Lets be open to the Lord's tender corrections and happy invitations.
I want to pick back up All-In. We’re all in with All-In. I want to pick back up with John. I want to re-engage the marvelous account gleaned from it. Some of you’ve already noticed if you have your Bibles or you can follow along with the Bible app. But if not, you’ve got the scripture passage in your handout as well.
This is from Luke 7. I want to reconnect where we’ve been, reset the table. I don’t want to assume that all of us either were here or have a working knowledge of what we’re talking about. Here’s the scene we’re setting. John the Baptist has been imprisoned by King Herod. He is being held in a cell on a hilltop palace-fortress, called Machaerus. Machaerus, you can still see the ruins today. We’ve got, again, just a reminder shot for you. This is on the east side of the Dead Sea. It’s the Jordan Valley. But if you were to see the Machaerus, it’s just the ruins today, but it gives you a sense of the span of where that was. It’s just the scope, the way that it was extended out, the views, how desolate it was around John in that palace as well. We’re talking about a real place, and this is where John was.
Some scholars believe that by the time we read what we’re about to read here in Luke 7, that John had been imprisoned up there for about a year. Some of you may recall that John had been taken by Herod because Herod had been provoked by his wife, Herodias, who actually had wanted John killed. Herod was superstitious and actually seemed to really genuinely like John. Herod, in some strange way, was affected by John. He believed that John was a holy man from God, a prophet. He didn’t want to kill him. Instead, Herod decided to try to get a win-win situation. He imprisoned John at Machaerus. So, John is confined, and that was the picture.
One of the things we know is this situation appears to have been a little bit dismal. It’s clear that John seemed to be slipping into a mild depression. We can only imagine. I want us to try to use our imagination with our mind’s eye. John would be up there in this palace, which again, you can only see the ruins of today. Maybe John is in some dank cell or possibly just a dimly lit one. It’s hot. The air is stale. It’s, again, poorly lit. John, who had been accustomed to the wilderness, open-air, big skies, and to be able to move, was a man of vigor and physicality. So for him to be locked up, like a bird in a cage, with only the ability to maybe look out a small window would be stifling. For this to happen for months, it would’ve just been really very hard. On top of that, he had a double blow because he was cut off. He was trapped. He was sequestered. You picture him forgotten and miserable.
The bottom line is: it was really hard, very hard. It would be hard for anyone, but it was really hard for John to be locked up in a cage. He had not only lost his identity, remember that? Where he was thinking, “Well, what am I supposed to do now?” But now he has lost his freedom. We should not underestimate the power of loss to rock our world. To affect us. Some of us may have experienced some loss already in life. When we experience loss, certain types of loss, it’s a very powerful thing, and we don’t always handle it well. Sometimes, it can send us into a deep pit. Even loss, sometimes, that we sense coming. When it happens, it may not be totally unexpected. It can still be very difficult to work through. When we get a series of losses, it can actually be devastating to us.
I want us to see John confined in a way that was so difficult for him. He’s lost his sense of purpose. He’s lost his sense of identity. A part of him is even struggling with his sense of confidence in who Jesus is. Although he was confined, we know that he was allowed regular visits by his disciples. They would give him updates concerning Jesus. This is where I want us to go; some of what he was hearing was actually concerning to him. It was different than the way he would have done things or actually had imagined the Messiah, the one that he thought he was preparing the way for, would have done them. It was very unsettling for him to hear some of the reports he was getting.
Again, bring it all together. He’s lost his freedom. He doesn’t have a sense of his purpose. He’s now months into this. It doesn’t seem like anything’s changing. He’s being used as a pet prophet by Herod who visits him regularly. Now, he’s not sure about Jesus. Things aren’t making sense to him. This is the thing that catches our attention; because John, as great as he was, we’re told here, begins to have second thoughts and starts to wonder if maybe he got it wrong when he had identified Jesus as the Messiah. John wonders if he was indeed the promised one that he had declared him to be. I can see him thinking, “Could he have been premature now, a year, or so?” Removed from the baptism moment, he began to question what he had experienced when he heard that voice that he thought was so clearly connecting Jesus to the role of the Messiah. “Maybe I misunderstood it. Maybe it wasn’t what I thought it was. It wasn’t exactly what it meant. I’m not sure now. I’m not sure.”
I need to say this with humility; but Jesus had, in some ways, disappointed John. No one had been sent to help him, not even, it appears, to check in on him, no communication, nothing. Again, almost a year had passed. Jesus, as far as we can tell, had nothing to say, at least not anything that we can see recorded about John’s unjust imprisonment by a decadent king. Is he saying anything about it? There would seem like nothing. It was almost as if he had been forgotten. I’m just going to tell you that this may not make as much sense to those who are younger, but I think it does make sense certainly to those who are moving towards advancing years. It’s not easy to be forgotten. It’s not easy. It’s not easy for anyone. Life has a way of doing that to us, and that could be hard as well. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
Meanwhile, John is a bit depressed, confined, and questioning. Meanwhile, Jesus’s popularity is skyrocketing as word of his miracles and teaching spreads his fame abroad, into the region. The latest news, for example, was the report John was given. Jesus had raised a girl from the dead once more. Jesus was not an ascetic. He was less concerned about ceremonial law. His disciples, at times, seemed to almost flout convention. He engaged people that John would have immediately called to repentance. In fact, Jesus was said to eat and drink with them. He befriended them. It’s true, Jesus did not do it to a point of decadence or immorality, but he did freely mix with people that John would have never associated himself with and would have immediately called to a point of repentance.
This is an important distinction; Jesus called them to repentance from the inside, whereas John called them to repentance from the outside. That’s a very different approach. Jesus had done so from the inside. He relationally interconnected Himself. He engaged people who John would probably have not engaged. John would have simply proclaimed the truth of God’s opportunity to call to a place of repentance. John was an outsider. That’s how he viewed himself and his appointment from God. He lived in the wilderness. His was the tradition of the Old Testament prophet. That’s why a lot of people said, “Oh, he’s like Elijah,” John was an outsider speaking into the culture. Jesus came into the culture, immersed Himself into it, and then began to proclaim the kingdom has come within it. Jesus was moving in ways that, for John, were inconceivable. It was hard to understand. You start piling those things on and you realize that’s why he’s having his own version of a crisis of faith. At least to the extent that he feels insecure about the conclusion he has drawn that Jesus was the one.
Months have passed and John needs reinforcement. He’s buckling a little bit. That sets the table for the passage, and it’s a marvelous passage. We only covered a piece of it last week out of Luke 7. I love this passage. It has so much in it. Let’s look at it together. John verse 18, “John, discouraged in that dark place, begins to wonder if he had gotten it right. The disciples reported all these things to him and John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” If you really pause to think about what we are being told here, it’s incredible. John sends a committee to ascertain if Jesus was indeed the one that he thought he was, that he thought Him to be. When the men had come to him, verse 20, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?'” In that hour, Jesus healed many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits. Many who were blind, He bestowed sight. It was seen that Jesus let them wait, that they came like a delegation. Perhaps, they first inquired with Jesus, his disciples. Maybe they talked to Peter. Maybe they talked to Andrew or Nathanael, Philip. We don’t know.
They said, “Hey, we’ve been sent by John to talk to your teacher. We’ve been sent by John to ask Jesus some questions.” When that was mentioned to Jesus, Jesus, evidently, did not respond immediately. Jesus kept right on doing what He was doing. He was in the middle of teaching and healing. It was quite a moment that is being presented here. It’s filled with implications. Evidently, one of the things that they would have immediately noticed. They had approached and interrupted, but He didn’t respond. Jesus just continued on with His ministry time. As they waited, I can imagine them waiting with a large group of people scattered around. To me, this looks like a hospital with a lot of people watching and Jesus interspersing, teaching, and healing.
John’s disciples would have immediately recognized that this is something they had never seen John do. John is recorded as healing no one. It was not part of his ministry. There were no signs, no wonders, no healing touch. John was a prophet. He proclaimed the kingdom. His method was the declaration, and it was a forceful one of the reality of God, calling them to a place of openness to the new thing that God was about to do. John’s disciples would have been amazed, again, because John was a prophet and a proclaimer, not a healer.
After some time had passed and the crowds evidently started to, at least in modest ways, disperse. Jesus turned and had this to say verse 22, and he answered them, “This is what I want you to do, go and tell John what you have seen and what you’ve heard. Tell him the blind received their sight. The lame are walking. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. Yes, and the dead are raised. Let him know the poor, the outsiders, they have the good news also proclaimed and preached to them.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “The actions speak for themselves. All that has been anticipated is happening and tell John what you have seen me do. Oh, and one last thing, tell him this.” This is a word for the ages. “One more thing, besides telling him everything that you’ve seen, tell him this: blessed are the unoffended of me, blessed are the unoffended of me.” In other words, “blessed is the one who embraces me, who accepts me for who I am, who does not stumble over me, who trusts in me”. Maybe we can say it this way: it was a tender rebuke for John. “Blessed are the unoffended of me. Blessed are those who embrace me, trust in me, and who do not stumble or question what I am doing.”
They left. “Okay, we’ll take that back to John,” and they go. We think, “Oh, that’s where it ends,” but it doesn’t. Jesus waits for them to leave. It’s interesting; he doesn’t say it while they are there. He waits for them to leave, and then he turns to the crowd and makes a statement about John. Look at this, it says, “When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John,” Jesus said this remarkable statement about John, perhaps sensing that some people caught what had happened and what Jesus had said. Perhaps, even Jesus is thinking that even maybe his disciples might underestimate his feelings and opinions of John because it did seem like a bit of a rebuke. It seemed like John needed his faith reinforced. Jesus makes this statement, “By the way, what did you go out to see? What did you go out into the wilderness to see concerning John? Let me talk to you about John; when you went out into the wilderness to see him, all of you, did you see a reed shaken with the wind?” What is a reed shaken with the wind? You see it sometimes in a field, just blowing depending on the breeze. It goes this way or that way, like a lot of politicians today. That’s all I’ll say. This is as political as I’ll ever get here. All right.
He says, “When you went to the wilderness, did you go out to see a reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Be all those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury, they’re in the king’s courts. Now, I’ll ask you, what did you go out to see? A prophet? I tell you, he was more than a prophet.” Oh, it was a stirring appraisal, wasn’t it? When you read it and you think about what’s happening here, one can wish that, “Would it have been wonderful if Jesus had said that in front of John’s disciples? I couldn’t even say that. But Jesus, I don’t know why, but he waits for them to go, and then he tells the people.”
“Do you want to know about John? When you went out to see him in the wilderness, did you think you were seeing someone that was anything but amazing?” That’s what he’s basically saying. “This man, he was no reed blowing in the wind. Don’t underestimate the quality of John just because what you heard just happened here. He was no reed blowing in the wind. He was no man with an easy life. He was not a soft man in that way. He was a prophet of God.” It’s fascinating because, not only would John’s disciples never hear these words, but John would never hear these words. These words that we’re now reading and talking about have echoed down history, down the centuries, and I think will echo into eternity. John never heard those words from the master’s lips.
Then Jesus quoting the older Testament, says, “This is he of whom it is written. Behold, I send my messengers before your face who will prepare your way before you.” Then, Jesus makes the statement, “And I tell you this, among those born of women, none, none is greater than John, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” There are two remarkable statements just made right there. Do you see them? One is concerning John’s greatness. It’s as if Jesus was saying, “Do not doubt this man. Do not doubt this man. He is as great as any man born of a woman who has ever walked the earth. Do not doubt this man.” Wow! But then, Jesus asked this, “The most insignificant person in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” That was not meant to be a diminishment of John, but an exaltation of the new thing that God was doing. He was basically saying that a relationship with Jesus is the supreme opportunity of life, that true greatness is embracing him. That’s what Jesus was saying.
Think about that; think about the juxtaposition. That was the very thing that John was struggling to do at this moment. The greatest in the least in the kingdom, the least who embraces me is even greater because that was the message John anticipated that has now come present. Even John must submit to it. It is a shift, a new movement of the things that God is doing. Jesus is just getting going. It says, “When all the people heard this,” verse 29, “and the tax collectors, too,” who are notoriously corrupt people. They were licensed by Rome, essentially to collect taxes on behalf of Rome, and then they extorted. Took it off the top. Rome closed their eyes, they got wealthy. One of the disciples knew how that worked because he was a tax collector, at least he used to be, and that was Matthew. Tax collectors though, Jesus, interestingly enough, even though they were despised, he actually engaged them. It says, “and the tax collectors, too, and they declared God just having been baptized with the baptism of John.” Who was the first to have reached out to them? John did it. It says here, “But the Pharisees and the lawyers,” the lawyers, they were the scribes. They were the experts in the law. The law is the Law of Moses, the scriptures. “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves not having been baptized by him.” In other words, what we are told here is that, in that group, there were tax collectors, Pharisees, leaders, scribes, and lawyers, as well as common people all gathered around. The tax collectors actually had submitted to the baptism of John. They had humbled themselves and said, “We will repent unto the kingdom.” Remember, John told them, “Don’t take more than is just.” He told the Romans, “Don’t be violent with people. Do it as just.” It was a very consistent message.
It’s interesting because, look what it says here, “Jesus is affirming explanation.” It’s met, right? When Jesus says, “this is who John is, none greater,” right? Then, that explanation is met by an affirmation by those who had believed John and his message and submitted to his baptism in anticipation of the Messiah. The Pharisees and the scribes, though, were less enthusiastic about what Jesus was saying because they had not chosen to submit to John’s baptism because they believed they were above it.
Jesus could tell and I think he looked at them and he said, whenever Jesus does this, you know something’s coming, “Let me tell you a story.” Now, whenever Jesus tells you a story, something’s coming, all right. He says, “To what shall I compare the people of this generation?” Look at verse 31. “And what are they like?” Jesus just opens up. It’s almost like he says, “What am I going to compare it to?” I think he’s talking specifically right here to the Pharisees and the lawyers. “What shall I compare this generation to? What am I going to compare you to?” He could see their faces sour on John. They weren’t believing him either.
He says, “What are they like? They’re like,” verse 32, “the children sitting in the marketplace, calling to one another. ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance. We sang a dirge and you did not weep.'” Jesus says, “Do you know how the children play in the marketplace? Do you know how they constantly argue with one another about which game to play? How sometimes do they spend more time arguing than they do playing? Have you ever seen those kids who won’t play if it’s not their idea if it’s not their game?” One of them says, “Let’s play funeral.” They say, “No.” The other one says, “Well then, let’s play a wedding.” “No.” They’re childish. They won’t play unless they get their way, “It’s my ball,” right? It has to be their way.
Jesus then says, “For John the Baptist, it has come to you, eating and drinking. He’s come eating no bread and drinking no wine.” Do you know what you said of him? John came; he didn’t drink and he didn’t eat as people do. Do you know what you said of him? You said he has a demon. That’s what you said. John’s ministry was like a funeral. That’s why Jesus used it. He didn’t drink. He was austere. He was fiercely serious. He was utterly focused. He was ablaze with zeal. He was a man on fire with the passion of God. Do you know what you said about him? You said he had a demon. Basically, do you know what you called him? You called him a crazy man, and you know you did.
The son of man has come eating and drinking, engaged, and you say, looking at him, I know what you say. I’ve heard it. You say, “Look at him, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” I came in contrast to John’s funeral, like a wedding, joyful, life-embracing, happy, but you don’t want me either. You call me a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of notorious sinners, the worst people. The first two, I am not. The last one, you do not mean as a compliment. I know nothing works for you. You’re like the offended, stubborn children in the marketplace who won’t play because it wasn’t their idea. But I tell you, I tell you, you are making a mistake. I tell you that wisdom, look at the phrase, is justified by her children. That his wisdom is revealed when we submit to it. Right now, your lack of receptivity around me indicates you as lacking, it reveals you and your stubborn religious practice. That was the exchange that took place, and it’s intense.
Now, let’s move off of that. Let’s reel this in. Let’s apply it. Let me suggest a couple of things about All-In and All-In faith. Then, we will sit with this and see where it takes us in our own hearts. One of the things about All-In faith especially for those of us who are jotting things down, All-In faith invites us to bring our doubts to Jesus.
John was in the dungeon, defeated and wavering, wasn’t he? Look at that, worn down, his mind is clouded with doubt. Let’s go back to John. That’s where we started. He’s not sure of things. But in that place of wavering, he did the one thing we must do; he brought his doubts to Jesus. He brought his doubts to Jesus. I love that. May the Lord help us here. When we are in our dark place, and we will from time to time, our struggling place where we’re wondering, “Did I get it right? I know I had this experience but did I get it right? I have seen this happen in my own eyes. I’ve watched people radically affected by the reality of the Lord. As time goes on, they begin to question the reality of what occurred inside their own hearts, and that begins to take a foothold and it starts to cloud.” It can happen to any of us. All of us can have that happen to us.
All I’m going to say is that the main thing is not that we’re not going to have times of periodic darkness in our lives, or times where we have some doubts about the reality of what God is doing in our life, or like John was having of his goodness and who Jesus really was. But the beautiful example that John gives us is he moves towards Jesus in his doubt, not away from him. If we do that, you’re going to make it and we’re going to grow. It’s okay to have patches of questions; that’s normal. We’re not always going to be on our game, our faith game. There are going to be times we waiver. It’s all right. I don’t think we want to practice that as a whole because God loves faith. I don’t think He wants us to question His love for us. I’m just saying I know how life is. There are going to be patches where we’re going to find ourselves in a place of confinement. I noticed a lot of times, it’s in that confining place where we will begin to weaken. We feel hindered like we’re in a cell; “I have no move to make. I can’t get out of this. Where are you, God? Why aren’t you showing up for me?”
The second thing I want to suggest is that All-In faith invites us to be open to His tender corrections and happy invitations. John was struggling. Jesus reminded him. What did he say to him? Blessed are the unoffended. There are going to be times when the Lord will remind us, the same way. You need to accept, trust, and submit. “John, submit to what you cannot fully understand.” We talked about that last week.
I kept thinking about the word, blessed. It means essentially ‘happy.’ If you look at it, one of its meanings is a state of well-being and contentment. Jesus used that word all the time: blessed are they, blessed are they. Translated, happy are they. I kept thinking about how Jesus said this, “Blessed are the unoffended of me.” Happy are the unoffended of me? How, at that moment, John was anything but happy? If anything, he was leaning into pessimism. Some have even called it a dangerous place, and yet the Lord loved him and wanted him to know things were on course, but it was not an easy word. It required faith and it required trust.
There are times when we will waiver in our questions with the Lord. He’s going to challenge us to walk by faith and to see as Jesus was trying to get John to see. “John, I know you’re being confined and squeezed.” When that happens, you know what happens to us a lot of times? Our world shrinks. It would become myopic. What Jesus was saying is, “I need you to see things in their totality. All is as it should be. Do not allow yourself to be shaken. Stick with me. It is all as it should be.” John, one more thing. John misunderstood Jesus a little bit. I think that may have hurt Jesus as well to have John questioning him, just like we’re capable of hurting the Lord. The Lord has been so good, and then there are times when things go wrong. I’m not saying we do this all the time, but I’ve done it a few times, just starting to waver in my loyalty. Some of us may question God’s goodness. He can’t give us any more than He’s given. This life, it’s not the end of the story. It’s just the prelude. We’re all leaving someday. It’s just a matter of when.
How are we supposed to be while we’re here? Between now and then, between the first and the last day on the tombstone? How are we supposed to live? That’s what Jesus talked about. Two things: one, “Because of me, this is not the end.” That was one thing Jesus said. That’s what Easter is going to be about. No, death is not the end. It’s just the end of the first phase, and the beginning of life yet to be because of Christ. This is also something that shoots backward into our lives and reminds us how we are to live in this life. It’s the last piece I want to suggest because I love the way Jesus worked with John.
All-In faith invites us to leave stubbornness and offense in exchange for His joy. I’m talking about the way we get to live. One of my favorite portions of Psalms is Psalm 16. Psalm 16:11, where it says, “in your presence is fullness of joy, and that in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Your presence is full of joy.” May the Lord keep us from a childishness that only wants to play when it’s in charge. Jesus said, “Nothing moves you. Every appeal isn’t good enough.” I know the Lord can handle our weakness. I know that. I know He can handle our weaknesses and He can handle our honest doubts. But there was one thing He will not deal with, stubborn pride. The scripture says, “resists the proud.” It doesn’t matter how intelligent we are or powerful we are. If we are proud before God, He resists us. He gives grace to the humble. He gives grace to the humble. Remember, not childishness, child-likeness; not childishness, child-likeness; not being self-centered, but being open-hearted. Bring our cares to Him, like a child with trust safely does.
Here’s the thing, the last one. May He fill us with His joy, and remember that life with him is supposed to be like a wedding, full of joy. It’s full of joy. Someone said to me, “How could you say Jesus was a happy man?” Because He walked around all the time saying, “Blessed are you. Blessed are you. Blessed are you.” They didn’t say, “How can He give us a blessing? Look at him.” They never said that. All He did was bring healing and life.
Jesus says, “My ministry is like a wedding.” It wasn’t life-denying; it was life-affirming. He was saying, “Life with me is a joyful thing.” Yes, even in a dark place, it can be a joyful thing. We must choose to position ourselves this way. No room for offense. No room for negativity dominating us. Where is the pathway out of that? How do we get out of those places? How do we stay free in confinement? The joy of the Lord, right? The joy of the Lord. Let’s choose the pathway of joy. Following Jesus is like a wedding. It’s full of life, goodness.
Oh Lord, I thank you for Your way. I know Your way costs us something and I know that Your way, at times, has sacrifice in it. You went through that. John was going to suffer himself. He did, but Your way is the way of life. I ask that you would just fill us with your joy and fill us with your life, Lord. Don’t let us stay contained and defined by circumstances, but give us, by the power of your resurrected spirit, the power of the resurrected Jesus who lives inside of all those who will welcome Him in with sincerity and openness. That same power that allowed Jesus to rise from the dead, would surge and pulse within our spiritual veins as well. That we would allow the joy of the Lord to be our strength, not just words. Really, really help us Lord to stay creative, unoffended.
Let’s seek to be a blesser. Let’s break out of smallness and stay big, God. Let’s follow the example of Jesus and stay light on our feet, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. I pray for that blessing, Lord. Break every yoke of bondage. Break any stronghold of the evil one. Break any pattern of thinking, Lord, that would define us, whether it comes from our past or the experiences we’ve had that would seek to cause us to go back to a dark place. Places in which we find ourselves imprisoned again. No, your way is a way of life. You said you have come to give us life and to give that life overflowing and abundant. I pray that we will live in that promise, and we will rejoice in it in the days and weeks ahead. The joy of the Lord is our strength. May our joy be full. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen, God.