Sometimes it’s not in *how you say it* – Luke 7:31-35

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.

The wrong crowd – Mark 2:13-17

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus is still eating with sinners.  The church is full of them.  On any given Sunday, in the midst of any given Christian congregation, you will find them.  Jesus is comfortable there and intends to make these people his friends.

One reason I say this has to do with our perception of hypocrisy.  The true hypocrites in this story were the scribes of the Pharisees who thought eating with certain people was beneath them. Who were they to feel so self-righteous?  In reality they needed Jesus too.

The church that we see is often a lot like the crowd here at Levi’s banquet.  Jesus is surely present and so are his disciples.  The disciples, as we know from the Gospels and Acts, were themselves in a state of continuous spiritual growth.  They were imperfect on their very best days.  And then there are those who are generic followers.  They may not even be believers just yet.  Or maybe they are very new to the faith and each day brings them a major lesson.  Or they may just be friends of Levi who came to the banquet, who just heard of Jesus that day, and have no desire to repent of anything at this time.

Let’s expect a lot of ourselves as far as holiness and spiritual growth.  Let’s also be gracious with others.  You’re going to find yourself sitting next to some sinner, tax collector or present day equivalent next time you attend any church gathering.  This isn’t the wrong crowd, but the right one, if you are looking for Jesus.

The benefit of a little guilt – Matthew 21:28-32

After entering Jerusalem, Jesus told a parable about two sons.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

Jesus was speaking here to the chief priests and elders of the people who had just questioned his authority (v.23).  He explained this parable without any request to do so, making sure that his audience knew exactly what he was saying by it.

The lesson has to do with doing God’s will in the end, as a final outcome.  Many people express good intentions.  The chief priests and elders would have been perceived as just the kind of people who were known for doing God’s will.  If that were the case, they should have been the first in line expressing their repentance and receiving the baptism of John. 

When we understand the nature of sin, we realize that we are all in need of repentance.  That sense of guilt would be even more pronounced when coming face-to-face with the likes of John the Baptist.  Yet these guys are so numb that they even question the authority of Christ.  Their relationship with God was little more than a nice show, having no humility or sense of need.

On the other hand, tax collectors like Matthew our author and prostitutes saw their sin.  Like the first son in the parable, they did not do the will of the Father from the beginning, but later changed their mind.  They repented at John’s preaching and followed Jesus with transformed lives.  In a culture obsessed as ours is with not making anyone feel bad, let’s take note that as far as Jesus is concerned a little guilt can be a good thing.  There is no repentance without it.

 

Matthew 9 Verse by Verse

Matt photoChrist’s public ministry moves forward with even more miracles.  He ends with a prayer request for us, to pray for laborers that will help with the spiritual harvest.

Matthew 09.pdf

Matthew 09.mp3