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December 6, 2021 12:01 am
The voice of prophecy had been silent in Israel for 400 years. Then suddenly, a man emerged from the wilderness proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2). Today, R.C. Sproul introduces us to John the Baptist.
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The last prophecy of the Old Testament contains this material but before the day of the Lord. Elijah will come and then after that prophecy, the voice of prophecy, ceases in Israel is not a peep out of God for 400 years, until suddenly from this comes a man dressed in the traditional robes of the prophet and becomes proclaiming that the kingdom of God is at hand.
That appearance of John the Baptist to sell the New Testament begins this week on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. RC Sproul introduces us to the important themes and events we find in the Gospels today. Our study focuses on the one who paved the way for the Messiah. Sometimes I like to torment my seminary students by asking them a question that tends to drive them to distraction. I asked the question in your opinion, who would you say is the greatest profit in the Old Testament metal usually start a debate. Some will say Elijah. Some will say Jeremiah. Some will say Isaiah and people will mention their favorite when I say well I think that the most important profit in the Old Testament is John the Baptist men. They look at me with consternation save will automatically John the Baptist is in the New Testament say yes John the Baptist is mentioned and recorded in the pages of the book called the New Testament. But in terms of redemptive history. He belongs to the. Of the Old Testament that is to that.
In redemptive history when all of the procedures of the old covenant are still in place. Jesus says that the law and the prophets ruled on till John and the little word there until names up to and including John and Jesus also said of John the Baptist, of all of those who are born of woman. There is none greater than John the Baptist, yet he said he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. That's an extremely enigmatic statement is Jesus saying, for example, that I'm greater than John the Baptist. I certainly qualify for being least in the kingdom.
So if I'm least in the kingdom that must make me greater then John the Baptists. Jesus is obviously saying here is that John still belongs to that. Of preparation for the breakthrough of the kingdom of God. But anybody who lives on this side of the coming kingdom of Christ enjoys a greater state of blessedness and felicity than any of the figures in the Old Testament.
Not to say that all the figures that we meet in the pages of the New Testament.
Perhaps the most underrated and underestimated. Figure is John the Baptist and I really don't understand why it is that Christians today seem to give such little attention to this man, particularly in light of the degree of attention that is afforded him in the pages of the New Testament is interesting to me that in the four Gospels, only two of the four Gospels tell us about the birth of Jesus. All four Gospels begin with some communication about John the Baptist.
Traditionally, scholars have argued that the first gospel written with the gospel of Mark and Mark. Oddly enough, does not give us any information about the birth of Jesus, but Mark begins his gospel with these words, the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God as it is written in the prophets, that's all.
Mark begins his gospel. He says the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ and then the next thing he says is as it is written in the prophets, behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight.
Then in the very we read John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, and then what follows is a brief description and account of John's ministry so significant to me that Mark starts his gospel by introducing John and in Luke's gospel we hear of the enunciation of the angel Gabriel to Zacharias, the father of John. No, why is it that the New Testament gives so much ink and so much importance to John the Baptist. It's also interesting to me at least, that if you look at the secular historians of the first century and hear what they say about what is going on within the context of Palestine we get more information outside of the Scriptures about John than we do about Jesus early two or three obscure references to Jesus from the secular historians of the day but John achieved national fame and celebrity and there's a reason for that. It was because his appearance was of striking importance to his contemporaries because the voice of prophecy had been silent in Israel for 400 years and if we look to the last page of the Old Testament in the writing of the prophet Malachi last page. The last chapter, the last prophecy of the Old Testament records these words. Malachi chapter 4 verse five behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord and he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children in the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse. You recall, in the first segment of dust glory. We looked at the prophets concern about the motive of the day of the Lord, that future event which would be an event both of the outpouring of God's judgment and the bringing of redemption to the faithful and profit after profit in the Old Testament spoke about this coming day of the Lord, and the last prophecy of the Old Testament is with regard to the day of the Lord, but it contains this detail.
But before the day of the Lord. Elijah will come and then after that prophecy, the voice of prophecy, ceases in Israel is not a peep out of God for 400 years for the people, until suddenly from out of the wilderness close by Jerusalem comes a man dressed in the traditional garb of the ascetic desert dwelling profit whose behavior and dress are reminiscent of Old Testament Elijah and he comes proclaiming the radical nearness of the kingdom of God's message is simple. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand and the Scriptures make reference to the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah, whose appearance will be heralded by Elijah and by the one who comes out and says to make straight the pathways for the coming of the Lord and so all of a sudden John the Baptist appears on the scene with this radical message that the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God is at hand and notice the difference between the prediction of the coming of the kingdom of God that is found in the rest of the Old Testament prophets as distinguished from the prophecy of John the Baptist. In simple terms the Old Testament prophets were saying, the kingdom of God is coming someday. John says it's at hand, and he uses two crucial images to stress the radical nearness of the breakthrough of the kingdom of God, he says, on the one hand, the ax is laid at the root of the tree again. The imagery that had been used by the Old Testament prophets to describe the day of the Lord as it would befall unfaithful Israel was a time of pruning, a time of cutting down of the dead branches and of throwing them into the fire.
Now here comes the prophets saying that the ax is laid at the root of the traits. Not that the woodsman is just chipping away at the outer shell of the tree, but he has taken the ax and penetrated to the very core of the tree in the idea here is that one more blow from the acts and the tree will come crashing down.
The other image is fantasy in his hand. We sometimes misunderstand that it knows to think of somebody at the opera, leaning back with their fan and taking it easy and fanning themselves to get cool know the fan that is in view here is the winnowing fork, which is the instrument used by the Jewish farmers for separating the wheat from the chaff the way it was done on the winnowing floor was the wheat and the chaff would all be together in one pile, but the chaff was so light so much lighter than the substance of the grading that was mixed together with it, but all it took for the farmer to make the separation between that which was good and that which was worthless and had to sit down and go through the pile and try to pick out the wheat and pickup check.
Later there were stick this big great flight fork into the pile and throw the whole pile up in the year and the slightest effort. The slightest breeze of air would carry the chaff away like the ungodly man, of which the storm speaks and the wind drives away as the chaff would float away. Then the grain would fall directly down in the farmer could then gather music. The image that John uses is his fan is in his hand.
That is the decisive moment of separation of the coming crisis is at hand. So we get this alarm that is sounded by this man who comes out of the desert calling on the people to repent of John, do something else that is totally radical for his time he comes out and calls the Jewish people to be baptized in other words, his ministry is so intimately connected with his work of baptism that he is known by the name John the baptizer or John the Baptist.
Not what makes this so significant was that in the Old Testament Jewish people in order to be in the good standing in good graces of God were required to believe the truth of the covenant and the men were required to be circumcised, that is to partake of the sign of the covenant. Now, if a Gentile convert to Judaism wanted to be received in the Jewish community the Gentile convert had to undergo three things. First he had to make a profession of faith in the true's and the doctrines of Judaism. Second of all he had to undergo the rite of circumcision.
And thirdly, he had to undergo what was called the right of proselyte baptism because being a Gentile. He was considered an alien and a foreigner to the covenant and unclean. So he had as a board to take a bath to be cleansed before he could be accepted into the Jewish community.
Now all of a sudden, for the first time in Jewish history there comes a Jewish prophet who comes to the Jewish people right outside of Jerusalem and tells the Jewish people take a bath this this was incendiary, inflammatory, the authorities from the religious institutions in Jerusalem came out to the Jordan and saw what John the Baptist was up to and they were furious and they said we have Abraham for our father were Jews. What do you mean by requiring this rite of baptism while the people of the earth. The peasants willingly submitted to this right acknowledge that they were not claim John turned to the authorities and called them snakes. And worse, and basically what he was saying is, God has enacted a new requirement for his people because your king is at the door. Your Messiah is about to come and you're not ready for your unclean and before he comes, you must take a bath you can imagine the uproar and the controversy that this provoked so we read in John's gospel that a delegation was sent out by the authorities to interrogate John about what he was up to, and we read that in the first chapter of John's Gospel. We read in verse 19, chapter 1 know this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him who are you he confessed and did not deny but confessed, I am not the Christ lasted more than are you Elijah and he said I am not. Are you the prophet, the answer no and then they said who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us.
What you say about yourself and he said I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord was significant and also puzzling about this is that the authorities come to John the Baptist and asked him straight out are you Elijah and he said I am not yet. We read these comments that are recorded for us in the gospel according to Matthew. In the 17th chapter verse 10 and the disciples asked him, saying, why did the scribes say that Elijah must come first. Jesus answered and said to them, indeed. Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.
But I say to you that Elijah has come already and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished, and likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their Jesus said Hodges already, then, and I'm about to suffer the same fate that he suffered no what Jesus said here he elsewhere makes abundantly clear when he said if you can bear it. John the Baptist was Elijah who was to come here you have John say I'm not Elijah Jesus say is Elijah, but he's saying it in a somewhat cryptic guarded way. That is to say Jesus is saying in a certain sense.
John is Elijah that is drawn fulfills the Old Testament prophecy regarding Elijah.
The way this is reconciled, I think, is found in the beginning of the gospel according to St. Luke at the time that the angel announces the impending birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias. He says in verse 13 do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John and you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink.
He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. Let me just comment on that passage because later on we read that while Mary was pregnant. She went to visit Elizabeth. Her cousin who had been pregnant a few months longer than Mary was, but she had not yet delivered her baby and when Mary met Elizabeth. We are told that the babe in the womb of Elizabeth left for joy. This essay before John the Baptist was even born. He bore witness to the coming of Christ were told here. He will be filled from the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb. He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God and he will also go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah than a direct quote from Malachi to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just to make ready a people prepared for the Lord hears how Luke resolves the problem.
This is not simply the resurrection of Elijah, but it's Elijah rib device. It is the revival of the prophetic ministry of Elijah as John the Baptist now comes in the power of Elijah and in the spirit of Elijah fulfilling Malachi's prophecy that before the coming day of the Lord. Elijah Wood return obviously is most important mission was to bear witness to Jesus and when he saw Jesus approaching the Jordan he sang the Agnew's day, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he asked Jesus to baptize Jesus of know I can for you to baptize me and John is reluctant.
He's reticent to submit to that order of the Messiah to not understand this your greater than I am, you should be baptizing me and Jesus answers John and says, suffer John Ford is necessary to fulfill all righteousness in so many words. Jesus said do it. Trust me. And so John baptizes Jesus why because it was necessary for Jesus to obey every detail of every law that was imposed upon the people of God and God had now imposed a new requirement. Though Jesus had no sin of his own to fulfill all righteousness. He submits to the baptism of John, this is just a thumbnail sketch of John the Baptist as you turn the pages of your New Testament see how frequently allusions and references are made to this man and his ministry and his significance in the history of this Dr. RC Sproul lab this week here on Renewing Your Mind.
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Thus, the glory that while we are concentrating on the New Testament this week.
The full series is a broad overview connecting the various parts of Scripture helps us understand the overall narrative of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. In 57 lessons.
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Let's listen to a portion of tomorrow's lesson. The first person to exercise any kind of skeptical questioning about the possibility the virgin birth was a virgin herself. At least she asked the question how can this be, since I know not a may no worse for Mary to hear this message sounded absolutely impossible. The birth of Jesus. Tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind