Jesus cites Isaiah as proof of who He is. He tells John, look at my deeds, they match up with what Isaiah said the Messiah would do. I’m not pandering to the elite, or massaging egos here. I’m ministering God’s power to the least of these! Jesus then proceeds to show great esteem for John by saying no one greater has ever been born. But then He undercuts that, it seems, by saying the least in the kingdom is greater than John. What? It seems like a contradiction.
I believe that what Jesus means is that John is as good as it gets outside of the constant indwelling of the Spirit that believers received at Pentecost and after. While we were still separated from the kingdom by our sins, John was the “high water mark” of living. Because of the Messiah’s death as atonement for our sins, and His rising to show the way to new life, we now should see John’s example as not even the minimum standard of kingdom life.
Perhaps just as important is the words Jesus has for the towns of Galillee that He walked through and ministered to. They apparently are predominantly unchanged. Sure, they flocked to see Him and be healed, but Jesus says there is no wholesale repentance. Pagan towns would have repented with this level of evidence, why do God’s own people keep clamoring for signs, and expressing skepticism? Are we just as bad? Surely we’ve all seen signs of God’s power in us and those around us. Have we repented and left the sinful patterns of our former life? Do we live as though we have been redeemed and now serve a new Master?
Would that we were more like those “evil” Assyrians who Jonah preached to. He begrudgingly walked around for a day preaching in a city that took three days to walk around. Word reached the king, and mass repentance resulted from the half-hearted preaching. We whine if we think the preacher wasn’t “on” today, and say we don’t think we’re getting fed enough. (Trust me, I’ve thought it too.) We really ought to stop just thinking of pouting Jonah and telling ourselves we wouldn’t have reacted like that (a topic for a separate post sometime) and think of the repentance of the heathen. Are we that good at willingly repenting and thanking God for his mercy?
Also, note that Jesus’ healings are not connected to whether the towns repented first. He was disappointed they didn’t repent, but He did not go back through and undo the healing! We as Christians have a disturbing tendency to be focussed on whether the person repents. I know I think to myself “well, if that’s how they’re going to act, see if I help them again”. That just doesn’t sound like Christ to me.
If my attitudes don’t seem like those of my Messiah, I think it is I who need to check my motives and make sure I align myself with Him, not the other way around. I cannot allow myself to soften His directives or actions because they seem impractical or impossible. He said that we would do even greater things than He did, so how can I say I cannot hold to His standard? On my own, of course, I can’t. But that is His point, I’m not supposed to be on my own. I’m supposed to be listening to the Spirit, and allowing the Spirit to change me into the image of my Savior.
Lord, help me to be quick to listen and repent. May I not ignore the wonderful signs You have given me. I know I need to look to you for all the power I need to do Your will. May I give as lavishly and unconditionally as You did. May I never desire to “take back” what I have used to bless others because of their attitude or behavior. May I trust that You who know all things, are in control and know my heart and I need not worry about keeping score or getting my money’s worth out of any of these things. Spirit, flow in me and help me to kill my selfish desire to preserve what I have and look out for myself, and do it all myself. May I humbly look to Your power to provide the energy I need to do all that my Messiah has asked of me. Amen.