“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John [the Baptist}. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” ~ Luke 7:28
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” ~ Matthew 11:11
I was thinking about this passage of Scripture this morning. It’s an unusual statement Jesus makes here. John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament era, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he was.
I think this is because John had a mission, having been sent by God to “make straight the way of the Lord…”
“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’” ~ Matthew 3:1-12
I think John tells us, here, why the least in the kingdom of heaven would be greater than he: the one coming after him, Jesus, shall baptize this followers with the Holy Spirit, whereas John only baptized with water.
Think about Peter, who, after he received the Holy Spirit, did virtually everything Jesus did, including healing multitudes and raising the dead. And we are to do the same, after we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and walk after him and not our own desires.
I was thinking about this passage, today, because I look pretty rough, I guess, from traveling and sleeping on the streets, especially in contrast to many people around me who look nice, being well groomed, clean, and well dressed.
Look at John:
“Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
He looked pretty rough too, didn’t he? I don’t think camel’s hair and leather belts were the latest fashion trend… I think John must have looked like a wild man in who lived out in the desert… yet the average people heard him gladly, repented at his preaching, and were baptized by him.
Contrast these average people with the Pharisees and Sadducees, who looked, in their day, like the professional peoples of our own day: well dressed, well groomed, well fed, well off, and feeling they had no need to repent.
The gospel goes to the poor, the Bible tells us, and the Bible also says it’s impossible for the rich to be saved; mainly because they don’t feel needy, whereas the poor do. And because the rich are arrogant and prideful, whereas the poor are not.
Being a follower of Jesus is to be counter-cultural. Counter the ways of this world: success, fashion, fame, and fortune… all those things we cannot take with us beyond the graves we will all soon be occupying…
“Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” ~ Luke 12:33
A hard saying, is it not?
John the Baptist sounds even worse:
“Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
About Jesus, John said:
“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
All of which sounds pretty serious to me.
See: Franco Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” (1977) – http://youtu.be/ShSerVAKObU