Read Luke 7.
Jesus has gone public now and has been attracting more and more attention in his area. That attention continued as he performed miracles such as healing the dying (vv. 1-10) and raising the dead (vv. 11-17). His message was right but his actions were not what John the Baptist expected so when John–in prison–heard about Jesus actions, he sent some disciples of his to ask Jesus to identify himself (vv. 18-27).
After reassuring John through his disciples (vv. 21-23), Jesus began to probe what the people who followed Jesus thought of John the Baptist (vv. 24-27). After asking some probing questions to get people to think about the meaning of John’s life and ministry in verses 24-26, Jesus affirmed that John was a prophet, but he was a prophet plus more (prophet+) in verse 26b. According to Jesus in verse 27, John was, in fact, the forerunner prophesied in the Old Testament to Messiah.
But then Jesus raised the importance of John even further but with a twist. According to Jesus, John was the greatest mortal man who ever lived (v. 28a). That’s quite an assessment to make about anyone, but especially coming from Jesus. But then Jesus said something even more intriguing: “…yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John].” The most insignificant person who arrives in God’s kingdom is greater than the greatest man whoever lived in human history, according to Jesus. Why is that true?
The answer is that John–great as he was–was a sinner but the “least in the kingdom of heaven” is not a sinner. Sinners are not allowed into the kingdom of heaven, so there are no sinners there. Consequently everyone who is there is a better person than John.
The Kingdom of God must be an empty place, then, because I and everyone I know is a sinner.
That’s where Jesus comes in and why he came into the world. Jesus the man lived the sinless life that would qualify a person to enter the kingdom of God. He was able to do that as a man because he was also God. As God, he didn’t need to earn his way into the kingdom of God; it already belongs to him. So, in the great act theologians call imputation, God gave sinners access to his kingdom based on the perfect life of Christ. He imputed–credited–Christ’s righteousness to those who believe him for it.
On the opposite side of that coin, he also credited to Jesus the guilt for human sin which Jesus paid for through his death on the cross. For those who believe this message, God imputes your guilt to Christ who paid it in full and imputes Christ’s righteousness to you. That’s how you get into the kingdom of God. When you get there, God will transform you completely so that you never want to or will sin again. Thus, you will be a better human being than John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived.
This is an important truth for our salvation. It is one that everyone must humble himself to believe. Even the most morally upright person must admit his sin and need of salvation. But many people are too proud for that so Luke told us in verse 29 that those who knew they were sinners were getting into the kingdom while those who were really religious, according to verse 30, were missing out on what God has done.
Don’t let that be you! Don’t let your pride keep you from an eternity in God’s presence and in his kingdom.
Also, know that if you have trusted Christ, God treats you as perfect now, even though you aren’t yet. God treats you as better than John the Baptist already because he gives you credit for Christ’s perfection.
So don’t let your sins and failures discourage you. Keep growing in your faith and trusting God to change you and know that God is not counting those sins against you any more. You’re on his side now because of Jesus, so you can feel secure and forgiven while you grow to become like him.