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John the Baptist Part 2: A Voice in the Wilderness

Scripture: Malachi 3:1, Luke 3:2-22, John 1:19-34
Date: 10/29/2005 
The second in a two part series on the life of John the Baptist. Many parallels between the life of John and Elijah. Like John, the most important thing you can possess is truth.
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Our message this morning is really the continuation of a two part series on John the Baptist. I don’t even believe you can take two complete sermons to do justice to this incredible character from the Bible. As I’ve been studying more, I’m getting a great blessing and a little embarrassed that I wasn’t better acquainted with John since he basically is at the beginning of all four gospels. Matter of fact, I’ll remind you that the word John means “Yahweh is gracious”. I thought it was interesting that the New Testament begins and ends with John. Of course John the revelator is the last book who says, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” John the Baptist said, “Jesus is coming”. At the beginning of the New Testament you’ve got the grace, God is gracious, John the Baptist, he’s saying the Messiah is coming, and then you’ve got John the Apostle at the end of the Bible, he says even so, come again. Isn’t that interesting? And both of them mean God is gracious.

Now probably I should begin with a little review. Last week we were talking about that prophecy in the Old Testament, last verses in the Old Testament, Malachi chapter 4, “Behold, I send 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 fathers lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.” Then of course we go to the New Testament and there the angel says that John the Baptist would come in the spirit and the power of Elijah. So we began to look at some of the parallels between Elijah and John and I think when we left off I had come up with five. Let me review them for you quickly. There are about twelve of them. Both John and Elijah were fearless in their preaching and bold even before kings, and in the case of John it cost him his life.

The message was for the church, one of revival, repentance, confession first, and then the world. Three, they both had very simple, austere lives wearing camel’s clothes, leather belt, living in the wilderness, being fed by ravens and eating locusts. Oh, you know, I learned something else this week that I did not know. It bothers me whenever I think of them eating locusts. Did I mention that? Does it bother anyone else here? I actually saw a program on John the Baptist. Isn’t it providential the History Channel did that just for me; they had a program on John the Baptist? Some of that you’ve got to all take with a grain of salt, but they actually showed where the locust is… The word in Greek can be easily interpreted he ate honey cakes. Instead of honey and grasshoppers, honey cakes. Oh, I much prefer to believe that because the Bible says the manna the children of Israel ate was like honey wafers. So he was eating the same kind of food the children of Israel ate (if that’s true). But it was either carob or grasshoppers or honey cakes. You take your pick. Either way, it’s simply saying that, well, maybe it was carob honey cakes with grasshoppers! But it’s simply telling us he had a very simple and an austere life. He lived a Spartan life showing that he’d gained the victory over the appetite. Simple clothing, of course. They believed in discipling others both Elijah and john had disciples. They took what they learned from God and transferred that to others.

Now let’s pick up with some new similarities between John and Elijah. They both spent time at the Jordan River. Can’t escape that. Remember Elijah said to Elisha, “I’m going to the Jordan. The Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” That last miracle of Elijah before he went to heaven was parting the Jordan, a symbol for death in the Bible. Baptism in the Jordan was a symbol for death, burial, and resurrection. Of course, where did John baptize? By the Jordan River. They both manifested humility, very humble. Elijah, he bowed down on the ground and put his face between his knees and he prayed humbly before the Lord. John, he said, “He that is coming after me,” speaking of the Messiah, “is mightier than I. I am not worthy to untie or to even bear his sandals.” Both lived during a time of religious persecution led out by a prominent woman.

During the time of Elijah Jezebel sent a messenger, this is from 1 Kings 19:2, “Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of’” those prophets you killed “by tomorrow…” And then he fled from Jezebel. With John the Baptist it was Herodias the wife of the king. In both cases it was the wife of the king, these pagan women that persecuted the prophets of God. I thought that was interesting. I’m going to take that a little further. During the time of Elijah, Jezebel and her daughter Athaliah worked together to destroy the prophets of God and the seed of Israel.

Are you with me? Athaliah killed all the royal seed; Jezebel killed the prophets, tried to kill Elijah. During the time of King Herod, Herod the Great tried to kill all of the babies in Bethlehem, the son of David, and then you’ve got King Herod, his wife Herodias who wanted to kill John the Baptist and ultimately did. The daughter of Herodias danced. She participated. So you’ve got this pagan queen and her daughter manipulating the king to kill the prophets of God. Then when you go to Revelation, Babylon, this woman, and her daughters persecute the prophets of God for a period of forty-two prophetic months. How long was the famine during the days of Elijah? Forty-two months, three and a half years. Do you see the parallels? Well, there may be another time for Elijah to come before Jesus returns. Oh, wait. I’m not done. There are some more parallels here.

They both ran before the king, and I’ll get to that in more detail. Elijah 1 Kings chapter 18, “The hand of the Lord came upon Elijah. He girded up his loins and ran ahead of King Ahab to the entrance of Jezreal.” John the Baptist said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the paths of the king’” before the Lord. I’ll talk about that in a moment. Point ten, Elijah’s message will point people to the Lord and the message of John the Baptist. Remember what Elijah prayed on Mt. Carmel, his great triumphant moment, he said, “Hear me, O Lord, hear me that this people may know that you are the Lord, that you’ve turned their hearts back again.” He tried to turn them back, a message of repentance and pointing to God. What was the message of John the Baptist? He said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

He pointed people to Jesus and said, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Do we need that message in the last days? Point people back to the Lord and to encourage them to repent. They both had moments of discouragement. Elijah fled from Jezebel. Because of Jezebel he’s in the wilderness and he says, “Lord, let me die. I’m not better than my fathers.” John the Baptist in prison because of Herodias sent a message to Jesus, “Are You the One or do we look for someone else? Was I wrong?” And then, finally, I think it’s interesting as my final point here, Elijah went through the Jordan River with Elisha. Elijah then goes to heaven and the work of Elisha takes over. John goes into the Jordan River with Jesus, and from that moment on, the work of Jesus expands and the work of John the Baptist diminishes. Many, many parallels. I just took some obvious ones here, just to tie off our study from last week.

Now I want to begin today, it’s “John the Baptist, Part 2: A Voice in the Wilderness”, and I’m drawing that from Malachi 3:1. “‘Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. behold, He is coming,’ says the Lord of hosts.” So here in the Old Testament it says I’m sending my Messenger to prepare the way before me. You remember we talked just a moment ago about John identifying himself as a voice in the wilderness saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Preparing the way comes from the terminology of a custom that when kings traveled in ancient times through their realm or even visiting other kings that they had a road crew that would go before them that would do several things.

They would announce the king is coming and they would inspect the road because they did not have CalTrans back then, and when the king went by you didn’t want his chariot bouncing and jarring him so they would fill in the potholes, the low places would be filled in, John the Baptist said. They would cut off the molehills, they’d cut down the high spots, they’d widen the narrow spots, they’d basically prepare a road as direct and smooth as possible for the king to pass over. The work of John the Baptist was something like the work of these people who went before the king in that he was preparing the way to make the path straight for the Lord to reach our hearts. I think it’s interesting that when you read about the conversion of Paul, you know it says when Paul was baptized he was staying on straight street in Damascus.

I just don’t think that’s a total coincidence, and the Lord reaches us when we’re on straight street. God wants us to live straight, doesn’t He? Shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The reason some people’s lives are crooked is because they follow the path of least resistance. Do you know how a river gets crooked? Same way, it follows the path of least resistance, and if we’re going to live a straight life, there’s going to be resistance. John the Baptist came preaching a straight message that people should live straight. Now cutting down the high spots, some people are too proud and they must be humbled. Filling in the low spots, some people don’t know how valuable they are to God and they must be lifted up. The work of a good preacher is to make the comfortable uncomfortable, and to comfort those who are uncomfortable. Do you get that? Some people are uncomfortable and we’re supposed to preach comfort to them and some people are too comfortable and we’re supposed to make them uncomfortable. That’s sort of the job of a preacher.

Well, John the Baptist came to do that. Those who were the outcasts, he said, God wants to reach you. Those who were religious pride and haughty, he called them a brood of vipers, and he tried to encourage them to repent, and so he was preparing the way before the king and helping to remove the obstacles, and also their job, the road crew, was as heralds to announce the approach of the king. Now if you were to ask John “Who are you?” He said, “I’m not Moses resurrected or Elijah reincarnated. I am a voice.” When you think about a person and who they are, most are attracted to external things. John identifies himself as simply a voice to announce the word. Jesus was the word incarnate. John was a voice incarnate. But he was the voice to prepare to receive the word, a messenger. You’ve probably been at… maybe you haven’t. You ever seen any of these special, official government occasions where people come to a dinner and they actually get to the door and they are announced? Maybe you haven’t been to one. You’ve probably heard about them or seen this before.

You’ve got this herald that meets them at the door and maybe you hand your announcement sheet and it announces them. I’ve been on the platform before where my job is, I am the platform chairman for some highfaluting campmeeting, and my job is to announce everybody that’s on the platform, and they all sit there through the whole thing, and what their degrees and qualifications are. John was the one who was to announce, to herald, to introduce Jesus. Now think about how important that work was. All of the Old Testament prophets talked about Jesus. They all pointed to Jesus, but they pointed ahead. They said, “We’ve seen Him in vision. Let us tell you what it’s going to be like. We’re going to give you a few clues.” It was all done through revelation. John the Baptist was not just a prophet who was to announce Jesus. He was the one who basically could look at the reality and say, “There He is.” Think about how important that work was. It wasn’t like the prophecies of Jeremiah or Isaiah or Ezekiel or even Daniel who talked about the coming Messiah.

John said, “Here He is,” and the spotlight came on, and He began His ministry. He had the privilege of being the prophet to transition from the old economy to the new. John the Baptist was the threshold. His prophecy, his ministry was the threshold. The threshold is not a very big part of the yard or the house, is it? John’s life was very short, but it represented the changing point between the Old Testament economy where they sacrificed physical lambs and the Lamb of God and the new economy. Can you see how important that was? That’s why all four gospels begin, before Jesus you have John; he was the messenger. What was his message? Luke 3:2, “the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.” Did God feed the children of Israel with bread in the wilderness? And this was the bread of life, His word.

John 1:22, they said, “Who are you, that we may give an answer…?” He simply said, “I’m a voice…” quoted Isaiah 40:3. The important thing about my life, it’s not what I’m wearing, it’s not what I’m eating, it’s what I’m saying. Now I keep wanting to remind you the reason we’re looking at John is because not only was Elijah’s message bringing revival in the Old Testament. John the Baptist preached reform and revival when Christ came the first time, but Elijah the prophet will come again before the great and terrible day of the Lord. The ministry, the message, of John is something the Lord wants again at the end of time in your life and mine.

What’s the most important thing about you? Is it your home? Think about what makes you the most valuable? Not only that Christ paid for you. Is it your car, is it your family, is it your position? Position, possession? Or is it your message? God has given you a message. The most important thing that you possess is a message, a message of truth, and that was John’s identity that God had given him this message. What was the message? First words out of his mouth, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” It’s available. It’s within reach. You know this is something like what Moses said. He said the truth isn’t so far away that you’ve got to send ambassadors. It’s not in heaven so you’ll say, “Who will ascend into heaven and get it and bring it down to us?” It’s not below the sea so you can say, “Who is going to get scuba gear and bring it up to us? The message is hard to reach.” He said, “That’s not how it is. It’s in your mouth, it’s in your hand, it’s right near you.” You know what’s really sad is that the message is so accessible and yet we still don’t appreciate it. It’s right within reach; the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

His first words were, repent… Now I want you to notice Matthew 3:1, 2 “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’” Then it says in verses 5 and 6 of chapter 3, Matthew, “Then Jerusalem, all Judea…” The reason it says Jerusalem, it means everybody in the city. And “all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan…” even the parts that were inhabited by some of the poor and the gentiles, Galilee, they “went out to him.” Here you’ve got this man, matter of fact, some of the same religious leaders that rejected Jesus, when they first heard John, they said, “He has a demon.” That’s what Christ said. When John the Baptist came preaching they said he has a demon because he was living such an austere life. Then Jesus came and He was eating and drinking, they said, “You’re a glutton!

Friend of publicans and sinners.” So it didn’t matter how they came, they were still rejecting the truth. Have you noticed that people don’t want to accept the truth? It doesn’t matter what excuse. Jesus came and they said, “You’re living too wild.” John came living very austere, Spartan. They said, “You’ve got a demon.” So if they don’t want the truth, they don’t want the truth. But here this man clothed in camel skin and leather, he’s out in the wilderness, and what he says is so important that everybody goes to hear it. It says they all came to him.

Catch this, they “were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.” Confession of sin and repentance come before baptism. Now we hear about repentance and still people don’t understand what that means. Repentance is a sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. You don’t get baptized in order to repent. You repent and you’re baptized.

Connected with repentance is something called confession. Confession, and I could stop right here and take a whole sermon talking about that, is a lost art among Christians. True we are not to confess our sins to the pastor. Matter of fact, people confess to me more than I want to know. It’s true. There’s things people tell me and I think, “I wish you hadn’t told me that. I didn’t need to know that. The Lord needed to know that. Now that you’ve told me, I can never look at you the same again.” But God can forgive and forget. It’s a little harder for the pastor. He can forgive, but I can’t forget what you told me so be careful. There are some things you should confess to others. Sins that are committed publically, people already know, should be publically confessed. If you have offended a person, you should go to your brother, Jesus says, and confess to them.

It’s not enough to say, “Well, I know that I did something terrible to this person. Lord, I pray You’ll forgive me for what I did to them.” And the Lord is going to say, “Well, have you told them?” So there is a place for confessing your faults to one another, James says, and praying for one another that you might be healed. Those offences against each other should be confessed to each other. Amen? Then confessing your sins to God doesn’t just mean… I think that we’re living in an age where we have made Christianity very trite and cheap. A lot of churches teach if you want forgiveness simply come to the altar, kneel down, repeat this thirty second prayer and now you have everlasting life. I don’t want to overcomplicate it. I do believe you can accept Jesus just like that, but then you should go home and do a real work of confession. Pray that God will reveal to you what your sins are. Pray that prayer in Psalms. Search me, try me, see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. Be specific. Don’t simply say, “Lord, I’m a sinner. Please forgive me.”

Well, that’s general. That’s true, but then confess the specifics. You may not remember every lie you’ve told, every evil thought, every murder you’ve executed in your mind, but you know that you are a gossip, a thief. If you haven’t been faithful in your tithes and offerings God says you’re a robber. If you’re speaking evil against your brother Jesus calls it murder. Thinking impure thoughts, adultery. So when you get on your knees you might even make a list privately, don’t let anyone get that list, and itemize and say, “Lord, I’m a sinner.” Think about what your sins are. It’s good for your soul. Humble yourself so He can lift you up, and then claim that promise in 1 John 1:9 “If (you) confess (your) sins, He is faithful and just to forgive (you your) sins and to cleanse (you) from all unrighteousness.” Now one thing that happens when you specifically confess your sins is when you say, “Lord, forgive me for my gossip” you’re giving the Holy Spirit permission to help you with that specifically. When you just say, “Lord, I’m a sinner,” it’s so general that you’re not really helping the Holy Spirit address the specifics in your life. Confess your sins specifically to God, and then believe he forgives you and He cleanses you from all unrighteousness. This was the message of John. He gave specifics.

You know something else just so I don’t forget I want to show you what I did. I’m thankful for the computer because it helps you do things it was very difficult to do before. Just last night I was thinking about the impact of John. I decided to go through the Bible and take everything that John the Baptist said himself. I was surprised to find all of the very words of John… Now the Bible says a lot about John, but it’s not John speaking. Matter of fact, there’s almost in the Bible about John as there is John actually speaking. It all fits and I put it on fourteen font. It’s easier for me to read at that point. About a thousand words is all John says, and yet his ministry had such a profound impact they continue to refer to him on and on through the New Testament. He ministered for about one year. Very brief, but extremely powerful and it was really helpful to me to look at what John said. He gives a lot of specifics. I’ll talk about some of his specific teachings in a moment here. His message talked about the imminent… oh, wait.

Let me get back to the message of repentance. Acts 19:4 Paul is preaching. What does Paul say? “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance…” Here Paul is preaching years after John the Baptist is dead and gone. He’s up in Ephesus, and there’s believers there who were baptized by John the Baptist who still didn’t know about Jesus. The ministry of John went way beyond just Judea and Jerusalem and the Jordan River. He said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ…” John’s ministry was one of repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and it was some very bold preaching about specifics. Here is a quote from Desire of Ages, that book on the life of Christ, page 104, “God does not send messengers to flatter the sinner. He delivers no message of peace to lull the unsanctified into fatal security. He lays heavy burdens on the conscious of the wrongdoer and pierces the soul with arrows of conviction. The ministering angels present to him the fearful judgments of God to deepen the sense of need and prompt the cry, “What must I do to be saved?” This is the message, to bring conviction. That’s what rings about repentance.

People were drawn to John by his message, by the power of the word. His message was for everybody and his message was captivating and convicting. Something about the message of John that relates to us today: John’s message was of the eminent appearance of the Messiah, the eminent coming of Jesus. Do we have that message today? Again, Matthew 3:11, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” His message was we have a work to do. We have a message, and our message is, “Jesus is coming.” That was John’s message. Can you see a parallel between the message of our church, our time and the message of John the Baptist? Is the Lord coming soon? Do people need to awake? Do we have a message of repentance and confession and preparation? A message of preparing the highway for the king?

His message was one of faith, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Now you and I, I don’t know in our day and age if we can appreciate the impact of that statement. Remember all up until that time when they talked about lambs taking away sin, they were the furry ones. Every Jew knew that those lambs, that the sacrificial system all pointed to the day when the Messiah would come. Of course in Isaiah 53 it itemized that the Messiah would come and bear our sins. It was only these lambs that were sacrificed for sin; they were symbols of when the messiah would come. When John at the Jordan River with this vast crowd, and more than one occasion the gospel of John it says twice, he points to Jesus, says, “This is the Lamb of God.” For several days Christ was camping out. They had kind of a massive ongoing camp-meeting at the Jordan River where it says all of Jerusalem, all of Judea. Can you imagine the tens of thousands of people that were clustered around the Jordan to hear this one guy dressed in camels’ skin eating honey and locust? He must have had a powerful message.

He had charisma. He must have been exuding the Holy Spirit. You ever met people like that? They walk in the room and you know this person’s got some authority. When someone has the authority of God… John had that. They came by the thousands, and when Jesus was there at the river and he pointed and said, “This is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” everyone took a gasp. Probably pulled some birds out of the sky; they all inhaled at the same time. Everyone looked at Jesus, so unassuming. As soon as he mingled back into the crowd they couldn’t spot Him. He said, “This is the One.” Now let me tell you why I think that’s so important.

Look, he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God.” Behold, it’s simply inviting you to look and to live. You don’t have to take a knife and kill this lamb. You need to look and live. That takes the minds of every Jew back to the time when the children of Israel were in the wilderness. They were being bitten by these deadly serpents and they were dying and Moses was told to do something that seemed so very strange, make a bronze snake, like the ones that were biting them, I suppose, put it on a shepherd’s crook. You know all these shepherds had staffs and crooks back then, and hold it up, and then tell the people if you look you’ll be healed from the venom of the serpent. That seems so strange, but that’s really the gospel. Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up.” Why? So you can behold and live. It’s a message of faith. You look to Jesus to be healed from the venom of the serpent. How can looking neutralize? What vaccine is in looking that will heal you from what the physiological effects of the venom are? Doesn’t make sense.

It didn’t make sense to the children of Israel. Some of them refused to look because they said, “That’s absurd!” And they died. Some refuse to look to Jesus and they die in their sins. So when he said, Behold the Lamb of God, we’re being invited to live by faith in looking. That’s why Christ said, “Except I am lifted up…” What does lifted up mean? Position of visibility. You look at him. Zaccheaus wanted to see Jesus. He saw Him and he lived. Isaiah saw the Lord and then he was cleansed with this coal. Thief on the cross next to Jesus; he looks at Jesus lifted up and he’s saved. Why was Paul converted? He saw the Lord. Jesus never touched him. We look and we live. Have you seen Jesus? Have you looked to Him in faith? The promise is if you do, you will be saved. The Bible says Jesus takes away the sin of the world, and if He can take away the sin of the whole world, do you think He has enough power to take yours away? Sometimes we think, “Yeah, He died for the sin of the whole world.” We forget that means it’s potent enough to take away ours. Look and live was the message of John, a message of faith. It’s also a message of stewardship and relationship, I’m talking about the teachings of John right now.

Go with me to Luke chapter 3, and I want you to notice something. You don’t find this in all the gospels. Luke 3:10 people come to John and they start asking him specifically, “What are we to do to demonstrate our repentance? What are we to do in keeping with our baptism?” What do we do? Is there something we need to do? And John said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Was that part of the teaching of Jesus? He said, “If you have two coats impart to others.” There are some parallels between the teachings of John and Jesus, aren’t there? So it’s a message of generosity, loving each other. If you’ve got two coats, give to those that don’t have any. I’ve been proud to be an American lately with these hurricanes to see that the American people have not gotten tired of giving with all of these hurricanes that have come through. Have you looked at the statistics of the billions of dollars Americans have given? Forget what the government is allocating; they’re giving for us. They tax you and then they give it. Of their own freewill Americans have given billions. A very giving people. Do you know statistically America is the most generous, with all of our problems we are still the most generous nation in the world in the per capita of our giving. It’s often even the poor who give the highest percentage. Only got two shirts, but they’re willing to give one away. He who has food, let him do likewise.

The next message. Tax collectors came to be baptized and they said, “What shall we do?” He said, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” It’s okay to collect taxes, but don’t be stealing. Remember Zaccheaus said, “If I’ve taken anything extra to line my pockets I’m going to return it fourfold.” So he’s talking about a message of honesty in our dealings, truthfulness. Two more commandments in there, don’t steal, don’t lie. Collect no more than what is appointed. Likewise the soldiers come to John and they say, “What shall we do?” He said to them, “Do not intimidate, or don’t do violence to anyone, or accuse anyone falsely and be content with your wages.” Again, don’t kill, no violence, and be content with your wages. He wasn’t saying they weren’t to do their job, but sometimes soldiers would rough people up for entertainment. That was satisfaction, be content. So generosity, honesty, satisfaction were part of his message, but you know what struck me, money had something to do with all three of those messages. Did you catch that? Property, your extra clothes and food, share your property. Don’t collect more money than you’re supposed to. Don’t complain about your wages. I think we sometimes forget that part of repentance begins in the purse and the wallet. So this message was faithfulness and stewardship with your time and your means.

The message of John was a zealous and bold message. Christians should be enthusiastic about what they believe. If we are blasé and indifferent, lackadaisical and ho-hum about our religion, others will not value it. John was zealous and John was bold. He was willing to share it. Are you willing to share what you believe? Matter of fact, sometimes it’s a little bit hard. Matthew 3:7 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers!’” Now that’s another thing. Jesus talks about sharing two coats, did Jesus ever call the Sadducees and Pharisees snakes? Yes, He did. Remember in Matthew where He says, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees,” He called them serpents too. “Brood of vipers! Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance…”

I want to pause there. “fruits worthy of repentance” does repentance involve tangible fruit? Isn’t that what John taught? There is a theology that’s going around today, not just in other churches, I don’t think our church is immune, that when you come to Jesus and you’re baptized you don’t need to make any changes. Just come and believe. John didn’t accept that. Part of his preaching and baptism gave them lots of practical changes and he said, “Don’t just come to my baptism. If your heart is like a viper, you need a change of heart and there should be fruits of change.” Isn’t that right? Oh, I won’t say that. Yes, I will. I’ll modify it.

Something that is becoming more common is, people who are struggling with addictions, they come to get baptized and in order to make… See, pastors and evangelists, and I’m one of both, are under pressure to look successful so we might baptize people who may not be ready. They come for baptism and they say, “I’m drinking, and yeah, I am smoking and I’m living with someone I’m not married to, but I think if you could baptize me I’d get the victory.” And pastors are baptizing. You should have fruits of repentance before baptism. I quit smoking and drinking before I was baptized, and praise the Lord, I’ve never done it again. It’s a lot harder to quit afterwards. You kind of lose some of your incentive afterward. Overseas, we’re getting ready, like I said, to go back to India. A lot of people are getting baptized in that country, and sometimes the pastors and evangelists say, “If you get baptized we’re going to give you a free Bible” or dress or something like that and so they get baptized for these trinkets because they’re very poor.

They haven’t brought forth the fruits of repentance. That’s what the Lord wants before Baptism, and John was real straight. The religious leaders came, and he might have thought, “Wow! I’m making progress! I’ve got the religious leaders of the kingdom here. They’ve finally not only come from Jerusalem and Judea and around the Jordan, the Temple staff has come to my baptism. I’d better be nice to them. Don’t want to hurt their feelings.” What does he say to them? “You brood of vipers!” That’ll never get you elected, will it? He was fearless for the truth because he thought, Look, I’m not going to lower the standards in order to get the accolades of people in position. They needed repentance more than anybody. So he was bold and he was zealous and as a result of that he got into trouble.

John was obedient. Think about this. Finally the axle of the ministry of John and Jesus, it revolves not just on the cross, but it’s in the Jordan River. In the Jordan River with Elijah and Elisha was a transfer of authority. Elijah took his mantle off and gave it to Elisha, if you know your Old Testament, and he became a prophet and he continued. Matter of fact, he had twice the spirit. In the Jordan River when John says, this is the Lamb of God, now John is amazed because the One he has identified as the Lamb of God walks up to him in the Jordan River, not to get his autograph or to shake hands, but He says, “I want to be baptized.” And John says, “Whoa! I need to be baptized by You.” That tells us something else about John. Not only was he humble, he was not sinless. He felt the need for repentance and a closer experience with God.

He says, “You’re coming to me?” And Jesus said, “Do it this way now.” And he didn’t argue. He obeyed. John was obedient. Things all began to change from that point. When he baptized Jesus some of John’s followers began to follow Jesus. Jesus increased; he decreased, and he was happy to have it that way. He said, “I am the best man at the wedding. I am to announce the bridegroom. I’m not supposed to leave with the bride.” The bridegroom is, right? Of course there probably have been weddings where the best man leaves with the bride, but that’s not how it’s supposed to happen, is it? The church is the bride and John was happy to see the loyalty of the church transferred to Jesus. That was his job. So this all changed at the Jordan when He was baptized, but then John is cast into prison. Matter of fact, the reason that that happens, you can read in Mark chapter 6.

I’m going to read this to you. Go with me in your Bibles to Mark 6:17. Mark 6:17, I’m going to start with verse 14. He’s got a whole discourse here on John that gives us a little background. “Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well-known.” He’s speaking of the ministry of Jesus Christ. “And he said, ‘John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.’ But when Herod heard, he said, ‘This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!’” And now it tells the story. “For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife…” Now Herodias is the granddaughter of Herod the Great who is Herod’s father.

Now I’m not sure, he either married his niece or his cousin. That’s already kinky right there, but things were pretty sick in Herod’s family, and he took her from his brother Philip. “For John had said to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” Philip was still alive; she’d just left him and bounced over to Philip’s brother. “Therefore Herodias…” A woman scorned, get out of her way, and a wicked woman scorned is really scary. And here, how dare you say that the king cannot have me! Who do you think you are? She wants to have a hit-man take care of John right away. Herod actually fears John because he knows he’s a prophet. He trembles when he hears him preach. So “Herodias held it against him and (she) wanted to kill him, but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him.”

He starts out protecting him. Be careful when the government says they’re going to offer you protection. “And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.” At some point the Holy Spirit was even stirring with that wicked king, and he was willing to make some changes and to accommodate. Herodias is getting worried. She says, “You know, it seems like the preaching of John is starting to get through to Herod and I’m probably going to be out of here pretty soon if something doesn’t happen to John.” So she stirred him up. You know the Bible says Jezebel stirred up Ahab. The Bible says that Herodias held it against him. “Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers…” I’m not going to read all of that just yet because I want to go back to some other things. Finally she convinces Herod to have John imprisoned. Herod doesn’t mind that much because he is afraid it’s going to start an insurrection. I mean, there are tens of thousands of people there at the Jordan River. His job as an appointed king by Tiberius Caesar is to keep things under control. It turns out now it looks like things are getting a little bit out of hand. He doesn’t want an insurrection so he imprisons John, but he doesn’t hurt him. He doesn’t want to stir the people up.

While John is in prison, time goes by. We don’t know how long he was there but it may have been months. Can you imagine how hard it would be for John to be in prison? Can you imagine going from a life where you’re living in the great outdoors and you can see as far as you want, you’re thirsty and there’s the creek, and you’ve got your carob and your grasshoppers whenever you want, and you’ve got that freedom, you see the majesty and the openness of the hills and nature and then to be in a stinking Roman jail. Josephus says he was imprisoned at Macherus which is this fortress that Herod had. It was hot. It was down by the Dead Sea, the hottest place, one of the lowest places on earth, stifling hot. To be taken and put without any relief in a prison like that. Here he has introduced the Messiah, and he is allowed because Herod does many things for him, he is allowed to visit maybe through the bars with his disciples. He gets discouraged. John has doubts in prison because his disciples say, “This Messiah that you pointed out, this Jesus, he’s not doing what we expected.”

Listen to how John introduces Jesus’ ministry. He says in Matthew 3, “Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The Messiah “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” He will “gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” What did John expect from the Messiah? A fiery ministry, He’s going to overthrow the Romans. Even John the Baptist was not completely immune from the false conceptions of the day. He thought that the work of the Messiah was going to be to save God’s people not only from their sins but from their oppressors because, after all, how can you serve God freely when you’re occupied by a form and pagan power. So he keeps waiting for Jesus to not only teach nice things, but to somehow do what King David did and lead the people of Israel against the Romans. He’s not seeing this happen and he’s beginning to wonder, and his disciples are coming back and saying, “He’s not acting like a messiah.

He’s acting very meek and humble and they can’t find Him in a crowd, and He’s teaching love your enemies. How could He possibly be the Messiah? Love your enemies? Where is the fire?” And probably from the discouraging questioning words of his own disciples who were jealous. The Bible says the disciples of John were jealous that the disciples of Jesus were growing. They were stirring John a little bit and saying, “He can’t be the One. There must be someone else.” John now, can you imagine? Thinking in prison, he’s not only taken away from the wilderness he loves, he’s now in the prison thinking his whole lifework… His parents said, “Your life work is to announce the Messiah.” His whole lifework was about introducing the Messiah and now he’s in jail and he’s thinking, “Did I point to the wrong one?” The devil is working on him. “You got the wrong one!

You baptized, you looked at the wrong one. You’d been out in the sun too long that day and you got confused and it was just, and you identified the wrong one as the Lamb of God and now you’ve endorsed somebody who is not doing the right work.” Can you understand why he would be discouraged? So John sends his messengers, his friends, and they come to Christ with the words, “Are you the coming One or do we look for another?” Oh, how sad. This is the lowest point in John’s life. “Did I get it wrong?” You know he may also be wondering, “You’re the Messiah. I’m your cousin. I’m in prison. I hear You’ve got power, that You’re doing miracles, aren’t You going to remember me? Won’t You help me?” Can you understand his discouragement? Now after these messengers leave Jesus… They go to Jesus and they say, “John has sent us to you with a question, ‘Are You the Messiah or do we look for another?’” Jesus does not even answer them right away. He acknowledges that He’s heard them and then He proceeds to minister to the multitudes.

He heals, miraculous healing, maybe it was a day when He also fed the multitudes. Maybe He even, at some point, heals a leper, opens the eyes of the blind, performs these miracles, preaches the gospel, and then after a day of them standing by waiting for their answer and watching the ministry of Christ, He said, “Now go tell John what you’ve seen. The deaf have their ears opened, the blind have their eyes opened, the poor have the gospel preached to them, and blessed is he who is not offended in Me.” A little rebuke for John, gentle, don’t doubt. You are saved by faith. You’ve got it right. Trust the Lord. Be patient. You know it’s almost an act of mercy that John does not live to see Jesus die on the cross. Can you imagine his doubts then? This message comes back from the disciples of John to Jesus and he is satisfied that he got it right because he remembers the prophecy in Isaiah that the gospel would be preached to open the eyes of the blind. Christ, in other words, demonstrates Isaiah 61 to the disciples of John. They say, “Look, we saw the fulfillment of this. He is the Messiah.” John is refreshed, he’s encouraged, he’s satisfied.

But after the disciples of John the Baptist leave Jesus, listen to what Jesus says, “What did you go into the wilderness to see?” They saw the disciples of John leaving. Matthew 11:7 “What did you go into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” Why did Jesus say that? A reed shaken in the wind represents something that is irresolute, it’s vacillating, it’s uncertain, it blows this way, blows that way. That’s talking in the Bible about a person who is blown around with every wind of doctrine; they don’t know what they believe. If anybody was resolute in what they believed it was John the Baptist. If you went to find someone shaken in the wind, you went to the wrong place because John was the most focused person who ever lived. He came to point to Jesus and he was very resolute in that.

Then he says in verse 8, Matthew 11:8, “But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.” Why would you go down to the dry, desert regions around the Dead Sea to look for someone wearing soft clothing? This is the most rugged country in the world, salt pits and minerals everywhere. What did you go see? What drew you? Jesus is asking them. Now does Jesus not know or is He trying to make them think? When Christ asks a question, he wants us to think. What did you go to see, He asks a third time, “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.” Again because many prophets pointed to Christ, John actually introduced and baptized Christ. Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit at His baptism. What does the word Christ mean? Cristos means the anointed, Jewish equivalent of Messiah which means the anointed. When was Jesus anointed with the Holy Spirit? When he came out of the water after John baptized him. John was the one who anointed, he did for Jesus what the High Priest would do for the king when he anointed him with oil. John was the one who would be able to participate in the anointing of the Anointed with the Holy Spirit. He was more than a prophet. Can you see how important the ministry of John was?

What did you go to see? What attracts people to people? In our day and age, what gets you on the magazine covers? Fine clothes, which indicates money, or your possessions, or your good looks and that’s sort of hinted at when it talks about fine soft clothing. It wasn’t his appearance, it wasn’t his wealth, it wasn’t his position. What drew people to John? His message. It wasn’t what they came to see. What Jesus is saying, “It wasn’t that you came to see anything, you came to hear something.” It was the word. He was a voice preparing the way for the king.

And finally John’s martyrdom. Elijah went to heaven in a fiery chariot. It just doesn’t sound fair that John would die in a prison the way he did. I am reluctant to even read this to you, but we have to go back to Mark chapter 6, and we’ll resume what happened to John in prison. Verse 21, “Then an opportune day came” opportune for Herodias “when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers…” In the winter time he would go down to the palace and the fortress that he had built by the Dead Sea because it was actually nice at that time of year, and they had a feast. “And when Herodias' daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.’ He also swore to her,” made an oath. He probably had some wine, she waited until he was drunk, knew that he would say something bombastic like that, “Whatever you ask from me, I’ll give it to you, up to half my kingdom.” Trying to impress his guests. Pride goes before a fall.

She comes to her mother after she gets done dancing and it was probably not a folk dance. He wanted the daughter of Herodias to dance probably a seductive, lustful dance. Everything about this was bad. She went and asked her mother, Babylon and her daughters, she asked her mother, “What shall I ask for?” “The head of John the Baptist!” She holds a cup in her hand full of the blood of the saints. Ask for the head of John the Baptist. “Immediately she came in with haste to the king…” Boy, that girl had courage. She must have been heartless too, saying, “I want you to give me at once” doesn’t even want to wait, so you don’t change your mind “the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” You ever heard that expression? What do you want, my head on a platter? That’s where it comes from. “And the king was exceedingly sorry…” Do you remember when Darius signed a decree, and then he found out that decree was going to put Daniel in the lion’s den? He was exceedingly, sore displeased with himself. Sometimes kings make dumb laws and they have to keep their laws.

He was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him…” He was more worried about what the people thought than what the Lord thought. He didn’t want to do it, but “because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her. And immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought.” It doesn’t tell us if John had any final words. It doesn’t go through. It’s just very short and to the point. Soldier marches in without explanation. They probably had grown to respect John. I don’t think the soldiers even wanted to do it. Hey beheaded him there in the prison without any ceremony, put that great prophet’s head on a platter and brought it to those wicked women. Is that a picture of what the devil wants to do to God’s prophets, God’s messengers? And his head was brought “on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.” Here, you wanted this? What a grizzly picture. That’s the end. The Bible says his disciples heard about it, they came and took away his body and they buried it in a tomb. There is a place in Israel where they say John the Baptist is buried not far from the Jordan River and there may be some truth to the location.

But I was thinking about something. I want to end on a good note. You know Matthew, when it talks about the death of Jesus, it says, there was a resurrection. Isn’t that right? Many of the graves of those who slept in the region were opened with this earthquake when Jesus died and said, “It is finished!” They came out of their graves after his resurrection, and they appeared to many. When Christ ascended to heaven they ascended with him. Now who do you think might have been in that group? Good! I think so too. I mean, if you were Jesus, and here John dies feeling totally forsaken, and he has come in the spirit and power of Elijah.

If Elijah gets to go to heaven in a fiery chariot, don’t you think it would be appropriate that John get some kind of special resurrection also? It could be that when whatever chariots came to pick up those who had raised, went on to heaven, John could have been one of those. Isn’t that, does that seem theologically sound to you? He got to go to heaven with Jesus, the One he had spent his life announcing. I think that’s a good point to consider. Most of all I wanted you to think about the work we have to do which is much like the work of John. We want to live with Christ through eternity. We want to be raised whether we’re translated or resurrected when Jesus comes again. Am I right? If we want to be near to Him then, we’ve got to be near to Him now. John’s whole life was about pointing to Jesus. Paul said, “It’s not I that live, but Christ who lives in me.” That’s what our mission is. Especially in these last days God wants more who will sense the calling of Elijah and Elisha and John the Baptist. He wants us to keep John before us as our example.

One more thought, please. You know there is many similarities between the mission of John and Jesus. There’s a lot of similarity. Not only are they physically related, they both died a martyr’s death at the hands of their enemies and Herod had something to do with both of them. There’s similarity in their teaching. They both lived humble lives and they pointed to Christ. It’s safe to say that when Christ ascended and He took that trophy of first fruits with Him that John went too. Amen? I hope so. And he’s near Jesus now if that’s the case. I want to be near Christ. And that’s why I picked that for our closing hymn, “Near to the Heart of God”. Why don’t you turn with me and let’s stand together. 495 in your hymnals.

There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God; a place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God. O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us who wait before thee near to the heart of God.

In a moment we’ll sing the last verse. I thought it was appropriate in talking about John the Baptist to close this two-part series, some of you may hear that voice “Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus is coming. It’s imminent, friends. Amen? There may be some of you who need baptism. Maybe you’ve been baptized, but you wandered away and you really need to get a new beginning. Some of you maybe have never been baptized, you’ve never been baptized as part of the remnant church and you’d like to make that decision. If the Holy Spirit is speaking to you, and you’d like to ask for special prayer, let us know. Or maybe just like others who came to John, you want to say, I need repentance and a new beginning in my life. Come as we sing the last verse. We’ll have prayer together, or plan a baptism for you. Verse three.

There is place a place of full release, near to the heart of God; a place where all is joy and peace, near to the heart of God. O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us who wait before thee near to the heart of God.

Dear loving Father, we are thankful for the example of John we find in Your holy book, and we see first of all, words of comfort that we can come just like we are, words of conviction that we need to repent and confess, then also words of commission that You have a similar work for us to do in preparing the world for Jesus’ soon coming. I pray, Lord, that we can learn from this example of this godly, holy man to live lives of honesty and humility and modesty and focus, that we might be zealous and sacrificial and point everyone to Jesus. Lord, we pray that Christ can have that priority in our lives, that we can see Christ lifted up and point others to Him. Be with those who have come with special needs this morning. Also, Lord, if there are some who have made decisions for baptism, we pray that there is nothing the devil can do to deter them from that focus. Bless us in our church and our families and be with us as we go from this place to represent Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.

You may be seated, and if there are some who have made decisions for baptism or rebaptism, please be sure to let the pastors and elders know that, and we’ll work to plan with you.

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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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