You are familiar with the story of Jonah. God said, ìArise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come before Me.î
So Jonah went and cried against Nineveh that the great city must repent or in 40 days Godís destruction would fall against it. In response to Jonahís climactic message, Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes and God spared the city.
By contrast, Isaiah cried out against the sin of Israel, but the nation ignored the message and were taken away in captivity to Assyria. Jeremiah cried out against the nation of Judah, but the nation ignored the message and were taken away in captivity to Babylon.
It is in that sense that I have titled this message, ìJOHNíS CLIMACTIC INTRODUCTION OF JESUSî. Listen to Matt. 3: 1,2.îAnd in those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.î
John was an extra-ordinary man, born in an extra-ordinary way, to an extra-ordinary task. His task was to prepare the way for the coming of this one Jesus. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and He alone of all the prophets had the privilege of looking into the face of the one whom all the others had seen only dimly and a far off.
He had the privilege of introducing the Messiah to the nation, and of seeing some of his own disciples leave his side to become the Saviourís closest associates.
But I wonder if we are aware that his voice was also a warning to the nation of the fearful judgement which would fall upon Jerusalem and the nation in 70 A D if they did not sincerely repent and believe the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. His chief message was a call for repentance and his chief mode of demonstrating that repentance was through the act of baptism.
Baptism was not entirely new to the Jewish community. The idea can be found in the Old Testament, and it was apparently practiced by the Qumran community that produced the Dead Sea scrolls. But John infused into this act of initiation, and purification, a deeper sense of requiring a thorough change of heart.
Lu. 3: 3 says it this way, ìHe came into the region round about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins.î Not that baptism in itself secured the forgiveness of sins, but it was symbolic of turning from their sin, to a commitment to righteousness and personal piety.
And the people came, multitudes of them. ìAnd there went out unto him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem, and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.î
It would therefore appear that John was a successful leader of a great revival within the nation. In fact the people wondered if John was himself the Messiah.
2. But John was calling not only for revival but for complete reformation of the religion of the day.
I shared with you 2 weeks ago in the evening what was meant when Jesus was called ìa root out of dry groundî. Outwardly the religion appeared to be far more orthodox than at earlier periods of its history. The priestly orders had been thoroughly reorganized, and the temple services and annual feasts continued to be observed at Jerusalem with strict regularity. A new religious institution had arisen in the synagogue with its rabbis.
But, in spite of all this religiosity, religion had sadly declined. The externals were multiplied, but the inner spirit had disappeared. There were not men with the necessary amount of the Spiritís inspiration to understand what the prophets had said. The Pharisees were formalists, who substituted external observances, for love for God and man. The scribes were interpreters and copyists of the scriptures but became a dry ecclesiastical and scholastic class, using their position for self aggrandisement. Their interpretations of the scriptures and their traditions became vast in scope and more authoritative than the actual Word of God.
The Sadducees were a secular branch, in reality skeptical, cold hearted, worldly men. They belonged chiefly to the wealthy upper classes and lived a life of comfort and self-indulgence.
And all of these looked down upon the lower classes, the common people, and despised those who were even lower on the social scale - the publicans, the harlots and the sinners for whose souls no one cared.
This was the dry ground into which Jesus was born - a land which cherished all the traditions of greatness, and still dreamed of the day when Israel would rule the world, but which had effectively robbed true religion of its power. A nation concerned with image, rather than reality.