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John the Forerunner
I. CHRIST'S TESTIMONY TO JOHN
Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John, "What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A Prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a Prophet."
After this the Lord said, "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist."
Whatever we may think of John, the Lord Jesus placed him as a peer among Prophets, and a master among men. John came upon the scene and then passed away following a brief ministry; and yet he held a most vital and important part as the messenger of Jehovah, sent before His face to prepare the way before Him.
We wonder how many of us will ever receive such a keen commendation from the Lord Jesus as that which John received? We are living with opportunities for service. Are we buying them up?
II. WHAT JOHN SAID OF JESUS
If John was a God-sent witness, let us weigh what he said about Christ.
1. John bare witness saying: "This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for He was before me." This statement which we have just quoted from John 1:15 is also made again in John 1:27 , and once more in John 1:30 . Three times John, therefore, bare witness that Christ was before him, and that He was preferred before him.
We all know that John was six months the senior of Christ so far as his birth was concerned. What then does he mean when he says that Christ was before him? He meant just what Christ meant when Christ said, "Before Abraham was, I am." He meant just what the Prophet meant of Jehovah when he said, "Yea, before the day was I am He." John proclaimed the eternity of Jesus Christ. John taught that Jesus Christ lived before He was born of the Virgin, that He had, therefore, come down from the Father.
2. This is the witness of John: "When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ."
Then they asked him, "Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? And he answered, No."
After this John plainly declared, saying, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as saith the Prophet Esaias."
3. John bare witness of Christ, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." Again John bare record, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him." Then John bare record, "That this is the Son of God."
Whatever we may think of John, we know what he thought of Christ. For our part we believe that only they who accord to Christ the Deity, and the saving power which John accorded to Him, are indeed the children of God.
I. A PREACHER WITH A COMMANDED MINISTRY (Luke 3:2 )
Our Scripture says, "The Word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness." This sounds very much like the commission given to other Prophets (Joel 1:1 ; Hosea 1:1 ; Obadiah 1:1 ; Mark 1:1 ; Zephaniah 1:1 ).
With these references before us, we cannot but feel that John, like other Prophets, was a man sent of God.
1. John was sent under a special call. There are some people who seem to feel that the days of the special call to the ministry have passed. We are not one of them. We believe that God still lays His hand upon those whom He would send forth with His message.
2. John was sent to a special service. He was a forerunner appointed to go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way. The Lord is still sending special men to special fields. He is still walking in the midst of the golden candlesticks placing them where He wishes them to shine forth His truth.
3. John was sent to a special people. John's ministry was pre-eminently to Israel. God wants one man to preach at home, and another to preach abroad. He wants one man to be a pastor, and another a prophet; one to be an evangelist, and another to be a teacher. Everything in the life of God's children is pre-arranged of God. Our greatest task is the discovery of our special mission.
II. A PLAIN PREACHER WITH A POINTED MESSAGE (Luke 3:3-7 )
1. A plain preacher with a pointed message. John never spoke with fawning flattery, applauding the guilty. He came out plainly and positively calling white, white; and black, black. John knew what sin was in man. To the multitude who sought his baptism he said, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" We need, today, a little more of the John type of preaching. It is all right to love everybody, but our love should not cover their sins. Our Lord Jesus loved as no one ever loved, and yet He used almost John's words when He said to the scribes and Pharisees, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"
2. A plain preacher with a message of repentance. John came preaching the baptism of repentance. John said, "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance."
The message of repentance has fallen into disrepute in some circles. There are those who proclaim that there is no place for repentance and its proclamation save among the children of God. We wish to note several things:
(1) Peter, at Pentecost said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ."
(2) Following Pentecost, Peter cried, saying, "Repent ye therefore * * that your sins may be blotted out."
(3) Peter said to Simon the sorcerer, "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness."
(4) At Athens the Apostle cried, "God * * now commandeth all men every where to repent."
(5) In speaking to Agrippa, Paul said, that he had showed both Jews and Gentile, "that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance."
(6) In Romans 2:4 we read, "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance."
(7) In 2 Peter 3:9 we find "that all should come to repentance."
For our part we see no place where the message of repentance should be omitted.
III. A PREACHER WHO BECAME THE FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY (Luke 3:4 )
We now come to a very vital consideration. Long before John ever saw the light, Isaiah, the Prophet had written of him, saying, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight."
1. The birth of John gave proof to the certainty of the prophetic Scriptures. How marvelous it was that when John was born, his father, Zacharias, was filled with the Holy Ghost and began to say, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the House of His servant David; as He spake by the mouth of the Holy Prophets, which have been since the world began." Thus Jesus Christ was proclaimed by Zacharias as the fulfilment of all the Prophets. Then, concerning his own son John, who had just been born, Zacharias continued, "And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways." In this Zacharias quoted the Prophet Isaiah, and claimed the fulfillment of Isaiah's words.
2. The birth of John gave proof to the fact that God works out beforehand the wonders of His will and word and work. Before ever John began to cry in the wilderness, God saw him there. The very testimony of John as well as his ministry was all outlined by the Lord, ahead of time.
It makes life more vital, when, as children of God we begin to realize that our testimony is filling in the plan and the purpose of the eternal God. If we fail God, God must either fail, or else put someone else in our place. Of course, God foreknew just where we would fail, and to be forewarned was to be forearmed. This, however, should make us none the less diligent to fulfill all the will of God.
IV. A PREACHER CONNECTED WITH A FAR-FLUNG VISION (Luke 3:5-6 )
The Scripture which we have just read did not meet its fulfilment in the days of John. We have, therefore, but one conclusion, that John in some vital way must have been connected with that wonderful hour of the Lord's Return, when the Scriptures just read will meet their fulfilment.
1. The words of our Scripture anticipate the day of Christ's return. When we go to the Old Testament we find that the very prophecy spoken here in connection with John, is also placed at the time of the Lord's Return. It is then, and only then, when the Lord will judge among the nations, and rebuke many people, not till then will the earth "be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
It is only when the Lord returns, that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shalt be bowed down; and the Lord shall be exalted.
It is when the Lord comes that every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth. Then, the desert shall rejoice and blossom as a rose; then, the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then, the tongue of the dumb shall sing, and the lame shall leap as an hart.
2. The words of our Scripture bring before our mind the connection of John the Baptist to Elijah. Malachi speaks thus, "Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His Temple." It was of this that the rulers of the Jews spoke when they asked John, "Art thou that Prophet?" John had come in the spirit and the power of Elijah, but he was not Elijah.
As John was the forerunner of the First Coming, so shall Elijah be the forerunner of the Second Coming. John's prophecy and ministry was suddenly cut off; first, he lay in prison, and then was he beheaded by Herod. His work will be continued, as Elijah steps on the scene announcing the Lord's return to Israel.
V. A PREACHER PROCLAIMING JUDGMENT AND DEMANDING RIGHTEOUSNESS (Luke 3:9-14 )
1. The proclamation of judgment. John plainly said, "Now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."
We believe that a similar message of judgment is needed today. We have a ministry which we fear is failing to show the wrath of God against sin. The Lord Jesus Christ, in His ministry, did not refrain from preaching on hell and torment. The truth is, the One who said, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"; also said, "Broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat."
The One who said, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink"; also said, "Thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto Heaven, shall be brought down to hell."
The One who said, "How often would I have gathered thy children together"; also said, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"
John the Baptist was not ashamed to preach concerning the fiery judgments which awaited the ungodly.
The Lord Jesus was not ashamed to say that the unprofitable servant should be cast into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
2. The proclamation of righteousness. John demanded of the publicans that they exact no more than that which was appointed. He demanded of the soldiers saying, "Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages." He told the people that he who had two coats should impart to him that had none. We need to emphasize practical Christian living. Grace is never a license to licentiousness. The love of God gives no liberty to commit lewdness.
The believer is a child of light, and he should walk no longer in darkness. God's message is the same throughout the whole Bible "Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord."
VI. A PREACHER WHO PREACHED BAPTISM IN ANTICIPATION OF ONE ABOUT TO COME (Luke 3:16-17 )
As John baptized he prophesied saying; "I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose."
1. We think it worth while, in this study, to emphasize that we also should baptize, proclaiming the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and anticipating the resurrection of the dead in Christ.
The baptizer with water announced that the Coming One was mightier than he. He even said that he was not worthy to unloose the latchet of His shoes. No matter how signal our service may be, nor how much we may be in the public eye, we, as ministers, must always remember our utter nothingness, as compared to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are, indeed, but the voice of one crying in the wilderness; we are no more than the finger that points to the open sky, where Christ the Lord of all sits clothed with authority and power.
The baptizer with water announced that Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Those of us who speak of the blessings of Pentecost, forget, sometimes, that Pentecost carried with it tremendous judgments from on high.
2. We think it worth while to emphasize that John himself was baptizing a baptism unto repentance.
Before John was willing to baptize he demanded fruits worthy of repentance. He recognized that the people boasted their religious heritage, saying: "We have Abraham to our father": and yet he said unto them, "Now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore, which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."
The church may learn a valuable lesson just here. We, too, need to demand works meet for repentance, before we baptize unto repentance. Lest some should argue that our baptism is not unto repentance, we will change the form of our sentence, and say, we need to demand fruits worthy of the resurrection life, before we baptize people into the likeness of Christ's death and resurrection.
John insisted that baptism meant something. It was not, to him, a mere denominational formality.
We, too, should insist that baptism is more than a mere church ordinance by which people, supposedly, are initiated into the church.
We have heard today of how John demanded righteousness and preached repentance.
Along this line we remember how the Prophet wrote, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon."
This verse, in Isaiah 55:1-13 , has been called "The Wicket Gate" through which one must pass from the sorrows and sighs of the first verses of the chapter, into the joy and rejoicings of the last verses of the chapter.
The chapter opens with the cry, "Ho, every one that thirsteth!" The people are thirsty. The chapter continues with the plea, "Come ye, buy, and eat." The people are hungry.
They pass now through the Wicket Gate, forsaking their way and their thoughts, with the blessed result that their hunger and thirst is gone, and they now go forth with joy, and are led forth with peace. Even the mountains and the hills break forth before them with singing, and the trees clap their hands.
The above is one of the most beautiful illustrations the Bible affords of the result of leaving sin and seeking the Saviour.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Luke 3". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent