July 02, 06
INTRODUCTION – In our pursuit of the King and His kingdom, which is our theme for this year, we decided to study the book of Matthew – because Matthew more than the other gospel writers emphasizes Jesus as King and and His kingdom. We first looked at the lineage of Jesus Christ; and then specifically we studied the parents God the Father sovereignly chose to parent and steward – the long awaited Messiah and Savior of the world. We also looked at the role angels played in the drama of the early days of our Lord’s life here on earth.
Today we are going to look at the man God chose to prepare the way for His precious Son. We know from the other gospels that this man – John the Baptist or John the Baptizer as some refer to him – was the cousin of Jesus – and was in his mother Elizabeth’s womb at the same time Jesus Christ was in his mother – Mary’s womb. Thus we know – they were very close to the same age, and seemed to have started their ministries at close to the same time – John perhaps a year or two before Jesus.
Luke in his gospel tells us that an angel spoke to John’s father Zechariah in great detail as to what kind of man this son of his would become. We learn a lot of things from Luke’s gospel actually, that Matthew chooses not to tell us. For instance we learn:
1. that John was a direct answer to prayer; for his mother Elizabeth had never been able to bear children until God gave her John.
2. we know from Luke that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even while in the womb; and an evidence of that was when Mary came and visited Elizabeth – both of whom were pregnant at the time – John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb – at the sound of Mary’s voice.
3. we know that the angel told John; and God must have told Mary that this son of theirs was to be named John; otherwise both of them would have named him after his father Zechariah.
4. Finally we know that the angel declared to Zechariah that John would be a great man who would turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, which he indeed did – even though his ministry was very short lived due to the wickedness of King Herod and his wife.
Whereas Luke introduced John to us as a baby; Matthew introduces him to us as a man. As I’ve pondered over this passage in Matthew chapter 3 – I’ve begun to see that while there are some aspects of John’s life that most of us adults will not and need not emulate; there are others that I believe the Holy Spirit intends for us to pursue. The fact is – if we do not pursue them – we will never have the privilege and joy that John had of seeing many people turn to God and away from their sin. If we do pursue them, I believe we can fully expect God to use us in this amazing work of seeing people turn from their sin and embracing their Savior. Part of the joy of the Lord – God wants us to experience – is that of being used by Him to lead people to a vital relationship with His Son Jesus Christ.
Let’s read the passage; and then I would like to share some observations about this great man and his ministry.
I. The Ministry of John the Baptizer – vs. 1-12 (Method, Message, Man)
A. The Method: “He came preaching” –vs. 1 – One of the famous quotes of St. Francis of Assisi’s is, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” What I believe he means by that is our lives are a witness – as well as are our words. Jesus Christ Himself said, “They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” Everyone knows that if our character and lifestyle does not back up our words, our words will have little effect.
But make no mistake that without words our witness will most likely be mistaken or missed altogether. When the angel prophesied to Zechariah – John’s dad – about how great a ministry he would have – he warned him to not allow John to drink alcohol. It was absolutely crucial that this man’s life backed up his words. But Matthew wants you to know – and the Lord of the Harvest wants you to know – that John “came preaching.” He intentionally came out into the open from his years of preparing in the wilderness for his ministry – and he came to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God with words to people.
Living the life is important; but the apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome made it abundantly clear that words are crucial when he wrote, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? He concludes that section with these words, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” implied – with words!!!
I can hear some of you saying, But Randy I’m not good with words. My tang gets all toungled when I try to talk to people about God. My heart starts beating like it is going to explode, my underarms start dripping, all the Bible verses I have memorized seem to evaporate…………… If that is the way you feel, I have three quick things to tell you: 1. Join the club. Most of us feel this way – or at least have felt this way from time to time. Even Billy Graham and other powerfully anointed evangelists say they still get nervous from time to time when they share the gospel with people.
2. God has no other plan.
3. If you ask the Holy Spirit to help you get the training you need to speak more quickly and clearly and effectively – I know He will answer your prayer. Books on the back table. Our purchase of “The Way of the Master”
Well we’ve established the importance of words. But what words? What message was it that John came preaching? And what is it that we should be preaching?? This is a crucial question to ask – Especially in this post modern – quick to pounce on anything that smells of exclusivity or fundamentalism – age – – shouldn’t we pad our words and emphasize the love of Jesus, and how He will meet our every need, and how wonderful life with Jesus is??
Well unfortunately the seeker friendly movement never got to John in time to polish him up (perhaps because he hid out in the desert right until his time to preach came)- – – – so John – being the backwards, unsophisticated, rough around the edges – intolerant radical that he was – skipped the expected disarming, diplomatic introduction – and rattled his hearers cages by exhorting them first off to “repent”.
Now to appreciate how religiously incorrect this was, you need to know that John’s listeners – the average Jews of that day had not heard anyone use that word for most of the last 400 years. The Pharisees and scribes certainly didn’t use it. For them to exhort their listeners to repent would have meant that they – to have any authority in their message – must repent as well; and they were not into repenting. The Pharisees and scribes and elders of Israel at that time were into putting religious window dressing over their sin. To repent would have meant for them to have to admit that there were things in their lives that were wrong; were sinful; were displeasing to God. And they would have had to turn from those things to the Lord and His righteousness. For sure this message of repentance was a message that the prophets preached; but they had long died off; and now for a few centuries the Jewish religious leaders had basically created their own religion that did away with the need to repent; that pushed sin under the rug; and replaced it with a set of man made rules that – if you could abide by them – would win you favor with the Jewish religious system; and supposedly with God.
This religious system is not unlike the one that appears to be growing in influence in our day – – a system that does away with objective truth; pushes sin under the rug; and is constantly redefining things so that most everyone can fit in under the big tent of religious tolerance – regardless of what kind of a life they are living, or which part of the scriptures they choose to adhere to, or to ignore.
Now I want you to see that John did not preach repentance because he was an angry judgmental fundamentalist right winger. As far as we can tell, John had a wonderful childhood, very loving godly parents, and as both Matthew and John the apostle tells us – he was actually a very humble man, who was quite aware of his unworthiness before the Lamb of God. John’s reason for preaching repentance was because (look at vs. 2) “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Basically what John was preaching to the crowds was “You need to turn from your sin and turn to God – for He is the living God who rules over a kingdom; and who will definitely deal with your sin and rebellion – if you choose to ignore it.” He is not far away; He is near as the air you breathe. He is not uninvolved. He intervenes in the affairs of man every day.
When Jesus Christ chose to obey His Father and endure the shame and suffering that culminated in His death on a criminal’s cross; His Father in turn promised to exalt Him as King of a kingdom that connected heaven to earth. The apostle Paul put it this way in Philippians chapter two “..he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” He is the potter – they were the clay. He is the vineyard owner; they were the slaves. And yet, they lived as if they were the potter and the vineyard owner; and God was some far off, uninvolved, uninterested and unable being. Therefore John says the first order of business is repenting – turning from their sin back to their God and Father, and soon to their Savior and King. If they refused to repent, then John warned them in vs. 10 and in vs. 12 that God would judge them with severity.
One of the reasons we are excited about “The Way of the Master” is because it helps us recover the truth that Jesus and the apostles always confronted people – lovingly but straightforwardly about their sin – and thus their need for a Savior – and for the mercy of God. Their claim – and a growing number of Christian leaders are agreeing – is that one of the main reasons unbelievers are not turning to Christ is because they are not aware of the fact that they are under the wrath of God for their sin; and that only Jesus can save them from that wrath and eternal condemnation.
C. The Prophecy fulfilled concerning John – vs. 3 Matthew wants us to know that Isaiah prophesied about the strategic ministry John the Baptist would have; and that John fulfilled it to the T. Luke 1:17 “and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
D. The Man John – vs. 4 (read it) Now why did the Holy Spirit see fit to tell us about John’s peculiar wardrobe and diet?? Well possibly for the same reason Luke told us about the angel telling John’s parents to not allow him to drink alcohol. Because God wanted a set apart, focused man. You see God knows and we should know – that our effectiveness in fulfilling our calling to reach the lost with the gospel is dependent upon our ability to stay free from the snares of this world, which for some is having to always have new fashionable clothes, for others it is being in bondage to eating – especially choice, luscious things – to the point where we almost live to eat them; for others it is having that drink, and another drink to go along with that drink – and feeling like I just need to have that buzz when life gets tense..
…….Here’s the principle: John was fruitful because he was focused. Nice clothes, nice foods, nice wines meant nothing to him. Fulfilling his call to proclaim the King and His Kingdom meant everything to him.
And one of the reasons he was able to stay focused was because he never wasted time – standing at his walk in closet – wondering which combination of clothes and power ties would best give him influence and favor.
While other religious leaders – when they began to anticipate meal time, probably spent precious minutes standing looking into their refrigerators or kitchen cabinets, John got a few more wild locusts out of his locust jar, covered them with honey, and he was ready to get back to studying and prayer walking and preaching the gospel of the kingdom.
“Study universal holiness of life. Your whole usefulness depends on this, for your sermons last but an hour or two; your life preaches all the week. If Satan can only make a covetous minister a lover of praise, of pleasure, of good eating, he has ruined your ministry.” Robert Murray McCheyne – the great Scottish preacher – in Power Through Prayer by E.M. Bounds
Some would say such a boring diet and wardrobe – and such a cutting, in your face message –
E. The extent of his ministry – vs. 5 – – even with the message he was preaching!!
F. The response to his ministry – vs. 6 willingness to be baptized and confess their sins
Brothers and sisters, I do not come to you this morning in any way as having arrived at fulfilling my call to reach the lost with great effectiveness. I do strongly believe the Holy Spirit is slowly but surely moving in this body – causing us to want to be used more by Him. I received an email from one of you on Friday – telling me how the Holy Spirit was reviving your passion for the lost. I received an email from one of you Saturday morning – asking me to pray that God would have His way with you in your personal witness. I had a talk with one of you while moving Alice on Saturday about our both wanting to be more effective in our witness. None of these people knew I was preaching on this today.
Now for us to cooperate with Him – we need to first work on our method. That method is the proclamation with words of the gospel of the kingdom of God. Nothing will ever replace our verbal witness regarding our King, His Kingdom, and what it will take for someone to enter into that kingdom.
We then need to roll up our sleeves and work on our message. What does it mean to tell people in today’s world that they need to repent because the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God is at hand?? Well for one thing they need to get this image of a baby Jesus or effeminate nice guy Jesus out of their minds. He is the King. He rules a kingdom that cannot be thwarted. He deserves our utmost devotion. And He does not understand or accept anything less from us.
And finally we need to encourage and pray for each other regarding our hidden sins that hold us down. Whether it be our hidden bondage to chocolate or soap operas or blowing our budget on the latest outfit, or sipping wine a little too much and a little too often, or watching things on t.v. or the internet that we have no business watching – – we need to get honest with the Holy Spirit, and with each other about living a focused holy life.
Corporate time of Psa. 51:10-13 prayer