Soul winners in the New Testament
(Study No. 1) John the Baptist
We begin a new series on New Testament soul-winners .With these studies we hope to form a composite picture of the way in which we can all engage in this great task of bringing others to the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist is the first soul-winner of whom we read in the New Testament. He was a pioneer in every sense of the word. He not only prepared the way for the Lord (Luke 3:4), but as we study him this should prepare us to do this work to which he was called and in which he engaged so effectively.
There are few people in the Gospels concerning whom we have so much detail and of whom the Lord had so much to say, yet John’s period of service probably covered only about six months. He was a unique personality – rugged, severe, yet humble and self-effacing. He was the child of godly parents (Luke 1:5-6); his birth was super-normal (Luke 1:7); he was Spirit-filled (Luke 1:15); he was our Lord’s forerunner (Luke 7:27); he experienced a period of great doubt and testing (Matthew 11:2-15); and finally he was beheaded because of his uncompromising attitude towards the scriptures (Mark 6:14-29). As we study John 1:19-37, let us remember that God’s plan and purpose is that every Christian should be a soul-winner.
Let me take you back to Israel, 26 AD. The Jews remain under the iron hand of Rome. They are frustrated. They are weary of Roman bondage. They are looking for the Messiah. They are wondering if the Kingdom is ever going to come as the prophets have promised. Will the glory years ever return? The mood is gloomy. Hearts are forlorn. Religious hypocrisy runs rampant. The people are spiritually famished. They are politically oppressed. They are physically tired of being a mockery to the Gentile world. And then suddenly, out of the Dead Sea wilderness region of Judea, comes an austere, mysterious looking man clothed in a garment of camel’s hair and wearing a leather belt. A man whose food is locusts and wild honey. And whose message was,” Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
And the people are wondering who is this man? Vast numbers of people came out to see him and to hear his message.. He speaks with the authority of a prophet and they wonder, “Is he the Messiah? Is he Elijah? Is he a prophet? We have not heard from a prophet for over 400 years.. He’s calling all men to repentance, even Jews. And baptizing them. He’s saying, Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And many of the Jews are saying, “Repent? Calling us, the sons of Abraham, to repent? People of the Covenant? We have no need of repentance and baptism. Jews have no need of purification. But many are coming. Many are being baptized.” Not only that, he is relentless in his denunciation of the religious elite of his day.
What a remarkable spectacle that must have been. This was sure to get the attention of the Jewish leaders of Israel in Jerusalem
And he got the attention from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who sent a delegation down to the Jordan where he was baptizing to interrogate him.
"Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was." (1:19)
In our text, there seem to be two groups sent to investigate and interrogate John
(1) priests and Levites from Jerusalem (1:19), the power elite of the Temple who were the Sadducees; and
(2) Pharisees (1:24), who were especially strict in their adherence to the commandments of the Law of Moses.
In response to his questioners from Jerusalem, John the Baptist is forthright and humble.
“He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, 'I am not the Christ.' They asked him, 'Then who are you? Are you Elijah?' He said, 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' He answered, 'No.'" (1:20-21)
John records that John the Baptist made no pretensions about who he was. The Jewish leaders inquired if he were one of the three figures whom the Jews expected to return in the Last Days.
1. The Messiah or Christ.
2. Elijah. Malachi's prophecy says,
"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes." (Malachi 4:5)
The Prophet. This figure was referred to by Moses:
"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him." (Deuteronomy 18:15)
John was not Elijah himself, but prophecy given by his father Zechariah indicated that he did come "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). Jesus said that John had fulfilled the prophecy about Elijah's coming
At any rate, John the Baptist himself didn't see himself as any of these figures, so he categorically denied being any of them.
John had told them who he wasn't. Now they ask him who he is on his own terms.
Finally they said, 'Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?' John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, 'I am the voice of one calling in the desert, "Make straight the way for the Lord."'" (1:22-23)
John's answer was that he was the voice in the wilderness mentioned in Isaiah 40:3-5 to prepare a highway on which Yahweh would come. Building a highway requires both cutting high spots and filling low spots to create a level roadbed, figurative of the repentance that God requires in our lives.
So John does what he came to do - a witness of the Christ. And there you have his first message in verse 26, “Among you stands One whom you do not know; He is here.” Why are you caught up with me? You see me, you know me, but One stands already here that you don’t know. He’s the One you need to know. In other words, He’s the One who deals with the heart.. The Messiah is present. He doesn’t mean He’s standing there by the water that day. He means : “He has arrived.” At the very moment John says this, Jesus is walking toward where John is and will arrive the next day.
Message one: He’s here He is among you.
Now who was John the Baptist ? He was a cousin to Jesus since the mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, were related. And John the Baptist was born about six months before Jesus. And so in the same thirty years that John was waiting to begin his ministry, Jesus was waiting to begin His. Jesus waited in Nazareth, in the home of Joseph and Mary. Joseph probably died somewhere in that period of time . Thirty years of total obscurity with only one glimpse at the age of twelve. But during the same thirty years, John the Baptist is in the desert You might say he disappeared after his circumcision, never to be seen for thirty years. He was a desert nomad.
However, after those years had passed, Luke chapter 3 gives us a point in time, “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,” that puts it around 26 or 27 A.D. Pontius Pilate is now governor. Herod is tetrarch. His brother Philip is a tetrarch. Herod’s in Galilee. Philip’s in Ituraea and Trachonitus. Lysanias is tetrarch of another area called Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas are the two high priests and they were related by marriage. And they were the architects of the execution of Jesus eventually. So that’s just some historical notation.
So we’re all the way down deep into the life of John at 30 years and Jesus at 30 years, and we read this, “The word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every ravine will be filled. Every mountain, hill will be brought low; every crooked place becomes straight, the rough roads smooth; and all flesh will see the salvation of God.’”
It's interesting that John begins to understand more why God called him.. He was doubtless aware of the angel's word to his father Zechariah that John was "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). He knew his father's prophecy at his birth:
"And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him." (Luke 1:76)
But now he realizes that he has been given the awesome privilege of introducing the Messiah to Israel! His life's work has been fulfilled in this moment!
We will not do justice to our text, or to John the Baptist, if we do not reflect on those things which set this man apart – what made him unique. After all, our Lord Himself referred to the Baptist as the greatest Old Testament saint (Matthew 11:11). We will do well then to explore the greatness of John the Baptist, the last Old Testament prophet.
Although our text begins at verse 19 of John 1, we must go back to the earliest references to John the Baptist in this Gospel to learn about this great man.
Starting from verse 6 of John chapter 1 we read : 6 A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light.
The Word was the Light; John came, sent from God as a witness to this Light. John was a witness, and the Lord Jesus was the One about whom John testified. John was not the light, but a witness sent to testify that the Light was coming. To us, these words may seem redundant—old news. What the Apostle John writes in verses 6-8, the Baptist reiterates and underscores in his own testimony. These verses give us the reality by which John the Baptist governed his life and ministry.
John the Baptist is a man who boldly proclaims the truth of the Gospel. John is marked by humility, but this does not prevent him from preaching with boldness. John’s message is not watered down to please his audience. He speaks against sin, whether it be that of tax-gatherers or soldiers or even Herod himself. He clearly identifies sin, condemns it, and calls for repentance. This boldness is not a contradiction to his humility, but a manifestation of it.
John does not assume that a devoutly religious person is exempt from the need for repentance and forgiveness of sins. Some of John’s strongest words are addressed to those who are convinced they are in the kingdom of God (see Luke 3:7ff.). Neither the liberal (but powerful) Sadducees, nor the conservative and strict Pharisees were exempt from John’s rebuke (Matthew 3:7). John, recognized hypocrisy when he saw it. Both Jesus and John had the harshest words for “religious” hypocrites. Being religious does not get anyone into heaven. Feeling religious is just what Satan wants for you, so that you can rush on to your destruction, all the while supposing that God is pleased with you and your religion. As John said to them, the day of judgment is rapidly approaching (Matthew 3:7-12).
John has much to teach us about witnessing. The Gospel of John speaks of John the Baptist, not as a baptizer, but as a witness.
John is an example of a man of faith, the kind of person every Christian should be. Faith believes in what God has promised, rather than in what we now see. Faith lives in the present, in light of the future God has told us is certain. Faith is willing to suffer now in order to enter into God’s glory for all eternity. John spends a good deal of his time in public ministry speaking about a person whose identity he does not know for certain. He speaks a great deal about a Person who is going to come, who is even then present, but not yet identified, trusting that God will reveal Him. This is faith.
John is an example of true spirituality. I wish to be very careful how I say this, but I believe the Apostle John represents John the Baptist as a “Spirit-filled” man of God. We know that the Holy Spirit came upon him while he was still in the womb. We can see many evidences of the fruit of the Spirit in his life. But this is also the man who never performed a miracle. His spirituality was not evidenced by unusual phenomenon, by signs and wonders and healings, because there were none (see John 10:41). His spirituality was evidenced by his faith, his integrity, his humility, and his message.
Let us be careful about the kinds of things we look for as proof of spirituality.
By example, John teaches us a lesson about knowing the will of God. Specifically, I am referring to the “will of God” as to the identify of the Messiah. John had been instructed by God to proclaim the message of the coming of Messiah. John was given the privilege of identifying the One who was the Messiah. But for much of his ministry John did not know who this person was. The way John learned the identity of the Messiah was by going about his “job” (his work) faithfully, and in the course of doing his job, God revealed to him that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Some are tempted to give up the normal routines and duties of life in order to find God’s will. Such was not the case with John. He discerned God’s will by doing the will of God he already knew—preaching his message of the coming of Messiah and of divine judgment, calling men to repent in preparation for His coming, and baptizing.
Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?'" (1:24-25)
The Pharisees, legalists that they were don't seem impressed with John's response. If you're not one of the three figures expected then “what is your authority to baptise? they ask.
The verb baptizo was used in Classical Greek to mean "to put or go under water" In a variety of senses. It could be translated, "plunge, dip, wash, baptize” The origins of John's baptism are difficult to discern precisely. We know that the Community at Qumran (in John's desert "territory," ) practiced repeated ritual washings but John's baptism seems different -- an act of purification and forgiveness that can be looked back upon as a single event (Acts 19:3-4). Probably, the antecedent for John's baptism is the first century practice of Jewish proselyte baptism, a ritual bath by which a Gentile convert to Judaism was cleansed from moral and religious impurity
But John wasn't baptizing proselytes to the Jewish faith; he was baptizing Jews! What authority do you have to do this? the Pharisees demand.
John does not answer the Pharisees. He only states :
'I baptize with water,' John replied, 'but among you stands ]one you do not know.
He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'" (1:26-27)
This personage John speaks of is of such high rank that John feels unworthy to untie his sandal-thongs, the task of a house-slave. This person is among you now, John says, though John doesn't seem to know yet who it is.
Verse 29 then takes us to day two, the next day. He saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is day two; and this is group two.”
On day one he says, “He is here He is among you.” On day two he says, “Look at Him. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. ”
What specific lamb is John the Baptist referring to? It could be a sacrificial Passover Lamb or the lamb described in Isaiah 53, or perhaps he is using it in a general way. Clearly, John indicates that Jesus is the Lamb of God in some sacrificial sense, since lambs were commonly used by the Jews for sacrifices to obtain forgiveness for sin (Exodus 27; Leviticus 1-7). God provides animal sacrifice as a way that justice can be done, that man's and woman's sins can be atoned for, and that they can approach God once more.
"For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." (Leviticus 17:11)
"Atonement" in Hebrew seems to mean, "to wipe clean, purge," a sacrifice that cleanses from sin.
"When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the LORD a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin." (Leviticus 5:5-6)
The amazing prophecy of Isaiah 53 describes this ministry of atonement and sacrifice that Jesus took upon himself by divine appointment:
"He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:5-6)
Sacrifice for sin is the context from which John the Baptist speaks when he says, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (1:29).
And so message number two: Behold! This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
And interestingly enough, three messages are given to three groups. On day one it is a hostile delegation from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leading religious council. On day two it is when he sees Jesus coming towards him and to the mass of people that are there. And on day three it is some of John’s own disciples. So three days, three messages to three different groups.
Message two: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Day one was kind of a private delegation – the Jewish religious leaders. Day two is the public proclamation. And it’s a shock because he sees Jesus coming to him and he knows Him, obviously. And he declares Him to be the Lamb of God, and that’s an exclamation, “Behold!” Look at Him. Why would the Messiah be a Lamb? Why would... because at best, a lamb is i weak, helpless, stupid, dependent, even dirty.
They would have expected him to say, “Behold your King. Behold the triumphant One. Behold the majestic One. Behold the exalted One. Behold the Ruler. Behold the Anointed One.” But he says, “Behold the lamb of God.” At best, as I said, a lamb is iweak. At worst, a lamb is dead. And lambs were sacrificed all the time. All through the centuries Israel knew about a sacrificial lamb—going all the way back to Abraham and Isaac and God providing a sacrifice for Abraham so he didn’t have to kill his own son. And then back to the Exodus and the Passover Lamb and every Passover after that, and every morning and every evening, there was a morning sacrifice, an evening sacrifice, and lambs were slain as sin offerings over and over and over and over, day after day after day, century after century after century. And they also knew, Isaiah 53, that He was the One who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, and the One upon whom the chastening for our peace fell. They knew all of that. They knew about sacrifice.
But they didn’t know how to interpret the currant events because they never saw themselves as a people needing a sacrifice.
So John testifies “ Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That’s John’s ministry
But coming to the question of the Pharisees 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?'" (1:24-25)
“My authority to baptize?” - verse 33.- “He who sent me to baptize said to me”— Yahweh Himself sent me to baptize and why ? “so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water. “ verse 31. So here John is just admitting that “I didn’t recognize Him in the full sense But I was commanded to baptize in water so that He might be manifested to Israel “. And John testified then in verse 32 saying, “I’ve seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained on Him.. “ He who sent me to baptize in water,” “said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’
Matthew 3, Luke 3, states in relation to the baptism of Jesus that the Spirit came down in the form of a dove and the Father said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” John at that moment knew At this point John gives us this testimony, verse 31, “I didn’t recognize Him, when I was called to baptize.” Verse 33, “I didn’t recognize Him until the Father told me He’s the one the Spirit descends on.” At that point, verse 34, “I myself have seen, and testified this is the Son of God.”
He did have divine authority. He did what he did because God told him to do it He says, “Look, you’re making too much of this. I’m just doing water baptism here. There’s One that you need to look at who is already among you, and He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. You need to be far more concerned about the one who deals with hearts than you are about me and what I do.” Real baptism, real purification, regeneration, the washing of regeneration, is going to be the work of the Messiah. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit
So on day two John says to the crowd, “Look at Him, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world .”.
.Verse 35 takes us to day three, just briefly. “Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, ‘ behold the Lamb of God.’” The two disciples heard him say that, and they followed Jesus. Who are they? Two disciples of John. John was a teacher and John had followers. So here are a couple of them. By the way, we know who these two are. According to verse 40 one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus was Andrew. Who’s the other one? Well, the writer of the gospel of John is always reluctant to name one of them. Who is it? Himself.
So Andrew and John started out as followers of John the Baptist, getting ready for Messiah. And John, is standing with them and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and he says to these two disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
“Behold the Lamb of God!’” And what he was saying to them was, “Why are you standing here with me? Follow Him.” “
“The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” And verse 38, “Jesus turned and saw them following Him, and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’” What do you guys want?
They said, “Rabbi, where are You staying?” In other words, this isn’t a short-term interest. Wherever you’re going and wherever you’re going to stay, that’s where we’re going to stay.
John didn’t want anything—he didn’t want followers; he didn’t want disciples; he didn’t want honors; he didn’t want titles. Verse 23 says, “I’m a voice”...“ “crying in the wilderness,” and it was the wilderness. It was the desert. But it was not only a physical, geographical wilderness, it was a spiritual wilderness, of barren hearts.
Therein...therein lies the proper view of the witness . A faithful witness is marked by humility, seeks no honors, no money, no disciples, no titles, no flattery—he is simply a voice. And he directs everything to One greater than himself.
(a) prepare your hearts, the Messiah is here;
(b) recognize him for who he is; and finally
(c) follow him.
That’s the essence, by the way, of witnessing. John had done his job
Are you willing to be a voice crying in the wilderness?