JOHN THE BAPTIST, FORERUNNER OF CHRIST
[Luke:1:1-25], [Luke:1:57-80]; [Matthew:3:1-12]; [Matthew:11:2-14]; [Matthew:14:1-12].
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Matthew 3 :3).
I The Birth of John the Baptist
1. The parents, Zacharias and Elisabeth, a godly couple, [Luke:1:5-6].
2. John's birth foretold by Gabriel as Zacharias officiates in the Temple, [Luke:1:7-22].
3. John’s birth, Zacharias' prophecy, and John's days in the desert, [Luke:1:57-80].
II John's Preaching in the Wilderness
1. His theme: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," [Matthew:3:1-2].
2. Isaiah's prophecy fulfilled in John's mission; his mode of living, [Matthew:3:3-4]; [Isaiah:40:3]; [Luke:1:17]; [2 Kings:1:8].
3. Sinners converted, the proud rebuked, and Jesus' ministry proclaimed, [Matthew:3:5-12].
III The Tribute Jesus Pays to John
1. John's query from prison, and Jesus' answer, [Matthew:11:2-6]; [Matthew:7:20]; [John:5:36]; [John:10:25]; [John:14:11].
2. Jesus' tribute to John as His forerunner to prepare the way before Him, [Matthew:11:7-10]; [Malachi:3:1]; [MAL;4:5-6]; [Luke:1:76-77].
3. John, a representative of the prophets who prophesied of Jesus, [Matthew:11:11-14]; [Matthew:17:12]; [Deuteronomy:18:15]; [John:3:28-29].
IV John Beheaded by Herod the Tetrarch
1. John imprisoned by Herod for condemning his unlawful marriage, [Matthew:14:3-5]; [Exodus:20:14]; [Leviticus:20:10-21].
2. John beheaded on Herod's birthday to please Herodias, [Matthew:14:6-12].
3. Herod's fear that Jesus was John risen from the dead, [Matthew:14:1-2].
"Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist." John's ministry was very short, however. A public ministry was not begun, under the Law, until the age of 30; and as John was six months older than Jesus, he was preaching for only six months before Jesus began His ministry. John said of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease"; and before Jesus' first tour of Galilee John was imprisoned which resulted later in his being beheaded by Herod.
His birth (not according to the ordinary laws of nature, but, through the interposition of Almighty power), character, and office, was foretold by the angel Gabriel. Previous to this there had been no prophecy or angelic ministry given to this people for about 400 years. But now, Jesus, the Son of Righteousness, is about to come, and they must be prepared for that kingdom of God which was at hand. And as Christ was to be born of a virgin, so incidents connected with His coming must also be miraculous.
John's father, Zacharias, was a priest. His mother, Elisabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron. Their home was in Hebron, in the hill country, where most of the priests lived ([Luke:1:39]; [Joshua:21:11]). They were a righteous couple, upright and holy in their coht and holy in their conduct, and conscientious in their religious duties.
Zacharias was astounded and hardly believed the announcement made by the angel. But all things are possible with God, and nothing can hinder when His purpose is declared. God should be believed on His Word alone. Zacharias suffered nine months of silence for one questioning speech; and many others, by using the language of unbelief, have lost the language of praise and thanksgiving for months, if not years!
John was born "in the days of Herod the king." For the first time in Israel's history, Judah's throne was filled by a Gentile. The present king was appointed by the Roman government. Judah had lost the sceptre ([Genesis:49:10]), and they should have looked for the King from Bethlehem, Who was to rule and feed the people of Israel (Micah:5:1-4]).
John was to come in the "spirit and power" of Elijah. He was to resemble that prophet in his manner of life, it is true; but more than that, he was to come in the same power, authority, and zeal for the truth as Elijah, even reproving princes for their crimes. He wore a coarse or rough covering which, it seems, was common to prophets ([Zechariah:13:4]; [2 Kings:1:8]). His food was locusts and wild honey. Locusts were of the grasshopper species, considered clean under the Mosaic Law, and commonly used for food ([Leviticus:11:22]).
John came as a forerunner of Christ, preparing the way before Him; and as a herald, proclaiming a matter of great importance to men. A herald is one who carries a message in the streets and fields so that he may be heard by many. Kings of those days, when on journeys, sent a group ahead of them, as heralds, and as forerunners to clear the way. This was a very necessary precaution when there were no public roads.
The Holy Spirit taught John, revealing the doctrine of salvation to him while he was in the wilderness alone with God, and the people who heard him later were suddenly aware that they were exposed to the judgments of the Lord, and sought an escape. No one but God gave John his commission.
He first appealed to the great masses of people, teaching them their duty one to another. He told them not to expect mercy from the hand of God if they acted towards others in a contrary manner. He instructed the tax gatherers as to their duty. That office was detested by the Jews. But John does not condemn it; he speaks only against the abuse of it. Often the tax gatherer exacted more from the people than the government authorized, pocketing the surplus.
He then instructed the soldiers. They were not to extort money by force, or to accuse anyone falsely in order to create a good impression before their superiors.
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptised also. The Pharisees posed as a religious people, more holy and pious than others. They were very numerous among the Jews. In the beginning they were probably a pure and holy people, acquiring their name from the fact that they separated themselves from the polluted national worship. The name means "separatists," but they had degenerated, lost God's Spirit, and had only a form of godliness left, as we read in Matthew:15:9, "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." They observed the rules -- but the Spirit was gone.
The Sadducees denied the existence of angels and the resurrection of the dead. They were like Modernists of today.
These last two groups came in a self righteous attitude, and not as the sinners they were. John told them to come in true repentance; and he reproved them for their sins, warning them of the nearness of God's judgment.
So great was the effect produced by his preaching that some people thought he was the Messiah. A few verses contain all that is recorded of his preaching, and they are entirely on repentance and the subsequent change of heart and life. He was uncompromising in spirit, and did not hesitate to renounce evil. Herod knew that John was a holy and righteous man, and at first heard him gladly ([Mark:6:20]). But Herod married his brother's wife, while the brother was living, thereby committing one of the worst forms of adultery; and because of John's condemnation of the act, Herod put him in prison and eventually beheaded him.
During John's imprisonment he apparently felt some uncertain about Christ's Kingdom. Perhaps he had perplexing thoughts that harassed his mind. This great man was human and subject to temptation, doubts, and depressions the same as we are. He, too, knew how to get relief from them. He did not ask another man for an opinion but sent direct to Christ, asking the one question that would settle all his doubts: "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?"
John, and Christ's disciples also, envisioned Christ's Kingdom as an earthly one instead of a spiritual kingdom in men's hearts. Jesus showed John's disciples what He was doing. He tested His own ministry in the same way that we are to test another's spiritual condition, viz., by His fruit and not only by the profession that is made. The works that He was doing were proof that He was the Son of God. No other man was able to do them, or to speak the words that Jesus spoke. He was the true Messiah.
John's ministry closed the period of the law; and Jesus said, when speaking of him, that no greater man had ever lived, but that the least in the kingdom of Heaven (the time when the fullness of the Gospel is proclaimed) was greater than John. This does not mean that we are more holy than John, nor more devoted to God than he was. It means that we live in a period when the light is being manifested in a greater way, and when we can receive greater blessings from God. Many who lived in Old Testament times, and prophesied of these days, desired to live now and see what we see, but could not.
John was greater than the other prophets, because he was the privileged one who could announce Jesus' coming. We can say that Jesus not only has come, but died for our sins, has risen again, and has ascended to finish redemption's plan; so our position is even greater than John's. But John's greatness was due not only to the time in which he lived; God’s Spirit dwelt in him, and he continually endured hardness for the cause of Christ. He had an ardent zeal to make Christ known, and outstanding fidelity and courage in rebuking sin, which proved to be instrumental in promoting a reformation among the Jews.
Jesus said that, "the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence." He meant that those who receive God's blessings will do so because they are determined to have them at any cost. They seek constantly, going deeper in consecration, preparing their hearts for the desired experience, until it is theirs.
We see in our lesson text that repentance, with sincere and heartfelt sorrow for sin, is the only way a sinner can come to God and receive pardon. A hypocrite can obtain nothing from God until he comes as a sinner, asking for mercy. God's stand against the sin of adultery is clearly shown here. Some people lay aside the Word of God on this important teaching, but it still stands. It is wrong to marry if one has another companion still living; and no matter how the state laws read, it is still wrong. The king was guilty, but John would not compromise. He held to the Word of God and was soon in Heaven with God Himself.
We are living in marvellous days, in which the fullness of the Gospel is manifested; an age when the Holy Spirit is being given to prepare the Bride of Christ. We can be in that number and have a place no Old Testament saint will have, if we, like they, serve God in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; and, in addition, we shall receive what they could not receive: the anointing which was first given to the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost the wonderful baptism of the Holy Ghost.
1. What position did John the Baptist's father hold in Jerusalem?
2. Where did John's parents live?
3. Who announced John's birth?
4. On what other occasions did this messenger bring tidings to other people?
5. Where did John get his commission to preach the Gospel?
6. Where do God's ministers of today get their authority to preach the Gospel?
7. What was the theme of John's preaching?
8. Did John believe that it was right to compromise the truth in order to save one's own life?
9. Who imprisoned John, and why?
10. What did Jesus say that tells us of the greatness of this man of God?