Experienced athletes prepare themselves for an event by various warm-ups including stretch exercises. Stretching helps avoid injuries to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It also prepares the body to go to the next level of performance. A series of interactions in Luke 7:17-35 seem to have a similar spiritual function—preparing for the kingdom of God.
It begins with a question from John the Baptist. “Are you the Expected One?” Jesus listed a short resume of His work using the prophetic job description of the Messiah as a comparison. But one item could not be checked off the list—prisoners (like John) had to wait for freedom and vengeance. Jesus was the Expected One, but not in the expected way. That was a stretch for John. Would he accept the messianic evidence or stumble over the missing piece? Jesus concluded His answer with the following comment:
“I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. (Luke 7:28-30)
Jesus clearly affirmed John as a great prophet. But then He stretched the crowd’s minds. This great man was surpassed by every subject of the kingdom of God. So, kingdom membership must be extremely important. The idea produced two reactions.
Notice how we humans behave. When it comes to new ideas, we tend to accept things that build on our existing views and lifestyles. We prefer affirmation and reinforcement; we often reject things that challenge us or require us to backpedal. Those who had accepted John’s baptism said, “That’s right,”1 to the idea. The religious leaders, who had not been baptized, gave no place2 to the counsel or purpose of God for themselves.
Now there’s a challenge for us! If we are to find the purpose of God for our lives we must be prepared to let go of old worldviews and practices wherever they are contrary to God’s ways. John’s baptism was the sign of a soft heart—a baptism of repentance. Thoughts and actions had to change because the kingdom had arrived (Matt. 3:2). John’s baptism functioned like a warm-up exercise for the kingdom. Fans, foes and fallen people all need to “repent” in some way to make room for the kingdom. Tough, unrepentant, unbaptized hearts are unable to embrace it.
Jesus went on to describe the spiritual climate in terms of children playing weddings and funerals. Other awkward children refused to join in with either game. Many responses to John and Jesus had been like that; John’s stoic life and Jesus’ celebration of freedom were both rejected. Jesus concluded that, “wisdom is vindicated3 by all her children.” It’s a blunt hint and a huge stretch for religious minds: Common people and tax-gatherers were God’s children. They had accepted baptism and the idea that kingdom membership was important (v. 29). They had no problem dancing to the flute with a friend of sinners—they were sinners!
So, when God seems to be doing something in your circumstances—something uncomfortable but not unbiblical—perhaps the best advice is, “stretch . . . and hold”.
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