I’ve been watching some old cowboy television programs. This week in one of the Laramie episodes, Slim happened up on a woman who had fallen over a bluff and was severely hurt. While he was trying to help her, two outlaws tried to shoot him. The woman had tried to run away from them and had fallen over the bluff. But Slim was able to get the upper hand and while holding the men at gunpoint was having them to move her to a more comfortable position. But then the woman’s father and some of his men came up behind Slim and took his gun.
And they assumed he was also one of the bad guys. He was judged guilty by association, even though he was really a good guy. Of course, in television world the good guy finally was able to win.
Have you ever heard it said, “You are known by the company you keep”? Maybe it was your Mom or Dad warning you to be careful with whom you choose to spend time. After all, peer pressure has caused many to do things that they otherwise would not have done. And even if you aren’t doing what the others are doing, to those looking on, your association brings your behavior into question!
But then we hear Jesus saying that because he socialized with tax-collectors and sinners he was being accused of being a glutton and drunkard! How does that fit into our understanding of who Jesus is?
Last week we focused on the “Too good to be true” amazement at the greatness of God. This week let’s explore the actions of Jesus that flew in the face of the socially accepted norm of his day. But first, let’s examine this scripture and see what was going on that led up to Jesus saying He was being called a glutton and drunkard.
I. THE OCCASION FOR THIS PASSAGE HAS TO DO WITH JOHN THE BAPTIST.
a. John the Baptist heard of the miracles Jesus was performing. And even though he was related to Jesus and had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River as Jesus was just beginning his public ministry, John was still human. And humans are inclined to second-guess themselves and even to doubt the obvious. John believed Jesus was the long-expected Messiah, but he wanted to confirm the truth of what he believed. He was being held in Herod’s prison cell and things were not looking so great for his earthly future. In this state of mind I’m sure he was wondering if he had fulfilled his calling of preparing the Way for the Messiah. If not, perhaps there was hope for his release so that he could continue his ministry. So, he sent two of his disciples to where Jesus was in order to ask him. And instead of saying “Yes,” or “No,” Jesus performed several miracles, cast out some demons, healed the lame and blind, and then told the disciples to tell John what they had seen him do. William Barclay has an interesting paragraph about this. He writes, “Note the proof Jesus offered. He pointed at the facts. The sick and the suffering and the humble poor were experiencing the power and hearing the word of the Good News. Here is a point which is seldom realized—this is not the answer John expected. If Jesus was God’s anointed One, John would have expected Jesus to say, ‘My armies are massing. Caesarea, the headquarters of the Roman government, is about to fall. The sinners are being obliterated. And judgment has begun.’ John would have expected Jesus to say, ‘The wrath of God is on the march.’ Jesus said, ‘The mercy of God is here.’ Let us remember that where pain is soothed and sorrow turned to joy, where sorrow and suffering and death are vanquished, there is the Kingdom of God. Jesus answer was, ‘Go back and tell John that the love of God is here.’”
b. But what about us? What about you and me? What do we expect when we go looking for Jesus? Are we looking for someone to fulfill our every desire? Do we expect a Savior who will take away all the stresses of life? Do we expect Him to remove us from the battlefields of life and make our lives easy and carefree? If that is what we expect of Jesus, then we will soon be disillusioned! Jesus did not say he would spare us from hardship and struggles, but he did promise that he would go with us through those times. He did not say he would keep us from the trials of life, but he did say, “My Grace is Sufficient for you.” He did not say, He would keep you from trouble, but He did say, “Be of good cheer for I have overcome the World!”
c. So, John’s disciples carried their report to John. And the evidence was enough to reassure John that he was not mistaken. Only God’s Anointed One could do the things that Jesus was doing!
II. AFTER SENDING JOHN’S DISCIPLES AWAY, JESUS PAID TRIBUTE TO JOHN.
a. In Verse 24-28, He asked the crowd what they had expected to see when they went looking for John the Baptist. Then he paid this tribute: “I tell you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Verse 28).
b. Isn’t that just like Jesus? Here he had just sent word to John that he did not have to doubt about his identity as the Messiah. And instead of rebuking John for his doubts, he gave him praise for being the man of God that he was. I’ve have heard it said that it is wrong to ask God “Why”. The reasoning behind this is the belief that it is wrong to question God because such questioning reveals our doubts about God. But I believe that God honors our questions when they come from a sincere heart. “Why” does not mean I am accusing God of doing wrong or being unwise—that would be sin. But “Why” because I truly believe in the integrity of God and I simply would like to better understand—I believe God honors that kind of question. John the Baptist didn’t disbelieve in Jesus. He just needed reassurance that he wasn’t mistaken.
c. But what did Jesus mean when he said, “The one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”? I believe that Jesus was saying that, in the human arena where there are kings and powerful individuals, none are equal to a man who is truly doing God’s Will. But the one who is born of God, who has the blinders of this world removed and is grounded in God’s spiritual realm is greater than any person in the human arena!
But the transition in Jesus’ discourse comes in verses 29 and 30—(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.
III. THE REJECTION EVEN WITH THE CONTRAST BETWEEN JOHN AND JESUS
a. Jesus compared the unbelieving Pharisees and Scribes to little children who refuse to play any game that was offered. Have you ever seen a child who was sulking about something and would not get over it no matter what you offered them? Jesus in essence was calling these unbelievers a bunch of “Cry babies!”
b. He pointed out that John the Baptist, a man who lived in the wilderness had been sent to them. To our knowledge John was not known for being a very sociable person. He confronted people with their sins and demanded change. He was in prison for telling the king that he was a sinner because he was committing adultery by marrying his brother’s wife. Instead of enjoying the luxurious clothes and the fancy foods of high society, he dressed in camel’s skins and ate locust and wild honey. And even though the common people had believed John to be a prophet of God, these Pharisees and Scribes had refused to believe in him. They went so far as to accuse him of being demon possessed.
c. And then there was Jesus. He came from the common people but he was much more sociable than John had been. Instead of camel skins, Jesus wore a seamless robe of high quality. Instead of locust and wild honey, Jesus went to banquets and ate with people who were often not considered nice. In a lot of ways, Jesus was just the opposite of John. But instead of accepting John’s opposite in Jesus, these unbelievers accused Jesus of being a glutton and a drunkard.
d. The point I believe Jesus was making here is this: When you choose to reject the truth, you are going to find a reason to disregard any truth that is sent your way.
But let’s think about the accusations that Jesus said had been made against him. Because he had deliberately associated with those the religious establishment had labeled as “sinners”, they believed that he was guilty by association with them. These religious leaders, instead of wanting to save those so-called sinners, had chosen to believe that those sinners were not worthy of salvation and no one should even go near them. But then they learned that Jesus was eating them. I can just hear them in their little religious huddle, and someone saying, “HE DID WHAT?” And remember when that woman who had been hemorrhaging for so many years and was considered by the religious community of being “Unclean” and condemned to isolation touched Jesus, He, instead of condemning her, chose to heal her. Can you see those raised eyebrows and shocked expressions as they exclaimed, “HE DID WHAT?” And remember the 10 men who had leprosy who, instead of following proper standards and crying out “Unclean,” Jesus chose instead to heal them. And the report reached the ears of the Pharisees and Scribes and they must have thought, “HE DID WHAT?” And remember when Jesus was at the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath and he healed a man with a withered hand. He healed the man on the Sabbath and I’m sure the shocked rabbis exclaimed among themselves, “HE DID WHAT?”
e. What do you think Jesus would do today that would shock our sensitivities? Dr. Warrick told about a man that he knew that felt called of God to go to the bars. He would go sit at a table and drink cokes and just talk to the people who happened to strike up a conversation. He wouldn’t force the conversation, but after the regulars got used to him being there, some of them began to open up to him and tell him about their own lives and problems. And he would often get the chance to tell them about a group of people who loved one another and who would accept people regardless of their backgrounds—a people who attended a church in the area. This went on for several weeks until the owner of the bar noticed that some of the regulars were not so regular anymore and he realized this man was hurting his business. So he asked the man to please leave. Dr. Warrick pointed out that there were many in the man’s church who were critical of him for going to the bar. I wonder if Jesus would have gone to that bar. And I understand there are some ministries that are reaching out to those in the Adult only strip clubs and other places of ill-repute. Instead of condemning women who are selling themselves as being immoral and sinful, they are reaching out to them to help them leave the sex trade industry and find a better life. I wonder what Jesus thinks of that? O yeah—He tipped his hand on that when he forgave the woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery and brought to him. “Neither do I condemn you—go and sin no more!” HE DID WHAT?
f. I’ve known some people who have done some outrageous things in their attempts to share the love of God. They have taken homeless people into their homes for a few nights, paid for motel rooms for some who were out in the cold, bought groceries for those who were without food, dipped into their savings to help a family in need, given up vacation time in order to go on Work & Witness trips to help people in other countries who had need…You can add to the least. And just like those unbelieving Pharisees and Experts of the Law (Scribes) there are those who shake their heads and say in disbelief, “THEY DID WHAT?”
In this world of ours, where drugs and alcohol, pornography, homosexuality, and all kinds of things are happening, it is easy for those of us who call ourselves Christian to want to pull our holy robes around us and get into a holy huddle with others of like minds and refuse to care about anything except protecting ourselves, I wonder how we could shock those with that self-righteous attitude and cause them to say of us, “HE DID WHAT?” I want to be guilty of following Jesus’ example of extending love to the unlovable, healing to the wounded and hurting, and helping the helpless—even if it means doing things that move me out of my comfortable place of safety and ease.