Luke 7:20-22 - The Heart of the Gospel
When the men came to Jesus they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”’ ... So he replied to the messengers, 'Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor'.Luke 7:20, 22
Just what do you expect to receive when you attend a Divine service? What, in your opinion, is a good sermon? What is the heart of the Gospel? This is what you may expect to hear, but what is it?
Similar questions arose in the heart and mind of John the Baptist, who, according to Jesus' own words, was the greatest of all the prophets.
John had been imprisoned. He had been too outspoken. At least that's what some people thought and still think. He had condemned king Herod's marrying his brother's wife. John had not kept still about it, like many prophets and preachers have done throughout the ages, refusing to hurt someone's feelings, or become unpopular. The bold and courageous John the Baptist had done what God instructed Him to do – preach the truth. Because it displeased especially Herod's new wife, Herodias, John was put in jail. He was left there for some time, by Herod, but also by the Messiah of whom he had often spoken and of whom he expected great things.
For about a year or year and a half Jesus and John had been contemporaneous preachers and workers. John's special work was to be the forerunner of Christ to prepare the way for Him. John expected an earthly kingdom. This is easy to understand. Wasn't Jesus going to be the fulfillment of the many types of Him found in the Old Testament? And hadn't there been types like David and Solomon and others as earthly kings ruling over earthly kingdoms? Add to all this the fact that John preached judgment. With the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, "the ax was laid at the root of the tree" of formal Israel. The tree was about to be cut down. Hadn't there been prophets of judgment in the years that preceded John? Recall Isaiah's and Jeremiah's warnings of judgment upon apostate Israel. Think of what happened in Moses' day to Korah, Dathan and Abiram. These judgments were prophetic of what was to come on the day of the Lord. John had said that the fan was in Jesus' hand to purge the threshing floor of formal Israel. John warned and urged people to repent, receive remission of sins, and be baptised. Warning the people as the forerunner of Christ, John expected Christ to bring the judgments.
Now he was imprisoned. And Jesus, instead of remaining in the general are of Judea, "retreated" into the area of Galilee and stayed there.
Two things very likely disturbed John greatly. First, Jesus left him in jail and did nothing to bring about his release. Second, reports about the work of Jesus upset him.
There was no evidence of any kind of glory, power and majesty in the life and work of Jesus as king. And there was no judgment coming upon the people, as John had prophesied.
Jesus was doing the very opposite of what was expected - showing mercy, kindness and love to distressed and helpless people and making friends with the lower class of people. Can you imagine a presidential candidate campaigning among terminally ill people in the hospitals, the blind and paralyzed and in vast homes for the aged? With such a compassion, how can he become the new and real king of Israel?
John's apprehensions seem to be well founded. Some people were no longer following Jesus, although they had at first been enthusiastically welcoming Him as the expected Messiah.
The Baptist has real problems. This can't be the right way! Could John have been mistaken in regarding Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Savior? A committee was appointed to ask Jesus about this extremely important matter.
Notice the answer Jesus gives to this committee.
Go your way and tell John what you have seen and heard, how the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he who shall not be offended in me.
Since I was a child I often wondered why Jesus didn't give John a direct and positive answer, affirming that He was indeed the promised One. Why didn't He? Then John could still have doubts as he continued to hear about the kind of work Jesus was doing.
Jesus' answer is based on a fundamental principle for all of us, for all our questions and problems. The Lord quoted from Scripture (Isaiah 35 and 61). Let John search the Scriptures. Then he will see that Jesus in His work is indeed the fulfillment of them.
Consider the content of Jesus' answer. He was helping and healing the sick, blind, deaf, paralyzed, and even raising dead people. This all concerns the physical needs of people. We know that this was not the primary purpose of His coming. He came to spiritually save us and then to renew our bodies in a new heaven and earth. This the Lord Jesus emphasized in His preaching. The miraculous healings were signs of the spiritual salvation. As He healed bodies, He came to save souls.
Notice how many of the people Jesus healed were "hopeless cases." They were helpless in their pain and misery. Jesus came to save helpless, lost sinners. In such people He is vitally interested. Although in the end only the believers, the elect, are saved, in the foreground, we see the nature of Jesus' work – to save lost sinners.
Was John wrong then in speaking about the judgment to come upon all formal religion and all sinners and unbelievers? Of course not. But Jesus came first to preach and show His love in saving, healing, forgiving and redeeming sinners. God always is displeased with all sin. But doom is to come especially upon those who reject the Savior.
The Lord Jesus spoke of wrath and judgment to come upon the world, as sinners and unbelievers. How often He spoke of judgment upon the Pharisees and the nominal church. Recently I read that Jesus in the Gospels spoke as much about wrath and judgment as He did about love and grace. How unbalanced many people and preachers are in these matters. Many of them preach only about love and mercy, and rarely, if ever, speak of God's terrible displeasure with sinners and unbelievers.
This work of Jesus reveals the very heart of God. Jesus was healing the sick, helping the lame, blind, deaf and paralyzed, out of love. Therein He truly revealed the Father. We are saved by grace alone. Jesus had compassion upon sinners as He went through the land doing good. It was sheer pleasure for Him to help and heal such people, pointing them to the great redemption, namely salvation from sin. He never grew tired of showing love to the unlovable. We are all unlovable as sinners before that holy and righteous Lord Jesus. Is there anything in us that makes us attractive to God? Absolutely nothing. In our sinful nature we must be repulsive to Him. God hates sin. Is there anything attractive, to a healthy person, in patients dying of cancer? Although no one really finds it a pleasure to visit such people, we do visit, or should, because we love them. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. The angel said that His name was to be Jesus because He will save His people from their sins. Notice that He will save His people only. But they, too, are sinners. And Jesus in this great work preached to all who heard Him, showed His concern and love in healing and saving. This is the very heart of the Gospel, because it shows us what is in the heart of God.
Why then does He save? Because He loved His people.
Where in all the religions of the world do we find anything like this? In this the true religion, the Christian religion is unique. In all other religions man has to do something to make himself worthy of the salvation they claim to give. In the Christian religion, God saves the unworthy through faith in Christ. Of course, we, too, must love Him. But we love because He first loved us.
What no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or has ever entered into the heart of any man, that God has revealed to us. And He continues to do it.
This love, this mercy of God is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that love Him.
Even John the Baptist had to learn this. So do we, and all the glory is His.