Luke 7:18-35 “Of Those Born of Women”
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. We heard in this the idea that we are to live for others and love others, especially our mothers on the Mother’s Day. 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. We heard that a prophet is one who is raised up from the people, in contrast to Jesus who came down from heaven to be with us. 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. Whereas, the Son of God does finish well since Jesus is raised from the dead and then ascends to heaven!
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. He is not raised up from the people, he is sent down to us by God.
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 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.”
I wonder personally though that if John the Baptist was the “greatest prophet there ever was” as Jesus states here in our reading, then why is he sending two disciples to Jesus to ask that famous question “Are you the one for whom we have been waiting?” If John is so prophetic, and has experienced all that he has experienced from the time of being in the womb until now, why does he ask this question?
I believe that you can hear the Word of God in your life, see miracles of faith happen, and still harbor a doubt. Faith really can never be perfected in this world, like anything else that comes out of our human hearts! Our faith in God will be perfected one day in heaven. Right now we are imperfect. We are not perfect now.
I believe Luke is telling this story of John the Baptist asking this question to show the early church community that even the greatest prophet there ever was maybe had a doubt or two. That did not change his ministry one bit. He was still willing to die for the belief in Jesus he did have. Yet, at a time in his life when he was facing imprisonment and eventual death, John the Baptist yearned for that great affirmation from Jesus we all seek. Because we in our imperfection still have a doubt about God, we all the more need to be affirmed again and again in our faith. That is what church is about. We come to affirm faith and set doubts aside.
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 wants his disciples to be reaffirmed in their faith! John is giving his disciples over to the Lord because John 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! They are after all following John at this time and not following Jesus. 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! So, his question about Jesus is not for him, but it is sincerely to all of us that we should also come to believe and be reaffirmed in that faith.
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 disciples 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: 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.” What matters is who John will be in the Kingdom of God. That is all that really matters. Will we see one another in the Kingdom of God? It matters more in our lives who we will be when we are in heaven together! No matter how great someone is in this world, in this life, it matters more how they will be in God’s Kingdom to come. Hah, take that Putin! (Sorry for being momentarily political, but would it not be wonderful if politicians, vis-à-vis dictators, would consider their eternal souls first?)
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.
Lt. Amy of the Salvation Army told the story this last week of a homeless woman who yelled at her “You are evil. Your church is evil. All churches are evil!” She yelled this at Lt. Amy as she had come onto the Salvation Army gated property after hours and Lt. Amy invited her to come back when the facility was open. Lt. Amy could have had her arrested for trespass actually. I assured her that if Satan is calling her evil, then she is surely as blessed as any prophet or follower of Christ.
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 apostate 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 last line, “Wisdom is known by her Children” is such a beautiful sentiment for Mother’s Day. What does it mean? In the Old Testament, specifically in Proverbs 8:22 and on we see that it was God’s Wisdom that laid out the Creation. In other words, God built into all of Creation a kind of natural Godly wisdom. Our worldly lives continue to try to teach us all of the wrong lessons. We need instead to listen to God’s wisdom that we may be happy in our lives. Read Proverbs 8:32-6 “Happy are those who keep my ways. . . .” In this, we become the children of God! Whatever worldly wisdom you have heard that says that Christ is somehow not acceptable because of one thing or another, put that aside and accept the wisdom of God who created all.