Thursday 21st March – Luke 7:24-30 ‘Greater than John’

Luke 7:24-30

I wonder who you consider to be the greatest human being who ever lived?  Apart from Jesus, obviously!  Some of you may think of those known for great courage or conviction – someone like Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.  Others may think of great geniuses – someone like Leonardo da Vinci, who managed to revolutionise art, science and engineering in one lifetime.  A series entitled ‘Great Britons’ at the turn of the millennium boiled the popular vote down a straight contest between Winston Churchill and Isambard Kingdom Brunel – with Churchill coming out as victor.

Jesus’ view, however, is different: ‘among those born of women,’ he concludes in our passage today, ‘there is no-one greater than John’ (v28).  John the Baptist gets Jesus’ vote for the greatest human being of them all – at least to that point in history.

There is an extraordinary sting in the tail, however.  Jesus follows up with this bombshell: ‘Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’  How is this possible?  What does he mean?

At the heart of this section is a clash of ideologies around this fundamental question: how will the rule and reign of God come into this world?  How will the Messiah usher it in?  To orthodox Jews – embodied by the religious leaders – it will be the triumph of obedience to God’s Law, through which God’s people will also prosper and triumph over their enemies.  Jesus, however, points to a different way: the way of grace.  As we humbly receive this divine gift – most appealing, Jesus admits, to ‘the lost, the last and the least’ – so we enter into this glorious new kingdom.

It can only be received as the gift of God – which is why even the greatest human cannot enter without it.  John himself, of course, knew this: he welcomed the Messiah who would baptise with ‘the Holy Spirit and fire’ (3:16).  Ironically, those who had received John’s baptism of repentance (i.e. return to obedience to the Law) were also most able to receive Jesus’ invitation of grace; whilst those too proud to repent under John’s ministry would also resist Jesus (vv29-30).

For us too, the way of beautiful grace is open.  John’s ministry, like Jesus’, points us towards the Lord in all his glory.  We, too, may feel like ‘the least in the kingdom of heaven’, but – thanks to his loving initiative, his wonderful grace – being the least is enough.  Hallelujah!