Luke 7:18-35 “Jesus & John”
This sermon is somewhat a continuation of last week’s sermon, so I will need to recapitulate: Jesus was in Capernaum and healed a centurion’s slave. Next he went to the town of Nain and brought a young man back to life during the funeral. He did this for the sake of the young man’s mother, who was already a widow. After this miracle, Luke reports that all the folk who witnessed it were proclaiming that Jesus was a great prophet sent by God. However, this raises a whole new issue in Jesus’ ministry. Is Jesus just a prophet?
To be sure, a prophet is one who speaks for God. The Hebrew term for prophet (Nabi) denotes the understanding that someone has emptied themselves before God, so he or she can accept the Word of God and speak it in utterances of needed Truth to humankind. Examples of prophets are therefore Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Malachi, and so on. Generally speaking in the lessons learned from the Bible, a prophet does not finish life well. Trust me, you do not want to be a prophet. It is a hard, hard life. It is a life of sacrifice for God and for humankind.
Ephesians 4:11-12 speaks about one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit being that of prophecy. Ephesians 4:12, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Being a prophet is all about building up Christ and others. It is a very selfless thing to be. And, since we call it a gift of the Holy Spirit, we really have to ask ourselves if we want to be accepting of that particular gift! Being a true prophet of God will be just the hardest thing of your life.
That being said, I appreciate the fact that these people in Nain use the term to describe Jesus. The problem I see with this is that Jesus simply is not a prophet. Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus did not empty himself in order to receive the Word of God. As we read in John 1, Jesus is the VERY Word of God made flesh. To call Jesus just a prophet is a sincere misnomer—to say the least.
John the Baptist, on the other hand, is a true picture of who a prophet would be. He was meant to be the one who announced Jesus’ coming from the very start of his life. You may recall at Christmas time we heard the story of John’s mother Elizabeth going to visit Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus at the time, and how the John jumped in the womb in the presence of His Lord. Later in Luke 3 we read how it is that John baptized Jesus, at which time the heavens were opened up and the voice of God was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son.”
In Luke 3:20, we see one line of text which is now critical to our understanding of what was read today. There it says that John was put into prison by King Herod. So, when we hear in chapter seven of Luke that John sent two of his disciples to Jesus, we have to understand that is mainly because John himself is in prison and therefore cannot go and be with Jesus to help Jesus in this ministry. I am sure I am not reading too much into the biblical text if I suppose that John is quite aware that he will either die in prison or be brought for execution by Herod. He is after all a prophet. And, like so many prophets before him, he knows his life will not end well.
I also get the sense that John is sending his disciples to Jesus not really to ask the question “Are you the Messiah?” for his own understanding and sake. He is doing this for his disciples. He is giving his disciples over to the Lord because he knows he has no future anymore. How prophetic is that? John already knows who Jesus is—and has known even from his time in the womb. He is sending his own disciples to Jesus because THEY do not understand who Jesus is! Just like the people at the funeral in Nain did not understand who Jesus is! This is not a choice of whether to follow John or Jesus. First, John. Then, John gives us all over to Jesus!
Let us then take a quick glance at verse 23: “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The Greek word here is “scandalize.” Why does Jesus tell John’s disciple this blessing? It is a blessing, even though it almost reads like a warning. However, we need to see that Jesus is blessing these disciples of John.
We have a huge question that has been dumped in our laps by the garbage truck of history: Why didn’t Jesus save John from his impending death After all, Jesus is working all kinds of miracles. He just raised a young man in Nain from death itself. We can later read in the Bible how prison doors are opened by angels for the Apostle Paul. Why is John the Baptist left to languish in prison? Is it not scandalous that Jesus would leave John, his cousin, the one who gave the sacred right of baptism over him, to leave this greatest of all prophets to face death?!
Yet, we realize that John the Baptist himself knew that his job of announcing the coming of the Lord was now over. He was resigned to this fact and that his death was at hand. He was simply “resigned.” I think that almost every prophet must know how it will end for them.
So, Jesus tells these disciples of John the Baptist not to take offense. John as a true prophet has equipped these disciples to accept the ministry of Jesus Christ, and in the end Jesus will save John to the Kingdom of God as he has saved all of us!
You see, what matters here is solely Jesus. Right? Doesn’t Jesus matter? He must matter more. That is why John sends his disciples to Jesus. Jesus must matter more! John, as the greatest prophet, knows this intrinsically.
In verse 28 we see how Jesus himself says this: “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.” As long as John is stuck in prison, he really is not that great. What matters is who John will be in the Kingdom of God. That is all that really matters to us.
This is super important. You see, I have met people in my generation who claim that they are prophets from God. One is a pastor here on this island who at one point told his church that he was no longer a pastor but is now to be called a “prophet.” My first response to this was something along the lines of “Sounds like he suffers from a Messiah complex.” I wondered silently if the next phase would be his claiming to be Jesus himself.
I met another “Prophet” on this island who claimed the title of prophet by virtue of the fact that he had prayed to come to Kauai. One day it turned out that he was given an air ticket to the island, and this somehow confirmed that he was sent by God with a message for all of us here. If everyone who holds an air ticket to Kauai be considered a prophet from God, well then I really do not know what we should make of that. If everyone claims to be a prophet, then perhaps nobody is. This is how corrupt our generation has become.
The last part of our scripture for today addresses this very issue: “We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we wailed but you did not weep.” (vs. 32) If everyone is out there beating his or her own drum, then we all miss the music of God’s grace that plays over our lives. If everyone is wailing all at once, then who is left to sincerely weep?
Luke then tells of John the Baptist living an ascetic life in the wilderness eating only locusts and honey. Luke tells his audience how ridiculed John was for this. People thought that he was demon possessed. Then, Luke tells how Jesus was also ridiculed by others because he ate and drank with sinners.
In my own ministry, I have had non-Christians call me a child molester because they had been told that all Christian pastors are child molesters. Likewise I have had other Christians tell me that I am not a Christian at all because I am ordained through the United Church of Christ, a supposedly liberal church. You know, what Jesus was saying here is still so true today. People hated John the Baptist because he was an ascetic, and people hated Jesus because he appeared not to be pious enough.
As Christians we have to stop listening to all that chatter that is so distracting. All that matters is Jesus. The chatter no matter! There will always be people saying unhelpful things.
The Roman Catholic Pope in Rome on Wednesday defined for all of us that anything that we hear that causes us to hate, or be disgruntled against our brothers and sisters, is simply not the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. It is not “good,” and it really is not “news.”
When I go to teach the bible at the Pua Kea Regency on Tuesdays, always on the tables that we use I find the daily newspapers. Every time, I take the news and set it in the recycling bin. I say, “Away with the bad news. Now is the time for the Good News!” Jesus is all that matters.
I want you to try something when you go home today. Turn on the news on television or on your computer device. Listen to the talking heads say this thing and that. Close your eyes, and while listening to the noise in the background, empty your mind to God and let His Word come to you. Reflect on the Kingdom of God rather than on earthly nations.
You see, John came to tell us and to show his own disciples that it is all about Jesus. Jesus is all that matters. When we meet after worship today to conduct our annual meeting of the congregation, just remember that it is all about Jesus. Jesus is all that matters.