives us eternal life in his everlasting kingdom. Most of all we need to see Jesus. Jesus reveals God’s eternal love for us. Jesus empowers us with his saving grace. Jesus satisfies our souls with real peace and joy. Jesus gives us the meaning of life through his mission and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promises these great blessings to those who trust in him even amidst their own personal hardships in this world. Indeed, those who accept the Messiah based on the Scriptures are blessed.
Second, Jesus commended John the Baptist (24-28). After John’s messengers left, Jesus spoke to the crowd about John (24a). John’s imprisonment had brought a dark cloud over the people of Israel. Once thought to be the Messiah, John now looked weak, and an object of pity. It seemed that evil was overpowering good. But this was not so. The crowd needed to see John from God’s perspective and understand how God was working. So Jesus reminded them, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” In these verses, Jesus compares different kinds of persons in order to remind the crowd why they had been so attracted to John. One kind of person is like a reed swayed by the wind. Reeds represent weak people. They have no clear identity or value system. They lack conviction based on the truth. They are easily swayed by public opinion, temptations, and persecution. John was not like that. John had such courageous faith that he rebuked King Herod.
Another kind of person is a man dressed in fine clothes. This kind of person pursues money and power in order to indulge in luxury. They care nothing for others. They exploit the weak for their benefit. Outwardly they seem successful and are objects of envy. But inwardly they are corrupt and miserable. They live the ruling class, like those in palaces. In contrast, John lived in the wilderness. He ate locusts and wild honey, and wore clothing made of camel’s hair. No one went to him because he was fashionable.
Finally, Jesus mentioned a prophet. A prophet is a godly person who pursues truth and holiness, and fights against evil. A prophet is a person of mission who preaches the word of God for the glory of God. Prophets live for the salvation of others, not personal pleasure. They do not compromise with the world; they live by faith in God in any situation. God recognizes, blesses and uses such people. People went to John because they considered him a prophet, and felt God’s holy presence through him. In reminding the crowd of this, Jesus wanted them to see through the appearance of things and grasp what God was doing. When we remember how God worked through his servants, we can develop spiritual discernment.
Jesus went on to call John “more than a prophet,” and said, “This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (27-28a). Jesus’ view of John was quite opposite that of the crowd. While people were pitying John, Jesus called him the greatest of those born of women. John is great because he had a clear mission from God as the forerunner of the Messiah. John preached the message of repentance to prepare people’s hearts for Jesus. He refused to receive honor for himself, and instead, pointed people to Jesus. He said, “He must become greater; I must become less” (Jn 3:30). When John poured out his life to exalt Jesus, he became a truly great man and a good influence.
Then Jesus added, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (28b). This puts John into perspective in God’s history. John served God as the last Old Testament prophet. While all the prophets in the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, John was the one who introduced him to Israel. Still, John belonged to the old covenant. Those who believe in Jesus become members of the new covenant which governs his kingdom. The new covenant is far superior to the old because its members experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit–who writes God’s law on their minds and hearts and transforms them into Jesus’ image. This is why those in the kingdom of God are greater than John.
Third, two responses to God’s work (29-35). In verses 29-35, Luke explains how God’s redemptive work flowed from John to Jesus and how people responded. At that time, the Pharisees and experts in the law were the main influencers in the culture. But they could not see what God was doing. On the other hand, many common people recognized that God was working through John and through Jesus. They became a new wave of spiritual influence, transforming the corrupted culture. They were like a new spring of clean, fresh water, bubbling up to cleanse the society.
We find two responses to God’s work in verses 29-30. First, all the people, even the tax collectors, as they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right (29). It was because they had been baptized by John. This means that they recognized their sin and repented publicly. This prepared them to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. This is God’s way of salvation. We must recognize ourselves as sinners, repent, and believe in Jesus. This is the only way of salvation that God has provided (Ac 4:12). In Acts 2:38 Peter proclaimed, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We must follow God’s way of salvation.
There was another response. Verse 30 says, “But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.” When they heard John’s message of repentance, their pride was hurt and they rejected it. God wanted them to be shepherds for his people. But in refusing to repent, they remained spiritually blind. They could not see Jesus as the Messiah and rejected him. In doing so, they rejected God’s purpose for themselves.
In verses 31-34 Jesus speaks to his generation. This does not refer to everyone, but to the religious leaders and those under their influence. Jesus compared them to children sitting in the marketplace playing games. In the wedding game, one group played the pipe and the other group had to dance. But they refused because they did not like the song. In the funeral game, one group sang a dirge and the other group was supposed to cry. But they did not because they did not feel like it. They were very capricious and ignored rules and reason. The religious leaders and their followers were just like these children. John the Baptist did not eat bread or drink wine in order to devote himself to God’s mission. They thought his asceticism was too extreme and said, “He has a demon” (33). Jesus ate and drank with sinners in order to befriend and save them. They rejected him as too liberal. They said, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (34). They did not like John and they did not like Jesus. It was because both John and Jesus followed God’s way. In fact, the religious leaders did not like God’s way, no matter how it was practiced.
In verse 35 Jesus concluded, “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” Here “wisdom” is God’s way, God’s truth. Children of wisdom are not like those in the marketplace; they are followers of God’s way. God’s way is proved right by all of its followers. Anyone who recognizes themselves as a sinner, repents of their sins, and believes in Jesus will be transformed into a child of God. They are filled with love, joy and peace and live the most meaningful and fruitful lives, fulfilling God’s purpose for them. Do you follow God’s way? Or your own way? This is not just a matter of words, but of lifestyle. The truth will be fully revealed by each one’s way of life.
In today’s passage we learn that God is working mightily even in the midst of all the troubles in our world. So, we should not be discouraged and fall into despair when we see terrible things. Instead, we should see beyond the darkness of the world, and our own hardships to the life-giving work that God is doing. When we see what God is doing, we can live for God’s purpose in our own generation.