Dr Mark Hardgrove
In Luke chapter 1, verses 1-15 we read of the miracle of the birth of John the Baptist. He was born to elderly parents, Zechariah, a priest, and Elizabeth, a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Zechariah and Elizabeth had been without children throughout their marriage, they were devoutly religious and pious people, but they had been barren. And now, as they advanced in age, and angel announced to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth are going to be blessed with a child. But not just any child, this is a special child who will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”
Elizabeth was pregnant for John when Mary came to tell her that an angel had visited her and that she, Mary, would give birth to the Messiah. When Elizabeth heard the news her unborn child leaped in her womb. No doubt the Holy Spirit already touching the unborn prophet.
After being born, it appears that John was pledged to the Nazarite vow. As such, he could not drink anything with alcohol and could not have his hair cut. He was a unique individual with a distinct calling. John was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that there would be a voice crying in the wilderness. In John destiny and prophecy converged in the existential moment that produced a voice that would herald the coming of the Christ.
Before I go any farther, let me say that I believe that John is a type of the Church. The church was birthed into a religious world, but a world that was barren with respect to producing a people who loved and served God with their whole heart. Second, the church was birthed in the power of the Holy Spirit. From the time they came out of the Upper Room they were filled with the power of the Spirit and given a prophetic voice to proclaim the immanent return of Christ.
Now the church is many years old. But in America we have become a wilderness. We have churches that have not had a salvation at the altars in years. And some of these churches are growing by shuffling the saints. The truth is that more churches are closing their doors in America, than are opening them. The truth is that statistically church attendance is declining. The truth is that fewer and fewer people read their Bibles or believe that they are the Word of God. The truth is that our country, like most of Western Europe, has become a spiritual wilderness and in this wilderness God is looking for a people who are willing to be empowered by His Spirit to raise up their voice in the wilderness and declare with renewed boldness that Christ is King and Heâ’ss coming back! We need a church to sing with restored conviction that soon and very soon, we shall see the King.
And I believe that when we find our voice again, and when we allow the Spirit to move again, and when we are willing to Godâ’ss prophets, Holy Priesthood, and Peculiar People, then I believe the people who are lost in a maze of religious relativism will come to the church where the message is clear and unambiguous and anointed by the Spirit.
John stands as a model of what I believe the church should be if we are serious about telling the world that Jesus is coming again. Let’s look at John’s example to us.
I Unconventional Lifestyle
(Matt. 3:1, 4)
Matthew 3:1 “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
Matt 3:4 “And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”
If it is true, as many scholars believe, that John had been pledged to a Nazarite vow from birth, then Johnâ’ss appearance was unconventional. He did not fit in with the styles and fashions of his time. He was a wilderness man who lived a rugged lifestyle. He wore rough clothing, not the fine raiment of the elite. He ate a strange diet of locust and honey.
Church, our calling is not to conform to the world. This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. I’ve got a mansion in glory land that outshines the sun. We are told not to love the worldly pleasures and affections. We are in the world but we are not of the world, our citizenry is in heaven. We have been called to righteousness, to live holy and sanctified lives an ungodly world.
I’m afraid that for the past twenty or thirty years churches have been bending over backward to be more like the world instead of being more like Jesus. But the world doesn’t need someone to be like them. They need to find a church where God’s Word is still our authority and our lives are lived in conformity to what thus saith the Word of the Lord, and not what thus saith Hollywood, or Cosmopolitan, or what thus saith the latest rock singer. The world needs the church to be the church or stop lying about it and admit that we’re just another social club.
II Uncompromising Message
Matt 3:2 “And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Matt 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? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9And 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.
Whether it was the common folks, or the hoity-toity of Jerusalem social circles, the message stayed the same. When Pharisees and Sadducees came to see the popular prophet, they were summarily chastised and told to get right before they came to be baptized.
I remember a church I was pastoring in Suwanee where there was a man who wanted to join the church. I knew that this man smoked and I also knew that the Church of God teaches against smoking and I could not take him in as a member if he was smoking. He was welcome to worship with us. He was a good man, and I loved him as a brother so I did not want to tell him that he would have to quit smoking before he could become a member. But then God convicted me. God asked me, Do you love this man?” I said, Yes Lord, and I donâ’st want to hurt his feelings or make him made. But God said, If you love him, you will tell the truth, because if you loved him, you would do everything you could help him quit doing something that will eventually kill him.
I finally met with the man and shared with him my love for him and the teachings of the Church of God. I figured it would be the last time I would see him. I figured he had quit coming to church and had taken his family with him. But do know what he did? He quit smoking, joined the church, and now he and his wife have planted a new Church of God in Lilburn. God is looking for a church and people who will tell the truth and “tell it in love. John never compromised his message for popularity.
III Unusual Humility
Matt 3:11-15, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. 13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
But if we are going to tell the truth, a truth that sometimes corrects, reproves and rebukes, let us do it with all longsuffering and humility. John was a man whom the masses went to see in the desert. Not in a fine temple, but in the wilderness by the river. I believe if we could recapture the Spirit of John the Baptist, the building program would not be nearly as important as souls won into the Kingdom of God. And we would humbly but boldly declare the coming of the King to a people who have repented of their sins.
IV Undeniable Revelation
Matt 3:16 “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
John had an undeniable revelation. He had seen the Holy Spirit come like a dove and signify that Jesus, his cousin, was the Messiah. After that revelation, John was convinced that Jesus was the One.
To be as bold and committed to the Kingdom as John, we are going to have to have an undeniable revelation of Christ in our lives. Do you know, that you know that you know, Jesus is Lord of your life? If there is any question about this, then our witness is weak and tepid at best. But friend, if you know the joy of sins forgiven, if His Spirit has born witness with your spirit that you are a child of the King, it will place a song in your heart, a skip in your step, and boldness that will not flag or fail, but will stand up and declare without fear or intimidation, Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life and no man comes to the Father but by Him and neither is there any other name given among men whereby ye must be saved. It’s not Jesus or Mohammed, it’s just Jesus. It’s not Jesus or Buddha, it’s just Jesus. It’s not Jesus plus some new age transcendental junk, it’s just Jesus.
Do know this joy? Do you know what it feels like to kneel down in conviction and to get up in liberty? Do you remember the day the burden of sin was lifted off your shoulders? Because if you do, you have an undeniable revelation of the joy of the Lord and it will give you the backbone to stand up to the skeptics and say, I know my redeemer lives, and He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
V Uncharacteristic Question
Matt 11:2-3, “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,
3And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
This account leaves many scholars scratching their head. Why did John send his disciples to ask Jesus this question? How could he, after being so affirmative, and after receiving such a revelation, ask this question? It is uncharacteristic of everything we thought we knew about John the Baptist.
Perhaps it simply illustrates that John was as human as anyone else. He had preached righteousness and had prepared the way of the Messiah, and yet he found himself in jail. Maybe he just had to have one more assurance.
Others suggest that perhaps we misunderstand the question. Maybe John’s question isn’t whether Jesus was a Messiah, but whether or not Jesus was the only Messiah. There were some in religious Jewish circles who believed that there would be a prophetic Messiah and a Kingly Messiah. It was obvious from the miracles that John was hearing about in prison that Jesus was fulfilling the prophetic role. However, there was nothing politically that Jesus was doing which would lead him or anyone else to believe that Jesus was coming to set up an earthly kingdom. So John asks, Are you it? Or do we look for another?”
VI Unparalleled Commendation
And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? Courage 8 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. Commitment 9 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. 10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 11 Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Calling
How did Jesus respond to John’s question? He didn’t chastise him or deride him, Jesus, instead gave John an unparalleled commendation. He simply told John’s disciples to tell John what they saw: The blind see the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear: the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Jesus ministry answers the question. Jesus is our prophet, priest and king.
Then Jesus commends John. He commends John for his courage in verse 7. He commends John for his commitment in verse 8, and He commends John for fulfilling calling in verses 9 though 11. Jesus said, Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (v. 11). Did you get than? Jesus is declaring His kingdom. But it is first and foremost a spiritual kingdom. A kingdom in which greatness is established by faith in the King of kings, and Lord of lords. John saw and believed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe.
VII Unwavering Commitment
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, 2 And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. 3 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. 4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. 5 And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. 7Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. 8And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. 9And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. 10And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. 11And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. 12And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.
I believe that John got the answer that satisfied the questions. Later, as he was in prison he had the opportunity to compromise to save his life, or speak the truth that would cost him his head. John’s unwavering commitment to righteousness prevailed and John chose to tell the truth and give his life to God rather than compromise and live.
If we are going to be that voice in the wilderness, then we must be willing to lay down our lives for the Gospel. We live in a world and a time where it is going to get increasingly difficult to stand up for the truth of God’s Word. It will be fine to be religious, it will be popular to be spiritual, it will be acceptable to believe in God, but it will be unacceptable to declare that Jesus is the only way. People who declare that Jesus is the only name whereby men may be saved, will be scorned and rejected by a society that wants to embrace every religious expression without regard to the truth that can set men free.
If we are going to be the voice crying in the wilderness, then we will have to be ready to lay down our lives rather than compromise the truth.
Notice the affection Jesus had for John. When He heard of John’s murder, Jesus had to get out by Himself.
13When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities.
But notice also, that even in His time of personal loss, Jesus was moved with compassion for people.
14And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ. He was called to prepare the way, The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; Make his paths straight.”
John the Baptist is an awesome example for the church today. Like John we need to have a lifestyle which is not a reflection of the world, but of Christ. We need to stay with the message and refuse to compromise, even when people of note or wealth, are in the house. But we also must maintain a humble spirit in all that we do even as we seek to shine forth the character of Christ. We need to cling to the revelation of our salvation, the wonderful witness of the Spirit that we are the sons and daughters of God. We need to be honest with God, even if we have questions. Our inquires don’t rattle Him. And finally, we need to hold fast the profession of our faith, without wavering, because ultimately, our goal is to hear the commendation of Jesus, Well done thy good and faithful servant, enter in.”