One who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written:

‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

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.

The disciples of John the Baptist are leaving and Jesus remembers and honors John.. he calls him more than a prophet and he identifies John a the forerunner of the Messiah. And in doing so Jesus identifies himself as that very Messiah. When I think of John I remember that he said of Christ: "I must decrease and he must increase". John was a humble prophet and as such he prophetically proclaimed that Jesus was the Lamb of God that would take away our sins. He deflected attention away from himself and onto the Messiah.

Jesus then says something crazy. He says that one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than a great prophet. To me this speaks to the miracle of the new birth where people have new hearts with God's laws emblazoned on them. It reminds me that each reborn person is more than a prophet who proclaims God's message. It speaks to me about how such people are God's message. John was the last prophet of the old covenant. We who are born again are embodied by the Spirit of the Prophet Jesus.

Thank you Father that, by your grace, I have your laws written on my heart.

Blessed is the one who is not offended by me

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

This passage breaks my heart. John the Baptist is in a jail cell and he wonders if Jesus is really the one promised who will set the captives free - he wants Jesus to set him free from prison. I can hear the sadness in John's voice as he speaks through his friends. John has been expecting Jesus to rescue him and Jesus has not come. His question of Christ is a desperate cry for help and Jesus does not give any indication that he will free John.

In the same way God does not always answer our prayers. Unanswered prayers are so difficult and sometimes we can be offended that He does not come to our rescue. To John, and to us, Jesus simply says that there is a blessing when we are not offended by unanswered requests. In a sense faith is all about our reactions to unanswered prayers and we are blessed when we trust God when answers do not come.

Life can be hard Lord. Help me to keep my heart free of offence.

A few years ago I shared a message titled "Broken Hearts, Unanswered Prayers" that spoke to this passage. You can download the audio file from the link in the sidebar.

Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

This passage reminds me that discipleship has a cost and the cost is our life. In the Old Testament the Lord was sometimes characterized as a jealous God. In these few sentences Jesus reinforces that idea and tells us that God will not take a back seat to anything or anyone - not to family members and not even to ourselves. This is a hard message but a very biblical one because of the way that these things can become idols that interfere with our relationship to God.

When Jesus speaks about not being worthy of him he is declaring that he is God and as such is worthy of their, and our, lives. If he were not God then he would have no right to claim preeminence in their, and our, lives. He speaks as God when he speaks of losing our life for his sake. Only the Creator has this right. It is something that the disciples most likely remembered when they were imprisoned and lost their lives for Jesus sake. How can we live differently? How can our message be anything less.

I am humbled Lord when I think of all that have literally lost their lives for your sake. I am unworthy because I have not fully embraced my cross. Help me today Lord to embrace and carry my cross. You are worthy Lord Jesus because you are God.