24 When the messengers of John had departed, He began to speak to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
25 “But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts.
26 “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.”
Just after being questioned by some followers of John the Baptist, Jesus questions His own followers about what they expected to see when they first went out to see John. In the previous hundred years, Judea had seen dozens of prophets, some of whom had even claimed to be the Messiah. Jesus wanted to know what the people of Judea were looking for. There is a lesson here for us, too, about what we expect to see in Christ.
But what is a “reed shaken by the wind”? Such a “reed” is an insubstantial teacher blown by the winds of whatever teachings are in vogue at the time – the kinds of teachers the Jews had followed in several failed battles in the previous century. When we look toward Christ, is that what WE expect to see? Do we seek someone who is just like other teachers, someone who shifts according to the whims of the times? I think many people expect to be able to take Jesus’ words and mold them to their own ends, to make them seem more current by ignoring His hard and unyielding teachings about sin, repentance, and hell.
Did the people of Judea expect to see a rich man, perhaps even a king? After all, the Messiah was supposed to take up the crown of King David to unite Israel against their oppressors. Is that what WE expect from Jesus? Do we seek someone who will show up in great power and majesty to carry us into His courts, someone who will shower us with riches simply because we follow Him? I think there are an awful lot of people who seek that vision of Jesus. As many were in Jesus’ own time, such seekers are often disappointed to find that Jesus preaches submission and service and forgiveness.
Finally, Jesus asks if the followers sought John the Baptist as a prophet, someone with special knowledge from God. Despite the real warnings and guidance of the prophets of God, time and again the Jews had fallen and been sent into captivity. Jesus is essentially asking, “What good would another prophet do you this time?” Truly, when we seek Christ, when we read His words, are we seeking after knowledge that we have not heard before? Are we seeking awareness of our sins beyond that which our conscience has already written on our hearts?
Or do we, like those who sought the Baptist, seek Jesus as “more than a prophet”? Many of those who went to see John the Baptist looked for him as the promised Messiah, and they were disappointed when the Baptist said, “One mightier than I is coming.” (Luke 3:16) And when Jesus came along in humility and showed them He WAS the Messiah, fulfilling what John the Baptist and other prophets had said, the people still had trouble believing.
What they didn’t understand was that Jesus came to serve, not to lead an uprising. Jesus came to teach ultimate love and submission to the will of God, not dominance and power. Jesus came to teach us that we already have the tools we needed to find God, not that we needed esoteric knowledge to find Him where others will never see Him.
What do we go out to see in Christ? A teacher, a king, a prophet, a messiah? He is all those things and more, but not the way we expect. We go looking for someone whose teachings conform to our ideals, and we find a Teacher who preaches the standards of God. We seek a king coming in power to take us along with Him, and we find instead a servant who washes the feet of His disciples. We seek a prophet to lead us to God, and we find instead the Son of God who says “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
When we seek Christ, and when we seek to bring Him to others, we need to be careful not to try to pigeon-hole Him as one thing or another. We need to look at and present the whole gospel in all its pain and glory, so that we all see Jesus for who He really is: Emmanuel, “God with us.” How often do we go out to see Him as that?
Lord God Almighty, thank You for the gift of Your Son, who bought my salvation with sacrifice and not with a sword. Thank You for Your Word, which teaches me daily, so I need never seek new teachers. Thank You, Lord, for Your blessings in my life and the mercy You bring every day. Amen.