After John had been in prison for a while, some his disciples reported to him the things Jesus had done. They told him of his preaching, healing and raising the dead. In response, John sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask
“are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?”. In other words, John wanted to know if Jesus was the Messiah.
Since John was Jesus’ forerunner and even pointed him out to others in person, it seems strange at first that John would ask such as question. However, remember John is in prison waiting. He expected Jesus to run the Romans off of the land and free Israel, bringing judgment on its enemies. Day after day he suffered in prison, but Jesus did nothing to free Israel from its enemies. John had spoken the word of God about Jesus: he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (3:9) John was not seeing the fire. (Fire represents judgment.)
Jesus did not answer the question immediately. Instead, he made John’s disciples wait while he ministered. While they watched, he healed many people of diseases and plagues, drove out evil spirits, and gave sight to the blind. (21) It was an object lesson.
After doing these things, Jesus told John’ disciples to go and tell John what they had seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news preached to them. (22)
Why did Jesus do and say these things? He did those things to show he was doing what the Messiah was prophesied to do. If he did the things Messiah was prophesied to do, he had to be the Messiah. To make sure they got the point, he listed those things. He continued the work the Father called him to do, preaching the gospel and showing mercy.
The things Jesus did and then described were the things Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah. For example, Isaiah 35:5-6 says “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, then shall the lame man leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”
In addition, Isaiah 61:1 says “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”
John knew these passages and would understand that Jesus was telling him and showing him that he was the Messiah the Father said would come, speaking through his prophet, Isaiah.
Jesus ended his message to John with the words “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (23) He was telling John not to be concerned about his methods or his timing, but to rest of the knowledge that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that he would do what he was supposed to do. In other words, Jesus was saying “John, keep the faith”.
Jesus was also likely referring to other verses in Isaiah. Isaiah 8:14-15 says “and he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
Isaiah was describing the fate of those who rejected the Messiah. They would not accept him and would be offended by him. We see the Pharisees doing this very thing in the gospels. Jesus was saying to John, do not be like the Pharisees. Believe and rejoice even though your circumstances are difficult.
Jesus did not condemn or criticize John. In fact, he commended him and praised him, while condemning those who rejected his message. After John’s disciples left, Jesus turned to the crowd to deliver a message. (24)
He asked the question “who did you go out to the wilderness to see” three times for emphasis. He answered his own questions in rhetorical fashion. John stood firm for the Lord. He stood up to the Pharisees. He stood up to Herod. He was not a reed shaken by the wind. (24) He had not given up his faith, he just did not understand Jesus’ methods and timing.
He was not nicely dressed, but dressed like Elijah in rough clothes. He denied himself luxuries. He did not get rich off of his preaching. He did not tell people what they wanted to hear. Indeed, Jesus said, John was a prophet. But he was more than a prophet, he was the forerunner of Messiah, the messenger who was prophesied to prepare the way of the Messiah. Jesus referred to the Old Testament prophesy of Malachi 3:1. As that messenger, John was the greatest man in history. (28) He was greater than any of the other Old Testament prophets. They received prophesies about the Messiah, but John was chosen by God to actually see the Messiah in person and direct people to him. Remember how he pointed to Jesus and said “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29)
Jesus’ next statement is shocking at first. He said “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”. (28) How could that possibly be?
It is not because of what we have done. It is because of who Jesus is and what he has done. It is because they, and we, have experienced the finished work of Jesus and know the forgiveness of sins through his death on the cross, the power of his resurrection and the gift of eternal life. John was saved and we will see him in heaven. But he did not get to experience the blessing we have of knowing the whole gospel and having a full experience of Christ.
As usual, the crowd reacted to Jesus’ words about John in different ways. Verse 29 tells us that the people who had been baptized by John declared God just. They had received John’s message of repentance to prepare the way of the Lord and had been baptized to show their repentance. They admitted, or confessed, that God was just in that he was correct about their sin and need for repentance.
But others, notable Pharisees and lawyers (teachers of the law) rejected John’s message and God’s purpose for them. (29) They did not desire a salvation that came from God’s grace through faith. They wanted a salvation based on works. They believed that their own adherence to the law caused God to accept them on the bases of their merit.
They rejected John’s call for repentance because they believed they had nothing of which they should repent. Since they rejected John’s message of the need for repentance, they also rejected Jesus’ message of the need for repentance and faith for salvation.
Jesus addressed that rejection. (31) He criticized “this generation”. By that he meant the leaders of the Jews in that generation, the Pharisees, scribes\lawyers, and other religious leaders.
First, Jesus compared them to children reciting a child’s poem. (32) That poem says they did not dance to the flute or weep to the dirge. A dirge is a sad funeral song. In other words, we cannot please you: you will not dance to happy music or cry when the music is sad.
Jesus used the poem to refer to the Pharisee’s rejection of both John and Jesus, though for different reasons. John abstained from regular food and wine. He ate locusts and wild honey. He denounced sin and called for repentance. He played the dirge, in the words of the poem. The Pharisees claimed he had a demon because he did this. (33)
In contrast, Jesus ate good food and drank wine. (34) He played the happy music, proclaiming salvation by grace. Therefore, they called him a glutton and drunkard, as well as a friend of sinners. You could not please them. They would criticize no matter what the person did. And they would reject the message from God no matter who brought it. As my mother would say “there is no pleasing some people!”.
The same thing happens today, of course. One person will say, I do not like Jesus because he has all these rules. Another will say, I do not like Jesus because he he condemns me and wants me to repent. I want him to accept me as a good person. Another will say, I do not like Jesus because he allows bad people to get saved and ignores the work of good people like me.
Jesus ended his talk by saying “wisdom is justified by all her children”. (35) Jesus’ message of salvation is wisdom. It is justified, or shown to be right, by those who follow him.
We must receive Jesus exactly as he is. We do not have the authority to redefine him or his message. John wrote that “to all who did receive him
(Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God”. (John 1:12)
We must also proclaim Jesus as exactly who he is, not “watering down” the gospel to make it more palatable to non-believers. They cannot be saved by a false savior, only the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us.