There is much to learn from John the Baptist, in many ways the archetypal preacher and witness to Jesus Christ. Note how Luke not only places John in a clear historical context (3:1-2), but also prioritizes the work of the Word. Among all these great things, it is almost as if he is saying, there is one yet so much greater that it becomes the unconscious climax of his prose: “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (3:2). This is the great priority not only of John’s life, but of God’s work in the world. Give yourself to the Bible, to follow God’s Word, to hiding his law in your heart that you might not sin against him, to prioritizing what he prioritizes: God’s Word.
John’s ministry is also in fulfillment of the great Old Testament prophet, Isaiah (3:2-6). The Bible, then, hangs together and is a whole. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament, and he is of one mind, and one intention, and has one plan, which is all centered upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
John’s ministry of “preparing the way of the Lord” is to be our ministry in all of our lives too: we are here to point people to Jesus, to make sure he takes center stage, and to let him be the one that the headlamps of our gifts shine upon and honor in every way.
Note the boldness of John in verses 7 to 9! Some people are bold but also rude; there is nothing to be gained by needlessly offending those we are trying to win. Others, though, are so concerned with what other people think that they never say anything to offend them. We are to be those who speak the truth in love—not angry truth, and not mealy-mouthed love—but truth in love.
John’s answer to what they should do in verses 10 to 14 seems initially surprising: it is so prosaic, so practical, so unpious. And yet, as great preachers and evangelists and disciple makers must all be, John was practical. The gospel is not theoretical; it is not merely an idea; it is life and power and impacts our daily lives.
Again, John points to Jesus (3:16). He makes the great confession that we must all make: we are not he; we are not the Christ. He is mightier than we are—an understatement so massive that John immediately follows that statement up with an illustration to underline the gap between him and his master (3:16). Christ is greater than John because he will not merely baptize with water but with the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus will enable those who follow him and who repent and trust him not merely to get wet through water but to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, to be regenerated and born again. Jesus will not only, like John, threaten the hypocrites and warn them, but also have the fire to judge and condemn and even cast into hell such hypocrites (Mal. 3:18 – 4:2).
So thus did John preach good news to the people, preach the gospel—speaking the truth in love, without fear of favor or rebuke, and with a monofocal on honoring the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a passionate faithfulness is likely to raise up enemies, and so it was with John (3:20). Faithfulness can lead to jealousy, losing faithless friends, being vilified, hated, even persecuted. Be faithful anyway.
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