Posts Tagged 'John the Baptist'

Just Say Yes, Part 7

Many people in the New Testament said “yes” to Jesus, and none of them regretted it. Saying “yes” to Him is essentially what faith is all about. These people said “yes” to Jesus and they got what the needed because saying “yes” to Jesus is not only an expression of faith, but it is also obedience to God’s Word. When we say “yes” to the Lord, we are creating the conditions necessary to receive the promises of God and answers to our prayers.

We’ve looked at six people who said “yes” to Jesus:

• A couple of blind men gave the “yes” of faith to Christ’s offer of mercy and healing, Matthew 9:28;
• Some disciples said to “yes” to Christ’s question of teaching, Matthew 13:51;
• The Syrophoenician woman replied, “yes” to being a dog – a lost soul in need of healing and salvation, Matthew 15:27;
• Martha, Lazarus’ sister, said “yes” to Jesus being the Resurrection, John 11:27;
• In all, three times Peter said “yes” to the Lord when asked, “Do you love me?”, John 21:15, 16;
• While on the island of Patmos, John said “yes” to Jesus’ statement that He is coming soon, Revelation 22:20.

Fine examples all of people who said the right thing to Jesus. But I’ve saved the best “yes” till the end. It wasn’t just followers of Jesus who said “yes” to Him, He said “yes” to Somebody, too.

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11:26 | NIV84)

That’s Jesus saying “yes” to the Heavenly Father. It’s actually a very rare glimpse into one of Jesus’ prayers. Tasker wrote,

Here recorded is one of the most precious pieces of spiritual autobiography to be found in the synoptic Gospels. It shows that the dominant characteristic of His Incarnate life was obedience to His Father’s will.

A discouraged prophet

It all started with a question:

Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2 | NIV84)

A very discouraged John the Baptist was losing faith. He sent some of his friends to Jesus to ask that very question. He had been stuck in prison for a while and he heard some puzzling things about the Man he introduced to the world as The Messiah. If Jesus was the Messiah, why was he still in prison? Why was Jesus showing no signs of Messianic activity, like judgment of the wicked that Jesus Himself had promised to do? He had some serious doubts and Jesus.

It’s hard to believe that a man like John the Baptist could ever have doubts. He was tough. He lived an austere life. He was devoted to his singular mission: to pave the way for the Messiah. If a stand up guy like John the Baptist could have his doubts, don’t be too hard on yourself or fellow believers if doubt floats into your heads. Even the most courageous and faithful of God’s servants experience doubt from time to time. But we can take a lesson from John: He essentially confessed his doubts to Jesus; he didn’t keep them bottled up inside. Doubt is the very beginning of faith, if you play your cards right.

If John the Baptist had his doubts about Jesus, Jesus had no doubts about John!

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist… (Matthew 11:11a | NIV84)

But our Lord said more than that. He reassured John that He was the Messiah, not by giving him the “proof” he was asking for, but evidence. Faith is NOT about proof; it’s about evidence. God is His own proof and faith is accepting that fact. Here’s the evidence Jesus gave John:

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4 – 6 | NIV84)

It may not look like it to you, but Jesus is paraphrasing Isaiah 35:5 and 61:1 as evidence that He was the promised Messiah. The evidence was that He was fulfilling the ancient prophecies about what the Messiah would be doing when He arrived on the scene. The Messianic Age had arrived because Jesus was doing exactly what the promised Messiah would be doing!

After giving John comfort; reassuring His cousin that He was truly the Messiah, Jesus paid him the highest compliment in front of everybody: Nobody was greater than John the Baptist. But then, Jesus says this:

yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11b | NIV84)

That’s a highly contested verse. Chrysostom and Luther believed that “the least” refers to Jesus Himself. Jesus was “least” in the sense that He was younger than his cousin, that John came first, that it was John who baptized Him, and that for a while, John was more famous thanHe. That could be what Jesus meant. Or it could be that Jesus was referring to the “least” Christian. The “least” Christian is greater in privilege than John because John was still part of the Old Testament dispensation.

What Jesus said next is startling:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12 | NIV84)

That’s a powerful verse, and it would have been something John the Baptist needed to hear. The kingdom of Heaven is coming; nothing can stop the Kingdom from advancing – from taking over this world of ours, and only those who are determined and devoted and committed can “lay hold of it,” or enter it, or be a part of it. Sitting in prison, feeling sorry for himself, John the Baptist was not the “forceful” man he should have been; the “forceful” man he always had been. This is Jesus trying to buck up his cousin. John the Baptist was better than this and he knew it.

The essence of verses 12 and 13 is found over Luke’s Gospel, but in the opposite order:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. (Luke 16:16 | NIV84)

It takes an effort to keep the faith. You can’t be lazy in walking the road of faith which leads into the Kingdom of Heaven. There’s no room for people sitting around watching the grass growing.

Jesus’ estimation of the world around Him

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” (Matthew 11:16, 17 | NIV84)

A lot of people found fault with John the Baptist; they thought he was a little weird. But these same people thought Jesus was off His rocker, too, even though His way of life was drastically different from that of John.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ’ (Matthew 11:18, 19 | NIV84)

There was literally no way anybody could please these immature child-like adults. The people of Jesus’ day were like kids playing around at life; they were not serious people. They didn’t take John the Baptist seriously and they didn’t take Jesus seriously, either.

Not only the Jews, but the rest of the world was lost.

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. (Matthew 11:20 | NIV84)

A person pays a high price when they witness the evidence that Jesus is Lord but then refuses to do the right thing. Their’s was a singular privilege; Jesus was living among them. His headquarters was there. He was preaching and teaching in those cities. He was performing miracles there. Yet they rejected Him. Verse 24 is one of the harshest statements ever made by Jesus Christ:

But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:24 | NIV84)

This whole paragraph stands forever as a warning to all who have witnessed and experienced the presence of God and seen His power manifested but who refuse to repent. People like that, and make no mistake there are many of them, will be doubly condemned for their rejection of the light they have received.

Jesus is talking about godless cities, but John the Baptist was still on our Lord’s mind even as He rebuked and denounced the people who saw the evidence with their own eyes but still rejected Him. Jesus didn’t want His cousin; His friend; His co-worker to end up like the cities He rebuked. John the Baptist’s doubts couldn’t become more; they couldn’t take over the Baptist’s heart and soul.

Jesus and the weary

And that gets us almost to Jesus’ “yes.” Here’s what He said to God the Father just before He said “yes”:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11:25 | NIV84)

Even though Jesus was rejected by these proud cities, He was accepted by what we might call, “the common folk.” This is the first time in public that Jesus referred to God as His “Father,” but He also refers to Him as “Lord of heaven and earth.” That takes us right back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, where we see that God is the Lord of heaven and earth; He created all that exists and He is the Father of Jesus Christ! And Jesus Christ is the revealer of God the Creator. And the only people who saw what Jesus was revealing – what John the Baptist began to reveal – were “little children,” that is, just simple, regular folks. They got it! John the Baptist got it!

And that was God’s plan all along, and that’s what Jesus said “yes” to:

Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11:26 | NIV84)

This was something Paul understood well. He was a highly educated rabbi and theologian, but he completely missed the Messiah. He never noticed Jesus until the risen Lord confronted him.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18 – 25 | NIV)

Jesus said “yes” to all that. But John the Baptist was still on His mind. This was what John, sitting in prison, needed to know; what he needed to remember. Even in prison, John was the privileged one, not his jailers. John the Baptist was tired. He was weary. He needed strength outside of himself. Everything Jesus said and did here were with His cousin in mind. Even this passage:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28 – 30 | NIV84)

John the Baptist needed to hear those words. And maybe you do, too. Maybe you feel overcome by the world. Maybe you feel squeezed and pressured into a corner by circumstances of life. You know Jesus. You love Jesus. But, like John, maybe a doubt or two have rushed into your head. God’s got everything under control. Jesus has more than enough strength to keep you strong. All you have to do is go to Him, says “yes,” and accept the rest He offers.

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A SURVEY OF LUKE’S GOSPEL, PART 2

John and His Preaching

Luke 3:7—18

What was it that motivated John the Baptist? He was an ordinary man on an extraordinary mission: to get his world ready for the arrival of the Messiah by preparing the hearts of those who would hear his message. John preached the “baptism of repentance.” He was the last of the Old Testament prophets; he walked from the pages of the Old Testament into the opening pages of the New. He is like a bridge connecting the two eras with a single message: the Messiah is coming…get ready!

His message resonated with the people; he had his followers. His message also attracted the ire of the religious elite. How did John respond to these religious people? Let’s take a look…

1. A tough question, verse 7

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”

What a way to address your congregation! Just who was John the Baptist directing this question to? The answer is found the parallel passage, Matthew 3:7—9.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

John was addressing the two main sects in Judaism of his day. Who were the Pharisees? The name or title comes from the Hebrew word parash, meaning “the separated one.” Some scholars believe “pharisee” comes from another Hebrew word, perushim, which has a similar meaning to parash, but the separation is specified: from “unclean people.” In either case, we can see that aim of the Pharisees was to live away from the “normal folk.”

It was during the Babylonian captivity that Pharisaism began. During this period, the Jews had no Temple to worship in, so they became “people of the Book” in their everyday lives. The Law of Moses became central to their lives and the study and teaching of the Law became the obligation of the religious leaders. Later, during the Maccabean years, the Hasidim (the pious ones) struggled to keep Judaism free from the influences of the surrounding pagan religions. And during the time of Herod the Great, it is estimated that there were some 6,000 Pharisees practicing in Israel. The main task was enforcing the Law of Moses, as well as the myriad of other rules and regulations that had been added to the Law since the days of the Captivity.

The Sadducees made up the second largest sect in Judaism. They were made up of aristocratic priests, and while the Pharisees could be found teaching in and around synagogues all over the land, the Sadducees stayed in and maintained control of the Temple in Jerusalem.

It should be noted that the Pharisees, in spite of their obsession with the minute details of the Law, were much more popular with the people than the Saducess. They are mentioned 100 times in the New Testament while the Sadducees only 14 times. After the the final destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the Sadducees vanished from the face of the earth. It is not an exaggeration to say that Judaism exists today because of the efforts of the Pharisees.

These people John the Baptist addressed as “a generation of vipers.” Why he calls them this derogatory term is suggested by the question: “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Or, in other words, as far as John was concerned, the reason they were coming out to be baptized was simply to avoid God’s judgment. They were doing the proper thing but with the wrong motive.

2. An important demand, verse 8

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. (Matthew 3:9)

The Pharisees and religious people loved the symbols but had no interest in the substance of faith. This really rankled John the Baptist because he understood what real repentance was all about: turning TO God FROM sin. You can’t turn to God and take your sin with you! But that doesn’t stop many believers from doing just that. Certainly they were baptized, but they came up out of the waters of baptism the same person they were when they went in! To John, this was not true repentance. A new life must be manifested by a new way of living. The religious were proud of their connection to Abraham, but to John, father Abraham was incidental to manifest faith in God.

John may have been a simple prophet living out in the desert eating insects, but he could certainly turn a phrase! His retort to their reliance on religious pedigree was terse:  if God wanted to, He could make children of Abraham out of rocks. So, religious pedigree means nothing to God. What God demands is a change in moral character.

3. A testing crisis, verse 9

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Here is a powerful metaphor suggesting that God’s judgment is ready to take place. At any time, the lumberjack will pick up his axe and swing it. Every tree that is not producing its proper fruit will be chopped down and burned up. This is an idea Jesus would much later take up:

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 7:19)

This is not exactly a message about God’s love! In fact, John the Baptist never preached about the love of God. His message was a dire one: turn or burn. This is the responsibility of every sinner who hears the Gospel message; once they hear it, they must respond to it. If they don’t accept it and repent, they will face sure and certain judgment.

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. (John 12:48)

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him. (Luke 8:18)

4. A practical doctrine, verses 10—14

What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

In this paragraph, John the Baptist sounds more like John the Counselor. Even though some specific groups of Jewish people are addressed, John the Counselor gives universal principles that apply to all believers in all generations.

First, Christians should always manifest brotherly love. If a Christian sees a need, he should do what he can to meet that need. Showing brotherly love is a way to allow others, sometimes unbelievers, to experience the love of God.

Second, believers should be honest in their business practices. Tax collectors were in view here, but the point is much broader than just honest taxation. The real point here is that of all the people in the world who engage in business of any kind, the Christian should always be the most honest and above reproach; we ought never to take advantage of another.

Last, John addressed some soldiers. To them, his advice involves being content with your lot and not taking advantage of others in order to improve that lot. It’s all well and good to be ambitious and to take honest advantage of situations and circumstances to have a better life, but a Christian should never be so dissatisfied with their position in life that they would harm others to get ahead.

The fact that all this practical advice is given within the context of a sermon on repentance suggests that cheating others, taking unfair advantage of others, and not caring for others is the natural way of the world. When Christians repent, they must turn from that way of living. However, merely changing ones way of life is not what results in salvation. Repentance that does not lead to a life of faith in Jesus Christ is a repentance that should be repented of!

5. A humbling confession, verse 16a

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

Some of those listening to John’s preaching were so impressed, they thought he might be the promised Messiah, so John made it clear: he was NOT. While John may have been mighty in righteousness, Jesus is mighty in grace. John may have been an imposing preacher, and he may have preached with authority, but it wasn’t his authority, it was derived from Christ.

When John suggests that he isn’t worthy to untie the Messiah’s shoes simply means that as far as John was concerned, he wasn’t even worthy to be the Messiah’s servant.

6. The most significant statement, verse 16b

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Many religions and cults baptize people in water. In this, Christianity is no different. But, John stressed, when the Messiah finally appears, He will baptize His followers, not in water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

The first part of this statement indicates in no uncertain terms that there is a baptism in or with the Holy Spirit. But John the Baptist also says “with fire.” Bible scholars are split on what John meant when said this. Some suggest he was referring back to the “fires of judgment” the fruitless trees would be cast in to. In that case, the preacher is talking about the fire of final judgment.

Others teach that the Baptist is referring to the fires of purity, that is, when one is baptized in the Holy Spirit his life is purified; the dross is being burned off.

And others see the “tongues of fire” here. When the early church was baptized in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit was seen as tongues of fire coming to rest of the head of each believer.

Given what we know about the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the life of a believer, it seems likely that John is referring to life-changing work of the Spirit. He really does function like a blow torch sometimes, burning away the trash in our lives. Bishop Ryle’s statement on this issue is worth noting:

We need to be told that forgiveness of sin is not the only thing necessary in salvation. There is another thing yet; and that is the baptizing of our hearts by the Holy Ghost…Let us n ever rest till we know something by the experience of the baptism of the Spirit. The baptism of water is a great privilege. But let us see to it that we also have the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

There are three things the fire of the Holy Spirit does in the believer: (1) It warms; (2) It lights; and (3) It cleanses. This is what the Holy Spirit brings to the heart of every believer He baptizes. To walk in the Spirit is to live in the glowing fire of God’s presence. When we walk in the Spirit, the things of the Spirit become more real than the things of the world; they become more vital than the things of the world. This baptism, the Baptism of the Spirit, does not happen by working for it; you can’t buy it. It is a gift from the Ascended Christ. Have you laid hold of that gift? If not, why not?

7. A final warning, verse 17

His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

The same One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire also carries a winnowing fork in His hand. The same One who unites and enriches with spiritual blessings will also separate and judge. There will come a day when the Messiah will separate true believers from false.

This is really the summation of the sermon, and John’s point is sharp. Anybody can be baptized in water, Pharisee, Sadducee, common man, but that water baptism must be followed by corresponding evidence of the new life. Somebody that claims to be a Christian and has been dunked in the baptismal tank yet does not live in repentance of sin and obedience to God’s Word will face the winnowing fork. This didn’t happen when Jesus came the first time, but it will when He comes back. The Messiah will separate the true from the false believers, the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weeds.

A SURVEY OF LUKE’S GOSPEL, PART 1

The Call of John

Luke 3:1 – 6

Can you imagine somebody living a whole life and not being missed when they died? Jimmy Stewart’s classic movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life” demonstrates, Hollywood-style, that every life counts, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Even lowly, humble George Bailey, who thought so little of himself that he was willing to jump off a bridge, was given a glimpse of what Beford Falls would have been like had he never been born. George Bailey learned that every life makes a difference to somebody.

In the Bible, it’s hard to think of a more humble man than John the Baptist. Here was a workman-like prophet, who lived by himself out on the fringes of town. But God used his voice like a trumpet, filling him with His Spirit, making John the Baptist the last, most powerful voice of God in the Old Testament era. Yes, even though we read about him the New Testament, he was really the last Old Testament prophet.

Luke, Paul’s good friend and loyal physician, was also a historian and he gives us some fascinating glimpses into the life of John the Baptist.

1. Historical setting, verse 1

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene…

Luke was a historian and like all historians he paid attention to details, names, and places. Here in verse 1, we are give six characters that tell us precisely when the forthcoming events took place. Caesar Augustus was emperor when our Lord was born, but here we are told that John the Baptist began his ministry when Tiberius Caesar was on the throne. Actually, Tiberius reigned for a time with Augustus, as a sort of joint ruler of the Empire. We can turn to secular history that gives us some details: Tiberius Caesar was a brilliant but violent ruler. He had grandiose visions of a world dictatorship and nobody could stand in his way.

For the first time, we are introduced to a man named Pontius Pilate. He was a Roman Procurator, and held this position from 26 – 36. He won’t be mentioned again until the trial of Jesus.

Philip was the best of the Herod family. His rule extended from 4 BC – 34 AD.

The Herod mentioned in this verse Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great and brother of Archelaus. He ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 BC – 39 AD.   Why is all this important?  It’s because we are dealing with a real person, not a mythic character made up in somebody’s fertile imagination.  With pinpoint accuracy, Luke tells us exactly when a man named John the Baptist was doing his work.

2. When his call came, verse 2

…during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

In truth, there was really only one high priest at a time. So why are two men listed here? Annas was the legitimate high priest. He was kicked out of office some 15 years earlier by Pontius Pilat’s predecessor, Valarius Gratus. However, Annas was regarded by most Jews at the true high priest. During this period of time, no less than four other men held this office, including Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas.

Nobody could say that Roman history as it relates to the Jews makes any sense! And it was into this dysfunctional world that John the Baptist, and later Jesus, was born.

God’s call came to John the Baptist while he was in the wilderness. Really, he was living out in the Palestinian desert, all by himself. We wonder why he was there. Was he some kind of social misfit? John’s father himself was a priest and his mother was a devoted servant of God. It’s not unlikely that John was out in the desert seeking God’s will for himself. Normally, as the son of a priest, John would have followed in his father’s footsteps. But instead, he basically renounced the priesthood and went out by himself to discover what God had for him to do.

Sometimes, in order to hear God’s voice, we have to get away from the busyness of life. God, the most powerful voice in the universe, can be easily drowned out by other voices in our minds.

There is an old hymn by Longstaff that gives us an idea what it takes to hear from God:

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

Do you want to hear from God? Show Him you’re serious by getting away from all the distractions of your life.

As to how the call came, almost nothing is said. All our precise historian said was, “the word of God came to John.” We’re not told how the Word came, only that it did. What we know is that John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, so that probably made his heart ready to hear what God was saying to him. The Holy Spirit is good at making the mind of God known to those whom He indwells! But, again, John had to get by himself to hear that quiet Voice speaking.

3. The effect the call had, verse 3

He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Clearly, John the Baptist was not disobedient to God’s Word! It propelled him to “get to work!” When God’s Word burns in your heart, you will find a way to fulfill God’s will for you!

John, we are told, preached “the baptism of repentance.” He was the last Old Testament prophet, and his message an old one: repent! Or, as we might say today, “Get right with God!”

John’s mission was not to save, but to get the people to see their need of salvation. He was, in fact, preparing the way for the One who would save to come. Our mission isn’t too far removed from John’s. Our job is to preach repentance; to point the sinner to Christ as the only One who can forgive sins and set a life right.

4. The nature of his message

As John preached, several things happened.

a. He fulfilled prophecy, verse 4a.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet…

It is clear that John the Baptist recognized, believed, and confessed that this Scripture (Isaiah 40:3 – 6) was being fulfilled right before everybody’s eyes.

It’s an interesting and curious fact that Isaiah 40:3 was a favorite verse of the Qumran community. Most Christians are familiar with this group due to their association with the famous Dead Sea scrolls. They used the Isaiah passage to justify their separated lifestyle in the desert, like John the Baptist’s. These people believed, also like John, that they were preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah, except in their case, it was by their complete devotion to reading and studying the Law.

John the Baptist, though, was able to put two-and-two together to realize that he was living in an extraordinary time and that he was, in some way, a part of something much, much bigger than he. Only a person who is reading and studying the Word will know where they fit into God’s great plan. But John the Baptist was not some extraordinary fellow. He was a devoted, consecrated believer, and every devoted, consecrated believer plays a part in the will of God for this world.

b. He abandoned self, verse 4b.

A voice of one calling in the wilderness…

Here is the beginning of the Isaiah quote. Note what John said: he was the one in the wilderness calling out. As far as was possible, John was the Word’s voice for a time. But the really interesting thing is that John the Baptist was God’s voice IN THE WILDERNESS, not in a comfortable television studio or mega church or some other posh surrounding. John was given the extreme privilege of speaking for God, but his life stayed the same. The message that came through the prophet Isaiah over 700 years earlier was now made alive in John by the power of of the Holy Spirit.

John was the Word made voice, Jesus was the Word made flesh, yet both men paid the price for their obedience to the call of God. The one who would live for and speak for God must realize that he, the messenger is nothing; the Word is everything.

Something else that is very telling is the statement about John’s voice: he was the one “crying in the wilderness.” John did not sing; he cried. John the Baptist cried like one in pain as he preached God’s Word of repentance. God’s Word has that effect sometimes. It’s true that sometimes the Word brings peace or joy or gladness; other times it brings agony. We think of Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet,” who was called that because for four decades he preached a message that brought him, not his people, to tears.

c. He glorified Christ, verse 4c.

Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.

John was not concerned about his way, but intensely concerned with Christ’s way! In all his preaching, John the Baptist would honor Christ, as the pre-eminent Messiah. It is the Lord’s way. These are His paths. It all belongs to Christ. John’s work was merely preparatory. It would fade away when the Lord would come just like the morning mists dissipate when the sun rises. Jesus was always on John’s horizon.

Jesus was the only One who would fill. Note the words of verse 5: Every valley shall be filled…” John the Baptist knew that when the Lord would come, His presence would fill even the valleys. How? It is in the valleys that the hungry are fed and the depressed and discouraged lifted up. No matter how deep and wide the chasm our need may be, only Jesus is able to reach down and lift up.

Jesus would be the One who would humble. Once again, the words of verse 5: “…every mountain and hill made low.” God has a way of humbling a man! We think about how He humbled Saul on the road to Damascus. God brings down so that He might raise up.

Jesus is the One who makes things right: The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.” We love this aspect of Jesus’ work. Only Jesus is able to take a messed up life and straighten it out. Only Jesus can take your mistakes and make them right. Only Jesus can bring justice out injustice.

John the Baptist was not really all that unique. In fact, the separated life he lived and the testimony he gave should serve as an example for Christians to follow.

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, 10

Arguments and Explanations, 3:22—36

Nicodemus, the Pharisee and highly respected religious leader, had come to speak to Jesus in private.  He was full of questions.  He had heard some of Jesus’ teaching and seen some of His miracles, and obviously was greatly impressed.  It seems that deep in his heart of hearts, Nicodemus had been touched by Christ’s ministry and the Holy Spirit began drawing this man into a relationship with God, based not on intellectual ascent and the observance of rules and regulations, but on having personally experienced the life-changing touch of the Son of God.

We don’t know the immediate results of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, but we do know that he remained part of the Sanhedrin, and that the next time we encounter him he is seen taking part in the questioning of Jesus—

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”  (John 7:50—51)

We also learn that eventually he became a follower of Christ’s, though perhaps secretly, and was devoted enough to Christ that he sought to honor Him even in death—

He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.  (John 19:39)

It seemed that the death of Jesus crushed the hopes of the disciples but fired those of Nicodemus.

1.  Transitions, verses 22—24

After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.)

These three verses mark an obvious transition of both time and persons.  After the Passover week and His discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus and the first six of His disciples left Jerusalem and journeyed into the Judean countryside.

This whole section is dedicated to an expanded explanation of the curious relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus.  This period of our Lord’s ministry is not recorded or mentioned in the synoptic Gospels.  According to verse 24, we know that it took place sometime before the arrest and imprisonment of John the Baptist; the preaching and baptizing ministry of these two overlapped for a while.  According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus began His ministry in earnest after John’s imprisonment—

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  (Mark 1:14)

Matthew supports Mark’s account (Matthew 4:12—21) and Luke’s record is a bit ambiguous (Luke 3).  Both John the Baptist and Jesus seemed to have engaged in a parallel rural ministry at this time.  The exact location of the Baptist’s ministry, though stated in the text, cannot be pinpointed with any certainty, although the consensus among scholars is that Aenon was probably located south of Bashan where there were many springs.

2.  Jealousy, verses 26, 26

An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

We see human nature on full display in these two verses, and we learn the simple lesson that even devoted followers of God are not immune to the “green eyed monster.”   It seems as though the followers of John the Baptist thought the baptisms of their teacher were superior to those of Jesus, and they were annoyed that more and more people were choosing to be baptized by Jesus rather than by John.   We can learn a lot about people by the way they talk, and judging by the way John’s disciples spoke to him about Jesus, they didn’t grasp anything John had said about Jesus.  We can also learn a lot about what they thought about Jesus:

  • They didn’t even mention Jesus’ name, referring to Him only as “that man.”  As far as they were concerned, John and Jesus were rivals, nothing more.
  • They were not impressed with what John had said about Jesus.
  • They exaggerated the whole incident, using an obvious hyperbole, “everyone is going to him.”  Obviously not “everyone” was going to Jesus; these were immature and childish disciples.

3.  The nobility of John the Baptist, 27—30

To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given from heaven.   You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’   The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.”

John’s answer to these people was powerful and insightful and in four parts.

  • First, all people are subject to a sovereign God.  To everyone God has assigned a place in His eternal plan (verse 27).
  • Second, he made clear his relationship with Christ, reminding them of what he had said earlier, verse 28.
  • Third he used the figure of the bridegroom, bride, and friend of the bridegroom.  Because of who the Bridegroom is, his friend can rejoice and be happy for his friend.  Complete fulfillment in life and fullness of joy can only happen when a person recognizes who Jesus really is.  This analogy also reveals something about John the Baptist:  he was the last of the OT prophets and not part of the Church; notice that he is a “friend” of the Bridegroom, and not the bride (the Church), verse 29.
  • Lastly, the whole relationship between Jesus and John is summed up with verse 30.  It was John’s desire that he fade into the background and that Jesus and His ministry grow.

Verse 30 is also a summation of God’s eternal plan.  Of what use the herald after the King has arrived?  Why would crowds want to surround the forerunner when his task was finished?

4.  John’s commentary, verses 31—36

Like verses 16—21, many scholars agree that verse 31 begins John the disciple’s comments on what John the Baptist had just said.  Lightfoot has called this last handful of verses as an “appendix” to chapter 3.

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The person who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.  The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

This passage declares with no ambiguity four things:

  • Jesus came directly from Heaven and spoke with ultimate authority.  In view of His origin and high calling, whatever Jesus said must be considered the final word on any subject (verse 31).
  • Jesus spoke from what He saw, not from theory.  The testimony of Jesus was accepted by some but not by others.  Clearly even in the very early days of Christ’s ministry, some readily believed while others (like some of John the Baptist’s disciples) did not, verse 32.
  • Those who accepted the claims of Jesus had their eyes opened to the truth of Christ’s words because God revealed it to them, verse 33.
  • God sent Jesus in love and Jesus’ words originated with God the Father.  He is the Living Word (1:14) who provides a full revelation of God (1:18).  Here is marvelous truth about God the Father:
    • When God gives, He gives freely without reservation:  “God gives the Spirit without limit.”
    • God gave the Son in love,
    • The whole mission of saving mankind was made the responsibility of the Son.  No other way to be saved has been give:  “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.”

Something else greatly impressed John the Apostle:  If faith in Christ is the only way to be saved, then to reject Christ is to remain in God’s wrath.  This is the only time God’s wrath is mentioned.  “Wrath” does not refer to a sudden outburst of anger or an expression of temper.  Rather, it is the “settled displeasure of God against sin” (Tenney).  It is God’s reaction to evil; the reaction of righteousness to unrighteousness.

The alternative is clearly stated by the author.  Faith in Christ results in eternal life, which is the present possession of the believer.  The one who “rejects the Son” (“he that does not obey,” RSV, is more accurate) faces the inevitable “wrath of God.”  This language is stark and a little blunt after the way John has just described God’s love to man.  However, it does serve to shine the light on the gravest of all sins:  unbelief, which results in disobedience.

Thankfully, God is not easily provoked to anger and He is not out for revenge on those who are disobedient.  But His holy nature will not tolerate disobedience and He is committed to oppose and judge all disobedience.  God’s mind is made up on this matter and He can never be swayed; His will in regard to unrepentant man is unvarying and unalterable.   The rejection of His Son can only be followed by awful judgment.  At the same time, acceptance of Christ removes the believer from any possibility of judgment presently and in the future.  This is also an unchanging provision of a loving God to sinful man.

Arthur John Gossip was a poor, humble pastor and professor who lived in Scotland.  Though he never pastored a mega church and most people have never heard of him, he wrote a profound paragraph on these verses:

…Christ is never kinder than when his eyes, as he looks at us, are as a flame of fire, and he speaks to us terrible words; when he will make no compromise with us, but demands instant obedience, here and now, on pain of parting with him.  If he had not loved us enough to be severe with us, he would have lost our souls. With awe and humility we need to give God thanks no less really for his wrath than for his mercy.

(c)  2010, WitzEnd


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