Summary: The world believes it can produce goodness all by itself. The person listening to the man by the Jordan River hears a very different message. There appears to be two messages: one of self-righteousness and the other of total dependence on God for salvatio
Valley Experience Series # 4
Opening illustration: One of our good friend’s had this unique experience of growing up as the son of a county sheriff. His father who was the sheriff of Marlin County for many years, passed away last year. It was at this time that he told us of an incident which had happened many years before. A gentleman who had been confined to a wheelchair for years told him about the first time he had met his father. There was a circus in town and he had gone. He had bought his ticket, but when he reached the gate he learned that his wheelchair was too wide to pass through it. The circus people seemed unwilling to do anything to help. The Sheriff arrived on the scene at this moment, and sizing up the situation promptly kicked down the gate. That gate was never again put up, and the man went to the circuses from year to year without any difficulty. The Sheriff, I fear, was one of the last of a dying breed of sheriffs. The stories of such men are still swapped, but there seem to be few peace officers like these any more. I tend to think of John the Baptist as this kind of man, a unique man, with heroic qualities, and yet a man who was the last of a vanishing breeds - the Old Testament prophet. A man whom God assigned to prepare and usher in the ministry of Christ on earth. What is our role as preparers and ushers of the glory of the Spirit of God on earth today?
Introduction: John the Baptist is not introduced to the reader of Luke’s gospel at the time his public ministry commenced, as is the case in all the other gospels. The first four chapters of Luke’s gospel intertwine the accounts of the announcements of the birth of both John and Jesus, along with significant childhood events. Thus, when we come to the ministry of John the Baptist in chapter 3 we are simply finding John to be in the spotlight, as he has been before, as the forerunner of the Messiah.
To Luke the emergence of John was one of the hinges on which history turned. So much so is that the case that he dates it in no fewer than 6 different ways. The ministries of John and Jesus are intertwined, but they are not identical. Both commence their ministry with the proclamation, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3; 2; 4:17). Both men (and at least their disciples) baptized (John 3:22ff.). Indeed, at least two of John’s disciples became the disciples of our Lord (John 1:35-42). And, of course, many of those who were baptized by John became followers of the Lord Jesus (John 10:40-42; cf. Acts 18:24–19:7).
Nowhere does the difference between John and Jesus stand out so clearly because, whatever the message of John was it was not a gospel. It was not good news; it was news of terror. There were significant differences between John and his ministry and Jesus and His ministry and message. Almost without exception, it was John who stressed the differences between himself and Jesus, showing Jesus to be superior. John clearly distinguished their origin, as was made clear by Luke. Jesus was from above, while John was from below. Jesus was God, while John was but a man.
I suppose that if we were to ask our children what they thought about John the Baptist after reading our text, their response could probably be summarized this way: “He was a rude, crude, dude!” It is very easy to categorize John as kind of weird, and certainly, it would seem, quite hostile! This, however, is to fail to view John as a prophet, and also to miss the greatness and the marvelous qualities of this unique individual. The press has created the stereotype of a bearded “weirdo” carrying a sign, “Repent or Perish.” No doubt John the Baptist would be considered just such a person. John however, was a model man in many regards. John was a man who knew who he was (self-image?) and was thus committed to enhancing the ministry and person of Messiah, while at the same time diminishing his own role. He was a man who dared to be different, to stand apart and alone. He was a man who was not held captive by those sins which were characteristic of his day. In order to speak as boldly as he did, his life was even more rigorously guarded against any appearance of evil. Here was a man whose life was as powerful as his words.
John was a man of distinction, a popular and powerful preacher, a great insight into the sinfulness of people and society, a man of integrity, prayer and humility.