Jesus and John the Baptist (Luke 7:18-35)

“The proof is in the pudding” is a phrase that has actually been around for centuries. It of course means that you can’t know the genuine nature as to how good something is until you experience the results. 

We are a very pragmatic generation; we like to see things that work, and we tend to reject things that do not. But this is not actually new.

John the Baptist had done God’s will and accomplished the work set out for him. He had been faithful in his preaching ministry, and though quite the eccentric, he had seen incredible results. But after what was a relatively short time, he finds himself in prison with things looking bleak for his future. Having been confident that Jesus was the Messiah King, John had pointed to him … but there was no kingdom. He was hearing about the growing fame of Christ, but where’s the kingdom?

Luke 7:18 – John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Jesus says there is proof in the pudding. The prophetic word about the coming Messiah was being fulfilled as in the words of Isaiah 61:1,2.  No, the kingdom had not yet been established, but the king was clearly upon the scene.

We don’t know exactly what John thought about the response, though I believe his faith was likely affirmed by the words and the news. And Jesus speaks more to his own followers about John…

24 After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ [Malachi 3:1]

28 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.”

Yes, John was a prophet. The proof was in the pudding of what they had seen and heard about him – fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi about the ministry of a forerunner in the spirit of Elijah. And his human greatness was beyond a prophet, literally the greatest of men. And at this point, Luke adds an editorial note …

29 (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. 30 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

The masses of the people had experienced the truth in their relationship with John, even the worst of sinners were touched by him and baptized. This was proof! But those who should have been most able to identify the proof and the truth were those who had rejected both John and Jesus.

31 Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

John was a crazy eccentric by religious leadership standards. And Jesus was too independent and disconnected from enshrined powers to be legitimately embraced. Both had associations that were troubling for the elite.

But Jesus references a parable to illustrate the entire situation. The leaders of that day were like children who sang a song and wanted others to dance, but the “others” annoyed them by not dancing along. And on the other extreme, the “others” would not cry over a sad tune. Rather, the people who followed John and Jesus were “pudding proof” that this was the message of truth.

The gospel never has been (and never will be) a sort of pudding that is generally accepted by the powerful and erudite classes of this world. They don’t want to taste it. Rather, the truth and efficacy of it is proven over and over by the changed lives of those who have trusted in it – most often the simple and ordinary people of the world. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

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