How do adults sometimes behave as children? Here are a few characteristics:
1) A child will throw a royal tantrum when they don’t get their way. It’s always disappointing when we don’t get our way, but it’s childish to explode because of it.
2) Like a child will stomp off and pout by themselves, so an adult may do the same. But where a child will come back and be friends again in a few minutes, an adult may avoid another person for decades!
3) A child gets upset over things that aren’t eternally important (“I wanted the purple cup, not the green cup!”). That’s fine, because they are children and have a lot to learn about life. But when an adult is angry over matters that will mean nothing in eternity, it’s childish behavior.
Does God ever look at us and wonder, “Why are you acting like children?” In Luke 7:29-35, we find Jesus calling adults out as children. We will see, first, that people had one of two responses to God’s messenger, John the Baptist—repentance or rejection. Then we will see that those who rejected God’s messenger gave childish reasons for doing so.
TWO RESPONSES TO GOD’S MESSENGER (7:29-30)
The Ones Who Repented
Luke 7:29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
Who was it that repented? It was the ordinary sinners—the regular “people” and even the “publicans” (tax collectors). The tax collectors represent the some of the most despicable and hated people in Israel. Some cheated people on their taxes to line their own pockets. No one thought them worthy of giving the time of day to, much less a place in Heaven.
Luke gives special attention to these “unworthy” sorts of people. He has already mentioned how the publicans came and asked John, “what shall we do?” (Luke 3:12). And later, in Luke 18, Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee praying in an arrogant fashion, while a ways off, there’s a publican beating his breast and praying, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
It was these kinds of people, the depised tax collectors and the ordinary folks, who responded to the call to repent.
It says here in verse 29 that they “justified God.” This is a strange phrase. How could they justify God? God doesn’t need justified. What it means is that they realized that God was right, and they were wrong. They were sinners who needed to repent. And when they got “baptized with the baptism of John,” they were publicly saying, “God was right and I was wrong.” That is how they justified God.
These are the ones who repented, but not everyone did. There were also…
The Ones Who Rejected
Luke 7:30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
A Pharisee was someone who was very concerned about God and the things of God, but they were wrapped up in their own ideas about who God was and what he wanted. They were self-righteous and legalistic. And they became angry with people who didn’t it follow their kind of righteousness. In fact, a mark of a legalistic person is that they are often angry and bitter with those who don’t believe as they do.
A good example of their legalism was keeping the Sabbath. God did command that his people rest and worship one day of the week (Exodus 20:8). Our Creator knows that, if we are left to ourselves, we tend to push off rest and worship. His commandment was given, therefore, for our benefit. That’s why Jesus would say, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
But the Pharisees missed this point altogether. They understood that God had given the commandment, and that people should obey it. But then they concerned themselves how to make sure people didn’t break it.
Legalism is like that—it often begins with good intentions, but then it breaks down into rules written down on paper that are used to punish any who dare to violate them.
Here’s how ridiculous their Sabbath rules became: they would help an ox out of a pit on the Sabbath, but would not allow a man to be healed (Luke 14:5). An animal ranked above a human being. So much for the Sabbath being made for man!
Luke says that these “Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves.” They rejected John’s call from God to repent of their sin and be baptized. They didn’t feel that they had any sin, even though their hearts were full of bitterness and hatred towards any who disagreed with them.
Who Are You?
Take time to reflect and ask yourself who you most resemble: a humble publican or a legalistic Pharisee. We want to stay humble and keep the attitude of the publican, but it is easy, especially for us Fundamentalist Baptists, to slide into becoming a Pharisee.
Look for the marks of a Pharisee in yourself: Is there more of a love for God’s law than of God himself? Do you like having lists of do’s and don’t’s for yourself and especially others to follow? Do you have a love for people who aren’t like you, or do you tend to make hateful remarks about them?
Do you really think God is going to praise you for your self-righteousness? Is he going to say to you, “I sure am glad that you found those extra rules and regulations to follow—I can’t believe that I forgot to include them in my Bible”?
Jesus turns his focus on the ones who were rejecting the message that John had given. He shows…
THEIR CHILDISH REASONS FOR REJECTION
First, Jesus gives an example that everyone would have been familiar with in those days. It is…
The Example Of Children Arguing In the Marketplace (7:31-32)
Luke 7:31 And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
Luke 7:32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
Jesus makes an analogy here, but Bible commentators have a lot of different ideas about what each part means. For example, some think that the children who want to dance refer to the disciples of Jesus while those who mourn are the disciples of John. Perhaps, I have my doubts.
Don’t lose the forest through the trees. What is the main idea here? Jesus is comparing the adults (“the men of this generation”) with children.
What do we mean to say when we compare someone with a child? It could be many things: that they are humble and dependent (see Matthew 18:1-6) or that they naive and foolish (“Don’t be such a child!”). I think it’s the negative comparison that Jesus is using here.
You have two groups of children here. In those days, there were no parks and playgrounds for kids to play in, so they played in the marketplaces.
Sometimes children will play pretend games based on what they see adults doing. My kids have played pretend “Church.”
These kids in the market were arguing about what game to play. One group wants to play, “Wedding.” So they did what adults do at weddings, they played a pipe, but the other group didn’t want to dance.
The second group wants to play “Funeral.” They pretended to be mourners at a funeral, perhaps saying things like, “Oh, my poor dead father!” There is historical evidence that one of the funeral games they played was called, “Bury the Grasshopper.” 1 I can just imagine how they would carry this poor, dead grasshopper (who do you think killed it?) on some sort of stick that was a funeral bier. Maybe one of the kids would recite scripture. But the first group of children did not pretend to cry.
Everyone knows how kids play and relate. They get in arguments over things that don’t mean much. You’ve probably interrupted many arguments about toys that won’t be shared or “He smiled at me funny.”
By the way, don’t be overly concerned that your kids fight over dumb things from time to time—it’s part and parcel of learning to relate to one another. Just break up the fight, and be patient, they will learn one day.
But it is childish for adults to argue over dumb things. I think this is what Jesus is getting at.
That generation of Jews were like children arguing over children’s games. They would argue about how far one could walk on the Sabbath, or how much one should tithe, and miss the importance of a real relationship with the Lord. Jesus would say to them:
42 But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. (Luke 11:42)
Christians haven’t gotten better at not arguing over things that don’t matter much. Church history is full of childish things that congregations have argued about.
No one thinks that their pet issue is childish at the time. But given time, most folks come to see that perhaps they argued a bit too much about a small thing. Some folks are so hard-headed that they have to wait until Heaven to see that they’ve been hard-headed about children’s games and not eternal issues.
But the most dangerous thing to be hard-headed and childish about is the matter of your eternal salvation. One thing that children do that irritates their parents to no end is that they think they are as wise or wiser than their parents. “Oh, I know how to do this,” or “That won’t happen to me.”
Unbelievers do the same with God. “I can’t believe in a God that allows evil.” Really, you know enough about the universe to say that? “I’ll make good with God when I am older?” Really, you know the day of your death?
To the unbeliever, God is foolish like a parent is foolish to a child (1 Corinthians 1:22-31). But who is really wise? The parent or the child? God or the unbeliever?
After giving the example of children arguing, Jesus points out…
The Childish Arguments Of The Adults (7:33-34)
Luke 7:33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
The Bible points out that John’s eating habits were, in a word, weird. Locusts and honey. And then he wore camel skins. He did not conform to the social conventions. He just wasn’t normal in how he lived.
We rise up to defend John the Baptist because we know that he was a godly prophet, but if we had met John face to face, we also would have had a hard time having a good opinion of his eating and hygiene habits.
Many people used John’s strange behavior to say that his teaching was suspect. They claimed that he had a demon—after all, he dressed funny and ate things that only a demon-possessed person would eat.
Then along came Jesus. How did they respond to him?
Luke 7:34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
Jesus wore the normal clothing of the day. He ate normal food in the normal way. But picky, picky, they still found things to be wrong with him. He ate and drank too much! (Gluttony and drunkenness were a serious charges in the Old Testament law [see Deuteronomy 21:20]).
And then there were those people Jesus hung around. Sinners like prostitutes and tax collectors and all those undesirable sorts of people. John at least preached judgment to them, but Jesus was kind to them and healed them.
Do you see how picky these people were? Their pickiness was an indicator that their hearts were set against God. It wouldn’t have mattered who God sent to them, they were already determined to rebel against God. Unbelief is like that—it rebels against God even while being religious.
Don’t think that Christians aren’t immune to this. Unbelief can still take hold in the darker regions of our heart. We can give in to childish behavior and make trivial matters to be vital for eternity and national security.
Let’s learn to ask ourselves when we are debating an issue, “Would Jesus compare me to children arguing in the marketplace?”
If it seems that unbelief has such a hold on the human race that there is no hope, take a look at the last verse here:
Luke 7:35 But wisdom is justified of all her children.
This is a rather odd-sounding little verse, but the meaning is clear if you understand what the terms mean:
The term “wisdom” here refers to God. I think you could say that it even refers to God’s wise plan of salvation. Why does he use the word “wisdom”? Because it is what the men who were acting childishly did not have.
The “children” here are wisdom’s children, or, if you will, the children that result from God’s wise plan of salvation. In other words, they are Christians.
The word “justified” carries it’s basic meaning, “to be shown correct or right.” We might defend ourselves as being right by saying, “I was justified in my actions.”
Knowing this, what does the verse read like? Here’s my paraphrase: “God’s wise plan of salvation is shown to be correct by fact that there are those who are saved.”
I remember a philosophy class that I had with an atheist professor. One day he went on a rant about how God couldn’t exist. One of my Christian classmates spoke up and said, “So millions of people throughout history have been wrong about Christ?”
That is what this verse is saying. God’s wisdom is proved correct because of what it has done in the lives of the millions who have believed in the Gospel. Are you one of the children of God’s wisdom? Or are you childishly trying to get to Heaven your own way?
6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)
1 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Lk 7:29–32.