Jesus often taught off the cuff as people asked questions or made comments. We get several examples of that here in Luke 11. Some of them may be familiar to us.
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.
Jesus and his disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee.
14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
Matthew 16:12 provides an explanation that Mark neglects.
Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
(By the way, there was a lot of overlap in the views of Herod or the Herodians as some manuscripts have it, and the Sadducees. Rather than conflicting, these passages help explain one another.)
Jesus’s point is that the teaching of these groups was riddled with error, a problem that is common enough today. Let’s ask for help in the face of that:
Both the world and the church are filled with false teaching. This is nothing new. In the past there were many false prophets. The church has continuously dealt with false teaching. Then there are the views of the surrounding culture, which are very popular and very hard for us not to absorb.
Help us to keep our belief and doctrine pure. Help us to not go astray as we seek to follow you. Help us not to buy into the teaching of “another Jesus” as Paul so accurately puts it. We want to keep ourselves from idols as John warns.
We need your Holy Spirit to teach us as we seek to learn from you. As we open the Scriptures with a desire to obey, we need you to open the eyes of our understanding. Help us not to seek teaching that scratches our itching ears. Help us to desire the purest of spiritual milk. Help us to long for the truth and keep us safe from the lies of the devil.
Finally, help us to be faithful when we know full well that we are often lacking in faith.