For an introduction to this series, click here.
Dec. 15, 2006
This chapter opens with a very strange story from John the Baptist. He was in prison and sent messengers to Jesus to ask Him if He was the true Messiah. Jesus tells them that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are clean and so on. Then He says, "blessed is the one who is not offended by me." I'm really not sure what this means: was Jesus criticizing John for doubting that Jesus was the Messiah? After all, John did see all that happened when he baptized Jesus. But Jesus goes on in the next section and praises John effusively, saying that he was the greatest man who ever lived.
So no, I don't think He was criticizing John at all. And I am glad for the fact that Jesus did not criticize John for doubting. It gives me comfort when I doubt. Living by faith (not that I have all that great of faith) can be hard at times. You wonder if God were really as good and powerful and all as we say He is, why would He leave me in this situation? John was surely wondering something similar. The Messiah was supposed to conquer Israel's enemies, and here I sit, the forerunner of the Messiah, in prison? This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. The same kind of things happen in our lives. A momentary lapse of faith is not a sin, as long as we return to the Lord.
Then Jesus tells a very short and very weird story that in a way sums up the ministries of both John and Jesus: "But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplace, and calling to their playmates, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating or drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds." (11:16-19, ESV)
Jesus and John defied everybody's idea of what the Messiah and His coming was supposed to be. Jesus was saying that people weren't believing and were Him just because they didn't like the way He was doing things. They expected the Messiah to first of all smash their Roman oppressors and become a political leader. Secondly, they wanted the Messiah to follow all their taboos and do things exactly the way they would do them.
I wonder what Jesus would be like if He came back today. I don't think things would change that much. I think He would still defy our expectations and do things differently from us. I don't claim to have any idea how they would be different, but I don't think He would fit in our little box, just like He didn't fit in the Jews' little box back then.
Right after this section, Jesus denounces woe upon three cities - Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum - because they would not believe. For the first two cities, Jesus says that it will be better for Tyre and Sidon than for those two cities. Jesus goes on to say that it will be better for Sodom than for Capernaum. It is a fearful thing to be responsible for hearing the Gospel. Every man is responsible for accepting or rejecting God, but God takes it very seriously when people hear the Gospel and do not believe. This passage indicates that there will be degrees of punishment for those who reject God. I don't pretend to know how it works, but if it is "more bearable" for some people than for others, that has to mean that judgment will be more severe for those who actively reject God than for those who passively reject Him.