The Promised One

March 15, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Breeding Series: The Gospel according to Luke

Passage: Luke 7:18–35

The Promised One

The pressing question that drives our passage today is the same question that drives all of the New Testament Gospels – Who is Jesus? Every Gospel writer – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – answers this question on some level – Who is Jesus? But our passage is unique in that the question is asked out in the open. John the Baptist, of all people, puts the issue directly before Jesus – “Are you the Messiah, or should we look for another?” There’s no subtly here. What all the Gospel writers ask in the background, John the Baptist brings out in the open – Who, exactly, is Jesus?

But what’s most striking about John’s question is not that he asked it, but rather why he asked it. You may remember that John the Baptist is in prison at this point, and that little detail is key for understanding the text. It’s not an intellectual argument that has somehow turned John the Baptist into a skeptic. And it’s not a new piece of evidence that has created doubt about Jesus. No, what leads John the Baptist to ask this question is the difficulty of his present circumstances. 

It’s not hard to imagine, is it? As John languishes there in Herod’s dungeon, we can understand that he would begin to wonder – “If Jesus is the Messiah, then why am I in this prison? Why is someone like wicked Herod still in power, while someone like me, who serves God, suffering this hardship?” The reality of life in a fallen world has brought John to what is surely the most important question a person can ever ask – “Who is Jesus, and how do I understand my life in connection with him?”

This is where our passage becomes very instructive for us today. In a sense, every Christian can relate to John the Baptist. Each one of us understands what it is like to look at our lives and ask, “If Jesus is the Christ, then why is there so much hardship? If the gospel is true, then why am I stuck in this lousy situation?” Have you ever asked that kind of question? I know I have. “Why do the wicked seem to keep going up, while God’s people keep getting stepped on?” And that means, brothers and sisters, there is much we can take away from this episode with John the Baptist. The question John asks is, in one sense, the question that all of us have asked or will ask at some point. “Who is Jesus, and how do I understand my life in view of who he is?” That is the burden here in Luke 7.

Now, in terms of structure, this passage has three parts, and each part gives us insight into who Jesus is. Vv18-23 describe John’s question and Jesus’ answer. Vv24-28 focus on greatness in the kingdom of God. And then vv29-35 are an exhortation to respond rightly to Jesus. From those three sections, I’d like us to note three truths that I pray will help us find greater confidence in who Jesus is and how we are to understand our lives in view of him.


The Word of God Assures Us that Jesus is the Savior

Let’s begin in vv18-23 with our first truth – the Word of God Assures Us that Jesus is the Savior. We’ve already noted the setting for this passage. John is in prison, but he’s still heard the reports about Jesus, v18. And so, John begins to wonder – “Is Jesus the One to come?”

Now, we have to understand that John’s question makes sense if we consider his context. In the Judaism of John’s day, the Messiah was expected to bring salvation and judgment simultaneously. When the Messiah arrived, it was expected that he would immediately overthrow the wicked and then quickly establish God’s kingdom on earth. That was the expectation of John’s day.

And that appears to be John’s expectation as well. If Jesus is the Messiah, then why is Herod still in power? And for that matter, why are the Romans still around? Shouldn’t there be a revolution – an immediate upheaval followed by God’s kingdom on earth? That helps explain John’s question. It’s not that John is an unbeliever or that he lacks faith. That’s not it all. John is misguided, which means he needs further insight from Jesus.

And in fact, that is precisely where John goes. This is easy to overlook, but it should get our attention. When confronted with doubt, where does John go? v19 – he goes to Jesus with his questions. Do you see that? John doesn’t stew in his cell, just going over and over his doubts and getting deeper in his lack of understanding. No, John goes to the Source. He sends word to Jesus himself.

Brothers and sisters, this may seem a small thing, but it’s actually very important for the Christian life. At times, every believer experiences some level of doubt. If John had doubts, then so will we, right? Those moments will come. But what we need to see here is that the right response to those doubts is to humbly take them to Jesus. We take them to the Lord in prayer. We take them to his Word, and we seek his clarity. Listen, the Lord Jesus is not afraid of our doubts and questions. There is nothing that plagues our confidence that can ever confound or confuse the Lord. 

Let this be an encouragement to you, brothers and sisters. The Lord Jesus welcomes you, even in seasons of doubt, and there is always a place in Christ’s kingdom for the Christian who says, “I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

John’s messengers come to Jesus, v20, and beginning in v21, Jesus gives us the answer John is looking for. You’ll notice there are actually two parts to Jesus’ answer – what the men see, v21, and then what they hear, v22. Look at those two parts with me.

First of all, v21, what the men see are Jesus’ mighty deeds. V21 is an incredible summary of what is happening in Jesus’ ministry – “In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.” Now, as we noted last week, these kinds of miracles are signs that sin’s curse is being overcome through Jesus. Disease and death are both products of the Fall, so as Jesus performs these healings, it is a sign that sin’s tyranny is coming to an end, and it’s coming to an end in Jesus.

But then notice also what the men hear, v22. Jesus tells them what they should say to John. Listen again – “And [Jesus] answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” Now, what is Jesus doing here? Is he just repeating what John already knows? No, not at all. Instead, Jesus is giving John precisely what he needs. Jesus gives John confirmation from God’s Word. Understand that everything Jesus mentions in v22 was predicted hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Isaiah. Over and over, Isaiah said that when the Messiah came, the blind would receive sight, the lame would walk, and the deaf would hear. And Jesus’ ministry matches Isaiah’s prediction.

In fact, Isaiah 61, in particular, mentioned that the Messiah would bring good news to the poor. How does Jesus describe his ministry, last line v22? As the proclamation of good news to the poor! Do you hear the correspondence? What Isaiah predicted, Jesus fulfills. What the Messiah would do, Jesus is doing.

And that is the answer to John’s doubt. Don’t miss the Savior’s wisdom at this point. Jesus knows that at the end of the day, the one thing that can assure John and strengthen his faith is God’s Word. And brothers and sisters, that is the takeaway for us as Christians today. Our assurance flows from the rock-solid reality of God’s Word. Our certainty is grounded in Scripture. Our confidence rests on what God has said and revealed to be true in Christ. When the hardships of life begin to shake our confidence, that is the moment when we most need the Word of God.

You know, I mentioned a few weeks ago about the rise of so-called de-conversions among professing Christians. Some of you may remember – how there is this increasing number of people who are turning away from their former professions of faith. I heard another example just recently – this time, two prominent Christian podcasters. I listened to a little bit of their story, where they describe how they’ve de-converted. And do you where their story begins? With questioning the authority, the reliability, and the goodness of God’s Word. They read a bunch of books that undermined the Bible, and over time, their confidence collapsed.

That’s a very telling example, I think. Most of the time, doubt and uncertainty get out of control because we fail to take those things to the Scriptures. Instead of carefully comparing things with God’s Word, we slowly begin to move away from the Word, and eventually, the doubt erodes our faith.

And so, I tell that story simply to illustrate what Jesus is teaching us here. The answer to doubt and uncertainty is always to go deeper in Scripture. The answer is always to see how God’s Word confirms its own truthfulness, how Scripture explains Scripture, and especially how every part of the Bible works together to demonstrate the reality that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

I don’t know where you are this morning. You may be someone who struggles with whether or not we can actually trust God. Or you may be going through a season, like John the Baptist, where the hardships of life are assaulting your faith. In either case, the certainty you are seeking is found nowhere else than in God’s Word. Don’t give the evil one any room to undermine God’s Word. He’s been doing that since the beginning, you remember? His first strategy was to whisper, “Did God really say?” and he’s been honing that strategy ever since. Don’t give him any room. Hold fast to the Scriptures. You’ll find assurance in the Word of God.

And listen, that doesn’t mean you have to live with your head in the sand and ignore anything not in the Bible. That’s not my point at all. As Christians, we should use discernment while seeking to be well informed on other ides, other worldviews, other claims to truth. God is not afraid of those rival claims, so we don’t bury our heads in the sand. But, at the end of the day, we always bring things back to the straight edge of the Bible, and we trust that God’s Word will not lead us astray, but will instead give us assurance.


The Kingdom of God Reveals to Us the Greatness of Knowing Christ

That is the first truth from this passage – the Word of God assures us of the truth about Jesus. Let’s look now at the second truth – the Kingdom of God reveals to us the greatness of knowing Christ. Having answered the question of his own identity, Jesus now speaks to the crowd about John’s identity. And Jesus begins by reminding the crowd of what John is not. Notice vv24-25. John is not a man who is soft in his convictions or his clothing! That’s not who the crowd went into the wilderness to see. If they wanted to listen to a people-pleaser or a prosperity preacher, they could have stayed in Jerusalem. John is not that kind of man.

Then in v26, Jesus gets to the heart of John’s identity. Notice again what the Lord says – “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” Jesus affirms the popular view of John the Baptist – that he is a prophet. But then Jesus goes farther. He tells the crowd that John is not merely a prophet, but rather the prophet – the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. John’s roots stretch back to the OT. That’s Jesus’ point. John is the forerunner, the one promised in Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3. He’s not just a prophet, but the prophet, Jesus says.

But then, Jesus shifts gears. He moves from extolling John the Baptist to contrasting him with the kingdom of God. Notice what Jesus says, v28 – “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom is greater than he.” Now, what is Jesus’ point here? It’s kind of an enigmatic statement, isn’t it? On the one hand, John is great – the greatest, in fact, of all who came before. But on the other hand, John is the least. The greatest and the least – what is Jesus getting at?

It helps to think of a bridge, and this bridge spans the two riverbanks of redemptive history, you might say. On the one side, there is the time of promise – what we call the old covenant era. This was the time of God’s Law through Moses. It was the time of prophetic promises of the Messiah’s coming. But on the other side, there is the time of fulfillment – what we call the new covenant era. This is the time of God’s kingdom, the time of the gospel’s good news.

And Jesus’ point here in v28 is that John’s ministry is like that bridge. John’s ministry stands between the two eras. He is the greatest prophet of the old covenant because he preceded the Messiah. But at the same time, John is not yet part of that new covenant fulfillment. John’s ministry is not taking place in the time of the gospel’s consummation. Remember that John will not see the resurrection of Christ. John will not see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If you divide redemptive history into two periods – promise and fulfillment – then John clearly belongs to the former. He is a transitional figure that God uses to bridge one era with the next.

And that is actually where the takeaway comes for us. Jesus’ point here is not so much about John the Baptist as it is about the kingdom of God. What the Lord wants us to understand is that while John the Baptist is great, those who belong to Christ’s kingdom have tasted something better. To know Christ through the gospel is the greatest spiritual blessing you can receive. It is the greatest spiritual reality you can know.

You’ll sometimes hear people say, “Why don’t we get to see amazing things today like what God did in the OT? If we could only see something like the Red Sea crossing, then we’d really be blessed. If only we had insight like Isaiah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist, then we could really know and follow God.” But that mindset misses the greatness of God’s kingdom. Jesus is saying that Moses would envy us! John the Baptist would want our position.

Listen, we can never say this enough. The greatest truth God has ever revealed on earth is the incarnation of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest act God has ever accomplished is the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. There is nothing greater than that.

And that means, brothers and sisters, that God the Father is not withholding anything good from us. Think about how powerful that is when the hardships roll in. We could lose every earthly thing we have, and still, we would have the Father’s best. The gospel truth we have in Christ is a shield against ever doubting the Father’s love. It’s a guard against ever thinking we need something more than Christ.

John the Baptist was great, the greatest of the old era. But those who know Christ have tasted something better. That’s the second truth here in Luke 7. The kingdom of God reveals to us the greatness – and therefore, the satisfaction – of knowing Christ.


The Wisdom of God Calls Us to Faith in Jesus Christ

Let’s look at the third and final truth, from vv29-35 – the Wisdom of God calls us to faith in Jesus Christ. Luke records a parenthetical comment in vv29-30, and it captures the differing responses to John’s ministry. V29 – those who followed John’s ministry affirm Jesus’ view of John. They affirm that John was God’s messenger, and in saying that, the crowd justifies God, Jesus says. That means they agree that John’s message lined up with God’s truth. What Jesus says about John is true, and what John said about God is just and righteous. It fits with God’s character. That’s the positive response, v29.

But v30 is entirely different. The Pharisees and the lawyers rejected John’s ministry, and in doing so, they rejected the purpose of God. Now, what does that mean? It means that the Pharisees and lawyers rejected what God revealed in and through John the Baptist. Clearly, Jesus says, God revealed his way of righteousness in John’s ministry, so the religious leaders should have listened to John! But instead, the religious leaders rejected that purpose. They refused to submit to God’s way. That’s the negative response, v30.

Now, that positive-negative contrast sets up the end of the passage. Beginning in v31, Jesus tells a parable, and he uses this parable as a way of calling people to respond. Notice the parable in vv31-32. It’s a picture of complaining children who insist on getting their own way. V31 – “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

When you were a child, did you ever have a friend who would only play the games that he got to pick? And he would only play if he got to make the rules? And those rules could change at a whim? Did you ever have a friend like that? Maybe you were that friend! I may have been that way. Please don’t ask my sister.

You probably knew someone like that. And the problem with that friend is that he had to be in charge. He had to get his way. And that’s the point of Jesus’ parable. The Jewish religious leaders are like that complaining kid in the neighborhood who has to get his way. They aren’t interested in the truth – they’re just interested in maintaining their own position and making everybody submit to them.

And Jesus makes this very clear in vv33-34. Notice how he applies the parable to the response he and John have received, v33 – “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” You can hear the echoes of Jesus’ parable, can’t you? You can hear the fickle, selfish attitude. The Pharisees rejected John because he was too strict – weird diet, strange clothes, living in the wilderness. I mean, you can almost imagine them saying to John, “Why do you have to be so radical, John? Why preach with such a hard edge, telling everyone to repent?”

But then Jesus comes, and the Pharisees change the rules of the game. Instead of playing the flute, they sing a dirge. They say to Jesus, “You’re too lax! Look at you – hanging out with these unclean sinners! Why don’t you preach with more of an edge, you know, telling those sinners to repent?” The parable indicts the religious leaders. They’re not interested in the truth. No, it’s just the opposite. They reject John and Jesus because they care about getting their own way, protecting their own power.

Now, we could camp out on this point and identify all the ways the Pharisees are being childish. But Jesus won’t allow us to do that. As he always does, he turns this moment into a call for all of us to respond. This is so key. Jesus is not merely correcting the religious leaders. He’s calling everyone everywhere to respond to him. Notice v35 – “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Wisdom’s children are those who respond rightly to Jesus. v35 connects back to v29. Jesus is highlighting the wisdom of those who see God’s purpose and respond with repentance and faith.

And so, Jesus is urging us to respond to his message. Don’t be like the childish religious leaders who insist on their own way. Don’t be like those whose pride keeps them from the truth. Instead, humble yourself, Jesus says. Recognize the testimony of God’s Word – how it reveals Jesus as the Christ. Recognize that God’s kingdom comes to the humble, to the lowly in spirit who trust only in Christ. And then recognize that being a citizen of that kingdom is greater than anything this world can offer.

This is an urgent call. Jesus is urging you today to respond to the wisdom of God. If you are not a Christian, this is God’s purpose that he has revealed for sinners like us. We cannot save ourselves. We must humble ourselves, confess our sin, and trust that Christ alone is able to save us. And so, it is not an overstatement to say, very directly, that v35 is God’s call to you this morning. If you do not know Christ, today is the day to hear his Word and respond to Jesus Christ. Trust him, friend, and find that God’s wisdom leads you to know life and joy everlasting.

As you respond to that call, I want to remind all of us of how warmly Jesus Christ welcomes those who need salvation. We’ll close with this because it’s the best news sinners like us can ever hear. Notice who Jesus associates with in v34. He befriends the tax collectors and sinners. Understand, those are the lowest of the low. Those are the kinds of people you cross to the other side of the street to avoid. Those are the sort of people you would never dream of having in your home. And yet, that’s precisely the kind of people Jesus came to save. Those are the people Jesus called his friends.

Brothers and sisters, that’s you and me in v34. That’s our hope – that Jesus befriends the lowest of the low. He doesn’t leave us to suffer the consequences of sin. He doesn’t despise us or look down on us. No, when we were at our worst – hating God and hating others – when we were at our worst, the Lord Jesus befriended us. He came to dwell among us, he obeyed God where we would not, he took our sins upon himself at the cross, he bore them to the grave, and then with the kind of love only Christ can display, his blood cleansed us of those sins, as far as the east is from the west.

What a friend we have in Jesus! Trust him, brothers and sisters. Luke 7 is about Jesus’ identity, and this passage, in particular, tells us that Jesus is the friend of sinners. Praise God. Won’t you come to him today, in whatever way God is calling you, and won’t you find that Christ’s love for his people will sustain you, whatever hardship you face? What a friend we have in Jesus! Amen.

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