• Tony Birkhead

RED LETTERS Week-6



Are you really the One?

INTRODUCTION

When eating out with other people, do you like to choose the restaurant, or would you rather someone else decide for you? What are some other choices you’d rather someone else make for you, so you don’t have to decide?

Would you say the decision to follow Jesus was made for you, or one you made on your own? Explain. Ultimately, is following Jesus a choice one person can make for another? Why not?


Has there ever been a time in your life when you questioned Jesus, wondering if He really was worth following? Share.


In our journey with Jesus, following Him isn’t always easy. We all face seasons of difficulty and doubt; in them, we must remember what God has done and continues to do in our lives and choose to trust and follow Him. As we study His Word and seek Him in prayer, Jesus will continue to provide reasons why we should follow Him, but He leaves the choice up to us. Like we’ll see in the story of John the Baptist, we must face our doubts head-on so that God might work in our hearts to strengthen our faith and deepen our joy in Him.

KEY SCRIPTURE

Luke 7:18-35

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he 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. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”24 When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,who will prepare your way before you.’28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) 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.”


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Read Luke 7:18-19.

For context, read Matthew 11:2; 14:1-5. When John asked the question in Luke 7:19, he was in prison. Why was John in prison?


Read Matthew 3:13-17 and John 3:25-30. How do you explain John’s question in Luke 7 in light of his earlier statements about Jesus? Why might prison have raised doubts for John about Jesus’ identity?


How might you expect Jesus to respond to John’s question?


While Jesus was ministering through miracles and teaching, John the Baptist was in prison for confronting Herod’s adultery (Matt. 14:1-5). While in prison, he was dependent on other people to relay Jesus’ actions to him, and the reports he received confused him as to whether or not Jesus really was the Messiah. Even though he previously expressed faith in Jesus as Messiah (Matt. 3:14; John 1:29-37; 3:22-30), John’s doubts here were likely the result of his prolonged imprisonment and his disappointment that a “baptism of fire” had not yet occurred (Matt. 3:11-12).


In your experience, have difficulties in life drawn you closer to God or caused you to doubt Him? Explain.


In the midst of His doubts about the kingdom, John did not turn away from Jesus, but toward Him. If left unchecked, the doubt in our hearts will cause us to look inward and isolate ourselves from the Lord and from community. Like John the Baptist, we must look to Christ for the strength to overcome the skepticism in our hearts, remembering that the God we serve is big enough to handle our doubts and strengthen our faith.


Read Luke 7:20-23.

How did Jesus respond to John’s doubts? What does that tell you about Him?


Jesus mentioned six things that characterized His earthly ministry in verse 22. How did these things give answer to John’s doubts? Of these six, which is the most powerful to you and why?


Why do you think Jesus did not perform a miracle and get John out of prison in this situation?


Jesus didn’t immediately answer John’s question with words; instead, He let John’s disciples see the evidence for themselves. Then, to drive home the point, Jesus referred to passages of Scripture that would have been familiar to John (Isaiah 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 61:1) to describe three types of action that typified what Jesus did—healing, raising the dead, and preaching good news. Jesus does the same for us when we come to Him seeking truth. He doesn’t scold us or make us feel ashamed for having doubts, but lovingly points us to the truth we seek in His Word, in prayer, and in experience. It is of note that Jesus did not quote all of Isaiah 61:1, which also includes the promise that the Messiah would proclaim liberty to the captives. In essence, Jesus was telling John, yes I am He, but that does not mean your immediate circumstances will change.


Jesus may not be what we expect in the circumstances of life—removing our difficulties and giving us what we want on earth. But in all things, He fulfills Scripture and continues to bring glory to God and people to Himself through salvation.


How might remembering what Christ has done help you fight the temptation to let your doubts define you?


Read Luke 7:24-35.

Why do you think Jesus turned the crowd’s attention to the subject of their expectations?


What unmet expectations sometimes keep people from turning in faith to Jesus?


In your own words, what was Jesus saying in verse 35?


Praise for John resulted in two opposing reactions. Jesus’ call was not to follow John. The purpose of John’s ministry was to point people to Jesus, and it was nearing its completion. To follow John correctly meant to leave John and follow Jesus. Following Jesus requires choice for each person then and now. Will we look past our expectations, circumstances, and doubts to the truth of who Jesus is and what He promises us? Will we respond to the reasons He gives to follow Him in faith and obedience?


MOVING FORWARD

  • What doubts do you currently need to acknowledge? Why is this such an important first step?

  • How might spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, and journaling help you take additional steps toward overcoming doubt? How might we encourage one another in this as a group?

  • What are some practical ways we can help one another deal honestly with our doubts? How might honest confession of doubts actually serve to point others further to Jesus rather than away from Him?

PRAY TOGETHER

Thank God that His call comes with love and reason. Thank Him that He allows us the choice to decide whether or not we will follow Him. Confess your difficulties and struggles to believe in Him, and invite Him to deal with your doubts so that you might follow Him more fully.

COMMENTARY

Luke 7:18-35

7:18-20. News about Jesus reached John in his prison cell (see 3:20). Even in prison John maintained loyal disciples who looked to him for spiritual leadership and kept him informed about the outside world. John sent two of these disciples to Jesus. Things had not worked out quite like John expected. Confusion about Jesus began to set in. Was this really the deliverer who came to harvest God’s crop and throw away the chaff (see 3:15-17)? Or should they look to someone else to fulfill the role of the Messiah that God had revealed to John? Faithfully, John’s disciples fulfilled their commission, finding Jesus and posing John’s question.

7:21. No immediate answer came from Jesus’ lips. Rather, he continued his ministry—healing, exorcising, and giving sight. Evidence of Messiah in action should be more compelling than personal testimony about himself.

7:22. Having acted, Jesus spoke. Picking up snippets of Scripture from Isaiah (26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 61:1), he described his ministry to John’s two disciples. Three types of action typify what Jesus did—healing, raising the dead, and preaching good news. Now we are ready for the rest of John’s story. How did he react? Did he accept Jesus’ testimony? How does one who looks for judgment of the chaff respond to one who cures and brings good news? Luke ignores our questions. He concentrates on Jesus.

7:23. Jesus solidified his case with a beatitude, a statement of blessing on people who act in a certain way (see 6:20-22; Matt. 5:3-11). This beatitude centers on response to Jesus. He called for people not to fall away from God because of how Jesus acts. Do not let their expectations of Messiah lead them to miss God’s true Messiah. He may not be what they expected and wanted— a general to lead armies against Rome, a king to rule in a new state of Israel, an end-time prophet to bring final judgment on the world and inaugurate the kingdom of God. Still, he fulfills Scripture and continues God’s purpose from creation onwards, to bring good news to all people in need. Are Jesus’ actions and teachings enough to convince us he is the Messiah of God? Will we look for another?

7:24-26. John asked about Jesus. The crowds were asking about John. So Jesus told them about John. He was the one they had flocked to the Judean wilderness beside the Jordan River to see and hear. Did he meet their expectations? He was not a weakling, like a reed blowing in the wind. You do not go all the way to the wilderness just to see a reed. He was not a fashionable preacher, showing off his new clothes as much as his new message. You would have to go to the royal palace for such a display. You flocked to the desert to see a prophet. Your hopes were not disappointed. You saw a prophet and much more.

7:27. What is John’s “much more”? He fulfilled Scripture about the coming of the Messiah. A combination of Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1 proves this (cf. Mark 1:2). John was God’s messenger, who prepared the way for the Messiah. No wonder people flocked to see him. The question was: Did they walk in the way he prepared (see 3:9-14)? Did they repent and change their lifestyles? Did they give to others rather than greedily hoard for themselves? They had seen John. Had they heard John?

7:28. Jesus had even more to say about the prophet John. He was the greatest person ever born in the normal human way. Name your religious heroes: Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah. None matched John’s stature, for John faithfully prepared the last step before Messiah came. His rank among God’s heroes of faith came through his role—the task to which he was called—not by his person or his human achievements. God gave him the most honored of callings—to introduce Messiah to the world. And John completed the task as God expected.

John’s period of greatness had come to a halt. His role was complete. The One bringing the kingdom was here. Following John was preparing for the kingdom. Following Jesus is participating in the kingdom. Where does that leave John? In prison awaiting his final sentence. Outside present participation in the kingdom, asking questions about it. Any person who followed Jesus and thus entered the kingdom played a more significant role now than did John. They were greater kingdom members. This is not to say John stood outside the eternal kingdom, condemned with those who rejected Jesus. It simply means John was not a participant in Jesus’ kingdom ministry. Rather, his ministry had succeeded wonderfully but is now past.

The present call is not to follow John. To follow John correctly is to leave John in prison and follow Jesus. Following Jesus requires the radical choice. Leave all that was dear in the past behind. Come now, and follow the Christ.

7:29-30. Praise for John divided the people. The common people had flocked to John to be baptized and wait for the Messiah. The religious leaders had ignored John and certainly had not submitted to his baptism in that dirty river. Luke tells us the ultimate meaning of these opposing responses. The people had literally “justified God,” that is they had seen God’s ways in John’s ministry and had agreed that what God was doing was right. They saw John as the continuation of God’s ways of redemption begun in creation and started in new directions through Abraham and David. John introduced still another milestone in God’s path of redemption. Even the despised tax collectors saw this.

Not the religious leaders. Experts in God’s law and God’s word, these teachers of the nation missed out on God’s purposes. They missed the big picture because they were busy finding out how to live and how to insure others knew the precise meaning of every jot and tittle of the law. They did not see God at work in their world. They rejected God, the greatest of God’s religious heroes. They fought and eventually crucified God’s Messiah. Experts in fine points, they missed the major point and thus faced eternal punishment. How many people are so busy becoming experts in religion and teachers of God’s Word that they do not find a personal saving relationship with God and they do not discover where he is at work in his world?

7:31-34. Parables and comparisons provided the central content of Jesus’ teaching style. He tried to bring every teaching down to an everyday level that people could understand. He wanted to be sure the religious leaders did not miss his point. They were spoiled kids playing a game. One group of kids gave signals for another group to act out the appropriate response. They played the flute for the wedding dance, but the second group did not dance. They sang a funeral song, but the others refused to cry. No matter which way the game turned—celebration or mourning—the children sat idly by, refusing to participate.

The Pharisees saw the rigid Nazirite lifestyle of John and said it came from demons. Jesus came joining in all the celebrations, and they labeled him a glutton and a drunkard who ran with the wrong crowd. Tax collectors, of course, represented the Roman government in taking away the resources of the people of Israel. “Sinners” represented those Israelites who ignored the Pharisees and scribes and lived life apart from their rigid interpretation of the law. John prepared the way through repentance, so the people would be ready to stand in the presence of the holy Messiah. Jesus brought the kingdom of God, and this was reason for constant celebration. The Pharisees did not see God working in either case and so rejected both. They would not prepare for or participate in God’s kingdom. They were too busy being religious.

7:35. Often Jesus and the biblical writers end a section with a proverbial statement. Religious leaders may miss the point and reject what God is up to. Some, however, will catch on. They will be guided by God’s wisdom (cf. Prov 1:20-23; 8:1-9:6). Thus, they will be children of wisdom. They will accept the evidence of John and Jesus. They will see in them God’s path of redemption. They will repent with John and celebrate with Jesus. Thus, God’s work is justified because it produces followers (note that the Greek uses the same verb in vv. 29 and 35).

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