Summary: In this lesson we examine the ministry of John the Baptist and look at what constitutes a faithful ministry.
The first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel deal with the birth narratives of John the Baptist and his relative, Jesus Christ. Throughout these two chapters Luke has intentionally set John and Jesus side by side each other.
As chapter 3 of Luke’s Gospel opens, Luke continued to set John and Jesus side by side as he described the beginning of their public ministries. And except for one brief incident about John in Luke 7:18-23, he disappears from Luke’s Gospel after chapter 3. The reason is that Luke wanted to focus exclusively on the person and work of Jesus from chapter 4 onwards. However, in chapter 3 John and Jesus are still connected together as they each began their public ministries.
For thirty years John and Jesus had lived in private, out of the public eye. John lived “in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (1:80). And after his brief public appearance at the age of twelve at the temple in Jerusalem, Je-sus lived in the small, isolated village of Nazareth, where he “was submissive” to his parents (2:51).
Very few people at that time knew the true identities of John or Jesus. And of those few, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, and Joseph, had most likely already died.
The angels who had announced the births of John and Je-sus to so many different individuals had long since gone to heaven. But the thirty years of silence was about to end. And the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist would end an even longer period of silence—the four hundred years since God last spoke to his people through the prophet Malachi (in about 430 BC). God promised to send a deliverer (called the Messiah) who would come to rescue his people (Malachi 3:1). Moreover, God also promised that he would send a Messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus, of course, was the Messiah, and John was the Messenger.
It is important to keep in mind that as John and Jesus were about to begin their ministries, Israel was suffering under political and spiritual oppression. God’s covenant people were under the repressive political and military rule of the Roman Empire. Furthermore, Israel’s spiritual leaders were corrupt and wicked. There was widespread biblical ignorance and apostasy. The people longed for political and military freedom, which they hoped that God’s Messiah would bring them.
It was in this setting that the Messenger, John, the first prophet in more than four hundred years, appeared to introduce the Messiah, Jesus. John’s task was to prepare the people for the Messiah, and also to present the Messiah to the people.
Let’s read about the ministry of John the Baptist in Luke 3:1-6:
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caia-phas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ” (Luke 3:1-6)
Peter Cartwright was a famous nineteenth century Methodist evangelist in this country who personally baptized twelve thousand converts during his ministry. He was well known for his powerful, fiery, and uncompromising preaching.
The story is told that one day the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, came to hear Cartwright preach. He was told before the service not to offend the President by saying anything out of line. So, when Cartwright got up to preach, the first words out of his mouth were, “I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here this morning. I have been requested to be very guarded in my remarks. Let me say this: Andrew Jackson will go to hell if does not repent of his sin!”
The entire congregation gasped with shock at Cartwright’s boldness. How could this young preacher dare to confront the President in public, they wondered. After the service, when Andrew Jackson met the preacher he looked at him in the eye and said, “Sir, if I had a regiment of men like you, I could conquer the world!”
Like Peter Cartwright, John the Baptist was not afraid to confront people with the truth. As one commentator said of John, “Here was a man who cared enough to confront!”