When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John:
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet?
“Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.
“Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
It’s really neat to see how Jesus honors John in this spot. John was widely respected and even Pharisees and religious leaders from Jerusalem came out to hear and examine what he had to say.
They all knew that John was bold. Jesus is reinforcing that. His questions about “What did you go out to see?” all point to boldness and conviction. A reed blown around in the wind is weak. It’s not like a tree. It’s going to bend with every passing breeze. The ‘soft clothing’ comment is similar, but with some comedy.
Remember Jesus’ audience is a lot of sun-burnt, calloused, laboring people. They often had one change of clothes that they wore day and night. Fishermen took their clothes off to work so their pajamas wouldn’t smell like fish! So when Jesus refers to ‘soft clothing’ it’s like using the word sissy or making a joke about pencil-pushers or the CEO crying because he broke a fingernail. BUT THEN what does He say? “Those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts.” Basically Herod and his court are all a bunch of pansies living in luxury. It would have gotten a laugh from the crowd for sure.
John the Baptist, on the other hand, dressed in rough clothes just like Elijah the prophet of 1&2 Kings. He was not seeking luxury, but the Lord.
In this whole teaching, Jesus honors John the Baptist, gives a commentary on seeking luxury, and affirms that since John was the ‘Elijah that was to come’ prophesied in Malachi, that Jesus the Messiah is now here.
John was born under the Mosaic Law which Jesus is now going to fully complete. The grace of God is now being shown through Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven is now coming to live with men and women forever and ever. The least in that Kingdom will experience greater things than even Moses or Abraham experienced. That’s today! That’s right now!
Not being a luxurious reed in the wind doesn’t mean we stand like trees over this or that, it means that we can be planted firmly in the love and life of Jesus. It means that our life is in Christ, now, and we get to watch Him live it out in our daily lives.