During my study prep for a sermon from Luke 7, I had a bit of to and fro with Mike Bull about the structure of the passage and where it fits in both the flow of Luke’s narrative and the unfolding covenantal history of the New Testament history books (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts).
The literary structure of the Bible works like a fractal. Layers within layers or if you prefer to use the language of Ezekiel, wheels within wheels. And just like those funky 3D pictures from the 90′s, once you see the pattern you can’t un-see it. God is the greatest architect and the Bible is his handiwork. God also is a covenant maker. He reveals himself, explains how he will relate to men, gives his word (law, commands, promises), explains the consequence of accepting/obeying versus rejecting/disobeying it (blessings, curses, rewards) and then provides for the means for the next generation to inherit the promises and blessings.
Covenantally that looks like this:
So what? Structurally, the first part of Luke’s gospel (4:14-9:50 after the intro and preamble) concerns the identity of Jesus. Who is he? Covenantally, that’s a role of hierarchy – i.e. how will the God who reveals himself relate to men, how and in whom will he visit his people to help them? So throughout this section of Luke, there are accounts of people interacting with Jesus and determining the answer to “Who are you?” Using a variety of mostly miraculous acts, Luke demonstrates Jesus is the one who has come from God and is the one to follow. The narrative has an interplay between these acts and the reactions and responses of the crowds and more particularly the leading disciples who will (later) become the primary witnesses of Jesus to the Church.
Luke used John the Baptist in his introduction (1:1-4:13) to act as an announcer (A.K.A. a prophet!). Now, midway through the next section, John shows up again, (7:18-35) in a similar role, with a slightly different approach – so it seems. Often described as doubtful and struggling, in a way similar to his Old Testament counterpart, Elijah; I think John is acting in that way, but, there’s a lot more to his role than merely a doubter that the modern reader can identify with and get some sort of consolation or excuse for their dissonance.
John’s role in sending the questions to Jesus helps fill out the answer to the “Who are you?” of this section of Luke. John is already convinced that Jesus is the Priestly King (i.e. the Messiah who will anoint his people with the Holy Spirit of God.) What remains is to confirm that Jesus is also the prophet who is going to inaugurate the new covenant. Jesus’ answer to him makes this plain and Jesus uses it as a teaching opportunity to awaken the crowd to something that John already understands but they don’t. When it comes to “Who is Jesus”, John sees him as King, Priest and Prophet. The people, with their fascination in his miraculous acts, are only seeing a powerful King. If they are going to commit to following Jesus, they need more than a King. They need the anointing empowerment of a priest and the direction of the prophet. John helps clarify the threefold role of Jesus. Jesus, proceeds in chapter 8, to lay down the prophets directions to his people: those that follow Jesus are those that put his words into practice.
When you ‘get that’ John becomes a provocateur among the Jews to agitate and incite them to realise Jesus full identity. It follows that if Jesus is really God’s final prophet, then why aren’t you listening to him and putting his words into practice? He who has ears to hear …