After John’s disciples left, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people who wear beautiful clothes and live in luxury are found in palaces. 26 Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say,
‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way before you.’
I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!”
When they heard this, all the people—even the tax collectors—agreed that God’s way was right, for they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God’s plan for them, for they had refused John’s baptism.
John the Baptist’s disciples had visited Jesus to ask him if he was the Messiah. John’s disciples had just left and afterwards Jesus turned to the crowd and asked, what seemed like, cryptic questions. The big question hanging in the air was whether Jesus was ‘the one’ – Israel’s true and final king. So, Jesus asked the crowd whether, when they went to see John, if they were expecting to see a weak reed blown by the wind or a guy dressed in royal robes? A weak reed. What does that mean?
Well, the self-appointed royal king of the Jews at the time was Herod Antipas. Herod was what we call a ‘puppet king’ in that he was really under the control of the Romans. The Romans gave Herod some free rein as long as he didn’t cause any trouble, and Herod was pretty corrupt.
Now, Herod chose as his symbol a palm branch or an upright reed. It was his emblem and featured on one side of his coins. The other side had the Roman emperor on it. Herod probably chose a reed because the Romans had their laurel wreath and Herod wanted something of a similar design. Reeds were tall, prolific in the region, and symbolised growth and vitality. So, when Jesus mentioned a reed, everyone listening would have clicked that Jesus was talking about Herod. On top of this, Herod was very wealthy and lived in a palace. Jesus was firstly asking if the people expected to find a king like Herod? Clearly not.
Jesus then asked the crowds whether they expected John to be like one of the prophets of old, like the great prophets that had pronounced God’s blessings or curses on the nation of Israel. Yes, he was like that, Jesus replied, but way more than that, because John was preparing the way for the true king of Israel – a king that wouldn’t be like Herod.
The sting in the tail of this section is the contrast between those who accepted John’s and Jesus’ message and those who rejected it. Not everyone accepted John’s message or Jesus’ explanation. The unexpected ‘tax collectors’ got it, but the religious leaders, the people you’d expect to get it, didn’t. The ministries of John and Jesus remind us that we should never be surprised who comes to faith in God.
Today, who do you have in mind that will ‘never get it’? Pray for this person and ask for forgiveness that you doubt that they will ever find Jesus.
Forgive me when I have written people off,
or doubted that they will ever turn to you.
Remind me that you welcomed me,
a sinner into your kingdom,
and that no-one is beyond the grasp of your love.
Thank you for your super-abundant grace and mercy,
that’s big enough for me and for the whole world.
This day and forever.
Why do you think Jesus didn’t just come out and say ‘Herod’? Why use the reference to the reed blown by the wind?