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The Ministry of John the Baptist

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Matt 3:2

John's ministry started about 28 A.D.

The Purpose of John's Ministry

An Angel describes his ministry in Luke 1:16,17
Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.
And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah,
'to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous--
to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.' (Malachi 4:6)
The reference to Elijah goes back to 1Kings chapters 17 and 18, in which the prophet Elijah, who was God's prophet in the Northern Kingdom (Israel as opposed to Judah), and whose task was to turn the people back to God away from Baal worship.

John describes his own ministry in Luke 3:4-6

As is written in the book of 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 roads shall become straight,
  • the rough ways smooth.
  • And all mankind will see God's salvation." (Isaiah 40:3-5)
    The leveling of mountains and valleys refers to humilating the proud and lifting up the humble. We see this also in Jesus' relationships with people. The proud need to be humiliated and the lowly need to have a sense of significance and of being loved in order to prepare them for the good news. The crooked roads becoming straight refer to both a change of attitudes, ideas and behavior. These are of course all related. We speak of a person "going straight" as one who eliminates some sinful habit or behavior in their life. But there are crooked ideas which lead to such crooked behavior, or perhaps justify such behavior. Thus John also wants people to be straight in their thinking. A straight road in simpler and provides the shortest distance between two points. If a person is not always heading straight towards God, he is on a crooked road. In a similar way a rough road also hinders one's progress towards God. A road may be straight, but if it is rough it slows down travel. The road to life is straight and smooth. But it is philosophically narrow, as Jesus said:
    Mt 7:13 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."
    There are all kinds of beliefs and religions that will end you up in hell. But only in Biblical Christianity is there life. It is not simply for Jews or for any particular elite group, but for all mankind.

    Implication: People must be prepared to meet Jesus as Lord and Savior else they will appreciate neither his message nor person.

    Examples of John Preaching Repentance

    Humiliating the Proud and Making the Crooked Ways Straight
    Luke 3:7,8 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "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.
    There are people today that place their confidence in their religious upbringing. Their parents were Christians and therefore they assume that they themselves are born of God. Or they may belong to a church assuming they are saved merely be association. But if their behavior is not consisent with that of a child of God then as Paul said, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you-- unless, of course, you fail the test?" 2Corinthians 13:5 Or "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." 1Cor 6:9,10

    The Jews in particular were proud of their genetics and their Jewishness, reckoning Gentiles to be mere dogs and "stones", which God indeed did raise to become sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:29) and both Christ and Christians are reckoned as stones in (1Peter 2:4,5)

    Preaching Fear of God's Judgment (Fire & Brimstone Preaching)

    Luke 3:9 "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."
    There is a general reluctance these days within the Evangelical community to preach in this manner. Part of this is due to the fear of offending people, and part due to a misconception of the correlation between a person's behavior and their salvation status. (See also the 1st John Study) Jesus speaks in a very similar manner in John 15 saying "If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned."John 15:6 (See also the parable of the barren fig tree.)

    Practical Applications of Repentance (Luke 3:10-14)

  • General: "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none,

  • and the one who has food should do the same."
    It is the duty of man to provide for the needs of his fellow man. This is not to say that it is his duty to necessarily  provide for his desires. For many desire things they don't really need. Nor is he preaching communism in which everything is shared equally (which has also never actually been practiced even in "communist countries" anyhow). But rather to make sure that basic necessities are taken care of.
  • Tax Collectors: "Don't collect any more than you are required to"
  • Tax Collectors were generally despised not simply because of their tendency to pilfer taxes for themselves, but also simply because they were viewed as working for the Romans. The Jews were living under the occupation of the Romans and viewed them as Gentiles of a foreign religion hostile to God. But just as Jesus and the apostles, John was not a Zealot. He was not politically motivated. He viewed the Romans as governing in accordance with God's sovereignty, just as the prophets had under the Babylonians captivity.

    However this collecting more than you are required may be a common practice in the business community, not to mention even among professional Christians. How much money do you really deserve for the services you render, or are you unknowingly extorting money or pilfering your wages? Then there are those among the rich that don't pay employees enough or in a timely manner

    The soldiers were probably Jewish, although one cannot rule out Gentile soldiers likened to the Centurion whom comes to Jesus. For there were Gentile believers. But most likely these are Herod's police force, which worked along with tax collectors, and were also subject to the same kind of temptations as tax collectors. For with their arms they could extort money, much like the mafia, and they were known also to blackmail rich people through with threats of slander.

    Therefore we see that one's attitude towards MONEY is an essential ingredient in preparing one to receive the Lord properly. The main exhortation in this is simply CONTENTMENT. If one's contentment is based upon one's wealth then one may not be prepared to meet the king.

    John Rebukes Herod

    Just as Elijah had his King Ahab and Jezebel so John had his King Herod and Herodias. Herodias was formerly the wife of his brother Philip whom she divorced to marry Herod. Although the Law of Moses did allow remarriage after divorce to a degree, for example a man could not marry the divorced wife of his brother.

    Lev 18:16  "'Do not have sexual relations with your brother's wife; that would dishonor your brother."
    Lev 20:21  "'If a man marries his brother's wife, it is an act of impurity; he has dishonored his brother. They will be childless." (The context of Leviticus seems to indicate by this that the death penalty applies)
    And much as the Lord spoke even more strictly about remarriage after divorce, yet many in the Christian community feel they can remarry after divorce in an unrestricted manner and few publically take a stand against it. (See  also Marriage, Divorce, & Adultery) But if you bring up this issue in the religious community, you may lose your head!

    John Announces the Christ

    Lk 3:16,17 "I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

    John's baptism was focussed on repentance in view of the forgiveness of sins to be obtained under the New Covenant. But it was characteristically different than the baptism which Jesus was to provide, just as water is different than Spirit. There is something greater that Jesus will offer that John cannot provide.

    John did not view himself as announcing some kind of Santa Claus figure. He had the fire on his mind when he thought of Christ. But what did John mean by "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."? From the context I get the distinct impression that what he means is that Christ will baptize some in the Holy Spirit. These will be the wheat gathered into his barn. The others will be baptized in the unquenchable fire of hell in accordance with his wrath. These are those who those who are unfruitful as John already said a few verses before, "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." Luke 3:9

    (Verses quoted from the NIV version)
    The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 23,2020