Summary: In this message we examine the preaching of John the Baptist and learn what constitutes faithful preaching.
We are studying the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke in a sermon series I am calling, “To Seek and To Save the Lost.”
The first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel deal with what is called “The Infancy Narrative.” That is, they deal with the prophecies and births of John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah, and then what happened to Jesus following his birth.
Chapter 3 of Luke’s Gospel begins by focusing attention on John the Baptist. Unlike the other Gospel writers who scatter accounts of John’s ministry throughout their Gospel accounts, Luke basically gathers all the material about John’s ministry and presents it here in one place at the beginning of chapter 3. 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 Luke 3:21 onwards.
So here at the beginning of chapter 3 Luke described the life and ministry of John the Baptist. Last time we examined the ministry of John the Baptist. Today I would like to examine the preaching of John the Baptist.
Let’s read about the preaching of John the Baptist in Luke 3:7-14:
7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:7-14)
“You know what you people are? You are all a bunch of hypocrites! You go to church on Sunday, but then you forget about God the rest of the week. You are living a double life. You say that you belong to God, but then you secretly go out and indulge in all kinds of sinful pleasures. You live in your nice big houses and drive around in your fancy cars, but you never do anything to help the poor. You snakes! Do you really think that God is going to save you just because you are baptized and belong to a Presbyterian church? Listen, unless you turn away from your sins, you are going straight to hell!”
That was the kind of message that John the Baptist preached in all the region around the Jordan (3:3). His preaching was not designed to set people at ease. His preaching was not very “seeker sensitive.” His preaching did not promote “cheap grace.”
John was not trying to get people to like him. He was not interested in building a mega-church. He was not trying to win friends and influence people.
No. John saw himself as God’s messenger. He saw himself as one who proclaimed God’s truth with clarity and conviction. He was trying to get people to repent. He wanted people to be reconciled to an absolutely holy God.
Admittedly, John the Baptist was a little peculiar. Matthew tells us in his Gospel that John lived in the wilderness, wore strange clothes, and ate locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). Even in those days he was considered odd, which is why people talked about him all over Israel. But the main thing John did was to preach.
The Gospels present John as a man of action, preaching a powerful message of repentance. The sculptor, Auguste Rodin, expressed this beautifully in his sculpture of John the Baptist, which is titled “John the Baptist Preaching” and is housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Great Britain. Rodin’s near-naked John has long unruly hair and a tiny animal skin around his waist. He is in mid-stride, with a finger raised, his head turned to the side, and lips parted, as if in mid-sentence. The sculpture splendidly captures the essence of John’s preaching.
But, however odd people thought John was, he was alive with passion for preaching the Word of God. People came from Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan to hear him preach (Matthew 3:5). And many of them were baptized by him in response to his message.