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Weekly Word

Entries in John the Baptist (2)

Tuesday
Apr012014

The True Jesus: Jesus Teaches About John

Today we will look at Luke 7:24-28.  Jesus had sent a message back to John (who was in prison) telling him to not lose faith.  John clearly was struggling with what he believed should be and what was happening.  After John’s disciples leave to give him the message, Jesus teaches about the greatness of John because it was important for people to understand who he was and how integral he was to God’s plan.  Yet, at the end Jesus gives us a strange twist.  Let’s check it out.

Why Were People Drawn To John

In verse 24 Jesus asks the people why they went out into the barren places to listen to John.  He does so by asking a rhetorical question, of which the answer is obvious.  Did they go out to see a “reed shaken by the wind?”  This word picture is of a person who is easily moved by circumstances and the opinions of man (i.e. the winds of the time).  Though the reed may look substantial, it grows in marshy areas or along rivers, lakes and streams.  Thus it can be easily uprooted.  Clearly, this was not a picture of John the Baptist.  People were drawn to John because he was a sincere, steadfast, passionate, God-pleaser.  John stood strong even against Herod Antipas and his sins because he wanted to please God.

Another way in which this picture of the shaken reed can be understood is to read 1 Kings 14.  In that passage the prophet uses a shaken, bruised reed as a picture of how God would come upon Israel.  He would knock Israel down, and scatter it to the winds.  Thus the bruised reed is a picture of Judgment.  John was clearly a righteous man and not under judgment.  In fact you could say John is himself a dried reed in the hand of God to chastise Israel in order to draw some to repentance.  This was very different from the religious leaders of the day and drew people to him.  John seemed to be authentic and he was.  John’s passionate stand against the sins of Israel from the least to the greatest in the land culminated in his imprisonment and eventual beheading.  This gave people hope that the Messiah truly was about to come.

Next Jesus asks if they went out to John in order to see a man dressed in soft clothing.  This question is pretty much a joke.  Anyone who had seen John would laugh at the idea of him in soft clothing.  John was the ultimate picture of self-denial.  This was in stark contrast with the political and religious leaders of the day.  He is pictured as living in the wilderness on locusts and wild honey (i.e. living off the land), wearing camel hair cloak, and a leather belt.  He didn’t just abstain from luxuries.  He abstained from even the normal pleasures of life.  This again increased his authenticity in the eyes of the people.  John was not seeking to “fleece the sheep” for his own benefit.

The next question in verse 26 begins to hone in on the truth.  Did you go to see a prophet?  Definitely the answer is yes.  John was a true prophet of God.  The people went out to John recognized this about him.  But John was more than a prophet of God.  What the people couldn’t see is that John was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy in Malachi 3.  God had promised to send a Forerunner to the Messiah whose job would be to herald the Messiah’s coming and help people be prepared for Him. 

Even more, Jesus points to John as the greatest of the prophets up to that point.  Does that mean John was greater than Moses and Elijah?  Yes it does.  However, “greater” likely does not point to greater in faithfulness or love of God.  Rather John is greater in function or position.  John ministers in the presence of the Messiah.  He also successfully turns hearts from sin towards the Messiah.  Lastly he gets to witness the beginning of the promised Kingdom of God.  These are things that Moses and Elijah would have loved to have seen.  In this regard, John’s experience parallels that of Moses.  Just like Moses teaches the people to follow God and leads them to the Promised Land, but doesn’t get to go in, so John the Baptist teaches and leads the people to Jesus and His promised Kingdom.  However, John is to be executed and not allowed to enter the coming Church.  He could have been an excellent Apostle.  However, it was not the calling God had given him.  This of course leads us to the issue of the Kingdom of God.  Wasn’t Israel already a part of the Kingdom of God?  How could it be coming or at hand?

The Kingdom of God

If you study the Scriptures, you will see that Israel is part of God’s Kingdom.  Many places He is called their King.  However, both in experience and through the prophets, the people were promised a greater stage of that Kingdom.  Not a Kingdom ruled by men who variously fell short of God’s righteousness, but by God’s Anointed (Christ) who would perfectly rule the people and expand the Kingdom over the whole earth.  When Jesus came He initiated this Kingdom of God.  Since then Christians have been the citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus and Jesus is the King.  This rule in the hearts of men has gone to the ends of the earth.  However, this is not the completion of all promised.  It is now a natural people ruled by a spiritual kingdom that does not have an earthly headquarters, nor an earthly ruler.  But that is coming.  Thus the Kingdom of God was both present and future.

John was preparing people’s hearts to enter into this new stage of the kingdom of God.  He called them to repentance and spiritual cleansing, and to faith in Jesus.  They would be able to hear and respond to the Messiah’s call, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  The Good News of the Work of Jesus is that everyone is invited to join the Kingdom that had come about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Thus John has a tremendously glorious position within the Kingdom of God.

Yet, Jesus strangely says that those who are the least in the coming kingdom of God will be greater than John.  This amazing point begs the question of how the least in the Church can be greater than John.  Our experience would beg to differ with Christ.  But again this is not about devotion or faithfulness.  It is about position.  Let’s look at the ways those who entered the Kingdom of Christ received something greater.

First, we have a greater knowledge of Christ than John.  John understood better than all up to him who the Messiah was.  But he didn’t know everything.  That is why we see him doubting in prison.  Jesus encouraged John, but He shared His teachings and prophecies with His disciples.  John did not have this.  The Holy Spirit even led the Apostles into further truth than Christ taught them because they weren’t ready for it yet.  See John 16:12.

Second, we have a greater position before God.  John participates in the transition, but never gets to participate in the life and joy of the Church.  Like I said earlier, he is like Moses in this way.  Longing to enter in and yet having to be content with the position and calling God has given you.  John the Baptist still lived under the Tutor of the Law of Moses.  However, we have become the adult sons and daughters of God, no longer under the teacher.  We are able to work alongside the Father in the freedom of love rather than under the restriction of Law.

Lastly, our privileges are greater than John’s.  John did have the Spirit in His life, but he never got to see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all God’s people.  He didn’t get to see that in operation within the Church community.  We have been given spiritual gifts that John did not get to see.  Even the fellowship of believers within a community was foreign to all that John experienced (an outcast living in the desert).  I could go on but I think you can see the point I am making.

Let me close this by saying that God isn’t done yet.  You have been given something in Christ that the prophets of the Old Testament would have longed to have seen and experienced.  You are blessed beyond belief.  What a privilege we have been given by God.  Am I thankful?  Do I treat my Christianity lightly?  Or, do I despise it and think it is worthless?  I am amazed when I see videos of people witnessing on the streets of our cities and they run into people who say they are Christians, but they don’t live any different from the world.  They are enamored with the world over the top of Jesus and His kingdom.  The apostle John warned us not to love the world or the things of the world because they are all passing away.  Do you know that the kingdom of God is on the verge of an even greater stage?  In fact it could be said that in the millennial kingdom the least will be greater than the greatest of the Church today.  God is not done yet.  He will complete all that He said he would.  Why throw all that away for some trinkets that are going to be destroyed tomorrow?  Are you living far below your position and privileges in Christ?  Maybe we need to hear John’s words one more time.  Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Jesus Teaches about John Audio

Tuesday
Sep242013

The True Jesus: Our Preparation

During this Autumn we will be looking at the character and work of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is easy to let the stories become just that, stories with a sort of unreal sense to them.  However, we want to not just have a general sense of who Jesus is, but rather truly let God’s Word challenge us through the words and actions of this man we call the Christ, the Anointed One of God who would come to save mankind.  It may look to you today that he failed.  But that is how you feel about the statement.  We must let God’s Word challenge those suppositions and feelings that we have built up over time and see that God is calling us to Him in Trust, Faith, and Love.

The Apostle Paul spoke to this problem in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 when he wrote, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you” have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!”  With all the conspiracy theories swirling around these days regarding this man Jesus, it is imperative that we return to the simplicity of what the Gospel tells us about Jesus and ourselves.  There are many who have a vested interest in co-opting the message of Christ for their own ends and have invested much time in effort in doing just that.  Some of them are “Christian” people, some of them are merely religious, and some of them are secular.  But all of them twist the person of Jesus and His message to their own purposes.

Mainly I will be using the Gospel of Luke as our path this Fall and we will skip over the birth narratives for now and revisit them later in December.  So let’ begin in Luke 3:3-4.

The Need For Repentance

The book of Malachi ends with a reference to the prophet Elijah coming before the messiah to turn the hearts of people back to each other.  So we are going to start with the ministry of John the Baptist.  Jesus himself said that John ministered in the power and the spirit of Elijah.  In verses 3-4 of Luke 3, John is pictured as a man out in the desert crying out for people to repent.  Now in the natural there were large crowds listening to John and many people responding, but the spiritual truth of the matter is that he was in a desert place and precious few had enough spiritual life within them to even hear him.  They were as dead as the desert sand in many cases.   Why would a ministry, which was telling people the Messiah was coming, fall on deaf ears?  It wasn’t just because they no longer believed the prophecy.  It was because John defined preparation as repentance.

Now the word “remission” in verse 3 is not just our sins going into a silent period only to break out later.  But, rather it points to the removing of our sins from us.  Apparently this was something that could not be done without us first repenting.  You see, our sins are so intricately linked with our fleshly desires that even when we like the message of the coming messiah, we are not really ready for Him.  First we need the desire to be set free from our sins and then we can receive the messiah into our lives.

There is a sort of inner coalition that happens between our hearts and our minds.  The heart desires certain sinful things and then the mind employs its powers to justify, and acquire those pleasures.  This stronghold of sin within our mind is challenged by the Word of the prophet.  John warned the people that Messiah was coming.  He was coming to clean house and rescue his faithful.  Most were not being faithful.  Thus our need for repentance is the need to change how the messiah sees us when he comes.  Is it possible for a change of mind and a change of heart to happen?  Typically when people see the hold that sin has on them and the destructive paths it has led them down, they are open for change.  John comes after a long silent period from God’s prophets.  People were at the end of themselves and looking for hope.  John comes to them saying, “Repent!  The Messiah is coming!”  This starts in the mind.  The mind is able to see the captivity of the heart and see the need to turn to something better.  The heart will not like it, but it is possible to turn from a path of destruction and walk a different way, even as our heart begs to go back.  However, there is a side of this that we must note.  Without the help of God’s Spirit we would neither hear the Message of Repentance nor see the Truth to its warning.  Thus we can repent but only with the Spirit’s help.

Lastly, John challenged those following him on what real repentance was.  In Luke 3:7-14, he lists out the ways in which we demonstrate true repentance.  He uses the picture of a fruit tree and says that if we are truly repentant inside (i.e. we are a Repentance Tree) then we will grow repentance fruit, which are actions that show repentance.  The first example of repentance “fruit” is for everyone in general: If you have extra share it with those who have none.  For tax collectors, collect only what you have been appointed to collect.  For soldiers, do not abuse your power and be content with your wages.  Is John preaching salvation by works?  No.  He is talking about the preparation of our heart to receive Jesus, i.e. repentance.  If repentance is real within us then it will be demonstrated in our actions.  If we really believe that Jesus is coming then our lives will begin to reflect that belief.  If we really see that our sins are separating us from God then we will truly begin to hate the hold they have on us and begin turning from them.  Yet, without Jesus actually coming into our lives and freeing us from our sins, even repentance would end in futility.  Even when we are saved by Jesus we will still need repentance as 1 John 1:9 reminds us.  If we are faithful to confess our sins then Jesus will be faithful to cleanse us from all our sins, internally and externally.

The Need For The Holy Spirit

In verse 16 John tells them that his water baptism is lesser than the baptism Jesus will bring: a baptism of the Holy Spirit.  John’s ministry had impressed the people and they felt that he must be the messiah.  This verse speaks to the greater work of Christ.  He not only helps us repent and clean our lives, but he also places the Spirit of God within us in order to empower us in it.  Thus our preparation is in order to receive the Spirit of God from Jesus.  John’s water baptism was a symbol of the cleansing of repentance.  But it also was a symbol of what Jesus was coming to do.  He would immerse them in the Spirit of God.  This was something that even John the Baptist himself would have needed.  He definitely was moved upon by the Spirit, but immersion within the Spirit was an unthinkable thought, till now.

Now God’s Word tells us that those who believe on Jesus are given the right to be called the Sons of God and that the Spirit of God takes up residence within them so that they might cry out to God as His children.  Like the temple in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit would move into them and make a totally different atmosphere in the place.  Yet, as we open ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the Bible speaks of a further need of being filled with the Spirit.  This is a continual process of us surrendering and the Spirit filling.  We are to keep being filled with the Spirit.  Don’t be content to just believe Jesus can deal with your sins.  Move on to surrendering to the Holy Spirit’s direction through the Word and counsel, that He might fill your life with power to be a witness of His loving salvation.

 John had said that the Messiah would baptize in the Holy Spirit and Fire.  Now some refer to this as a feeling of fire within our heart when we are baptized.  However, the context rather points to a choice we have.  God Himself is a consuming fire.  If we are not repentant that fire is a fire of judgment.  If we are repentant then it is a fire of cleansing.  So this is more a warning of judgment than anything else.

The Need For Perseverance

Lastly, I would point us to Luke 3:20.  Here we see that John’s message of repentance was not received well by those who had great earthly power.  Jesus promised his disciples in John 16:33 that they would experience tribulation in this world.  He clearly expected this to continue throughout the Church Age.  Because we live in the West, it is easy for us to believe that persecution is rare or that it is a sign that we don’t have enough faith.  John the Baptist clearly didn’t expect to die in prison.  The Messiah was coming!  Yet, we see him later in prison asking his disciples to double check with Jesus and see if he truly was the Messiah (i.e. was I wrong?). 

No one likes to be told their actions are sinful.  Thus if we are going to be faithful to Jesus and warn the world to repent because the Messiah is coming, then we had better expect some flak coming back at us.  Herod the Tetrarch had basically seduced his half-brother’s wife, and divorced his own wife so that he could marry her.  He eventually has John beheaded for daring to call him to repentance.  How tragic for Herod and how hard for John this was.  Yet John was soon comforted and Herod continued down to destruction.  We also need perseverance if we are the one who needs to repent.  Our heart and mind will revolt against such treasonous ideas.  If we are not truly in need of help then the “Good News” of Jesus ceases to be good news.  Somewhere somehow, no matter where you live, if you tell people that they actually NEED Jesus because of a sin problem you will face negative responses.

Perseverance or patience is actually the choice to remain under the heavy load that we want to drop.  Perseverance doesn’t demand anything of God.  It only says, “I won’t quit, even if it crushes me.”  Perhaps John felt like he was being crushed.  But He went on to His reward.  If we demand anything of God before obedience then we will eventually throw in the towel and quit.  And in our minds will be the words, He asks too much, He abandoned me, He doesn’t care.  Which, of course, we know these things are not true.

The True Jesus audio