John the Baptist:
A Discouraged Prophet
(Luke 7:18-35)

Last time we talked about the raising from the dead of the Widow of Nain’s son, and talked about how glorious our resurrection in Christ will be. We also talked about how Jesus can raise us from spiritual death and make us alive in Him.

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

Now we turn from the rejoicing over the resurrection in Nain to a more somber scene. The mighty forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, has been thrown into prison by evil King Herod Antipas.

Luke 3:19-20 But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.

John had been thrown into prison for rebuking Herod for all the evil things he had done, especially for committing adultery with his sister in law. Josephus reports that John was imprisoned in the castle at Machaerus, in a remote area east of the Dead Sea. And all but a few faithful disciples apparently had forgotten him.

John Bevere in "The Bait of Satan" says, "Wait a minute. Why does John ask Jesus if He is the coming One, the Messiah? John was the one who prepared His way and announced His arrival: "Beholdl The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)."

"He was the one who said, "This is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit" (John 1:33). He even said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). John was the only person who really knew who Jesus was at that time. (It had not yet been revealed to Simon Peter.)"

The beginning of John's ministry was glorious and powerful, culminating in the baptism of Jesus Himself. And John did recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, stating:

John 3:32-36 "For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

But here we see a very discouraged prophet. Bevere continues: "Put yourself in his place. You have been the man on the cutting edge of what God is doing. Multitudes upon multitudes of people have received ministry from you. You have the most talked about outreach ministry in the nation. You have lived a life of self-denial."

"You have not even married in order to maximize the full potential of your call. You have lived in the desert eating locusts and wild honey and fasted often. You have fought the Pharisees and been accused of demon possession. Your whole life is spent preparing the way for this coming Messiah."

But now John is being kept like a bird in a cage at Herod's dungeon. For a man of fervor and action, being cramped up in a filthy cell must have been sheer torture. Some of the faithful few still visited and kept him informed of Jesus' ministry, but it must have been hard for John to understand what was going on.

John's disciples fasted often - Jesus and his disciples had banquets and feasts. John preached repentance and baptism. Jesus and his disciples associated with wineo’s, gluttons and sinners. John lived a life of austerity and want. Jesus and his disciples seemed to be well fed, and happy. Was this the behavior of a Messiah?

And here John was, after a lifetime of sacrifice sitting in a jail cell while Jesus and his disciples moved in the light of day. It would have been hard on anyone. Plus, he was almost certain to be facing a death sentence.

And it seems like John began to doubt a little what was going on here. Did he announce the wrong person as Messiah? Why hadn’t Jesus overthrown the Romans and brought in the kingdom?

Bevere says: "The temptation to become offended grows greater the longer you're in prison. "This man for whom I have spent my life preparing the way has not even come and visited me in jail! How can this be? If He is the Messiah, why doesn't He get me out of this prison? I've done no wrong."

Although John had done mighty things for God and had challenged the religious hypocrisy of his day, had fearlessly confronted sin and sinner, this was perhaps his greatest test of faith. So John sent two of his disciples to investigate what Jesus was doing.

Luke 7:20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, `Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'"

Jesus loved His cousin John and must have sensed the doubt growing in that awful prison. Instead of formulating some theological answer, he invited John's disciples to stay and watch what He was doing.

Luke 7:21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.

Why didn’t Jesus just say, "Yes! I am the Messiah"? Why did He allow John’s disciples to wait and watch?

Jesus knew John needed more to ease his doubts than just a verbal "yes". He allowed the disciples to wait and watch so that they could SEE for themselves that prophecies about the Messiah were being fulfilled.

We don't know how long John's disciples stayed with Jesus, but long enough to see a variety of miracles. Now John's ministry only included the miracle of repentance, he was as a "voice crying in the wilderness". After John had cleared the way for Messiah by bringing the people's hearts back to God, then Jesus could do mighty works.

The choice of words to describe how Jesus healed , "cured", is a medical term in Greek: therapeuo {ther-ap-yoo'-o} meaning to serve, do service or to heal, cure, restore to health. This is our root word for therapy. How would you like for Jesus to be your therapist? Glory!

Luke the physician was very specific about the three fold classifications for healing physical ailments as "diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits", clearly showing that not all maladies are consequences of demonic possession.

Diseases is nosos {nos'-os} in the Greek, meaning disease or sickness, translated infirmities in the KJV. This would seem to indicate short term, perhaps contagious diseases.

Sicknesses is mastix {mas'-tix} (through the idea of contact) meaning a whip or scourge, metaphorically a scourge, plague, calamity, affliction or misfortune, especially sent by God to discipline or punish, translated as plagues in the KJV. This would seem to indicate long term and chronic conditions, something that "plagues" you over a period of time, perhaps as a punishment as a result of a person’s disobedience.

Evil here is poneros {pon-ay-ros'} meaning full of labors, annoyances, hardships of a time full of peril to Christian faith and steadfastness; causing pain and trouble, bad, of a bad nature or condition, in a physical sense: diseased or blind, or in an ethical sense: evil wicked, bad. These kinds of demons bring all sorts of troubles within and without, specifically here they bring illnesses causing a lot of pain and annoyance.

Jesus is able and willing and ready to heal all sorts of diseases, plagues or infestations of demons. He is ready to be your therapist, and has the power to cure all of your diseases if you trust in Him. Hallelujah! So John’s disciples saw ALL manner of diseases and demonic infestations cured.

Luke 7:22 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 cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."

So Jesus told the messengers from John to go back and give eyewitness testimony to the powerful evidence of divine approval on Jesus’ ministry. Jesus didn't offer any explanation or consolation to John, other than the proof of the messengers’ own eyes and ears. This was confirmation of what Jesus said He was prophetically called to do in Luke 4:17-19:

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

So Jesus is saying: "Tell John that I am fulfilling what Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah". Then Jesus said a strange thing: Luke 7:23 'Blessed is the man who does not fall away [or get OFFENDED] on account of me." Why would Jesus say something like this? Was John in danger of being offended and falling away from the kingdom of God?

What is an offense? The Greek word for offense is skandalon, our root word for "scandal" and in the original meant snare or trap. An offense is a snare or trap that the devil has set to entrap you, and if you fall for it, becomes an entry way for discouragement, unforgiveness, defeat and bitterness.

Offenses come in two flavors: intentional and unintentional. Intentional offenses are those things that people do to us to try to get us to react in anger: calling us names, talking about us behind our backs, even physically abusing us. These types of offenses are created to hurt us, and to create an occasion of unforgiveness so that we can fall.

Unintentional offenses are those occasions when someone offends us by a remark that we "take the wrong way" or by seeming to snub us, or something of that nature. We can also become offended when someone reprimands us for our good, or when someone’s righteous behavior reveals a sin or flaw in us that we are not willing to correct.

Did Jesus ever offend people? We have an image of "gentle Jesus meek and mild", always full of love and grace, never offensive, never assertive, etc. But is this a full picture of what Jesus is really like? We find in the Bible that at times Jesus DID offend people – but never to assert His own rights and never to deliberately entrap them into unforgiveness and bitterness. Let’s look at a few passages about this.

Jesus repeatedly rebuked the Pharisees as hypocrites, vipers, blind guides, etc. Matthew 15:7-9 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: "`These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' "

On this occasion, His disciples asked Him if He was aware that He had offended them. Then His disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were OFFENDED when they heard this saying?" Matthew 15:12

Jesus responded: "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fail into a ditch." -Matthew 15:13-14

Bevere comments on this verse: "Jesus showed that offenses will actually purge those who are not truly planted by His Father. Some people may join churches or ministry teams but have not been sent by God or are not of God. The offense that comes when truth is preached reveals their true motives and causes them to uproot themselves… ‘

"Jesus would not be controlled by others. He would speak truth even if it meant confrontation and ultimately offense." So the Pharisees took offense at truth from the Son of God and revealed that they were actually not of God at all.

Jesus also offended those of his hometown: Matthew 13:56-57 "Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?" So they were OFFENDED at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house."

Bevere comments on this verse: "Can you hear these men and women of Nazareth saying, ‘Who does He think He is teaching us with authority? We know who He is. He grew up here. We are His elders. He is but a carpenter's son. He has had no formal training.’ "

"Again Jesus did not compromise truth in order to keep them from being offended. The townspeople were so angry that they tried to kill Him by pushing Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). Even when His life was in danger He continued to speak the truth. How we need more men and women like that today!"

Did you know that Jesus also offended His own disciples? John 6:60-61, 66 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this OFFEND you? … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Jesus knew that fulfilling the will of God the Father would cause people to get offended, but the most important thing to Jesus was to do God’s will God’s way. Jesus was not a "people pleaser" – and as His followers we can’t be man pleasers either. Of course, we shouldn’t DELIBERATELY try to be offensive, but also we should not be surprised when people get offended at us for following Jesus.

So Jesus sent this message to John: Luke 7:23 'Blessed is the man who does not fall away [or get offended] on account of me." What do you think He meant by that statement?

Bevere again comments: "He was saying, "John, I know you don't understand all that is happening with you and many of My ways, but do not be offended with Me because I do not operate as you expected." He was urging John not to judge by his own understanding of God's ways in the past and in his own life and ministry. "

"John didn't know the whole picture or plan of God, just as we do not know the complete picture today. Jesus was encouraging him, saying, "You've done what was commanded of you. Your reward will be great. Just stay free from offense with Me!" "

So when offenses come, we need to be prepared in advance to know how to react. Ask yourself, why is this occasion offending me? Is this person deliberately trying to hurt me? The correct response to this is forgiveness.

Or, ask yourself, am I offended when am I being corrected for a flaw or sin in my life? If so, the correct response is repentance of sin and gratefulness that someone cared enough to try to help you.

Or are you being offended because someone is following the Lord and you are jealous? If so, the correct response is to ask forgiveness for pride and for help in becoming more like Jesus.

If someone is offended AT you, is it because you have been rude or hurtful? If so, then you should ASK for forgiveness.

Or, are they offended at you because you are trying to correct some flaw in them? If this is the case, then are you being critical of something yourself are guilty of? Then you should work on removing the plank in your eye FIRST, before you try to help someone with their speck of sawdust.

However, if you are in leadership and God has directed you to exhort or rebuke someone, be sure that first of all you do it in a loving and not a critical manner. Then stand firm in what God has directed you to do. They may be teachable and accept the rebuke as from the Lord and grow because of it. Praise the Lord.

Or they may take offense, rebel and blame you and gossip about you because of the rebuke. Keep your heart from anger and keep loving them, and one of two things will happen. They will eventually realize that they are in the wrong, repent and grow in grace. Praise the Lord.

Or they may continue to rebel and cause conflict, and when God’s patience has ended, He will deal with them in judgement. In either case, you have done your duty as a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and have sought to please God rather than man.

After this, we never hear any objections from John, so he was satisfied with the answer Jesus sent. Not too long after this, Herod’s stepdaughter Salome did a dance for him that pleased him, and she asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. So John was the first martyr for Christ.

Luke 7:24-25 After John's messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 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."

So John got his answer. But Jesus then turns his attention to the people listening to him and examines their motives. Why did they go out in the desert to see John? John was not swayed by every wind of doctrine, like some of the religious leaders. He was an unwavering, uncompromising, determined man who knew his calling and stuck with it. He denied himself earthly comforts to see that his task was accomplished.

And he also was not swayed by wealth, or a product of wealth and security. He lived a sacrificial life. John was in the wilderness because of obedience, and it was his obedience to God that drew the people.

Luke 7:26-27 "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: `I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'"

So why did the people rush out to see John? Because they recognized that he was a prophet. And there had been no public prophet in Judea for 400 years! So they were excited about it and all hurried out to see John.

And then Jesus says that John was more than an ordinary prophet, because John was the one sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. As both the last Old Testament prophet and herald of the New Kingdom, John was an important link between the old and new. John’s message of sin, judgement and repentance was meant to soften the people’s hearts to receive Jesus’ offer of salvation.

The people must have been wondering in their minds, why then is John in jail? Why don’t you do something about getting him out of prison? Why did John seem to be doubting? Jesus wanted to underscore John’s greatness and help the people understand that John had fulfilled his ministry. Then Jesus said a very puzzling thing:

Luke 7:28 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." What did Jesus mean by this statement?

The people knew and understood John’s ministry because the next verse tells that the ones who had been baptized by John believed God’s words that Jesus spoke. So they agreed with Jesus that among those born of women, none is greater than John.

But why would the "least in the kingdom" be greater than this mighty prophet? John was not "born again" as the members of the kingdom of God would be because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That was what John’s ministry was pointing to – that was the purpose of the Messiah – to bring in God’s kingdom. John would die before it could be fulfilled.

John was still living under the Old Covenant. Jesus represented the New Covenant which was better in every way. All who experience the redeeming power of the new birth are greater than John.

Matthew tells us in 11:12-14 that: From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.

John was a very different minister than Jesus. He was the forerunner of the Messiah, and he initiated the advancement of the kingdom of Heaven. What do you think "forcefully advancing" means? The devil was doing everything in his power to keep the kingdom from advancing, from trying to kill Jesus as a baby, to trying to tempt Jesus into disobeying God.

But God poured MORE power into the advancement of His kingdom, beginning with John’s voice crying in the wilderness for repentance, to Jesus’ power over the enemy through preaching, healing and casting out demons. Since John came on the scene, in the heavenlies a violent conflict had broken out, and the object of the conflict was to prevent the birth of the kingdom of God on earth.

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. What do you think this means? The whole thrust of Old Testament prophecy was to bring about the salvation of mankind, from the prophecy of a savior given by God Himself in Genesis 3, through the prophetic insight of the Law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, to all of the messianic words given by all the prophets throughout the Old Testament – all pointed to the coming of the Messiah. John was the LAST prophet to prophesy about the coming of the Messiah. He was considered by Jesus to be the last and the best of the old order of things.

In fact, Jesus said that John was the "Elijah" that was to come before the Messiah. Not that he was the reincarnation of Elijah, but that he fulfilled that role in the kingdom. Elijah was perhaps the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, and at Passover each year, the devout Jew even to this day, leaves a place at the table for the forerunner of the Messiah. Jesus was telling the people that the forerunner had come!

Luke 7:29-30 (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. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)

Here we have the contrast between the people who had repented and accepted John’s baptism, and therefore were able to receive Jesus as Messiah, with the Pharisees and lawyers who had rejected John and Jesus as well.

Luke 7:31-32 "To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: "`We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.'

Jesus goes on to compare the rejecters of John to senseless kids who were upset because John did not "sing their song" and Jesus did not "dance to their tune". The flute and the dance were symbolic of the joy of a wedding feast. John was criticized because he was somber and mournful of sin.

The dirge was a song sung at funerals, and they criticized Jesus because He came eating and drinking with sinners, and did not mourn with them. So both Jesus and John were rejected because the people did not control their ministries.

Luke 7:33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, `He has a demon.'

John was accused of being demon possessed, because he had the appearance of a wild man from the wilderness. He ate locusts and honey, wore skins of animals as clothing and had a very aggressive style of ministry. Because he was different, although anointed by God, he was rejected. John offended their standards of "religion", he didn’t do things "the way they’d always been done".

Luke 7:34 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."'

Now Jesus was the opposite. He looked "normal" and although He also preached repentance, He did it in a different way than John. He socialized with tax collectors and sinners, because that is where the need lay. But Jesus was called a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of sinners. Jesus offended their standards of "holiness". And Jesus was also rejected.

Isn’t this just like today? You can’t please people no matter what you do! But the wise person will seek to please God. Luke 7:35 "But wisdom is proved right [recognized] by all her children." What does this mean?

Jesus had compared the generation of unbelievers to children of the world (marketplace) who rejected God’s word, no matter how it was sent. But the believers were children of wisdom who proved that God’s word was RIGHT, no matter how it was delivered.

Are you a child of the world or a child of wisdom? Does your thoughts and actions prove God right? Or do you make a fool of both John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ? You can be so "religious" that you no longer hear the word of God. You can be so "holy" that you are too good to associate with those who need to hear the Gospel the most. Lord help us prove you wise in our every day living!

We’ve talked about a discouraged prophet who was in danger of being offended by Jesus because Jesus did not seem to be fulfilling prophecy the way John thought He should. It is often a test of our own faith when God does not do "our will, our way". Then we need to praise God for Who He is and not for what He gives.

John Bevere puts it this way: "Even if you are trained in many of God's ways, as John was, you are still likely to have an opportunity to be offended with Jesus. If you truly love and believe on Him, you will fight to stay free from offense, realizing His ways are always higher than yours."

We’ve also seen how doing God’s will can often bring us into conflict, not only with the world, but also with "religious" people who do not like our ministry style. We’ve talked about guarding ourselves against taking offenses, and how to handle it when others take offense against us.

Bevere says: "Also, if you are going to obey the Spirit of God, people will be offended by you… Some will not understand you as you move with the Spirit. Don't allow their unpleasant response to deter you from what you know in your heart is true. Don't abort the flow of the Spirit for the desires of men… When you live for the will of God, you will not fulfill the desires of men."

But the most important point in this lesson is to be encouraged to seek God’s will and to seek to really know JESUS and not what you’ve heard about him or what you think He should be like. Seek God’s will and seek to know Jesus with all of your heart, mind, spirit and body.

Remember, whenever God gives us a revelation, the devil tries to steal it from us. Guard your hearts and meditate on what you've learned!
And put it into practice!

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Original Lesson 11/30/98
Revised: May 02, 2001.