Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 11:16-17 (Holman) To what should I compare this generation? It’s like
children sitting in the marketplaces who call out to each other:
We played the flute for you, but you didn’t dance; we sang a
lament, but you didn’t mourn!
This is the only place in the Bible where a children’s game is described. Jesus took interest in children. He taught the world to love and respect them.
From the indifference of the past, Jesus carved out what would become the safe, blessed, and wonderful children’s realm we enjoy in the Western world.
Jesus pictured a game of pretend, children playing make believe, imitating adults. Contrary spoilsports are refusing to cooperate with playmates. “Let’s play wedding. No, we don’t want to play glad. Let’s play funeral. No, we don’t want to play sad.” Sulky, whiny, and in a bad mood, they reject all tries to please them.
Jesus said His listeners were similarly impossible to please, not wanting to play funeral with sad John or play wedding with glad Jesus–no dance, no dirge.
Many folks today, like this crowd, excel at one trait, being flippant fault-finders impossible to please. Whatever Christianity offers, they pick it apart.
People sinfully desire to do their own thing, to determine what they want and how they wish to live, no matter what others, yea even what God, may think.
Nothing can please people determined to be dissatisfied. Every Christian worker has fought this battle. Hearers can be as senseless as seats they sit on, as hard as pillars they lean on. All effort to affect them is resisted, and thus fruitless.
Obstinance can always find excuses. At a meeting in WW II, Stalin kept rejecting every proposal made by Roosevelt and Churchill. Asked why he was being unreasonable, Stalin told a story. A man refused to lend his rope, saying he needed it to tie his camel. When reminded he didn’t own a camel, he replied, “I know, but if you don’t want to lend your rope, one excuse is as good as another.”
When people don’t want to hear the truth, they easily find an excuse for not listening. Once the decision to reject is made, any rationalization is adequate.
Matt. 11:18-19a For John did not come eating or drinking, and they say, He
has a demon! The Son of Man came eating and drinking,
and they say, Look, a glutton and a drunkard,. . .”
If people don’t like the message, they often slime the messenger. When the teaching is disliked, it is common for the listeners to malign the teacher.
For any willing to be reasonable, there had to be something in John or Jesus to like. John was a rough and gruff wilderness ascetic, denying himself ordinary, harmless comforts. He was rigorous and threatening, stern and severe, lightning and thunder. People said he was strange, crazy, insane, a deranged lunatic fanatic.
Jesus was totally unlike John. John drove, Jesus drew. John was Sinai’s frown, Jesus was Calvary’s smile; John gloomy, Jesus glad. Christ was affable and approachable. What did people say of Him? He is a glutton and a drunk.
Why did neither extreme satisfy the crowd? Why couldn’t they be pleased? They wanted God’s kingdom on their terms. It had to be their way or the highway. They were bent on their own gratification. Self, not God, was front and center.
They wanted the religious leadership to say their lives were okay. They wanted to live by rules they deemed important, by standards they set. John was not liked because he preached repentance, thereby accusing them of wrong-doing.
They wanted to be number one, a cut above others. Jesus was shunned due to preaching grace, thereby saying others were equal to the crowd in importance.
They wanted John and Jesus to be like them, to okay their taste, preference, and perceived superiority. They soon realized they couldn’t have it their own way. They met their match in two men whose resolve was unshakable, set like flint.
We still fight the same battle. People who make their taste and expectations the measure of their era’s religious movements often make mistakes fatal to their own religious growth, and end up worrying more about methods than the Master.
The pastor is cranial and intellectual; no, trivial and shallow. He’s loud and giddy; no, soft and dull. He’s old, weird, and can’t preach a lick; no, young and hip, a people person. He preaches stars down; no one can stand to be around him.
I want the New International Version; it’s the New American Standard for me. Our music is dull and traditional; no, irreverent and contemporary. I want my religion up to date; give me that old time religion. Our church is too harsh; no, it’s too gentle. Talk less of duty and damnation; no, emphasize mercy and grace less.
People who become like this, threats can’t shake, promises can’t woo, truth can’t convince, and events can’t change. Not even God can please the impenitent.
Nevertheless, Jesus refuses to give up on the stubborn. To even the most recalcitrant, Jesus continues to reach out, offering grace, and calling for a change, a response. When His hand is outstretched to us, we must react somehow. Many embrace and kiss it. Others reject and hammer nails into it, as they did at Calvary.
The obstinate, hating a call to higher holiness and deeper humility, will do whatever it takes to discredit those who preach and practice both. Proud sinners hate to give up their sins, or share with others their perceived privileged position.
John and Jesus had to determine, and be, what God chose for them. Once God’s will was found and settled, the crowd, not John and Jesus, had to change.
Stop judging Christian leaders and churches by our personal prejudices. Thank God for preachers who point us to the Bible, for Music Men who turn our hearts toward Jesus, and tune our voices to lift Him up. Thank God for all who bring others closer to Jesus, even if their methods are not the same we would use.
People have to please God according to their own temperaments, in ways God wired them. We have freedom of speech and behavior as long as none of our idiosyncracies conflict Scripture. Anyone who pleases God had best please us.
If we forget this, a critical spirit will undo us, and leave us unproductive for Jesus. Have we found a class or local church where we give our fullest energy to some corporate form of serving Jesus? Have we found a preacher, music leader, Sunday School teacher, small group, or local church that meets our lofty standard?
If not, remember the Tom, Dick, and Harry rule. If I have a problem with Tom, a problem with Dick, and a problem with Harry, the problem may not be Tom, Dick, or Harry, but me. The problem was not John or Jesus, but the crowd.
Jesus’ detractors misjudged Him. Most in His day deemed Him wrong, as has the majority ever since. So much for the old saying, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” Public opinion is fickle and fallible, the rabble often wrong.
Christ’s critics lied. Jesus was not a glutton or a drunk. They opposed Him due to His lifestyle not being what they perceived a holy man’s should have been.
Jesus was an ordinary guy who lived a normal life. Manna did not fall from Heaven for Him. He ate and drank as we do. He did not overly deny Himself or decline innocent pleasures. He was not embarrassed to wholeheartedly enjoy life.
Not reclusive, He seemed to find people interesting, and to enjoy “all things human.” One of His favorite activities was hanging out with folks. He went to Matthew’s banquet, attended wedding celebrations, spent time socializing with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, went to eat at Zaccheus’ house. Jesus was into life.
By sharing the normal routines and course of life, Jesus put His blessing on all aspects of life, including business and recreation as well as prayer or devotion.
In this way Jesus showed us the normative Christian lifestyle. Very few are to be as austere as John. The Baptist is not our ultimate example on how to live.
The preponderance of believers should live a lifestyle similar to our Lord’s, moving in regular patterns of life. Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian asceticism aim to suppress the body, to eradicate desire, but true Bible living entails controlling, not destroying, the flesh. Asceticism is no nobler than ordinary life.
Monasticism and isolationism are not the kind of self-denying life God expects from His children. Some believers think God is angry at them if they are happy, but God does not take delight in human agony. There is no virtue in the worship of pain. Pleasure is not inherently bad. We displease God only when we indulge in sin, not when we enjoy innocent happiness.