It is written:
And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. (Luke 7:29-30)
John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare people for Jesus Christ and His ministry. His ministry had been prophesied about some four hundred years earlier in the words of the Prophet Malachi (3:1).
Mark 1:2-3-As it is written in the Prophets: “BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.” 3 “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS: ‘PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD; MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.'”
John the Baptist was clear that he had been Divinely sent by the Lord Himself:
John 1:33-I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
Therefore, it is no surprise to use that those who rejected the baptism of John were rejecting the will of God.
Let’s take a careful look at this text of Scripture.
First, notice the obvious contrast between the ones who had been baptized by John and the ones who hadn’t. The ones who heard Jesus were the same ones who received the baptism of John. Further, the phrase “all the people” included the “tax collectors.” This is interesting, because the tax collectors were often the most despised people in the first century!
Matthew 9:10-Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.
Matthew 9:11-And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Matthew 11:19-The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”
In contrast, the Pharisees and lawyers were often seen as the “righteous” of Jesus’ day and age, and yet their own wickedness would keep them from entering into Heaven.
Matthew 21:31-Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.
Studying the Greek of this text is informative:
“Luke interrupts the narration of Jesus’ remarks with a parenthetical comment to describe who responded to John’s message and who did not. It prepares for the reception that Jesus will also get from the same groups. As Johnson observes, this interjection, absent from the Matthean parallel, enables “the reader to put together diverse strands in the story up to this point.” 26 It confirms that those considered sinners and outcasts, like the tax collectors, have been and will continue to be more receptive to God’s message than the Pharisees with all their punctilious attention to religious regulations. The emphasis on “hear[ing]” ( ; see Rom 10:17) implies listening that produced the decision to submit to John’s immersion. Their obedience is interpreted as “justify[ing] God” ( ). This literal translation is preserved to reveal the parallel with 7:35, “And yet Wisdom is justified by … her children.” But what does it mean “to justify God”? Elsewhere in Luke, the verb “to justify” relates to the justification of human beings (Luke 10:29; 16:15; 18:14; Acts 13:38–39). Here and in 7:35 it means something else. In the paragraph’s structure, those who “rejected the purpose of God for themselves” are the opposite of those who “justified God.” Most translations understand it to mean that they acknowledged or deemed right something about God: “God’s justice” (NASB; NRSV; NJB, “God’s saving justice”); “God’s way” (TNIV); “God’s way of righteousness” (CSB). Louw and Nida render it: “all the people and the tax collectors heard him, and they obeyed God’s righteous commands.” 27 John warned of God’s judgment, proclaimed an immersion of repentance for the forgiveness of sins bypassing the normal channels for obtaining forgiveness through the temple sacrifices and pointed to the coming of the more powerful one who would immerse them with the Holy Spirit and fire (3:1–17). Those who submitted to his repentance immersion accepted as righteous God’s judgment upon them and submitted to God’s plan for Israel’s redemption. 28 This sense of the verb “justify” is confirmed by its use in Ps 51:4 (LXX 50:6) and Ps. Sol. 2:15: “I shall prove you right, O God, in uprightness of heart; for your judgments are right, O God” (see also Ps 119:7, 9; Rom 3:4–5). 29 7:30 But the Pharisees and the law experts rejected the purpose of God for themselves because they had not been immersed by him ( ). The word “law experts” (or “lawyers,” ) occurs six times in Luke and is equivalent to the “scribes” ( ). Luke may have used this term because it was the nearest equivalent in Greco-Roman society to the Jewish scribe, i.e., an exegete of the (religious) law. It is shorthand for “law scholars” ( , 5:17; Acts 5:34). The noun “purpose” ( ) is used in Acts to refer to a plan or purpose (Acts 4:28; 13:36; 20:27); in Acts 2:23 it refers specifically to God’s plan and foreknowledge for Jesus to be crucified. Mary bears witness to God’s plan to exalt the lowly and bring low the mighty (1:52). This purpose is bad news for those who despise the lowly and instead exalt themselves (18:14). The Pharisees seek to justify themselves (10:29; 16:15; see 18:9) and reject God’s justification of others. They are overscrupulous about such matters as immersing before eating ( , 11:38) and express shock that Jesus does not follow suit, but they have refused to submit to John’s repentance immersion, an immersion of far greater importance. Their refusal means that they are unwilling to repent and reveals that they are a brood of vipers, not sons of Abraham; they will not escape the coming wrath (3:7).” (David E. Garland & Clinton E. Arnold, Luke, 7352-7383 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
This is especially enlightening because the text tells us that God’s will for the Pharisees and the lawyers was that they receive the baptism of John-yet they had rejected His will.
In our next lesson, we will spend some time discussing the specific mode of baptism that John practiced.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.
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