What part did John the Baptist play in God's unfolding plan of salvation?
He was more than a master of ceremonies introducing the star speaker. Today on Truth for Life we find out what Zechariah prophesied about his son and why that prophecy is significant for all of us today. Alistair Begg continues our study in Luke's Gospel. Luke chapter 1, and we read the words of Zechariah. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel. We began to look at this section in Zechariah's song, and we said that there were essentially two verses in the song that he's singing—the first verse, which goes from 68 to 75, and then the second verse, which goes from 76 to 80. And in the first verse, Zechariah is magnifying God for his grace in the plan and purpose of redemption. And then in this second segment, he turns to describe the part which his son, John the Baptist, was to have in the unfolding purpose of God. And it is noteworthy, as we mentioned this morning, that the father's focus—namely, Zechariah's focus—is not upon himself, nor is it even upon his child in terms of his personality or his possibilities. But his focus is on the mighty works of God and the part which clearly God has given this son of his to play in the unfolding of redemption. Will you notice, first of all, the designation there in the first half of verse 76? Look at how he is described, And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High.
Now, this is a striking thing when you put yourself back into the context. This is a priest of Israel, admittedly. He's an elderly man. At least he's in the second half of his life.
His wife is similar in age. They had never anticipated that they would become the recipients of the gift of a child, and now they have, and it's the eighth day, and the custom of the law has been fulfilled. And presumably, Zechariah taking for a wee while his child out from the custody of his wife or from the custody of others who have been delighted to see him and wanted to hold him.
As this elderly man, or increased in age gentleman, takes hold of his boy and he looks down into his face, as many fathers had done before and many have done since, what a staggering thing he says. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High. Now, let me remind you again that he could only see this, and he could only say this, on account of what Luke tells us in verse 67—namely, that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he was speaking here a word of prophecy. And it was given him to understand that here in his arms he was holding the one who was fulfilling the words of the prophet with which the Old Testament closes in Malachi chapter 3, where God speaking through Malachi says, See, I will send my messenger who will prepare the way before me. And through the intertestamental period, in all those years of silence, when the prophetic word had been silenced, mothers and fathers and children grew up reading the Old Testament, considering the promises of God, and those who were devout and were living in expectation would have said to one another with relative regularity, I wonder when the Messiah will come. And those who were schooled in the Scriptures would have said to those who were inquiring, Well, there will be a messenger who comes first, and he will prepare the way of the Lord. And now, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah takes the baby in his arms, and he says, You are he.
And the designation that he gives him is not a flight of fancy on the part of his father, it's not a hope, it's not a dream, it's not, Oh, it would be wonderful if you were to become, but it is a straightforward statement. John, this child in his arms, was to be the last and, in one sense, the greatest of all the prophets. For he is last in line before onto the stage of human history comes the one of whom all the prophets have spoken.
And Jesus, of course, himself said of John the Baptist that he was a prophet indeed, that he was more than a prophet. What did you go out into the wilderness to see? He asked the crowd around him later on in Luke chapter 7. He says, Did you go to see a reed blown by the wind?
What was it you went to see? And he said, And what did you hear? Well, you heard the word of God through the word of the prophet, and he himself is more than a prophet. Well, if the first half of the verse establishes John's identity by means of this designation, the second half of the verse explains his activity.
And his activity is that of preparation. Now, I hope your Bibles are open, because I want to turn you to a number of references this evening. First of all, if you turn back to the prophecy of Isaiah and to chapter 40, you will find the Old Testament root for what is in the words of Zechariah here.
Isaiah chapter 40 and verse 3. A voice of one calling. What is he calling? Where is he calling? Well, the prophet tells us, This voice is calling in the desert.
And what is he calling? Prepare the way of the LORD. Make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low, the rough ground shall become level, and the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Now, this is the mouth of Isaiah that is speaking.
But you remember we noted the statement concerning the verbal inspiration of Scripture back there in verse 70, where Zechariah says, And God said this through his holy prophets of long ago. And Isaiah, along with the others, was like a man, as we've said so often, standing on tiptoe and giving voice to the voice of God and wondering just how it would be and who it would be that would come and fulfill the prophetic word that he was speaking all these hundreds of years before the arrival of Jesus. Now, the picture in Isaiah was a familiar picture. It was common practice in the day to construct a processional highway for the arrival of a civic dignitary. If someone of worth was arriving, or if they were producing a pagan god that they were carrying on some kind of platform, then it was customary to actually designate a whole section of the existing highway or to create a completely new one and to declare it the way of the one who wants to come.
And that is how a number of ways were to get their names. And the Lord's way, as Isaiah prophesies it, is to be straight, it is to be level, and it is to be free of obstacles. And in the same way, as people were to go before the civic dignitary of the time, making sure that that was exactly the case—because you don't want to bring the king into town and have his chariots logjammed and stuck in mud and things falling all over the place—you have the preparatory one who goes and says, Okay, it's level, it's straight, it is free from obstacles. Now send him along the road, says Alec Matea, of the arrival of the one of whom Isaiah prophesies. He will arrive without fail, he will travel without difficulty, and he will be underlaid by any hindrances.
And how is this to be? Well, this child of Zechariah and Elizabeth will be preparing the way for the people, will be preparing the way for the arrival of Christ and for the work of Christ. If you turn forward, sneak forward to chapter 3 of Luke's Gospel, and we'll eventually get there, but when we find the ministry of John the Baptist hitting the streets, as it were, of the Judean areas, in verse 3, Luke tells us that John went into all the country around the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Now, it's very important to understand that, and I'll tell you why in just a moment. What was he doing? He was saying to the people, You need to turn away from your sins. Now, he was doing this, then, as Luke tells us in verse 4, in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah, which we have just seen in chapter 40.
And it's quoted there for you in Luke chapter 3. And John 7 said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him—and this is quite an introduction to a baptism service, I think you would agree—look at his introduction to the group who are coming out to be baptized. He says, You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Now, obviously, no one's going to use that kind of designation this evening, but that is exactly what he was doing. Now, why would he speak in such dramatic terms? Because he was preparing the way of the Lord. The Lord was coming to call whom? He was not coming to call the righteous, but he was coming to call sinners to repentance. Therefore, it was a necessary work of preparation on the part of the one who would go before to let the people know the fact of their sinfulness, so that when the Lamb of God walks onto the stage of human history and the preparatory one turns and says, Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the people would not be saying, Well, why would anybody need that? Because they had already been confronted with the fact of their sin in the work of John the Baptist. And that is what his father, Zachariah, is prophesying concerning him here in the second half of verse 76, back in Luke chapter 1.
He is going to clear the way. He is going to clear the obstacles of religious pride. These individuals, to whom he referred as a brood of vipers in chapter 3 and verse 7, were stuck on the fact that they were Abraham's children. And as a result of the fact that they had a certain religious heritage, they were convinced of the fact that they were not in need of any form of repentance at all. They were also so stuck on their religious heritage that they had the notion that the kind of redemption they required was actually earthly and material. And John the Baptist labors hard to prepare the way for Christ by saying to them, Your real predicament is not an earthly predicament.
It's not a material predicament. The real issue that you face, he says to these folks, is the fact of your alienation from God and the fact that you are corrupt and in your sins. And the real enemies from whom they needed to be delivered were their spiritual enemies in sin. So then, designation, a prophet of the Most High, you will go on before the Lord, preparation, verse 77, to give his people the knowledge of salvation.
I'm just giving you the way that I have it in my notes here. I wrote the word down designation so that I wouldn't forget that, and then I wrote the word preparation because I saw that there, and then I just wrote down the word salvation because the designation and the preparation are all about salvation. To give his people the knowledge of salvation. In their worldly and political aspirations, the Jews had lost the knowledge of salvation, and they had substituted vain dreams and all kinds of hopes in place of it.
And so John's task as the mouthpiece of God will be to bring to these people, notice, a knowledge of salvation—to give his people the knowledge of salvation. Now, this knowledge is not a formal, academic kind of knowledge. Like, whatever pi r squared is, it is, you know. Or two pi r, or whatever you do with those things. I haven't the foggiest idea.
My wife can take care of that for me. But I know that it means something. I haven't a clue, really, what it means, and I wouldn't know what to do with it if it jumped up and bit me. But I'm not too concerned.
And I've confessed my mathematical idiocy, but that's all right. For me, all of that stuff was a kind of mere mental perception, and most of it was shadowy. When he talks about a knowledge of salvation, he is not talking about mere mental perception as when we know of something that we do not have. But he is talking of a knowledge of actual possession and experience. So you talk to a young man, and he's been reading some books about marriage, and he thinks he might get married, and he's got his eye on one girl in particular, and then now he's become an expert on it because he read a couple of books. And he has some mental perception of what's involved in being married. But he's never been married. He hasn't, frankly, got a clue. He has it all rattling in his head, but there's nothing in his heart, and it hasn't really gone anywhere at all. On a certain day, if he follows through, then he will move from what is a mere mental perception to actual possession and to genuine experience.
That is what he is referring to here. To give his people the knowledge of salvation. And one of our good friends sent me the hymn that I had in the back of my mind and could not find and could not bring to recall. And a fellow by the name of Johnson Oatman Jr. wrote this hymn, and as soon as I quoted, many of you will remember it. There is singing up in heaven, such as we have never known, Where the angels sing the praises of the Lamb upon the throne. It's kind of archaic.
It's sort of 1930s. But anyway, Where the angels sing the praises of the Lamb upon the throne, Their sweet harps are ever tuneful, And their voices always clear, Oh, that we might be more like them While we serve the Master here. So far, so good. The angels are doing a great job singing. We should sing as good as the angels.
Let's follow their example. Holy, holy is what the angels sing, And I expect to help them make the courts of heaven ring. But when I sing redemption's story, They will fold their wings, For angels never felt the joys That our salvation brings.
That's the distinction. It's the distinction that was present in the experience of Lydia in Acts 16, who was a worshiper of God and had a mental perception of God's dealings with his people, but it was only when the Lord opened her heart to receive the message that what had been mental ascent became personal faith. Do you have a knowledge of salvation, an experiential grasp of what God has done in Christ—something that is not merely at arm's length or written out in a book, but something which has been translated into a revolution within your own heart and mind, so that you could never, ever be the same again? Or you say, I don't know. I mean, how does this knowledge of salvation come about?
Well, you needn't be in any doubt. We're told in the second half of verse 77, he gives his people the knowledge of salvation, how? Through the forgiveness of their sins.
Through the forgiveness of their sins. This forgiveness, or remission of sin, is an objective act of God. And from that objective act of God, there results a subjective knowledge in the life of the child of God, a knowledge of having been redeemed. So in order to have the knowledge, we have to have the remission.
Now, you only need to understand English to understand what I'm telling you. He gives his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. Therefore, no man whose sins are not remitted can possibly know what salvation is. That's why we have hosts and hosts of religious people. But they don't know the knowledge of salvation.
Nice people, sincere people, concerned individuals about humanity and about the Sermon on the Mount and about attending church and about doing their best and even about telling others of the importance of these things. But since they have no experience of their sins being forgiven, they have no knowledge of salvation. Now, you see, this is what the prophet was on about in Jeremiah chapter 31 and verse 33. This is the covenant, says God, that I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds, and I will write it in their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And no longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, because they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. Now, how will they know me?
How? The fore, the conjunction, gives the explanation there. And they will all know me from the least of the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
It was God's plan that John the Baptist would be the one to prepare the way of the Lord. You're listening to Truth for Life. Alistair Begg has been explaining today that each of us needs to be confronted by the reality of our sinfulness before we'll realize our need for a Savior. And if you'd like to find out more about what all of this means, how it is that Jesus saves us from our sin, visit the Learn More page on our website at truthforlife.org slash learn more.
You'll find there two helpful videos that explain how to ask Jesus for forgiveness and what it means to accept him as your Savior. And while you're on the Learn More page, you can also listen to other introductory messages from Alistair about Jesus and read an overview that explains the life-saving power of the gospel. All of the teaching you hear on Truth for Life, all of the free content you'll find on our website, is made possible because of the financial support that comes from listeners like you. And as we are just a few weeks away from the end of the year now, Alistair is here with a message.
Thanks, Bob. And you know, when we read the letters of the New Testament, the pattern is very clear that individuals are supporting the apostles in their endeavors. And actually, that's the same model here at Truth for Life. We're doing the same thing. And that's why I have the opportunity to remind you that your prayers make a huge difference. You uphold us by that. You enable us by doing the hard work of praying.
And it may be that you've been listening for a while, but you haven't actually made it a pattern to pray for the ministry. And let me encourage you to do so. And if you haven't reached out to partner with us financially, then let me encourage you to do that today. Your end-of-year donation will help us to continue the work through the end of the year and to begin well in 2023.
And Bob has all the details as to how that can happen. You can make your year-end donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate, or you can call us at 888-588-7884. And if you'd prefer to mail your donation to us, write to Truth for Life at post office box 398000 Cleveland, Ohio 44139. When you make a donation today, we want to show our gratitude by inviting you to request a copy of a 31-day devotional titled, Be Thou My Vision. Be Thou My Vision presents a different set of prayers, catechism questions and answers, creeds for each day over the course of a month. The prayers follow the pattern of a traditional church service, which is sometimes referred to as a liturgy.
Once you're familiar with this pattern, you can repeat it for each subsequent month throughout the year. You will benefit greatly from the prayers you find in this book, many of which were written by authors from through the centuries, including several well-known Puritan writers. Request the devotional book, Be Thou My Vision, when you give a donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. Does John the Baptist's message of hope still speak to us in the 21st century when it can feel often like life is futile? We'll explore the answers together tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-13 09:49:48 / 2022-12-13 09:58:39 / 9