Up until now, Luke has shown us the ministry of Jesus in and around Galilee. This week will arrive at a turning point. Christ will allow his identity to sink in with his disciples and then turn toward Jerusalem.
After Jesus reassured the crowd that John the Baptist was pretty much the greatest man that ever lived, the tax collectors and various others present were satisfied. Not so much the Pharisees and lawyers, who rejected Jesus after rejecting John. Jesus went on to describe their response, or the lack of one.
31 To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 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.’
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’34 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!’35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.
Pastors and churches like to be relevant, and that is great – to a point. There is a temptation to let our thinking run wild in that direction. We may daydream, “Well, if we can only do this, and add this, talk like this, dress like this, and change the decor to this, then …”
The responses to John the Baptist and Jesus provide some much-needed counterweight to that tendency.
It would be hard to find two personalities or presentation styles that contrasted more starkly than Jesus and John. John was famous for wearing rough clothing, preaching in the wilderness and eating mainly bugs. Jesus was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. He never seemed to turn down a free dinner or an invitation to a party. Rather than hanging out strictly in the wilderness, he wandered all over the countryside and traveled by water. He was found in the towns and cities of Galilee, in the synagogues or on the seashore, and then in Jerusalem for the holidays.
The message of both these men, however, was more or less the same. It may have sounded different, or looked different, if one looked at the messenger. But they mainly agreed that repentance from sin was needed, and that good works were a corollary to faith. Jesus drew people to himself, which John did not, but then John also pointed people to Jesus.
In the end what they said differed little. The difference was in how they said it. So what was the difference in response? Well, there was none. The same people who followed John also went after Jesus. Those who rejected John rejected Christ.
Jesus compares his detractors to children in the marketplace that won’t join the game no matter what game is being played.
“Let’s dance!” one shouts, and begins playing a flute. No response.
“How about a nice dirge!” (OK, it’s a weird idea, but Jesus is just making a point.) No response in that case either.
For those of us who are attracted to making the message relevant, let this be a caution. Sometimes, if we are faithful to the message itself, how we say it won’t make any difference.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
One of the more remarkable things about this passage is that Jesus got baptized at all. If anyone had zero need for a baptism of repentance, it was Jesus. Matthew 3:15 adds the detail that Jesus said it was “to fulfill all righteousness,” but I confess I do not find it easy to say what that even means under the circumstances.
But I do see that many people were being baptized and they certainly saw that they needed a baptism of repentance, even if Jesus didn’t. At least some of Christ’s earliest disciples were first followers of John, who in turn saw himself as Christ’s forerunner. Finally, we also know from a later verse, Luke 7:30, that many Pharisees and lawyers did not receive the baptism of John.
Under the circumstances, we might at least see that Jesus did not want to be confused with self-satisfied Pharisees and lawyers. If there was to be any confusion, let it be that the sinless Son of God and Messiah went all the way in his identification with sinful humanity. A baptism of repentance? He submitted to it, just like so many of his followers. John, who was some kind of blood relative, saw Jesus outwardly and obviously supporting his ministry. Christ did everything he could to be “one of us.”
And isn’t that the great thing about him? God the Son emptied himself and he began his public ministry getting baptized by John.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
Luke is writing as a historian who wants Theophilus to have certainty concerning his faith. Many have heard of Christ indirectly or unclearly from a long distance. Luke is giving us a detailed historical account.
This is not a once upon a time fairy tale. It does not take place long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away. At the time Luke was writing, it was maybe thirty years from the death and resurrection of Jesus. He was using material he had researched and compiled for years before that. We are confronted with a story that takes place in known places involving people that could still report as eyewitnesses.
Given all of that, one interesting thing is that as we begin to read, there is no shortage of supernatural activity. The very first chapter of Luke records two supernatural births, of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ – who was in fact born of a virgin. These are amazing stories that deserve a careful retelling.
As we go through this Gospel together, let’s be open to the facts as Luke has received them. He is simply reporting what others have seen and heard. He is taking them at their word and we should likewise take Luke at his word.
This is a Gospel that gained respect and popularity from the earliest days of the church. If we want to be certain concerning the things we have been taught about Jesus, Luke’s Gospel is a great place to start.