Exceeding Greatness in the Kingdom
Topic: GOAT Verse: Luke 7:24–7:30
“Exceeding Greatness in the Kingdom”
Theme: By grace, believers are privileged to proclaim the excellencies of the work of Christ so that people can be saved from sin.
Introduction: Greatness is something that our text presents as something that the least among us are able to achieve in the eyes of the Lord. Of course, making ourselves great backfires and results in God’s resistance as He is committed to resisting the proud. In 3 John, Diotrophes “loves to be first” among the believers in the church, groping after greatness and preeminence. However, Jesus states that submitting oneself to the authority of Scripture and teaching others to do the same results in greatness – Matthew 5:19. Whoever desires to be excel and become great in the eyes of the Lord must be the servant of all – Matthew 20:26. Of course, once Christ died and rose from the dead, our “greatness” has given way to the greater greatness of Christ and the concept of “greatness” has evaporated into His greater glory and majesty. Nevertheless, we have been given an avenue by which we are able to achieve the greatest accomplishment that any creature can know – the proclamation of the glory of the work of Christ to sinners so that they can be saved to the glory of Christ. Of course, this is all provided to us by mean of God’s grace operating within us first to save us, then to stir us to serve Him by seeking His glory in the lives of others. This grace accomplishes three things as modeled by John the Baptist in our text …
I. God’s Grace Establishes Our Character – 7:24-25
A. The Provision of Stability in the Service of the Lord – v. 24
- As we noted in the last section, John’s questions about Jesus and whether He was the Messiah were resolved by John turning to Jesus and Jesus directing him to God’s Word.
- Jesus – almost preemptively – clarifies that John’s crisis of faith ought not to define his reputation or character – “When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John …”
- He wanted to make sure that John’s character was in no way damaged by his questions – and thus, He speaks “about John” and lauds him as a stable, sacrificial, faithful servant of God.
- John’s struggle with doubt was not a problem of commitment to truth or personal weakness, but with the inability to sort through what looked to him like contradictions.
- We know that the people of Israel had streamed out into the wilderness to listen to John’s preaching and to be baptized by him –cp. Matthew 3:5-6.
- Clearly what caused John to stand out as worthy of such attention was that he was preaching with passion and conviction – raising the expectations of Messianic arrival and blessing.
- Jesus, using irony [sarcasm] as a tool for emphasis, He asks the crowd: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?”
- This is a reference to a common weed that grew along the banks of the Jordan River where John baptized – “reed” [κάλαμος] was a term used to describe a flexible stalk
- shaken” [σαλεύω] refers to quivering, shaking, vibrating through the influence of the wind,
- Clearly, Jesus is emphasizing the strength of conviction that had characterized John and the stability of his faith throughout his ministry – all produced by the grace of God in his life.
- Our own faith is dependent upon our taking advantage God’s grace and not failing short of the grace that He provides us as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – cp. 2 Peter 3:18.
B. The Prompting to Sacrifice in the Service of the Lord – v. 25
- Another feature emphasized by Jesus in his commentary on the character that God’s grace had produced in John is John’s willingness of forfeit ease and remain sacrificial in his service to the Lord.
- He said: “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothes and live in luxury are found in royal palaces!”
- This is an endorsement of John’s unflinching faithfulness to God and His Word even at great personal cost.
- John refused to permit himself to enjoy the ease that could come with popularity – to help insure that he not be lured into any compromises of truth – cp. Matthew 3:4.
- When one seeks the favor of men – one is often rewarded with the favors of men – such as the ease that kings have to offer within the wealth of their palaces.
- Jesus here comments on the fact that John was suffering in a palace due to His willingness to sacrifice instead of compromising the truth of God.
- This is what made John so great – even as our own willingness to pay whatever price we are called upon to pay for our faithfulness to the truth of God’s Word and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- What differences has God’s grace definitively caused in your character?
- What are some things that you are able to do, by God’s grace, to produce great stability in your faith?
- How does John’s example provide you the awareness that seeking a life of ease is not what God always intends?
II. God’s Grace Empowers Our Calling – 7:26-28
A. The Privilege of Calling Sinners to Repent – v. 26
- Jesus continues to provide attention to John’s great testimony – “But what did you go out to see? A prophet?”
- It would be helpful to remember that prior to John’s ministry, Israel had endured 400+ years of absolute silence from God – a time during which they were under His discipline.
- When John began his preaching ministry, his message was to call Israel to repentance in order to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah – cp. Luke 3:3.
- The message that he delivered was that forgiveness of sins was available by the grace of God through faith in the promise of God to deliver all who believe.
- The passion of the Lord’s prophets was to see Israel reconciled to God through a return to faith.
- John eloquently called sinners to repentance as did all of the other prophets that God had sent to Israel.
- However, John is described as “one who is more than a prophet” – that is, he was exceptional among the prophets.
- All of the prophets throughout history had always prophesied about the Promise and carefully and curiously studied their own prophecies in order to understand what it was talking about – cp. 1 Peter 1:10-12.
- John however, was not prophesying about something in the future, but was given the responsibility to announce the arrival of the Messiah – a unique privilege in His call for people to repent.
- In this way, John was outstanding among the prophets – a reality that caused the people who revered John as a prophet to have to face Jesus as the Messiah – cp. Matthew 21:26.
B. The Participation in Fulfilling God’s Purposes – vv. 27-28
- As an emphasis on John’s unique station among the prophets, Jesus states: “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.’”
- John was unique in that he was both a prophet as well as himself the fulfillment of prophecy – cp. Malachi 3:1
- The final prophet to have prophesied in the Old Testament predicted that John would come and prepare the way for the Messiah – cp. Isaiah 40:35; Luke 3:4-6
- Malachi declares that this coming Messiah would be Elijah – Malachi 4:5; and Luke has already clarified that it was the “spirit and power of Elijah” that was being referred to – cp. Luke 1:17
- However, due to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, another prophet will have to precede Jesus’ Second Coming when He establishes His kingdom – cp. Matthew 11:14.
- John faithfully participated in fulfilling God’s calling – providing powerful announcement of the Messiah, doing all that he could to prepare the way for Him, yet, Israel’s unbelief and rejection of Christ could not diminish John’s accomplishment.
- As a result, Jesus declared “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John …”
- His faith in God’s promise and his faithfulness to the Messiah distinguished him as the greatest – cp. Luke 1:13-15; Hebrews 11:6.
- What made John great was the grace of God that enabled him to fulfill God’s purpose for him and to herald the arrival of the Messiah.
- However, Jesus then adds commentary on your ability to be great in the kingdom – “… yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
- John saw the arrival of the Messiah – pointed to Him – announced Him – and waited for the Messiah to fulfill His great redemptive mission; yet, he was executed before the Messiah accomplished the redemption He came to provide.
- As a result, John never had the opportunity to declare the finished work of Christ, the establishment of the work of God in building the church, the provision of the Holy Spirit, and many other realities that every New Testament believer has the ability to proclaim.
- Whereas John prepared the way for the Lord, we have the privilege of proclaiming His excellencies – cp. 1 Peter 2:9.
- God calls each of us to serve Him … what do you feel most compelled to do within the context of the church for the glory of Christ?
- Spiritual gifts are significant part of God’s plan for our serving Him – what have you felt is most likely your spiritual gift?
- It is clear that God plans how He intends to use us … what are the ways that we can hinder our own effectiveness?
III. God’s Grace Effects Our Contribution – 7:29-30
A. The Repentance by Sinners – v. 29
- Grace also determines the fruitfulness of our efforts for the sake of Christ Jesus.
- In response to Jesus review of John’s ministry – his character, calling, and passion to introduce sinners to Jesus Christ, there was a “split decision.”
- “When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John.”
- Their response to Jesus’ assessment of John’s ministry was to “acknowledge God’s justice” [δικαιόω] – or “verdict” – that God’s assessment about John as declared by Jesus was correct.
- Their response was evident of God’s grace having been exercised in their lives – leading them to repentance – cp. 2 Timothy 2:24-25.
- God had used John to reach these people – “… having been baptized by John.”
- They acknowledged the power of God in John and his message or repentance, but they didn’t accept John’s ultimate solution – faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah.
B. The Rejection by Sinners – v. 30
- Others refused to acknowledge that John was from God – “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.”
- These religious hypocrites would not even acknowledge that they were sinners and thus did not in away way believe John’s report about Jesus.
- “God’s purpose for them” was that they would repent of their sins and turn to the grace of God for salvation – but they “rejected” that “purpose,” and remained in their sins.
- Their repeated, and constant rebellion against the Word of God created hearts hardened by unbelief and the subsequent judgment that God determined would await anyone who rejected Him.
- How is it that the most common believer today is able to be “greater in the kingdom” that saints like John?
- What is the basic cause for people accepting or rejecting the Gospel message?
- Notice that the Pharisees rejected the ministry of John and thus when it came time to decide about Jesus, they rejected Him … what does that tell you about the cumulative effects of failing to respond properly to truth?