Luke 7:31–35 (NKJV) — 31 And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying:
‘We played the flute for you,
And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
And you did not weep.’
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 But wisdom is justified by all her children.”
A group of children are sitting in the public marketplaces and calling to other children who are obstinate and unwilling to play games with them. One game involves a happy event like a wedding. Another involves a time of lament like a funeral. But the onlooking companions refuse to participate in either game.
The wedding speaks to the ministry of our Lord Jesus. The funeral speaks to that of John the Baptist. One group of children represents both of the contrasting roles of Jesus and John, our Lord’s forerunner. The second, non-participating of group of children represents the unresponsive, hardened Pharisees and the Jews who follow them. The non-participants reject both games. Even so, the Pharisees rejected both ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist.
The Pharisees seek to temper John’s stern preaching. They don’t like their hypocrisy being put on public display. As Herod proves when he takes the life of John the Baptist to satiate the bloodlust of his wife. At the same time, they seek to impose strict legalism upon what they see as Jesus’ permissive ministry. There is a great tension in this parable between legalism and licentiousness.
- Jesus’ message of forgiveness shouldn’t be dampened by legalistic restrictions. Instead, it should be freely celebrated.
- John’s message of repentance shouldn’t be ignored. Instead, it should be soberly measured.
- The truth of this tension between legalism and licentiousness is justified by those who hold to it.
The Pharisees are stubborn children. They cannot be brought from the sidelines to play nice with the other children. Flutes and dancing represent the joy of a wedding and the joy of mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Mourning and weeping represent the sober reality of sin’s just penalty: death and the funeral. But the Pharisees will not play that game either.
Jesus and the Good News Ministry
John the Baptist is the last of a long line of OT prophets who spoke of a time when the Messiah would come. Prophets speak of what is to come. But now the Bridegroom has come. The best man takes a backseat. John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord Jesus. He is the forerunner of the Messiah who would preach the Good News of the glorious gospel. Jesus confirmed His own preaching ministry with the miracles prophesied of in the OT by prophets like the Baptist. He also gave the apostles the ability to work miracles to confirm their teaching ministry. All was in place. Nothing should have hindered the reception of the Bridegroom or His joyful message of forgiveness.
The Rejection of the Good News
However, that message was not heeded. The Pharisees and those who followed them loved the letter of the Law but hated the spirit of it. They were fine with the shadow but rejected the substance. The road is indeed narrow which leads to righteousness. Broad is the path to destruction. The majority fill the broad way; the minority tread the narrow.
It shouldn’t be surprising that few receive the Good News today. It’s the way it has always been. A population tends to waver between legalism and licentiousness. But that whole population is still on the broad way. A lot of people think that they are Christians, but they don’t rejoice in forgiveness or repent in the face of serious sin. Wedding or funeral – it makes little difference to them. They won’t come out and play. Believers say with the prophet Isaiah, ”Lord, who has believed our report?”
But recall that John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus were very convincing and powerful preachers. A lot of people wouldn’t hear them. Someone weird like John doesn’t really deserve a hearing from the Pharisees’ perspective. The guy eats locusts and wild honey. He lives an isolated life wearing camel’s hair. He doesn’t have fun at all. He doesn’t eat bread or drink wine. He must have a demon. He’s just so austere. We can’t relate to him. And Jesus is way too friendly. Eating and drinking with anybody and everybody. He’s a glutton and a drunkard. There’s got to be something wrong with anyone who spends time as a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
Some people hate the glorious message of grace and forgiveness because of their legalistic sin nature. Others hate it because of the way it cramps their style, calling them to Spirit transformation rather than world conformation. They wouldn’t mind a Christ to save them, but they don’t want a Lord to master them.
Others don’t like a faith-only message. “After all, what incentive would there be for righteous living,” they ask. They are so works-oriented that they drive themselves and other to despair. Their proselytes are two-fold the children of Hell. They need a written set of laws and codes to live life by. Anyone who preaches “by grace through faith” is offensive to these religious, constraining types. To them, it’s a religion not a relationship. It is indeed a way to control the masses.
These are hardened, stubborn children. We look at the Pharisees and the Jews who followed them as being so foolish and churlish. But we don’t see the legalism working within us that worked within them. We don’t like it when our legalism is showing. We like to justify it, but wisdom only is justified by all her children.
The Gospel is free …grace is free. It’s too humiliating for some people to admit that. They are too proud to receive it or believe it. Self-righteousness and self-denial seems to make more sense. But we have no righteousness of our own, and self-denial turns to self-indulgence in no time without Christ. Even if we get to the point that we know the Gospel is true, we cannot get to the point that we are to blame for rejecting it. We blame the messenger …we condemn the Gospel’s preachers in order to justify ourselves.
But the real problem is that we love darkness rather than light. If Jesus’ message came to us from Him directly, we’d do the same thing the Pharisees did. We would balk and act wounded and offended. We’d use that as the reason to reject Him and His message. But wisdom is justified by all her children.