Summary: What does a successful ministry look like. How should we gauge the success of a preacher or a church. By worldly standards, John's ministry was a failure. By Jesus' standards John the Baptist was the greatest of all prophets.
Grace Community Church
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Have you ever asked yourself how you identify the mark of a great pastor or preacher? What are the hallmarks of a great ministry? By worldly standards, we would imagine an accomplished speaker, eloquent in his words, quick in wit, but able to speak with just the right poise to excite, enlighten, and enthuse his hearers. Someone who draws a crowd as they fawn over his eloquence and craft. They have a well-orchestrated team of handlers who take care of everything for him in just the right way that all he has to worry about is addressing the masses. They are the object of Hollywood success in a preacher’s attire.
If you use that standard, then you set the standard at some Word of Faith preachers like Benny Hinn, who makes over 20 million a year, Joyce Meyer with a salary nearing 1 million, or Joel Osteen, who lives in a 12 million dollar home. They may have the look of success but they are false teachers and, by Kingdom standards, far from success. Some of the greatest preachers in history lived under immense pressure, meager living, and suffered for their work.
Charles Spurgeon is known as the ‘Prince of Preachers.’ He preached messages that drew crowds, but he drew them to repentance. His messages are powerful and timeless. I have volumes of his work in my study. Yet he suffered tremendously from several physical ailments and depression. Johnathan Edwards preached messages that fanned the flames of great revivals but constantly suffered physically and mentally. Martin Luther leads the great reformation but was constantly stricken with depression. The Apostle Paul constantly suffered from an unknown ailment he referred to as his ‘thorn of the flesh.” (2 Cor 12:7). Elijah, Jeremiah, Moses all dealt with tremendous persecution and the strains of life. I can tell you personally, that when you preach the gospel you suffer for it. The physical attacks, spiritual attacks, and personal attacks are the standard of the trade.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke provides some information, but we turn our attention also to the other gospel writers for a more complete picture. John comes out of the wilderness (Luke 3:2), wearing a camel hair coat, and eating locusts (Matt 3:4), and he’s preaching a message of baptism and repentance to the Jewish people (Luke 3:3). His message is fiery and sharp. He’s not trying to win the approval of men, he’s standing in opposition to the corrupt people of government, society, and religion. (Luke 3:10-14). Now Luke, after telling us who John was and the content of his preaching ministry gives us a capstone to John’s ministry. I think Luke does this because if we saw the end result of John’s ministry we would probably see him as a failure when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.
15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. Luke 3:15–20 ESV
1. John Preached the Message of the True Gospel
By all worldly standards, John’s ministry was a failure. He started in isolation, coming out of the wilderness, it was short-lived at less than 1 year by some estimations, it was highly criticized by people of influence, and it ended painfully with his persecution and death. No church today would ever hire him; afraid he would be a dumpster fire to their system of worship and religion. But that was John. In fact, Jesus said there was no greater prophet ever than John (Luke 7:28).
John’s ministry was so powerful that the people thought he was the messiah; the Christ. But look at John’s response to those who were trying to be ‘messiah groupies.’
16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Luke 3:16–17 ESV