18John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
20When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' "
21At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22So he 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[a] are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
24After John's messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25If 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. 26But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
27This is the one about whom it is written:
" 'I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.' 28I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."
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. 30But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
31"To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
" 'We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not cry.'
33For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' 34The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' 35But wisdom is proved right by all her children."(NIV)
1. Jesus fulfills God's promise of a Messiah, and happy are those who trust in Him even when His ways confound their expectations (vv. 18-21).
- It is difficult to know just what caused John the Baptizer to ask his question, but it may have been that reports of Jesus' miracles - done in part to display His power, but especially to show His compassion for the sick and needy - were, to John, in stark contrast to Christ's role of "judge" that John earlier emphasized (Lk 3:9-17). Or, alternately, John might have hoped that Christ's sin-bearing work would happen imminently, since he also did acknowledge Jesus as the "Lamb of God" who "takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1:29-31).
- In response, Jesus alludes to the prophetic words of Isa 61:1-3 as having been fulfilled through Him (this is the same passage, incidentally, that He read in the synagogue back in Luke 4:16-20). By alluding to this passage, Jesus is confirming His "Messiah-ship" to John.
- It is not as if John had stopped believing, for his doubt still sought an answer from the LORD himself (even as the authors of the Psalms do). Yet, Jesus still gives John a gentle warning not to let his perplexity lead him astray. John had to be reminded that there was a time for everything in Jesus' ministry, and that the LORD's ways are not man's ways (Isa 55:8-9).
Discussion Question #1a: What expectations might we have of Christ that simply cannot be fulfilled, at least in this life?
#1b: In what other ways might we become "offended" by Him, if we are not careful?
2. John the Baptizer plays a special role in the unfolding plan of redemption by God through Christ (vv. 24-28a).
Prophets fulfilled a very important function in the unfolding revelation of God throughout the Old Testament; they were the "mouth-piece" through which God's words came to Israel and the surrounding nations (2 Peter 1:20-21; Hebrews 1:1).
Jesus acknowledges John as especially great because not only is he a prophet, but the fulfillment of a prophecy himself (Mal 3:1, 4:5-6) - the very one who "paved the way" for Jesus and His work (Isa 40:3-5).
It is worthy to note these sayings of Jesus about John as a great example of how God remembers and honours the work of His chosen, no matter how hopeless or perplexing their situation might be (1 Co 15:58; Heb 6:10).
3. Even though John's role is great, all who have received the full knowledge of Christ's person and work are in a more privileged position (v. 28b).
- The prophets of old were trying to grasp what is clear to us now - the gospel of Christ's redemptive work (1 Peter 1:10-12). Also, while it was hard for an Old Testament saint to conceive of how God could forgive "wickedness, rebellion, and sin" and yet would "not leave the guilty unpunished" (Ex. 34:7), we now know that Christ's work in taking God's wrath in our stead made it possible for God "to be just and the justifer of those who have faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:20-26). In short, we have a lot more assurance in our faith than the believers in Old Testament times had. Also note Jesus' words in Matthew 13:16-17.
Discussion Question #2a: Is it easy for us who are Christians in the "end times" to take our privileges of knowledge and assurance for granted? Why do you think this is?
#2b: What are the means we can take to renew our gratitude and appreciation for the privileges we have?
4. It is possible to practice a form of religion whose foundation is God's revelation, and yet stubbornly refuse to respond to Christ (vv. 29-35).
Not only did many of the Pharisees and law-experts fail to apply the true implications of the Law of God to their hearts (as indicated by their refusal to repent of their sin through rejecting John's baptism), they went so far as to become the kind of people who could neither be pleased by the surprising, life-loving ways of Jesus (the children's "flute"), nor the austere, serious words of John (the children's "dirge"). In this way, Jesus said, they were acting just like the children who spurned their playmates.
Discussion Question #3: Although Jesus' words in vv. 31-35 are for the "men of this generation" (and especially for the Pharisees and law-teachers, presumably), why are they important for us to hear as well?