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The Preacher: John the Baptist (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
October 7, 2022 4:00 am

The Preacher: John the Baptist (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 7, 2022 4:00 am

John the Baptist was a peculiar man. He lived in the wilderness, dressed strangely, ate locusts, and had an unusual personality—yet he was extremely popular! Find out why when you join us for ‘The Pastor’s Study’ on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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What do you know about John the Baptist? By all accounts, he was a peculiar man. He lived and preached in the wilderness. He dressed strangely. He ate locusts. He wasn't exactly known for having a winning personality.

And yet he was extremely popular. Today on Truth for Life, we'll find out why. Alistair Begg is beginning a series titled The Pastor's Study. Our gracious God and Father, it is to you we look now for strength and for wisdom, for grace and for insight. We recognize that it is an awesome thing to take your Word in our hands and upon our lips. And we pray that you will introduce us afresh to your Son and to the wonder of your Word, not only in this time, but throughout our conversations together and in the hours that you will bless to us as a result of having convened in this way. We give into your care the burdens of our lives, the things that press for our attention, necessary things, understandable things. And we take you at your Word, believing that you will sustain us. For Jesus' sake, we ask it. Amen.

Amen. I invite you to turn with me to the third chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Since much of what we'll do through these days has to do with discussion and talking, not quite giving lectures, but certainly not preaching on each occasion, I certainly wouldn't want the standards of expository preaching that we will seek to discover and then hold up applied to the things that I'm trying to do, because half of the time we won't actually be endeavoring to expound the Scriptures together.

But lest we fail to do that, I thought it would be important for us both to begin and end in that way. And so what I'd like to do is to read in your hearing and then trace a line through these opening verses of Luke chapter 3. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip, Tetrarch of Ituraea and Traconitis, and Lysanias, Tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the words of Isaiah the prophet, a voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked road shall become straight, the rough ways smooth, and all mankind will see God's salvation. John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, you brood of vipers. Incidentally, not necessarily a pattern for the introduction of expository preaching.

And most of the time when we feel like beginning that way, we probably shouldn't, okay? You brood of vipers who warned you to flee from the coming wrath, produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father. For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.

The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Well, we'll leave it there. The wonderful thing about speaking to a group such as this is that you can assume so much knowledge that you know all of the background to everything. And that gives me a great out when you say, well, he didn't really do as much on the background at all.

You say, well, that was because he assumed that you knew it all. First of all, we know that this man, John the Baptist, is a remarkable individual. His birth was remarkable. The whole event was marked by drama back in chapter 1 and in 57 when the time was there for Elizabeth to have her baby. She gave birth to a son, and her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. And then all of a sudden it hits a whole new level when, in the naming of the child, we go into a quite dramatic time. And the birth of John the Baptist is marked by drama. The people are saying, what then is this child going to be? But there was about the arrival of John the Baptist so much that made this question even more striking. And by the time you get to the 66th verse of that same chapter, we read that the Lord's hand was with him.

What then is this child going to be? For the Lord's hand was with him. By the time we see him in his grown-up years, he has developed a lifestyle which is equally remarkable. The 80th verse of chapter 1 tells us that he has chosen an interesting place to live.

He's determined that he's going to live in the desert. He had a peculiar dress sense as well, certainly striking enough for Luke to identify it and point it out as being distinct from what others were doing. His clothing, we're told, was made of camel's hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. But that's not really what makes him as remarkable. What is so remarkable about him is that Jesus said of him in Matthew 11—it is recorded for us—"Among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist."

Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ himself, there was no one, said Jesus, who is of greater significance than John the Baptist, the one who is my forerunner. So his birth is remarkable. His lifestyle is remarkable.

The commendations he receives are remarkable. But the thing that I want to notice with you for the purposes of this introductory session is that he was remarkable as a preacher. The thing about John the Baptist is that he was extremely popular as a preacher. When in verse 7 there, you will notice, we're told, the crowds were coming out to be baptized by John. That is not a unique emphasis in the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew chapter 3, we read that all the people went out to meet him. Mark says the whole Judean countryside went out to meet him. And John, in chapter 3, says people were constantly coming to John the Baptist. So you don't have this idea of an individual who is preaching, and there's a sort of trickle of individuals showing up, and one or two people saying, you know, perhaps we should go and hear John the Baptist preach.

No, the whole countryside is going out, almost en masse. People are saying to their neighbors, I want you to come with me and hear this remarkable preacher. Why don't we make a date and go out into the Judean wilderness together? I want you to hear John the Baptist preach. Now, it is really remarkable when we step back and think about it for a moment or two, especially in light of the kind of things that are offered to us today as the keys to developing and building a successful and effective and numerically strong preaching ministry. First of all, he was not in a prime location. Indeed, he was in the very reverse of a prime location. He did not have a city-centered church with terrific amenities. His setting was not ideal.

He was not in a lovely suburban corner with plenty of parking, with freeway visibility, and tremendous freeway access. No, he was ministering in the Jordan wilderness. And what was the Jordan wilderness at that point? It was a deep depression through which the River Jordan flows to the Dead Sea. Some of you will have been there.

You will know that it starts at six hundred feet below sea level, and it ends up at thirteen hundred feet below sea level. Lentsky in his commentary describes the location as this hot, uninhabited depression, which is wild in every way and removed from all civilization. So here we have the most remarkable preacher in a hot, uninhabited depression, wild in every way, and removed from all civilization. Now, let's just pause and confess to God that it was wrong for us to think badly as we drove away from our context about what a dreadful place it was we were ministering in.

We haven't even come close to this. Some of you may think your circumstances are pretty poor, but I'm sure you're not in a hot, uninhabited depression, and I know that none of you are thirteen hundred feet below sea level, at least geographically. It's a reminder to us of an essential principle that we've often stated before, isn't it? There is no ideal place to serve God except the place in which he sets you down. So let's be done with all of that foolishness and all of this silly stuff about finding the ideal place in America so that the ideal person in the ideal place can do the ideal job.

There's no such place, there's no such person, there's no such job. Indeed, the message here is, what a strange man, and what a strange place, and what a strange ministry. Now, when you put that in, you have then to say to yourself, if you're thinking at all, and I presume that one or two of us are, how then do you account for the popularity of John the Baptist if he is such a strange man and he is in such a strange place? Now, we'll come to that in a moment or two, but first I want you to notice the detail that Luke has provided for us in establishing a historical context.

And that is essentially what he's doing here. I don't think it's so much that he's telling us exactly when John the Baptist was ministering as it is that he's framing the emerging ministry of the Lord Jesus. And he's making it clear with an eye for detail that his readers will understand that this Jesus lived in a geographical place and ministered at a chronological point in time, and that he has sifted carefully all of these things, as he says in his introduction, and so he wants these people to understand. He establishes for us the preparatory role of John the Baptist and gives us a timeline for the commencement of the public ministry of Jesus.

Now, I don't want to delve deeply into this. I think it's sufficient for our purposes to recognize that what Luke does for us here is he sets the context by referencing it in terms of both the secular rulers and the high priests. So he gives to us, if you like, a point on the compass that is both secular and religious.

These are the men who, if you want to read history, were there at the time, and these are the men who, if you want to go through the lineage of Levi, were ministering at that time. And by depicting both the political and religious circumstances, he is informing his readers of the kind of climate—social climate, if you like—in which the ministry of John the Baptist took place. How, then, could we summarize this? I think by means of simply two words.

And you may choose to agree or disagree, but let me suggest this at least. The context is marked by silence and by darkness. By silence and by darkness.

In the first case, a silence that was still apparent and had lingered through the intertestamental period. We need to realize that generations had come and gone since the end of Malachi's prophecy, and they were saying to one another, Where is he? And when will he come? And do you think this might be him? And children would grow up, and they would ask their parents, and their parents would send them, as we do, to the grandparents and say, Why don't you ask your grandma about that?

She knows a lot about those things. And the child would say, Grandma, when is the one going to come that we read about in the prophets the other day when you and I were doing our Bible reading before I went to bed? And actually, in a far more immediate sense, there would have been those who remembered the arrival of John the Baptist and would have been able to say, You know, a few years ago there was a whole dramatic series of events when Zechariah's son was born. I wonder whatever happened to Zechariah's son. I haven't heard much about him recently.

And then somebody said, Well, you know, strangely enough, someone said to me just the other day that they think it's Zechariah's son who's out there. He's wearing camel clothes and a big belt. He's eating locusts and honey, and he's shouting for all he's worth down in that hot depression there in the Jordan Valley. Oh, that's a strange place for him to go, is it not, if he wanted to shout out. What's he shouting out? Well, he's shouting, Prepare the way of the Lord.

Oh, he is. Well, why would he go down there and do that? So out of the silence, the Word of God, notice in verse 2, came to John. During the high priest of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of God came to John in the desert. He who described himself as the voice crying in the wilderness becomes the recipient of the Word, which in turn gave meaning and purpose to the voice. In one sense, we have all been given a voice, and we use our voice, and people expect to hear from our tongues and out of our mouths.

What is it that gives our voice significance? It is that the Word of God has come to us. It is that we are the mouthpieces of the very Word of God. John the Baptist would have been unheard of in the scheme of biblical history were it not for the fact that the Word of God came to John and that the Word of God having come to John, John then went with the Word. One of the reasons for the ineffectiveness of much preaching is because individuals are going, as it were, without ever having received the Word, without ever having had a sense of call and an accompanying sense of the provision of God's Word applied to their hearts and minds through them to others as a result of having received God's truth.

There's all the difference in the world, is there not? I'm sure we all recognize this, between saying something and having something to say. We go away, and we have the responsibility to speak in different places, and we know after a relatively short period of time that there's no difficulty in saying something. We can all say something. The question is, do we have something to say? I think it's Philip Brooks in Preaching when he says, the time to become alarmed is when you find that you can speak quite easily without having anything to say. Better we dried up and couldn't speak at all, right? Better that our tongue stuck to the roof of our mouths than that we became adept with the use of language, and we could impress people, and we could win them and woo them and move them and stir them. But when you squeezed it all down to its essence, there was nothing being said at all. You can't explain John the Baptist's impact as a preacher simply because of his clothes or because of his place. It was because of his message.

So into the silence God brings his voice, and into the darkness he brings his light. The context was a dark context. The reign of Tiberius was marked by treachery and by cruelty. What we have here is a period of moral degeneration and political chaos. Those who were looking for the coming of the Messiah were living under the domination of a pagan power. The Holy Land was divided up under the administration of a bunch of moral degenerates and maladministrators. And in the midst of it all, the religious life of the people of God was marked by confusion.

Now, let me just rehearse that and see if you find any immediate point of application. He was going to bring the Word of God to bear in a time of moral degeneration and political chaos. Those who loved the Word were living under the domination of a pagan power and under the rule of administrators who were moral degenerates and hopeless at their job.

And to add to the burden, the religious life of the people of God was marked by confusion. Now, we don't want to be the wailing prophets here. We don't want to be Jeremiah.

We don't want to take that role to ourselves immediately. But if we are going to try and read our Bibles and read the New York Times or whatever paper it is you read every day, it's not too difficult to see that there is an immediate point of application, at least in terms of the state of the people's hearts and minds and the context in which we've been called today. So, out of the darkness, God calls one as a witness to the light, and out of the silence, God raises up as a voice, and to that voice, he gives his Word.

Now, it's very important, is it not? And I want to make much of this, and so I rehearse it again, that when John steps out on the stage of human history to prepare the way of the Lord, it was not at his own discretion. It was as a result of divine initiative. In the same way that the Word of God had come to the Old Testament prophets, now his Word had come to this one who stood as the last of the Old Testament prophets as the bridge into this new era. And God commissions him in a clear and personal manner. He provides him with the necessary equipment for the task, and it was on the basis of the strength that God provides that then, we're told in verse 3, he then went into all the country around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Okay, well then, that helps us to understand how we might begin to answer the question that we left hanging. Namely, how was it that John attracted the attention of the whole Jewish nation? Why was John such a remarkable preacher? Well, let me give you four answers to that, and then that's going to be our time over for this first session.

I figure I can encourage you in the opening session by brevity. Why was it that he was such a remarkable preacher? Number one, on account of divine authority. On account of divine authority.

Now, this is simply to rehearse what we've said. There was a man sent from God. When Jesus is asked about John the Baptist, and this is recorded in Matthew chapter 11, Jesus says, this is the one about whom it is written. In other words, if you're wondering who this is, just go back and read your Old Testament Scriptures, and you will discover there that there was one to step on the stage of human history, and he was to prepare the way of the Lord.

If you're wondering who he is, read your Bible, and you will discover that he possesses divine authority. And so when the crowds began to gather, and when people took their friends out into the wilderness, and you can imagine Levi, when his friend is closing down his shop for the evening, saying to him, you know, we were going to get a few sandwiches together and go out into the hot depression of the Jordan wilderness. And his friend said, why do you want to go there for a picnic? Well, he says, not so much the picnic, but we want to go and hear a preacher, and I was wondering if you would like to come and hear him, too. And he prevails upon his friend, and his friend brings another friend, and so they go out, a group of them, to a little men's conference out in this deep depression in the desert. What's it going to be like? Oh, just wait and see.

I'm sure you'll love it. And so they eventually get out and get seated in the grass, begin to eat some of their sandwiches, and they're ready to go. And eventually John stands up and says, you brood of vipers who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?

And then Levi says to his friend, what in the world is this about? How do you bring me out here to listen to this? Who does this fellow think he is? Isn't that what people say when they encounter boldness in the proclamation of the word? Who does this arrogant rascal?

Who does this person think he is? Now, frankly, he had no basis upon which to say these things apart from divine authority. He was God's man in God's place with God's word. And that is the only basis for our authority. And any attempt to create authority by means of our personality or the context out of which we minister is destined to crumble to dust.

It clearly wasn't John the Baptist's personality that drew crowds. It was God's calling and God's message. You're listening to Alistair beg on Truth for Life.

The world doesn't need to hear someone's clever opinions. The world needs to hear God's word. That's why our mission at Truth for Life is to teach the Bible with clarity and relevance. It's our prayer that God will work through Alistair's teaching just as he did through John the Baptist's teaching so that unbelievers are converted, believers are established and local churches are strengthened.

Is that something that resonates with you? Do you long to see other people experience God's kingdom? Then let me invite you to join the remarkable team of Truth Partners who make this ministry possible. Truth Partners are listeners just like you who commit to praying regularly for the global audience that's reached by Truth for Life. You pray for God to work in and through Alistair and through this ministry. Truth Partners also commit to giving a monthly donation. They choose the amount to help distribute Bible-based teaching throughout the world online, through our mobile app, through radio, through many other channels. As a Truth Partner, you'll help make a real difference in someone's life.

Someone you may never meet, but someone who will be extremely and eternally thankful. Sign up today at truthforlife.org slash truthpartner. Now each month we have a couple of books that we recommend to listeners. We make both of these books available to our Truth Partners for no additional donation as our way of saying thank you for your support. Today we're recommending a book titled Partners in the Gospel 50 Meditations for Pastors and Elders' Wives. This is a book that helps both new and seasoned pastors and elders' wives, helping them through the highs and lows of ministry work. Request your copy of Partners in the Gospel when you sign up to become a Truth Partner or when you give a one-time donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. Now a quick reminder, Alistair is going to be the special guest speaker on the Deeper Faith 2023 Mediterranean Cruise. The voyage runs from August 26th through September 4th, 2023. If you'd like to join Alistair, you can find out more about the cruise or book your cabin at deeperfaithcruise.com. I'm Bob Lapine. Hope you enjoy your weekend and are able to worship with your local church. Join us on Monday when we'll find out what made John the Baptist preaching so powerful. How is it that people kept coming back and bringing their friends? The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-25 09:12:43 / 2022-12-25 09:22:04 / 9

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