“God is good! All the time!” is a chant I have heard crowds of Christians repeatedly shout over and over at the encouragement of a worship leader. Nothing could be truer. The news that God is good surely does need to be held in our hearts and jubilantly expressed with our lips. Yet, as this passage begins, we find John, who Jesus is honoring as the greatest of all men ever born, being rewarded with a stay in Herod’s prison where the next thing he experiences is not going to look like God’s goodness at all.
I wonder if John, in that moment was chanting to himself, “God is good”? And, was he able to complete the refrain; “all the time”? Based on the questions John had directed his deputation to ask Jesus, he was plagued with doubt about the certainties regarding Jesus’ identity as the Messiah; his own mission; and I strongly suspect, the goodness of God. It’s not surprising that in verse 23, Jesus gives us one of His most profound statements, “And blessed is He who is not offended with me“.
Jesus begins asking everyone, “What was it you were expecting to find when you went out to see John?”. To make it clear as to who John really was, Jesus tells them that John was the messenger who was sent before Him to prepare the way for Himself and the Kingdom of God. He then throws in an amazing observation; that the least member of the kingdom of God has a better status than John, who was the greatest prophet to ever walk the earth. Wow!
All the people and the tax gatherers were on board with John. The Pharisees and the lawyers were not. Jesus asks another rhetorical question, “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation. What are they like?”. He then says they are a lot like those whose hearts have become song-less. Their hearts no longer had capacity for celebration or repentance. All that was left in their religious hearts was selective compliance, pride and it’s favorite expressions; criticism and condemnation.
No one had a better grasp of scripture than the Pharisees. No one better understood the intricacies of the Jewish law than the lawyers. Yet, in regard to the two most prominent men who had ever walked the face of this earth, all these so-called wise men could do was criticize and judge. Regarding both John and Jesus, they concluded, by their consecrated lives, that they must be possessed. Jesus, they condemned because he did not follow the letter of all their laws and He hung out with unsavory persons. What is Jesus’ point?
I believe His point is, at least in part, that if masterful knowledge of scripture and command of the Law could produce sons of God the Pharisees and lawyers would have arrived. Jesus knew that the Law without the Spirit was a formula for death-by-religion. Jesus was brutal on the Pharisees because they had become a false reference point and misrepresentation of God’s nature and His kingdom and they were leading His sheep astray.
Why was anyone in the kingdom of God greater than John? Because, to belong to the kingdom one must be born from woman and from the Spirit. Nicodemus was stumped too. Remember Jesus said to him, “Do not marvel (don’t be offended or stumble over me) that I said to you, you must be born again. Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”.
A man with keen insight said to me a few years back, the most bewildering (and offensive) thing I may have ever been told. He said, “You are filled with religion”. I started to protest, but I checked myself and instead (like Mary) just cherished (slight sarcasm) that word in my heart and held it there until it made some sense. Sometime later I also recalled what a psychiatrist had told me. I will never forget her statement either, “Mr. Cummins, did you know that your life is being driven by anger?”. I started my chant, “God is good. God is good. All the time. All the time. Really?! Then why am I – “Mr. devout- have a quiet time every day – elder – worship leader – sometime preacher” appear more like the offspring of Caiaphas than a son of God?!! The simple answer is that I had been infected with a RTD – a Religiously Transmitted Disease. (I thought I had been inoculated and was now immune from such troubles. I was mistaken.)
More about RTD’s later. This passage concludes with Jesus’ comment, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her children“. The wisdom from above may be peaceful in nature but it is also foolishness (and offensive) to the men of this world who are not governed by God’s Spirit. Ultimately though, this wisdom from above will emerge in a family of childlike, dancing hearts who have broken free from their entanglements with religion and have learned to worship God in Spirit and Truth.
Father, may wisdom have her say in our hearts exposing those places where we are unbalanced between Spirit and Truth. May our hearts not be offended and stumble when we are confronted with our own religiosity. May Wisdom be vindicated in Your family, bringing much glory and honor to Your most holy and lovely name. Amen.