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John the Baptist Part 1: Spirit & Power of Elijah

Scripture: Malachi 4:5-6, Luke 1:5-80, John 1:19-28
Date: 10/22/2005 
The first of a two part series on John the Baptist, known by Jesus as the greatest prophet in all the Scriptures. There is a parallel in the lives of Elijah and John the Baptist. The most central point of John's life was pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God. So are we to point people to Jesus.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Good morning. I’d like to welcome each of you, both members and visitors. In our next two Sabbath’s together, God willing, I’d like to share with you a couple of studies dealing with one of the great unsung heroes in the Bible by the name of John the Baptist. So often when we think of John the Baptist people look upon him as simply the emcee that announced Jesus and he quickly seems to fade. I think that sometimes we forget or neglect to understand the importance of his role and his example even for us today. The first message is going to be “John the Baptist, Part 1: The Spirit and Power of Elijah.” I want to begin by directing your attention not to the New Testament, but to the Old Testament. Turn with me, please, in your Bibles to the last book in the Old Testament. Malachi chapter 4, last chapter in the last book of the Old Testament.

There is a prophecy there beginning with verse 5. You’ve probably heard this many times. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” A prophecy that Elijah was going to come somehow. Now first of all, Elijah did come. Not only did he come the first time when he lived his life, Elijah did literally come and appear on a mountain with Moses to Jesus. You find that in Matthew 17, Mark chapter 9, sometimes called the mount of transfiguration. Elijah appeared, but it was more than that. John the Baptist, we’re told, was to come in the spirit and the power of Elijah. Now I think it’s worthwhile for us to study the subject of John because for one thing Jesus said in Luke 7:28, “For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist…” Jesus calls John the Baptist the greatest prophet. Now that used to trouble me frankly because when I think in the Bible, matter of fact, if I was to hand out a survey and have you fill out who you thought was the greatest biblical prophet, if I hadn’t just read this verse to you some of you might put Moses and that’s understandable.

You might put Elijah. You might put Isaiah or Jeremiah or you might put David. He was a prophet. There’s a lot of names that would be in the running. John the Baptist really only had about one year of active ministry. He quickly appears and disappears. With evidently a lot of concentration in his ministry because it changed the whole world. He never wrote a book. Have you ever read the book of John the Baptist? Oh, there’s probably apocryphal books somebody has manufactured, but there’s none in the Bible. There are no visions of John the Baptist. He doesn’t have any prophecies other than the Messiah coming. That was his main prophecy. Yet Jesus said, “Of those who are born of women there was no greater prophet than john the Baptist. Why? We’re going to be looking at some of the reasons. I found so much material on this subject that I think that it’s going to take more than one study. It might take more than two, but we’ll see how the Lord blesses.

Turn with me in your Bible. We’re going to go to the beginning of John’s life. Luke 1:5 and it tells us that there was a miraculous series of events that revolved around the birth of John the Baptist. “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea,” (that’s Herod the great) “a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” That doesn’t mean they were sinless, but it means that they lived consistently holy lives, Zacharias and Elizabeth the parents of John. “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.” It was the custom among those who were Levites that they had a rotation, and they would go to Jerusalem and they would serve in the temple and they would cast lots and say, “What is going to be your function, what is going to be your job?” It so happened his job was going to be to burn incense that day in the Holy Place before the altar of incense.

While he was going through this, he was praying for Israel. He may have also been praying for his wife. They realized that they were getting past the age of ever having children and he regretted that. While he was there ministering and “the multitude of people” were praying outside, verse 11, “Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” Right, in the Bible, is a symbol of favor. It talks about the son of his right hand. In the bible the sheep who are saved are on the right of the shepherd. The goats are on the left. So you don’t want to be a goat, and you don’t want to be on the left. There this angel appears, a sign of favor, it’s not a curse. “And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.” The angel seeing his fearfulness, he said, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” Now the name John, it’s a derivative of the name Yahweh and it means Yahweh will be gracious. The grace of God. “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord…” Well, Jesus said he was the greatest of the prophets. “…and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.

He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.” Now Zacharias, being a priest, and acquainted with the law, he knew what this meant. John was to take the vow of a Nazarite. He was not to drink wine or strong drink (like Samson who was also a miracle birth). “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.” Now here the angel is quoting from Malachi 4. “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts…’” You notice he doesn’t say I’ll just send you Elijah. He said “the spirit and the power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” There’s so much here I just don’t know where to begin so I guess I’ll just stick with the part right now talking about the birth. It tells us that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. Some of you remember… of course he went home. Matter of fact, at first he was struck mute because he doubted the promise of the angel.

He knew better. He already knew that Abraham, in his old age, and Sarah had had a child. So there was no reason to doubt that he and Elizabeth would be able to do this. But since he doubted the angel said, “Look, you’re not going to speak until these things are fulfilled.” He came out. The people had begun to worry about him because he’d lingered so long burning incense in there and when he finally came out he couldn’t speak and his face was glowing. They figured he had seen a vision. He called for a tablet probably and he began to write down and explain what happened and they thought this was marvelous. Eventually in the course of time, Elizabeth did become pregnant. About six months into her pregnancy, her niece who had now been visited by the same angel by the name of Gabriel. Why did God send Gabriel? Five hundred years earlier, Gabriel who was one of the covering angels by the throne of God had come to Daniel to foretell the time when the Messiah would come. It was Gabriel that came to Daniel in Daniel chapter nine. Five hundred years later go by, Gabriel hasn’t aged a bit.

He now appears to announce the fulfillment of that promise. Now in the vision of Daniel it told when the Messiah would be anointed. That was the baptism of Jesus. Who was it that would baptize Jesus? John the Baptist. Now the angel comes to announce the birth of the one who would introduce Jesus. Could the wise men have known when Jesus was born based on the prophecy in Daniel? By knowing when Christ was going to begin His ministry, how could they know when He would be born? Because you could not begin to serve as a priest until you were thirty years of age. So all you had to do was count back thirty years from when He would be anointed and you’d know approximately when His birth would be, and that’s how it worked out. You got that? That’s why the wise men knew and that’s why the shepherds were wondering when He was going to come and there was a lot of interest in the arrival of the Messiah during that time. That’s why Simon in the temple was looking for Jesus when He came. They were calculating from this prophecy that had been sent by Gabriel.

Gabriel had told Mary of course that she would be the mother of the Lord. Mary had already heard the good news about her cousin Elizabeth. Now some of you who are really sharp have noticed something. What tribe did Mary descend from? Judah because Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, the house of David. What tribe did Elizabeth come from? The daughters of Aaron, Levi. How could they be cousins? Because their mothers may have been sisters. It was based on the father. The fathers were from the tribe of Aaron and the tribe of Judah respectively. In case some of you were thinking about that, I wanted to answer that question in advance. Some of you never would have even thought about that, but it was free. So she hears her cousin, who is living in the hills of Judah, is pregnant and everyone is rejoicing because they think this is another miracle like with Sarah, and so when Mary comes who has now conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit, she comes to visit Elizabeth and what happens?

This is a painting of that famous Christian artist Carl Bloch of when Elizabeth meets Mary, she says, “The baby leapt in my womb at your tiding because you are the mother of my Lord, and when I heard your greeting I felt…” I don’t know if the little baby of John the Baptist began to bounce and kick, I suppose, in a joyful way. Usually the mothers don’t feel so joyful when they start to kick, but Elizabeth began to rejoice at this. She’s already six months pregnant. First of all, there’s something to think about here. Are infant children, before they are born can they be at all aware of what’s happening outside of the womb? They’ve done some studies that seem to indicate they are. Is it just a fetus as some say, or is it a human? They’ve got consciousness. You already know how I feel about that, but this is another point that bears that out. Something else that I actually don’t have the answer for, John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit from His mother’s womb. So many of the other prophets, the Holy Spirit comes upon them at some time in their life there’s a conversion, there’s a new birth. He was born, born again, if you can understand that. He was born filled with the Holy Spirit even before he comes out. He is anxious to announce Jesus before he is even born.

So in another respect, Christ referred to him as the greatest of the prophets, his main purpose in life from the womb to the tomb was to announce Jesus. That was his purpose in life was to introduce the Messiah. So then of course finally John is born and there is great rejoicing. It doesn’t give us the details of his birth other than to say that at the day when they finally came to circumcise John, the eighth day according to the law, they said, “You should name him after his father because he is the only son.” That was a common practice among the Jews and the mother said, “No, the angel told us his name is John.” They said, “Sure, an angel met you. Yeah. You ought to name him after the father.” Then finally Zacharias calls for a tablet, and he etches in Hebrew, “His name is John. That’s what the angel said. That’s his name.” Finally his lips are opened, and he begins to speak again. He is given the gift of speech. Remember the angel said, “When these things are fulfilled” your tongue would be restored. He begins to praise the Lord and he utters, matter of fact, there’s a wonderful prayer of Elizabeth, there’s a wonderful prayer of Zacharias and we don’t have time to read all of those, I hope you’ll read them in the book of Luke there.

But before we go any farther, I want you to notice in the Bible there are seven miraculous births. You’ve heard me give this study to you before, but some have missed it. It is a very important truth to understand as you read the Bible. The Bible talks about seven barren women that had miracle baby boys. John is the last of these miracle births. Now you say, “What about Jesus?” Yes, Jesus was a miracle birth, but the mother was not barren. In every other case I’m about to cite the women were barren and they all had baby boys. Nothing personal, but they had no baby girls because they were all types of Christ.

The names, of course, are Sarah. Who did she have? Isaac, a type of Christ. How is Isaac a type of Christ? He went up the mountain as a sacrifice, a willing sacrifice, a father offering his son. He had the wood on his back as Christ went up the hill with the cross on his back. Then you’ve got Rebecca, Jacob and Esau. She was barren, they prayed and she had twins. You’ve got to be careful about how you pray. You might get more than you ask for. Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs just as Jesus led spiritual Israel through the twelve apostles; he populated literal Israel through his twelve sons.

Then you’ve got Rachel, was barren and Jacob prayed for her. All three of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob brought their wives out of Babylon into the Promised Land and all three of them were barren. Did you notice that? And they all had miracle baby boys that were types of Christ. The first miracle boy of Rachel, who was the primary wife of Jacob, was who? Joseph. Was he a type of Christ? Sold by his own brothers for the price of a slave as Jesus was, placed in a pit, Christ was placed in a tomb, but he came out alive as Jesus did. They tried to cover their sin by a bloodstained robe, and it is a bloodstained robe that covers our sin. Joseph forgave them as Jesus forgives us. He fed the whole world with bread as Jesus is the bread of life. There are so many analogies between Joseph and Jesus that I could stop right now and spend the whole sermon talking about how Joseph is a type of Christ. Then you’ve got the next miracle baby boy. I’m trying to go chronologically. Was, well, we don’t know her name. I always regret that. All we know is her name is Minoah’s wife, always calls her the wife of Minoah, Minoah’s wife. I don’t know what her name was and I feel like we should call her Mrs. Minoah to be respectful. Who did she have? Samson, like John the Baptist, a Nazarite. She was barren.

The angel comes, announces the birth. He was a type of Christ, one of the last things Samson does, of course, Samson was betrayed by his own people. They tied him up and handed him over to the Philistines just as Christ was delivered by his own people to the Romans. Yet Samson broke the bonds and Jesus broke the bonds of the tomb. The last act of Samson’s life, he stretches out his arms, brings down the pagan temple of bail and as Christ destroyed the pagan religions and he died in defeating the enemies of God’s people, stretching out his arms, type of Christ. Next one, some of you remember Hannah, and what was her miracle baby boy? She was barren. Samuel, and like Zacharias when does the angel, when does the message come to Hannah that she’s going to have a son? While she’s praying at the temple. When does Zacharias get the message? While he’s praying at the temple.

John, by the way, is the seventh of these miracle boys. Hannah is the fifth, and Samuel is the baby boy. How is he a type of Christ? He delivers the people from their enemy the Philistines, he is a prophet, he is a judge, he is a priest as Jesus is our prophet, our judge, our priest. The next miracle baby boy that you find in the Bible, again we don’t know her name. It calls her this great woman of Shunem. She is the Shunemite woman. Elisha stays in her home. He says through his servant what does this woman want? She’s been so nice. She has no child. Her husband is old. Again, another miracle. In their old age they’re given a baby boy. How is he a type of Christ? We don’t know his name. He’s in the field working with his father, he dies, and then he is resurrected as Christ was. I mean, that’s a pretty obvious type of Christ. Then the seventh miracle baby boy who is born as a result of a barren mother, all of them were barren, they had no life, was John the Baptist. The final one introduces Christ who is the culmination of all of these miracle baby boys. Do you see that? It is such a wonderful truth that you find all through the Bible.

Now what does it mean to be barren? For the church, we are barren, so to speak, until Christ is born in us. You ever sing that song, “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” “Let Christ be born in us today…” or some lines in that? Those great hymn writers understood that theology. Without that miracle we don’t have the new birth. Christ in you, the hope of glory, is a new birth; it’s a miracle birth just as much as for Elizabeth who is past the age of bearing or Sarah or the Shunemite woman, they’ve all passed that age of bearing. For them to have a baby was a miracle. You might think how could I have Christ in me? How could I have new life? I’m sinful. I’ve got this old stony, carnal heart. Don’t underestimate what the Lord can do through this miraculous event. He can give you a new birth. That’s what it’s telling us. What He did for these women, He does for the church. It’s a result of a group of people that have experienced a new birth.

So the child, Luke 1:80, “So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.” So something else we learn about John is as his parents raised him, and I expect that his parents died before he reached maturity because they were already pretty old when they conceived. That could be one reason, you notice when the angel said to Mary, the promise of Jesus, your own soul will be pierced. Mary lived to watch her son die. Otherwise that message might not have been given. The angel braced her. That message was not given to Zacharias and Elizabeth because they had the benefit of dying before they witnessed that. Next time they saw their son would be in glory, right? Because it said there’ll be joy and gladness. All that Zacharias and Elizabeth heard about was the joy and gladness because they died before that. We believe that they did their best to raise him. They filled his mind with scripture. You’ve got to think about it. Here he’s got two parents, John, only son, got lots of attention. His father is a priest; his mother is from the house of Aaron. He was a PK, got lots of good Bible teaching.

And then it says he was in the wilderness. Now some of what I’m going to share with you now is a little bit of speculation but I think it’s well founded. Based on where John was baptizing and based on what we know what happening historically in Israel during that time there was a group of very dedicated godly believers called Essenes. They lived in communities in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea and the Jordan River. I’ve been there. There is an area called Qumran. You’ve heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Kind of turned the biblical world upside down when they were discovered in 1948. They were written, we know now, by the Essenes. They have found out through forensic evidence that the very ink that they found on the Dead Sea Scrolls, they have matched to the ink they found in little inkwells in the Essene community. It’s the identical ink. They’ve matched it. They know the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were a very dedicated religious community. They practiced baptism. I’ve been there to the ruins of the Essene community. They’ve got these baptisteries that are there.

They were these ceremonial washings. That shouldn’t surprise you. This will give you a little more understanding about John the Baptist. You notice when John begins baptizing, nobody says, “and this is what baptism means,” because every Jew understood baptism. Whenever you converted from being a pagan, a heathen, you could convert to be a Jew. Of course you went through the rite of circumcision. There was a ceremonial washing that you went through, a baptism, in order to be inducted into the religion of Judaism. So the Essenes practiced many baptisms even for the Jews on a daily basis. Matter of fact, they would go through baptisms sometimes every time before they ate. A very religious community, but they were all about the Bible. They might have had some zealous quirks, but they wrote out the scriptures, they studied the scriptures especially the scroll of Isaiah.

The longest of the Dead Sea Scrolls that was found was the Isaiah scroll. Now that’s interesting because guess who John the Baptist quotes from when he’s preaching. He quotes from Isaiah. He quotes from others, but he quotes specifically from Isaiah. He may have spent some time with the Essenes, but we don’t believe he was part of their community because once you joined them, you stayed with them. We have all of this in their writings. But we believe that he was sort of a mascot, if you will, of the Essenes. He was a little different because of the way he dressed. Now I’ve got this picture of a cave that they found near the Jordan River very recently and they’re calling this the cave of John the Baptist. If some of you are familiar with archeology, you’re acquainted with this. In this cave there’s even a baptistery in the cave. Now whether or not it’s the cave of John the Baptist is really suspect because it tells us he was in the deserts. The way it’s written is, he wandered in the deserts. He may have, when he started baptizing, had a favorite cave somewhere.

We don’t know. Another thing is, people who live in the deserts, and even if you live by the river, you don’t drink the river water. Whenever we go kayaking, it’s been a while, but when we used to kayak down the river whenever you camp at night, you don’t camp anywhere around the river. You’ve got to find a stream that runs into the river because you can’t drink the river water. John the Baptist, I’ve been to the Jordan, he didn’t drink that water. I’ll tell you that right now. That is high mineral content, it runs out of the Sea of Galilee and it’s just not safe to drink. In some places it’s just a series of stagnating pools. So he probably camped by one of the creeks which is, by the way, what Elijah did.

So he wandered in the wilderness, and through his time in the wilderness, and reading the scrolls that he probably had exposure to from his time with the Essenes, he filled his mind with the things of God. Every now and then he would mingle in the cities with the communities, but he was offended by sin. He yearned for holiness. By the way, John the Baptist was not sinless. When Christ came to him at the river to be baptized. He said you need to baptize me. He felt a need for cleansing himself, but he was a godly man and a spirit-filled man. Something about the wilderness prepares people for service. That doesn’t mean you stay there forever, but where did the Lord bring the children of Israel as He prepared them for the Promised Land. He took them first into the wilderness. Even Jesus, the Bible says, “immediately”, Mark 1:12, “the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.” After Christ was baptized, before He began preaching to anybody, He went into the wilderness. Now were the apostles baptized? Who baptized the twelve apostles? Probably John the Baptist and his disciples.

It says that they all met Jesus there at the baptism of John. You read John chapter one or two. Did Jesus get baptized? Here’s the question, did John the Baptist get baptized? Probably. He may have been baptized at the Essene community that I’m talking about. Can’t prove it, but there’s good archeological evidence and historical evidence that seems to support that, but then he spent time in the wilderness. Where did Elijah go where God met him? Did he go into the wilderness? Where does the church go during the dark ages and time of persecution? Flees into the wilderness. Where did Paul go as he prepared for his ministry? He was led into Arabia. He spent three years. Many people miss that. He makes it very clear. After his conversion, he preached a little in Damascus and then he spent some time in Arabia preparing for his life of ministry. That, by the way, is the same wilderness that Elijah and the others probably wandered through. It’s believed that Mt. Sinai, the real Mt. Sinai, is probably in the Arabian wilderness there.

Isaiah 40:3 tells where he would appear. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” You know there is something about the majestic cathedrals and canyons that you find in the wilderness that are awe-inspiring. I resonate with this particular truth because I spent, that’s kind of where the Lord got me except I wasn’t being trained there, I actually came to Christianity there. But I lived in a desert wilderness for a year and a half, hiking around these mountains and you just, you feel, it’s so quiet and you feel the presence of God and you hear Him speak to you, and you see Him in the things of creation, and the providence. It’s a beautiful place to prepare. Even Jesus, after the disciples went on a preaching tour, He said, “Come aside for awhile into a deserted place and rest.”

What do you think that deserted place means? The wilderness. Some of you heard me say in Sabbath School this morning for the last eight days or so I was up in the hills praying, spending time riding around, hiking around in the hills by myself, studying and getting ready for the revival in a couple of weeks. That’s a good way and a place to prepare for ministry. If you read in the book Patriarchs and Prophets about Enoch, how Enoch would minister before he was taken by the Lord to heaven, he would spend time in the mountains communing with God and then he would go into the village and he’d preach, and then he’d retreat back to the mountain. He’d fortify his strength again with the environment, a spiritual country environment, then he’d go back and he’d preach. Now we’ve got two extremes. Some people just spend all of their time preaching in the city and they don’t know how to get away and spend time with God and others that want to just become hermits and get away and they don’t know how to come back and preach. I think that we need to have time in God’s creation. You’ll have a chance this afternoon if you come to our little vespers up on the property. That’s a beautiful place with a lake and trees. Anyway. Back to our study on John the Baptist.

When they finally come to John and he begins preaching they begin to ask him, “Who are you?” and they say to him, “Are you Elijah?” Matter of fact, you can read this. Go with me to John 1:21. I want you to notice that when he begins his ministry, he is so powerful in his preaching… I should back up and explain why everybody came. He was like a shooting star. He flared like a meteorite. Nobody forgot John the Baptist, but it was very brief. When he first began preaching, after he realized, and by the way he was thirty years of age when he began, probably about March 26 AD. Jesus was baptized probably in the fall of 27 AD. We know that John began his ministry six months before Jesus. They both started when they were thirty. You realize, of course, Jesus and John were cousins and Jesus began his ministry about six months after John.

There was a great deal of political turmoil. The Romans were now beginning to subdue the Jews. They had lost a lot of their independence. They were looking for the Messiah. All of a sudden this character appears in the wilderness, he is wearing the same garments of Elijah the prophet. The Bible says that Elijah was a hairy man. That doesn’t mean he was hairy like Esau. It actually is in some of your versions. He wore a hairy garment. He wore this hairy garment which was camel skin and a leather belt. That was something of the uniform of the prophets. All of a sudden, John the Baptist appears in the same clothing, in the same regions where Elijah had hidden out by the brook of Chereth during the famine there in that wilderness area. He’s preaching a message of repentance to the people of God that they should return to the Lord, very similar to Elijah.

They got so excited, they said Elijah has come back! They’re wondering, is he the Messiah or is he Elijah? There were two principal prophecies that the Jews were waiting for. One was an unnamed prophet like Moses. If you read in Deuteronomy 18 Moses, before he died. Deuteronomy is Moses’ last sermon. The whole book is Moses’ last sermon. In that he says the Lord your God is going to raise up a prophet unto you like me. There is another prophet coming like me. Well, through the eons that went by from the time of Moses they kept wondering which prophet is it like Moses that’s coming? It wasn’t Jeremiah and it wasn’t Isaiah and it wasn’t Amos. They kept wondering who is it? They had no name for him. They called him the prophet or that prophet. Then they knew Elijah was coming. Keep in mind, last prophecy in the Old Testament, remember the Law of Moses, behold I send you Elijah. So they were looking for a prophet like Moses and the return of Elijah and what two individuals appear to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration? Moses and Elijah. But the prophet like Moses was Jesus. Jesus was the one who would be the prophet like Moses because you read that whole prophecy in Deuteronomy 18 and it really tells us it’s the Messiah.

So they come to John. Where are we? John 1:21. Let’s read this here. Verse 19 “Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” I mean, great crowds were coming, he’s baptizing them. They’re saying, you know, you haven’t been to seminary, and you haven’t talked to us and who gave you permission to do this, and you’ve not been authorized and, “Who are you?” Maybe you’re one of these prophets we’ve been waiting for. They said, “Who are you?” “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’” Now do you understand who the Prophet is? The one like Moses. And he said, “No.” Now you might be thinking, “Wait a second, Doug. The angel said that he could come in the spirit and the power of Elijah.”

Now let me explain what the means, the spirit and the power of Elijah. Of course you remember in Luke 1:17 the angel said that. Malachi said, “I’ll send you a prophet, Elijah the prophet in the last days.” Who is the first one who came in the spirit and the power of Elijah? Elisha. Let me take you back in time. You remember that Elijah the prophet was told by the Lord, “Go choose Elisha.” It gets confusing. They sound the same. Elijah, Elisha. Elijah is the one who called fire down from heaven. Elisha was the prophet who got a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. And so Elijah came along one day; he put his mantle on Elisha’s shoulders and he said, “You are chosen to be prophet in my place.” He followed him as an apprentice for several years. We don’t know how long. Then when Elijah went to heaven in a fiery chariot, he had asked Elisha, “Is there something you want?” He said, “I want a double portion of your spirit upon me.” Right? He said, “If you see me when I’m taken up, it will be so.” He did see him taken up and he got a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

The same way when the disciples saw Jesus ascend up to heaven, He then sent the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, right? There are a lot of similarities here. So don’t miss that the first one who came in the spirit and the power of Elijah was Elisha. The Jews should have known that this is a symbol. God was not saying that Elijah was going to come from heaven where he’s now got a glorified body back down to earth and live as a man among men. God doesn’t operate that way. Do you know that there are some people who believe that one of the two witnesses in the last days who is coming back down to earth, Revelation chapter 11, is Elijah and Moses? They’re going to come down; they’re going to be killed. They’re going to lay in the streets. How many of you have heard that? It’s an unfortunate teaching. It’s very popular especially in charismatic circles. While it’s true the two witnesses are symbolized by Moses and Elijah, Moses and Elijah literally are not leaving the pearly gates and golden streets and coming back and dying on earth again. It says once you’re saved so shall you ever be with the Lord. You don’t come back down to earth again, right?

So what does it mean, the spirit and power of Elijah? He would do the work that Elijah did the same way that Elisha continued that work. Now notice Jesus says in Matthew 17 if you have any doubts, His disciples said to Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first” before the Messiah? Jesus answered and said to them, Indeed… Notice this, please. Jesus said. I’m in Matthew 17:10, 11. You might want to underline this. “Elijah truly is coming first and will restore all things.” Is, will, is that past or future tense? Future. Is coming and will restore all things. When Jesus said this John the Baptist had already come and he had already been executed because Jesus goes on to say, “But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished.” He’s speaking about what they did to John the Baptist at this point. Is coming, will come. Now, why is that important? That prophecy we began with in Malachi, “Behold I send you Elijah the prophet…” Quiz question for you: Has that prophecy been fulfilled? Yes and no.

Is it past or present? Both. How can you say that? Because Jesus said it. He said he is coming and he has come. In the same way that John the Baptist came, this is why I’m doing this whole sermon series. Don’t miss this point okay? Wake up for this point and then go back to sleep okay? So catch this point and you won’t be totally without benefit. The reason that I’m doing this series is because in the same way John the Baptist was sent by the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the world for the first coming of Jesus, he is going to send another Elijah or Elijas to prepare the world for the second coming of Jesus. He said Elijah is coming and will restore all things. If you notice in the prophecy in Malachi “Behold I send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” What is the great and dreadful day of the Lord? Is that past or future? That’s the day of wrath the Bible speaks of. It’s the great and dreadful day of the Lord. So before the great and dreadful day of the Lord, in the future, He’s still sending Elijah.

There are going to be more Elijahs that will do the work of revival that John the Baptist did. Now that might be you. He might want you to do some of the same work that John the Baptist did. That’s why were studying John. I want to get you excited about getting people ready for announcing the second coming. See, John the Baptist announced Christ and introduced Him for His first coming. Are we to do a work of baptism like John the Baptist? We’ll look at some of the characteristics of John here in a minute, but why when the Jews came to John and they said, “Are you Elijah?” He said, “No.” Can’t misunderstand it. They said, “Are you Elijah?” He said, “No.” Why? Because they were asking the wrong question. Are you aware that in the time of Christ they had started believing in reincarnation? They had been influenced by the Greeks and the Persians and some of the eastern religions and reincarnation had begun to contaminate them. They thought that you might come back again. So when they said to John the Baptist, “Are you Elijah?” What they’re asking him, “Are you Elijah reincarnated?”

He said, “No,” because he understood. Don’t you think Zacharias and Elizabeth told John about the angel visit and important nature of his mission and his life’s work? If you were a mother wouldn’t you say, “God has told us He’s got a great work for you?” Of course. Did he know about the angel saying, “You’re going to come in the spirit and power of Elijah”? Yeah, he knew that. So when they said, “Are you Elijah?” He said, “No,” because they were teaching reincarnation. Let me give you a couple examples of what they believed. In Luke 9:18, 19 Jesus said, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Some say You are Elijah come back. They even thought Jesus was Elijah come back. In Mark 6:16 when Herod heard about the works of Jesus, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!” Herod was a semi-Jewish king. Can you see where they were starting to believe in reincarnation? So when they said to John, “Are you Elijah?” He said, “No.” because they were wondering are you Elijah reincarnated and he said, “No.” Are you Elijah who is to come? Yes. How do we know that? Jesus said it three times. Matthew 11, Matthew 17, and there’s also a duplicate verses in Luke and Mark. He said if you can understand it, this is Elijah who was to come. But Elijah will still come. Do you think he’s in the world today? Might be out in the desert somewhere.

Then he began to teach baptism which was this ceremonial washing. He suddenly appeared and everybody came out to him. Now I’m not going to have time to get through all of these similarities, I don’t think, but I’d like to draw some comparisons about how was John the Baptist like Elijah. I am going to make a dangerous assumption that you’re all somewhat acquainted with the Old Testament prophet called Elijah and the work of Elijah. I’ll try and fill in a few details, but notice at least a dozen, there are many, similarities between the work of John the Baptist and Elijah. First of all, they were both bold and fearless in preaching before kings. How many of you remember when Elijah said to Ahab, I haven’t troubled Israel, but you are the one who has troubled Israel? Now go gather all Israel. He wasn’t afraid to confront kings and queens. Neither was John the Baptist. Do you remember when John said to Herod, he was ultimately imprisoned for this, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”

Oh, you know I wanted to throw something in here that I forgot to mention. This is just something I found in my own study. I got it on two pages here so excuse me for the clutter. How many of you have heard of the Jewish historian Josephus? You’ve heard of the Jewish historian Josephus? He is probably one of the most prominent historians. He was a contemporary of Christ and John the Baptist. Granted he was very young, probably when John the Baptist began his ministry Josephus may have been a teenager. He went around with the Romans after Jerusalem was destroyed and he was hired to basically chronicle the history of the Jews.

Flavius Josephus was his name. In his book of The Antiquities we’ve got some of the best record of not only what happens in the Old Testament but of what happened during the time of Christ. Josephus talks about Jesus and he talks about John the Baptist. Now listen to this. Herod lost a battle and I’m picking up where Josephus is talking about a battle that Herod lost, and he was humiliated. “Now some of the Jews thought the destruction of Herod’s army,” I’m quoting Josephus now. “Now some of the Jews thought the destruction of Herod’s army came from God and that very justly as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist. For Herod slew him who was a good man and he commanded the Jews to exercise virtue…” He’s talking about John, not Herod. “…he commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards God. So to come to baptism for that the washing with water would be acceptable to him if they made use of it…” In other words baptism is only useful, not only “only in order to put away of the remission of some sins…” It’s a rough translation into English. “…but for the purification of the body, supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified by righteousness.” In other words, you accept Christ, John the Baptist taught you accept Christ and you receive righteousness beforehand by baptism. Some people think baptism is where you get your righteousness. Now the reason this is very important is Josephus was probably a disciple of John the Baptist.

I’m going to try and bear that out in just a second. “Now when many others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved and pleased at hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence of John had power over the people, he might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion.” They thought John the Baptist was going to raise a rebellion. “For they seemed ready to do anything he should advise.” The people loved John. They would have done anything he said. “Herod thought it best by putting him to death to prevent any mischief that he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of it…” Don’t spare him, he might make him repent. “…when it was too late. Accordingly he was sent as a prisoner out of Herod’s suspicious temper to Macherus, the castle” down by the Dead Sea “that I had beforehand mentioned, and there he was put to death.” Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of the army of Herod was a punishment because of what he had done to John. Now something else here I want you to notice.

I’m reading from Josephus. That’s from the Antiquities of the Jews, if you’re taking references, chapter five. “Nor was it as I with … and others of Philip the Tetrarch but this Herod Philip whose wife Herod the Tetrarch had married and that her first husband’s lifetime…” King Herod took his brother Philip’s wife while he was still alive is what Josephus is saying. “…and when her first husband had issue by her.” They had already had children together. It was forbidden in other words by the Jewish law. “…for which adulterous and incestuous marriage John the Baptist justly reproved Herod the Tetrarch for which would prove Salome the daughter of Herodias by her first husband Herod Philip who was still alive, occasion to have him unjustly beheaded.” Now isn’t that exactly what the Bible teaches. A scholar noticed that Josephus gave direction to his soldiers, “Do no violence to any man nor accuse any falsely. Do you realize that that’s an exact quote of the teachings of John the Baptist? A number of scholars… and then Josephus identifies Jesus. He says “He was the Christ.”

No Jews believed that Jesus was the Christ except two groups, the followers of John the Baptist who had said that this is the Lamb of God and the followers of Jesus. So I thought that was very interesting that the scholars think that Josephus may have been a disciple of John the Baptist. That got me excited. You don’t look very excited, but I’ve become more interested in studying the history of the Jews. I think it’s interesting that the one that the Lord spared to write the history of the Jews was a disciple of John the Baptist. He gave that perspective. That was very interesting to me. I got excited because I learned that this week. Okay.

So some of the ways that John the Baptist and Elijah were alike. They were both bold in their preaching. Oh, by the way, not only were they bold before kings. What did Jesus say about last day Elijahs and last day Johns? Jesus said, “You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake for a testimony to them.” I read in the book Desire of Ages this morning, I believe it was, that because John was so used to living in the presence of the Monarch of the Universe in the wilderness there he was not intimidated by earthly monarchs. When you are brought before kings and rulers to bear witness for your faith, are you going to be intimidated or will you have the boldness of Elijah and John the Baptist?

Two, their message was principally one for the church to come to God. Matter of fact, they called the church to come to them. You remember when Elijah said to Ahab, “Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me in Mt. Carmel,” and the Bible says, “And there went out to him all of the land of Judah and Jerusalem.” He didn’t so much as go to the people as the people came to him. Their message was a message of revival to the church and that will be also true, before Jesus comes back there needs to be an outpouring of the Spirit and revival in the church.

Third point, both had a simple diet in their dwelling place. When you look at the lives of Elijah and John the Baptist something that we discover is that they had very austere lives, that they lived very simple lives. They believed in, you might say, you might not think that locust is a part of the health message. When the Bible says that John the Baptist ate locust and honey, again I did a lot of research to find out was it grasshoppers, or was it carob? The jury is still out. The word can be either. Personally it bothers me to think of this great prophet gnawing on grasshopper legs. Another reason I don’t think it’s just talking about locusts is, locusts are actually seasonal, the bugs. They’re not very nutritious either. But the carob pod, and by the way, there’s two other things they say could be meant by locust. They actually had fish in the Jordan River that are still there today and one of their nicknames was locust. Well that would make sense if you lived there by the Jordan River to be eating some of the fish from the river, and honey, well, of course honey is just what it was.

But it could have been what we call carob pods. They’ve got these beans and if you go to the Middle East today the locust tree is a tree that is a very hardwood, it’s a thorny wood, but it’s got a long pod and they call it St. John’s Bread. To this day it’s one of the nicknames for this carob type pod. I prefer to think that he ate that, but he may have eaten locust. The book of Leviticus says grasshoppers are clean. Please don’t bring them to the potluck! Just promise me that. We’re hoping that it’s carob. But they ate a simple diet. When Elijah was in the wilderness, he ate the food that angels gave him. The Bible tells us that he ate what the ravens brought him. It was very simple. He did not eat the sumptuous fare of royal cafeterias. In the day of excess it was a life of simplicity. Simplicity in their attire, there was a humility about it in their dwelling, and this is a call that God is giving people in the last days when there is so much excess. I’ve talked a little about that.

Point four, well, I guess I just touched on this. They both dressed in modest, simple clothing. It wasn’t ostentatious, it wasn’t flamboyant. The Bible says of Elijah, he was a man with a garment of hair and a leather belt around his waist. John, John was clothed with camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. That doesn’t mean that next week you all need to show up with leather belts and burlap, but the principle is there that God wants us not to fall for the flamboyant fashions of the day. The purpose of clothing is modesty, simplicity. We want to reflect Christ with cleanliness and this was something that was outstanding about John and Elijah.

Furthermore they believed in discipling others. They did not just preach, but they discipled others. You read about Elijah. What did Elijah do? Well, he discipled Elisha, and before Elijah went to heaven what was the most important thing on his mind? You ever watch what happened in 2 Kings 2? Before Elijah goes to heaven he says to Elisha, “Go with me to Gilgal. Go with me to Bethel. Go with me to Jordan.” And what does he do there? At all three of those places he visits with the schools of the prophets there to encourage those that he had been training for ministry. Why did Jesus call John the greatest prophet? Greater than Moses, greater than Elijah, Isaiah. Think about this. His whole life was in one supreme point. When John the Baptist pointed to Jesus at the Jordan River and he said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” this was the most central point of his life. When John baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit came down, Christ began His ministry. John’s life from when he leapt in his mother’s womb until he died a martyr’s death was all about pointing others to Jesus.

God is looking for Elijahs and John the Baptists again in the last days. We are to point people to Jesus, and as Jesus’ ministry began to explode, like I said, John was something like a shooting star. As soon as he introduced Christ his ministry began to wane. His disciples were worried about his mailing list and what was going to happen to his support because Jesus was now baptizing more people than John and you know what John said? “That’s the way it’s supposed to be. He must increase; I must increase. My greatest joy is to introduce the bridegroom.” Wouldn’t there be something wrong at a wedding if the best man tries to overshadow the groom and the bride? I mean, that’s the wrong priority. In the same way John the Baptist’s work was to reflect, to highlight, to introduce, his joy was to announce Christ. That should be our joy.

Think about how profound what John did really was. For the first four thousand years of the world’s history everybody sacrificed lambs for the forgiveness of sin. Then John the Baptist basically is the one who announces, “No more lambs are necessary. The Lamb of God is here.” Is that an important mission? I mean, the whole economy of the New Testament and the Old Testament rotates on the announcement of John the Baptist so when Jesus said, “he is the greatest of the prophets,” another reason He says he is the greatest of the prophets, not only was he filled by the Holy Spirit from the womb to the tomb, but he was the one who made the announcement that separated the old sacrificial system from the new economy of Christ being the Lamb of God. What a privilege to do that. He baptized the Messiah. There is so much more I have to share with you, but you know, I think that we can learn from John. Amen? And we’ll continue this study next week. I thought it would be good to close with the hymn “Have Thine Own Way, Lord”. I’m hoping that we can have that spirit and attitude of John the Baptist when he said, “He must increase; I must decrease.” It’s all about pointing to the Lord and having God have His will in our lives. I’m assuming that’s your prayer. This song really is a prayer, so if you want to sing it and pray it with me, let’s stand together. Number 567.

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.

One of the things that inspires me about John, if you think about it, he had every earthly advantage. He was born into an educated family, only son, would have had the inheritance of his parents. Filled with the Spirit, had all that promise, and he had to make a decision someday just like Moses, am I going to stay and work in Jerusalem and get the accolades of the people or am I going to follow the Lord and spend my life pointing to someone else? When I think of John the Baptist, I think of another John in the Bible. His name is Jonathan. You know, when David came along Jonathan recognized, you are the anointed of God. He says, even though I’m the crown prince, I know that you’re supposed to be king. I’m going to die; you’re going to reign. He gave David his armor, gave him his sword, gave him his shield and he said, “God has told me you’re supposed to take my place. I am happy to make a covenant with you, and just let you be king in my place.” What a sacrifice. That’s what John the Baptist did. He said, “My mission is to tell people about Your mission.”

What is your life all about? you know for a Christian, we really all need to come to terms with the same decision, to say, it’s not about me, it’s about Him. It’s not my will, it’s Thy will. My whole life is to simply point people to Christ. Whatever your work is, whether you’re in school, whatever your job in life, in your family, you know what it’s really all about? The same thing as John the Baptist and Jonathan, say, “He must reign, not me. He must increase; I must decrease.” It’s all about Him having His way. Is that your priority? Some of you may be struggling with that. You might want to say, “Lord, I want to do the work of John. I want to point people to Christ. I want that to be the purpose of my life from beginning to end to proclaim Him.” Maybe you have some special prayer. You’ve not made that decision before and you want to make it today, we’ll be happy to have prayer with you. You can come forward and we’ll do that.

Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way! Wounded and weary, help me I pray!

Power, all power, surely is thine! Touch me and heal me, Savior divine!

Dear loving Lord, we come before You today inspired by the example of John and Elijah, by the example of Jonathan, and especially Jesus of being able to say, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” Lord, we’d like to have the central focus of our life similar to that of John, to be filled with Your Spirit, Your word, to have a life with meaning and mission, to not be interested so much about titles as testimony that we might point others to Christ. We know Jesus is coming soon and You’re looking for a people that will announce His return, that will proclaim His appearing. I pray that we can be that people and I pray we can learn from the example of John and Elijah and replicate their virtues. Please bless us, Lord, and help us to keep our focus and our eyes on Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.

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Daniel: A Reader's Guide by William H. Shea

Daniel: A Reader's Guide by William H. Shea
God's Promises




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