ONE GREATER THAN WHO?
The people in Jesus’ day were living in the presence of Immanuel and refused to believe it. What God was doing for them was far greater than what happened to David, Jonah and to Solomon. Four times Jesus used the phrase “One greater than,” once for John the Baptist and three times about Himself. All four had to do with the arrival of God’s Son, as the “Messiah.” In spite of the miracles, Jesus was performing, the leaders demanded more evidence that He had a mission from God. Jesus was not playing the role of Moses or of David. Instead, He was proclaiming a kingdom and a way of life that did not engage in hatred or in war. The concepts of freedom and deliverance that Jesus offered bore no similarity to the Exodus and to David’s exploits. His own followers began to doubt and demanded to know, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
The man that wanted to know was John the Baptist. He had pointed at Jesus as the Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world (Jn.1: 29). Unlike Jesus, he was jailed for criticizing Herod’s transgressions with a female. When Jesus did not come to his rescue, he too misinterpreted Jesus’ intentions. Jesus informed John that He had not come to take on the Romans or the Herods; but He came to help the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers cured, deaf to hear, dead are raised and the disadvantaged have a message of hope. He also asked John not to loose faith in Him (Mt.11: 1-6). To set the record straight about the Baptist, Jesus informed His audience that they had indeed followed and been with a man Who was greater than anyone else born of women. He was also greater than all the prophets because He had ushered in the Messiah and a kingdom that man could no longer enter or gain by force. Also, with John all prophesying ended and so did the speculating about the Messiah (Mt.11: 13). However, in this new kingdom, the least is greater than John the Baptist (Mt.11: 15; Lk.7: 24-28). That declaration had an enormous impact on the people that were regarded as unworthy and even cursed (Jn.7: 47-49).
It was on the Sabbath that Jesus and His disciples crossed a grain field and helped themselves unlawfully. Jesus defended their action with an example from what David and his men had to do when they were hungry. They ate sanctified bread in the house of God that was intended for the priests. The law forgave the priests that had desecrated the holy place because of David. Regarding the disciples of Jesus, the law was not applied in the same way. How could the law excuse the action of some and judge others for the same behavior? Jesus’ answer to these critics and regulators was, “I tell you one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Mt.12: 1-8). Mark had Jesus add, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk.2: 23-28). Jesus did not abort the law but corrected the abuse (Mk.7: 1-23; Mt.5: 17-20). The law was designed to serve man and not to condemn him. Regarding the temple, it was His Father’s house they had turned into a den for thieves (Lk.19: 46). The priests were the ones that fed on the sacrifices of the people. The religious leaders prospered from the profits the temple yielded. When Jesus declared that He was greater than the law and the temple, He had signed His death warrant.
The other two references of being greater than Jonah and Solomon had to do with a sign that Jesus had been send by God (Lk.11: 29-32; Mt.12: 29-42). To answer those that wanted more signs, they were told to remember what had happened to Jonah and then see it happen to the Son of Man. The very people that asked for a sign would create one. Just as Jonah had to spend three days and three nights in the belly of a whale, so the leaders would put Jesus in the ground for three days and three nights. The people of Nineveh believed Jonah, repented and were spared. The Queen of Sheba came to listen to Solomon and believed. Jesus came to usher in God’s kingdom or a return to God’s moral laws by repentance. Instead, they crucified Him and kept on struggling for a material kingdom that would spell their doom. On top of it, Jesus’ generation had a chance of being the greatest, ends up being first to be judged with Nineveh and the Queen of the South as witnesses against it. One greater than Jonah and Solomon had come to His people and they did not receive Him; but, those that believed, the people of Nineveh and the Queen of Sheba made it into the kingdom (Jn.1: 11-12).
Jesus told those that were unwilling to repent and believe, that they would come from East and West and replace those for whom the kingdom was intended (Mt.8: 11-12). The rejection of Jesus or the “One Greater,” is a sign against everyone that does not accept Him. There is no other name available that can save mankind (Ac.4: 12; Jn.14: 6). The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was and still is the ultimate sign and proof of God’s redemptive power in the world (I Cor. 15: 12-19). Jesus’ victory over death ended man’s separation from God. Jesus Christ closed the insurmountable gap between God and man. And those that follow the Son of God across that divide are greater that the greatest in the world (Mt.5: 19). How can this be? If we believe in Jesus and obey His commandments; then, we have already crossed the divide (Jn.3: 16-21). Jesus paid for our trip back to God with His life (Mk.10: 45).