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The Ministry of John the Baptist

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 14, 2021 12:01 am

The Ministry of John the Baptist

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 14, 2021 12:01 am

After the completion of the Old Testament, the voice of prophecy was silent for 400 years. Then one day, a man emerged from the wilderness with a divine call to repentance. Today, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of Luke to describe the ministry of John the Baptist.

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The Old Testament ends with the book of Malachi.

The New Testament, of course, begins with Matthew, but in between there is a long period of silence. Now all of a sudden after 400 years of silence and the voice of prophecy, out of the wilderness comes this man who acts and looks every bit like the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament, and he says to the Jewish people, come to the river and be baptized for the mission of sins. But that baptism up to that point was required only of Gentiles. It was a washing baptism, a cleansing baptism, something that had never been necessary for the Jews. And through that call, John the Baptist was proclaiming that everything had changed, that their salvation was at hand.

Thank you for joining us for this Lord's Day edition of Renewing Your Mind as we continue Dr. R.C. Sproul's verse-by-verse sermon series from the Gospel of Luke. Last Sunday we looked at the experience of Jesus at age 12 when His parents brought Him to the temple, in which appearance He astounded the doctors of the law with His knowledge. And then the Bible is silent for the next approximately 18 years of Jesus' life. And so Luke now moves to the appearance sometime later than Jesus' visit to the temple of John the Baptist, and he's very careful, indeed meticulous, to give us the historical framework in which John the Baptist appeared.

Notice what he says. It was the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. Augustus Caesar was no longer emperor of Rome as he was at the time of the birth of Jesus. Now the emperor was Tiberius. He goes on to say it was at the time when Pontius Pilate was the governor over the provinces of Judea. Pilate was the fifth governor named by the Roman emperors to rule over conquered Palestine. And then we are told that Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee.

This is not Herod the Great, but when Herod the Great was in his latter years, he put together a will and testament that would divide his kingdom to be split among his sons. And the Herod that is mentioned here is Herod Antipas, who actually replaced his brother Archelaus. Archelaus was first appointed tetrarch over Judea and Samaria, but he was deposed by the Roman emperor for cruelty.

How's that for irony? The Roman empire had a patent on governmental cruelty, so you can imagine how severe the cruelty of Archelaus would have been to have been thrown out of office by the Romans at that time. He goes on to mention the others, Philip, who restored an ancient city and named it in honor of the Caesar and of himself, Caesarea Philippi. And that leader, Philip, was one of the most noble of the rulers of the Jews at this time, and the others that are mentioned in addition to reference to Annas and Caiaphas as being the high priests. Well, you know that Israel only had one high priest at any given time, and Annas had been the high priest, but he was removed from office by the Romans. The Romans, but the Jews, who then had Caiaphas replace him, still gave tribute and honor to Annas and counted him as still being of the level of high priest.

So, at this time, you have two high priests, Annas and Caiaphas. Well, all of this information is given by Luke to give us the timeframe in which the ministry of John the Baptist began. Now, what is significant about this, I think, is that the text is showing that the ministry of John and the ministry of Jesus were both solidly rooted and grounded in real history. Now, from antiquity, the people of God have always faced the dilemma of the intrusion of syncretism into their worship. Probably the most destructive thing that ever happened to the Jews in the Old Testament is when the kings, for example, and the people wanted to blend their religion with the pagan culture around them. And that's what syncretism does.

It borrows a little bit from the Temple of Baal, a little bit from the Asheroth, and then mix that together with the Jewish religion. Well, anytime syncretism takes place, something corrupt is added to the religion of God, and at the same time, something vitally important is removed from the truth of God. And the church has had to deal with that from the first century until today. It seems like every time there is a popular philosophical movement that comes along, some theologian will get it in his mind to try to create a synthesis between a popular philosophical movement and historical Christianity.

The twentieth century, for example, saw two very important type syntheses come into being which did immeasurable damage to Christianity and to the church. One that you might be familiar with is called liberation theology, which was a conscious attempt to blend or synthesize biblical Christianity with the philosophy of Karl Marx. Christianity was then seen as really having its purpose and focal point, focal point, not the personal salvation of the soul for eternal life, but rather the establishment of a kind of what they call social justice, which is really social injustice. But in any case, they were concerned about translating the meaning of the gospel to the here and now, to social and political issues.

Most important was the concept of freedom, and Marx's motto, arbeit macht frei, was very important to this movement, and the way freedom comes to pass is through revolution. And the whole meaning of the gospel of the New Testament is about political revolution and freedom. One New Testament scholar wrote a book in which he claimed that whether Jesus lived is unimportant because the meaning of Jesus is freedom. And wherever there is a struggle for freedom, that's where God is, and that's what Jesus means.

Well, even more widespread than liberation theology was the influence of Rudolf Bultmann, who became the most influential New Testament scholar of the entire 20th century. And what Bultmann tried to do, as others before him had attempted as well, was to create a synthesis between New Testament Christianity and existential philosophy. Now you all know what existentialism is. You have to because so many people ask me about it all the time, what is existentialism?

I say it's very easy. It's the philosophy of existence. Now having answered that question, we can move on. What Bultmann was saying was this. You can't live in the 20th century in this post-scientific era, in this time of enlightenment, and make use of electricity and television and computers and modern medicine, and still believe in a world inhabited by demons, where there are religious people who die and are raised again from the dead, born of virgins, and that sort of thing. Rather, the New Testament content in that regard is mythological. Now there's a grain or an element or what Bultmann called a kernel of truth to be found in the pages of the New Testament, buried all underneath and among this mythology. But it's the task of the theologian to tear off the husk of all this mythology so that we can get to the kernel of truth that really matters. And that kernel of truth is this, that redemption is something that takes place vertically rather than horizontally. That is to say, for Bultmann, salvation takes place in the way in which he said, Sengrecht von Oben, immediately and directly from above.

In an existential instant, in the here and in the now, the hick and nunc, he said, with an existential experience of the sense of God. That's what Christianity is all about. And so what happened with Bultmann's theology was he rudely tore and ripped Christianity out of any foundation in real history. I can remember when I was in graduate school in the Netherlands, my professor, Professor Berkhauer, made the observation about Bultmann. He said, and I quote, theology can sink no lower. Well, I think that he was looking at it through rose-colored glasses and was a bit Pollyannish because that was before the death of God theology that came along and radical feminist theology that came along and started hosting conferences celebrating the goddess Sophia in reimagining God.

That's lower than Bultmann ever descended in his life. But in any case, the issue was the relationship of Christianity to history. When we were in seminary, a word that we, if we made sure we put it in every essay exam to make sure we'd get some credit from the professor was the catch word Halsgeschichte. Halsgeschichte made reference to salvation history, that the Bible's not real history. It's redemptive history, or it's salvation history. And so whether or not the Bible's accurate in the things that it reports is irrelevant.

It's the message that matters of how to have authentic human existence. Now, the critics of this came along defending orthodoxy, saying, yes, it's true that the Bible is not ordinary, regular history book. It is redemptive history. But while it's redemptive history, it's also redemptive history. It's real history. The Apostle Paul understood these tendencies, even when he wrote to the Corinthians, or those who were denying the reality, the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus, when he said, you know, that if Christ is not raised, that is, if this is not historical reality, we are of all people the most to be pitied because the Christian faith is tied, it's tethered to history.

I don't know how you feel, but I want to know, is it true? And when I ask the question, the truth claims of Christianity trustworthy, I'm asking the question, did Jesus really die on the cross as an atoning death? Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

Did He really ascend into heaven? You take those elements out of Christianity. You've taken away Christianity altogether and replaced it with something else.

Why don't people just have the honesty to say we've turned our churches into monuments of unbelief, and we just don't believe that stuff anymore, rather than trying to reconstruct it or recast it in a way that will appeal to people today? This happens with attempts to synthesize biblical Christianity with the prevailing notions of relativism and pluralism. You'll hear self-proclaimed evangelical preachers stand up now and say, Jesus isn't the only way.

He's one way among many. That is bowing before the idol of secular pluralism and is a complete betrayal of the teaching of Jesus. But here comes Luke on the stage, Luke who's been heralded as the greatest historian of antiquity, Luke who's telling us of things that happen, where they happen, when they happen, and why they happen, as he now gives us the setting for the appearance of John the Baptist, where he says, during the reign of these different people, the Word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness, in that desolate wilderness between the hill country of Judea and the Dead Sea, that piece of real estate there, where nothing grows except a few scrub bushes here and there, where the land is not covered with sand, not that kind of desert, but the land is covered by pebbles and stones and rocks under which live scorpions and snakes. There's John the Baptist living in that environment, living on locusts and wild honey. I don't know what other problems John the Baptist may have had while he was in that period, but I know obesity couldn't have been one of them.

But imagine a diet of that, locust for breakfast followed by a little dessert of honey and then locust for lunch, and then you roast some more locust on a stick over a fire and try to make some mores out of it by dipping a little of honey over it so that you can endure it for another day. But that's what he lived on, such austerity, because he was committed to the service of God. And in the midst of that came the Word of the Lord. And what the Word was saying to John is, John, now it's time to leave the wilderness. It's time to go to the River Jordan, and I'm sending you on a mission as it was prophesied in the Old Testament to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. I want you to go to My people, and I want you to implement a new law among them, one they've never experienced up to this point.

The new requirement is this. They must be baptized for the remission of their sins. We really don't understand how radical that concept was to the Jews, because prior to this time, the only kind of baptism that was any significance among the Jews was called proselyte baptism. And it was a cleansing ritual that the Jews imposed upon Gentiles who wanted to convert to Judaism. And the reason why proselyte baptism was inaugurated was because, from the Jewish perspective, Gentiles were unclean, too dirty to be involved in the sacred rites of Judaism. And so, if they wanted to convert to Judaism, they had to profess faith in the content of Judaism, they had to be circumcised, but in addition to that, they had to take a bath as a symbol of their cleansing. But that requirement was only for Gentiles. Now, all of a sudden, after 400 years of silence and the voice of prophecy, out of the wilderness comes this man who acts and looks every bit like the prophet Elijah in the Old Testament, and he says to the Jewish people, come to the river and be baptized for the remission of sins.

Just a minute. This is not New Testament baptism. This is not the baptism that is the covenant sign that Jesus instituted. This is preparatory baptism.

There are many points of contact between the baptisms of John and the baptisms of Jesus, but they're not identical. This is given to the Jews because what John was saying, or what God was saying through John, is look, everything has changed. The kingdom of God is at hand. The Messiah is a route to appear. Your salvation has come close, and you're not ready. So before He comes, you must repent and take a bath, indicating the remission of your sins, having your sins sent away, just as was signified in part of the celebration of the Passover in the Old Testament after the animal was sacrificed and put on the mercy seat with his blood.

That was part of it. The other part is when the high priest put his hands on the back of the scapegoat, symbolizing the transfer of the sin of the people to the back of the goat, then the goat was sent where? Into the wilderness, into the outer darkness, so that the sins were carried away. And John is talking about now a remission that doesn't have to be repeated every year in the celebration of the Passover, but the taking away of your sins forever as far as the east is from the west. So the one who comes, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, will take your sin away.

But before He comes, you need to get clean. And then in explaining this, he cites the words of the prophet Isaiah, found in the 40th chapter of Isaiah's book, saying, the voice of one crying in the wilderness. This is John the Baptist. But initially the reference was to the return of the Jews from captivity under Cyrus. And in the ancient world, whenever a visiting king or monarch or dignitary came to the country, it was the custom to prepare the way, adorn the streets, roll out the red carpet, and announce the imminent arrival of the distinguished monarch with the blowing of the trumpets or the shofar or whatever, saying, here He comes. Get the streets ready. Prepare the way. That was the primary fulfillment that took place at the return from Acts. But the ultimate fulfillment is to take place here, where John the Baptist is to be that voice in the wilderness, in which he says, prepare the way. Prepare the way of the Lord. It's interesting to me that in New Testament times, Christians were not called Christians until Antioch.

But before they were called Christians, which was a kind of an insulting term, they were first called the people of the way, the narrow way, Christ's way, the one who is the way and the truth and the life. And so, John says, prepare this way not of the king, but prepare the way of God. Make His path straight. If the paths have been overgrown and they're winding around obstacles, clear away the obstacles.

Get rid of the bends and the curves, and make this way straight. And as we heard in the Messiah from Handel, every valley shall be filled, shall be exalted. Every mountain and hill brought low. The crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

This is not a description of actual topographical changes that were supposed to take place on the roads of Palestine. This is the prophetic Word delivered in poetic imagery that's talking about what has to happen to people as God is coming to them. The proud, the arrogant who have exalted themselves and appear as high mountains have to be brought low. And those who have been abased, those who have been oppressed, have to be lifted up. And all the thorns and the rocks and the stones and obstacles that fill our sinful hearts, our hearts of stone, have to be changed.

The crooked places made straight, the rough places made smooth, because He's here, and you're not ready. And then all flesh will see the manifestation of the salvation of God. This is the message to prepare for the presence of Jesus. What a beautiful message. The Messiah has come, but we must be ready. We must prepare our hearts to receive Him.

Dr. R.C. Sproul has been our teacher today here on Renewing Your Mind as we continue his sermon series from the Gospel of Luke. I hope you found today's message helpful and encouraging. You'll also find that same kind of help and clarity in Dr. Sproul's commentary on Luke's Gospel.

Contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we'll be happy to provide you a digital download of this nearly 600-page commentary. Our offices are closed on this Lord's Day, but you can give your gift and make your request when you go to And I think it's important to mention that our purpose here at Ligonier is to come alongside the church and help build God's people and their knowledge of God and His holiness. It's never our intention to replace the local church. So while we're thankful that you can enjoy Dr. Sproul's teaching on this Lord's Day, we hope you'll also be joining your local church for fellowship. Next week, we'll once again focus on John the Baptist as he preaches in the wilderness. Join us next Sunday here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-23 03:42:00 / 2023-07-23 03:50:26 / 8

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