Sometimes misery comes in waves. For me that was the year both my parents died. I also lost both our dogs that year; my oldest child left for college and my pastor husband was in charge of moving our church of five thousand members from a fifteen-acre campus to a new eighty-five acre site on the week of our twentieth wedding anniversary. Did I mention I was working on a graduate degree, writing papers, and driving long distances to attend classes? Stress and questioning God were on the menu that year.
Some challenges I had anticipated, like my parents being sick and suffering for four years, and some changes caught me completely by surprise like the grief I would feel over my oldest child leaving for college. The one thing I learned that year was asking God, “Why is this happening?” was not helping.
Going through a year of echoing loss will tempt you to believe God is not on your side. John the Baptist knew that misery. From prison, Luke 7:20b records John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus,
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” ESV
Interestingly, Jesus did not directly answer John’s probe. I believe John’s inquiry was doomed from the very start. What did John’s question reveal? John or one of his disciples was having doubts about whether Jesus was the long-ago promised Messiah. What response did Jesus give the messengers? His answer might surprise you. In Luke 7:22-23 Jesus said,
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” ESV
Jesus’ lack of a direct answer was not because he had no affection for John. Jesus’ words in the next verses will show his deep respect for of his cousin John. But like John, if you pursue the wrong line of questioning it will be impossible to find the correct answer. Don’t get me wrong, God is not afraid of your questions, but some questions and answers will not satisfy or bring comfort.
Ironically, Jesus has his own set of questions he wants to ask in the next verses in Luke 7:24-27.
When John’s messengers had gone 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 are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings courts. ‘What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you and more than a prophet. This is he of who it is written, Behold I sent my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” ESV
And then in Luke 7:28 Jesus compares John’s righteousness to one who is the least in the kingdom of God.
“I tell you among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” ESV
There was never anyone more righteous than John. Never anyone greater had been born of woman than John the Baptist. So, how does the least in the kingdom of God surpass John the Baptist?
The phrase, “least in the kingdom”, was at first probably very confusing for Jesus disciples. It was only after Jesus’ death and resurrection that his followers would be able to fully comprehend what he was teaching. Jesus was referring to the righteousness that is imparted to those who are now hidden in Christ, and even the youngest and the weakest in the kingdom receive his righteousness (Ephesians 2:8-10).
In Luke 7:29 -30 Jesus begins to show the superiority of those who are the very least in the kingdom.
When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purposes of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. ESV
A) Even the least in the kingdom can declare God as just.
When God has accepted you because of Jesus’ righteousness there is nothing to strike you down. And the good news is nothing will snatch you out of the kingdom. You can declare God as just because miraculously Jesus has made a way for you to enter into an unconditional love relationship with him that you could never earn on your own merit.
When you try to justify yourself you will never have any assurance you have fully met God’s holy standards. It is easy to question God’s goodness, his power, and your worthiness all in the same breath. You can mistakenly believe there is a formula, or a ritual to perform so God will be obligated to bless you.
B) Even the least in the kingdom can embrace the purposes of God.
Those who had been baptized by John could embrace the purposes of God for their lives, while the Pharisees could not. Even the least in the kingdom will know their King is good. That he is holy, even when they don’t understand what he is allowing. They can do this because they know God’s divine purposes are higher than anything they could fully comprehend this side of heaven.
C) Even the least in the kingdom can act like an adult.
In Luke 7:31-35 Jesus asks yet another question and compares those who rejected the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus as acting like children.
“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” ESV
Childish behavior has this label because it is inappropriate for adults. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees think emotions like joy or grief are spiritual games. They openly criticize John and Jesus, but accuse them of opposite motives. John was too gloomy, Jesus was too merry, and with this attitude they became a people who could never be satisfied.
Like the lawyers Jesus’ confronts, when you rely on your good works, you will be tempted to play games with people, and try to manipulate them or God. Continued childish behavior will eventually destroy you.
When you rest in knowing Christ’s righteousness has been freely given to you, everything changes. Now you don’t fear adult responsibility. Your king has a purpose for your life and you will want to walk in that purpose.
What if “why” is the wrong question to ask God when you are struggling? What if understanding the “whys” would not bring you peace? What if comprehending “why” would not protect you, or allow you to change anything from your past? The truth is, trusting God with what you don’t understand is more important to God than you thought.
So, how might the questions you ask God change?
Instead of “why”, maybe your inquiry could start with “what” questions. “God, what do you see?” “What do you hear?” “What do you desire to do?” These are requests God delights to answer.