Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE MINISTRY AND MESSAGE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST”

Luke 3.7-18

 

John the Baptist was a towering figure. In Matthew 11.11, our Lord Jesus Christ said this about His cousin: “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” He was the forerunner of the Messiah, whose ministry was predicted as far back as Isaiah 40.3, where we read, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD.”

Turn in your Bible to Luke chapter 3, where we can examine two facets of John the Baptist’s ministry and message:

 

First, WITH REGARD TO THE RELIGIOUS AND THE REPENTANT

 

Stand and read along silently with me from Luke 3.7:

 

7      Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8      Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

9      And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

10     And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?

11     He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.

12     Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?

13     And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.

14     And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.

 

Just so you will know, there is some difference in the record we have just read from what Matthew records. While Luke mentions the multitudes who came to hear John the Baptist, Matthew is careful to call attention to the religious hypocrites who came to hear him. Matthew 3.7: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

Consider the two groups who came to hear John preach and to see him baptize, one group at a time.

First, the religious hypocrites. Of those things we can tell about the religious crowd that came to the wilderness to hear John the Baptist preach the gospel of the coming king, I want, first, to call attention to their ways. The Pharisees present were extreme legalists. They were the ones who were markedly conservative in their religious views, and considered all those who did not share their opinions to be far less spiritual than they were. They were the pickers of the microscopic nits. Additionally, they were terrible in their hypocrisy and prejudices. The Sadducees were at the other end of the religious spectrum. They were the liberals and modernists. They neither believed in the supernatural or the hereafter.[1] This was the crowd that generally held sin to be rather unpleasant, but no really big deal. The Pharisees believed in salvation by good works, while the Sadducees did not see the need to concern themselves with things they really did not believe in anyway. Next, take a look at their warnings. That is, what warnings does John give to them? When confronted by gross spiritual prejudice, and prideful arrogance, John took off his gloves and went bare knuckles with those religionists. His words are recorded in Matthew 3.7-10, and bear reading. Please turn there at this time:

 

7      But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

8      Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:

9      And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

10     And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

 

Notice what John the Baptist called them. He called them the offspring of vipers. You had better not say harsh things to anyone these days, lest some Southern California Christian become quite anxious with you. After all, we must be nice. Folks, John the Baptist realized that there was a spiritual war on. No time for niceties. Their ways, their warning, and now John the Baptist asks them who has warned them to flee the wrath to come. The question that he asked tells us several things about him:

First, it tells us that John the Baptist openly challenged those with whom he had open spiritual conflict. In the presence of the genuinely repentant who were standing in the crowd, John the Baptist wanted it clearly known that he neither supported or wanted the support of the religious establishment. A bit different from Billy Graham’s philosophy of ministry, was it not?

Second, this phrase lets us know very clearly that the Baptist both believed and preached the coming wrath of God on the ungodly. Hey, maybe John had a bit of sarcasm in his voice, and was somewhat amused to see the Sadducees, who said they did not believe in a future judgment, coming to hear the hellfire and damnation preacher.

Finally, John moved into the real body of his warning to these people who depended upon religion to set them well with God. He told them what they ought to do. Then he told them what they ought not do. In addition, he told them why. In telling them what they ought to do, John said, “Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.” That is, he demanded the kind of heartfelt repentance that produced a changed life. Did he not preach of a baptism of repentance and remission of sins? Well then, he wanted to actually see the evidence of a changed life from these religious hypocrites before he would consider baptizing them. There is a lesson that is lost on most preachers. After telling them what to do, he next told them what not to do. They had better not ascend to their ivory tower and think that they are secure just because they were sons of Abraham. No spiritual security just because you are a Jewish person. Abraham’s children? Why, God could turn rocks into Abraham’s children. That being so, how could they then think that being Abraham’s child could help them with their sin problem? You want to know why they had best get out of that ivory tower of privilege? To illustrate his reasoning John compared them to trees. The ax is laid at the roots. They were like trees who had always admired the fact that they were trees. John indicated that the criteria is not being a tree, but bearing good fruit. Bear no good fruit and you have no life. Have no spiritual life and you end up going to Hell.

We have seen John’s response to the religious crowd who were present to view his ministry. However, there was another, much larger, group of people who attended. The repentant. What about them? Turn back to Luke 3.10, where we take up his response to the repentant multitudes who overheard John’s words of warning to the religious onlookers: “And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?” Their question, “What shall we do then?” was probably the result of John the Baptist’s insistence upon fruits worthy of repentance. Since they were genuinely repentant, they really wanted to know what God expected of them now that their sins were forgiven. To those multitudes, John commanded that they give to those who had nothing. Thus, generosity is seen to be an earmark of real repentance. To the publicans, or to the tax collectors, verse 13, he commanded that they take no more in taxes than they were supposed to take. Quite a command, then you think about it, since most publicans took many times more money than they were actually entitled to. To the soldiers, verse 14, he commanded three things:

#1  Do violence to no man. The verb here, diaseiw, has to do with shaking down someone for the purpose of extorting money from them.[2]

#2  Accuse no one falsely. This verb, sukofantew, also has to do with extortion, but it is extortion by falsehood instead of extortion by violence.[3] This would be closely akin to bribery, taking money from people so the soldiers would not accuse them of wrongdoing.

#3  Be content with their wages. It was the matter of wages which really gave rise to the first two problems that soldiers in John’s day had. Soldiers were always complaining about their pay in those days and, indeed, they were not paid well. Therefore, it was financial hardship that tempted soldiers to extort money from civilians by one means or another. John the Baptist did not want soldiers extorting money, or complaining, no matter what their pay happened to be.

John the Baptist’s whole tenor toward the repentant was different than it was toward the religious who were unrepentant and hypocritical. So was the Savior’s attitude, for that matter.

 

Next, THE REVELATION CONCERNING THE REDEEMER

 

This is the second facet of John the Baptist’s ministerial record, found in Luke 3.15-17.

 

15     And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;

16     John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

17     Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.

 

Consider, first, the question of the people. Luke 3.15-17 gives us the fullest record of these events, and leaves nothing out that Matthew and Mark have recorded, so we will stay with Luke’s account. Verse 15 records the questioning in the people’s hearts as to whether or not John the Baptist was or was not the Messiah of Israel. Such questions should not be thought unusual in light of the power of the Holy Spirit evidenced in his ministry, but such questions were still wrong and sinful. Why? If people had believed their Bibles, as they should have done, they would have known that the Messiah had a forerunner. Since John was the first prophet to come along in 400 years, he had to be the forerunner and could not have been the Christ.

The prophet’s answer to their question came in the form of a contrast between himself and the genuine Christ. Notice Luke 3.16-17:

 

16     John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

17     Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.

 

What was the highlight of John’s ministry? Obviously, it was baptism. That he baptized repentant sinners in and with water was the chief visible trademark of his ministry. The Messiah, however, would be quite different in this respect. As John was the Baptist who used water, the Christ would be, according to John’s prophecy here, the Baptist Who would use a different medium than water to baptize His subjects. This One Who was to come was greater in every way than John the Baptist was. So much so that John did not consider himself worthy to even tie the leather straps on His sandals. What John said is something that each one of us ought to realize is also true of us. While we are not worthy, the Savior is worthy. Worthy is the Lamb. Though some Bible teachers feel that only one baptism is being referred to by John, I am of the opinion that he is predicting two distinct baptisms. First, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is a baptism that was predicted by John the Baptist only for believers in Jesus Christ. The baptism of fire, on the other hand, is a baptism predicted by John the Baptist for unbelievers only. We know this from allowing the passage to teach us rather than trying to impose our beliefs on the passage.[4] The unquenchable fire, then, refers to the lake of fire, and chaff is descriptive language that refers to the unsaved. Hence, the baptism of fire is the destiny of the damned. Thus, we see that John the Baptist communicates truth concerning the two destinies of his mixed audience of religionists, who would face the baptism of fire, and repentant folks who would face the baptism of the Holy Spirit. What can we surmise about the Lord Jesus Christ from John’s message? John pointed to One Who would baptize the repentant with the Holy Ghost, and would consign the rebellious to hellfire. Only God wields such authority and power as that. Thus, if you pay attention to John the Baptist’s ministry and message, you must conclude that the One who would come after him is astonishing in both His majesty and His might. No wonder John demanded repentance.

 

Finally, THE REST OF JOHN THE BAPTIST’S RECORD

 

Luke 3.18: “And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.”

 

This verse suggests that although John’s ministry was a narrowly focused ministry that was first and foremost geared to announcing the coming of the Messiah and the repentance of sinners in view of that coming, it was not by any means a one-dimensional ministry.

It appears that as he was led of the Holy Spirit to do so, John found occasion to preach many other things from God’s Word to his disciples. After all, when you have guided someone to faith in Christ you cannot guide him or her to Christ again. Can you?

 

These few words of introduction form the basis for a right understanding of the ministry and message of John the Baptist. John’s ministry can be even more appreciated when you remember that our Lord’s most prominent apostles, James and John, Peter and Andrew, were men who had originally been disciples of John the Baptist.

 

SERMON:

 

John the Baptist is an intriguing fellow, and a wonderful example of both fulfilled prophecy and the grace of God in a man’s life. However, John the Baptist should never be the primary focus of anyone’s study. If it is overlooked that John the Baptist’s ministry and message was entirely that of directing the attention of sinful men to the coming Messiah, then we have missed the forest for the trees. John the Baptist was sent by God to be a human road sign, as John 1.6-7 makes very clear:

 

6      There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

7      The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

 

From this passage, we can only conclude that the ministry and message of John the Baptist were extremely important.

The question I want to ask you this morning has to do with John’s ministry and message, as well as your response to it. How would you have responded to him, the man, and his message, had you lived during his time on earth?

 

First, WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN PUT OFF BY HIS APPEARANCE AND MANNER?

 

Keep in mind that John was not a finely dressed man, wearing apparel made of camel’s hair. He was not sophisticated and refined, eating locusts and wild honey. Neither did he represent respectable and established religion. Many people in our day, just as many in John’s day, pay little attention to the truth of a message, and focus only on the packaging of the message. That is why ministries like Benny Hinn’s and Joel Osteen’s flourish, while the multitudes take a quick look at facilities like ours and conclude that God cannot be in this.

May I remind you that Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem? Do you remember what Jesus said about His style of life? In Matthew 8.20, He said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” Therefore, be careful, you who judge a gift by its wrapper instead of carefully considering the contents.

There are people now in Hell who might have listened to John had he dressed in fine clothes, and who would have paid attention to the Savior had He a nice house to live in.

 

Next, WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN OFFENDED BY HIS SPEECH?

 

He was a voice crying in the wilderness. He preached pointedly and particularly to the sins of the people. He warned sinners of the impending judgment of God and demanded repentance. He raised the expectations of the people for the coming Messiah of Israel, who would bless the repentant and punish the rebellious.

When questioned, he denied that he was the one any should look to, but said concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Most say, “Look at me, look at me.” The Baptist said, in effect, “Look to Him, look to Him.”

Would you listen to a man of such strong speech? Be careful how you answer, since many of the Lord Jesus Christ’s disciples abandoned Him for what they considered a “hard saying.”

 

Finally, WOULD YOU HAVE HEEDED HIS WORDS?

 

First, what would you have done when he said to you, “Behold the Lamb of God”? Would you have immediately followed Jesus, as two of John’s disciples did?

   Next, would you have repented of your sins, as John preached to the multitudes that walked the long and hot trail from Jerusalem to hear him?

Third, would you have sought believer’s baptism, as they did? I find it amazing that so few who profess to be Christians these days eagerly seek baptism, when in John’s day even those who were clearly unqualified candidates for baptism still sought it.

Fourth, would you have born fruit? There are different kinds of fruit that are to be born by someone who is born again. In Galatians 5, there is fruit referred to that is actually a radically altered personality from the one the believer had prior to his conversion. In Matthew 13, the parable of the sower, there is fruit that is referred to that speaks of Christians reproducing Christians. Then, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, fruit has to do with giving money to advance the cause of Christ.

 

John the Baptist was an admirable character, from a distance of two thousand years. Up close and personal, he was a much more polarizing figure. He was a man his listeners either loved or hated, because he made it impossible for those who heard him to remain neutral. Religion counted for nothing with John, who could easily have served as a priest in Jerusalem, since you will remember that his father was a priest.

He was the most deadly sort of preacher to hypocrites, since he was filled with a holy boldness, excoriated hypocrites, was demanding of those who were repentant, and was committed to preparing the way for the Savior. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He lived solely to point men to Christ. I know that some people disagree with John the Baptist’s method and approach. They think he was divisive and contentious, making the Lord Jesus Christ a cause of stumbling and offense. However, do you realize that the Lord Jesus Christ is described as “the rock of offense” in three different places in the Bible? The Savior Himself said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Therefore, how you react to extremely pointed and direct comments that are true, and that expose your sins and your situation, reveals much about your own perception of yourself, whether or not you really see yourself as a sinner. Sinners who saw themselves as sinners heeded John’s words and repented of their sins. However, sinners who secretly believed themselves to have some righteousness, sinners who were not completely convinced they were desperate for a savior, were offended by his straight talk and his direct manner.

I ask you again. Would you have listened to John the Baptist? Would you have embraced the Savior he boldly represented and honestly spoke for?



[1] See footnote for Matthew 3.7 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), pages 1396-1397.

[2] Rienecker, page 146.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See comment on Matthew 3.11 by Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ NT Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), bible@mail.com

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org