As we begin our study on John the Baptist, we are going to take the Scripture accounts of his life from all four gospels and merge them into one single narrative. But rest assured, all you will see is nothing but Scripture. Nothing has been added. This helps us get a complete view of John’s incredible ministry, the man Jesus said was without rival in all of humanity (Matthew 11:11).
The following is the beginning of John’s ministry as told from Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:4-8 and Luke 3:1-18.
(LK) Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
(MT) In those days John the Baptist (MK) came baptizing in the wilderness (MT) of Judea. (LK) And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, (MT) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, (LK) saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and 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.'” (MT) Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. (MK) Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, (MT) and all the region around the Jordan went out to him (MK) and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
(MT) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, (LK) he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, (MT) “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (LK) So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”
Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, (MK) and he preached, (LK) saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water (MT) unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry, [and] (MK) whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but (LK) He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.
But there is so much more. And note the substance of John’s preaching. It was of repentance and the coming Kingdom of Heaven. Are they both related? Absolutely.
The Word of God Came to John
Did you catch the open phrase of John’s ministry? It says “the word of God came to John in the wilderness” (Luke 3:2). How did that happen? What was that like? Does God still reveal Himself to others as He did to John? Or has that time of specific, intimate instruction from God to man somehow ceased? And if the “word of God” doesn’t come to individuals today, did God stop transmitting or did we stop receiving? These are important questions you must answer for yourself as you grow in your understanding of Him. But remember, God can do anything He wants to anyone under any circumstance and at any time that pleases Him, period. And He doesn’t ask you or me for permission or how comfortable we feel about what He is doing. We just hang on for the ride.
That’s why it says in Ephesians 3:20-21:
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Did you get that? Ask or think. It may take a measure of faith to ask God for something, but it takes even less to think it. And God can do “exceedingly abundantly” beyond what we dream about in the solitude of our mind late at night but would never allow it to pass our lips and be heard by others. God has them both covered.
Join with us as we look at the life of the greatest man that ever lived, according to Jesus. And I think He is a perfect judge of character. Don’t you?
The following is a study on the Beginning of the Ministry of John the Baptist and the Preaching of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Another Sunday is upon us and the church is still having to figure out how to worship together while practicing self-distancing. Awkward and uncomfortable, I know. But I believe our choice to forgo our right to assemble and worship for the sake of the least of these (those who are at greater risk), is proper and prudent. And I believe the Lord will honor the free sacrifice of our own rights for the sake of others.
With that said, the following message is from the first two chapters of the book of Joel. In fact, as we go through Joel together, I think you’ll be amazed and comforted at how the crisis in Joel’s time (locust invasion) parallels the crisis we are facing as a church and a nation today. For me, the most encouraging truth from Joel is the solution to their locust problem then is the same as the solution to our coronavirus problem now. And that solution, as always, is repentance.
We will specifically focus on Joel 2:12-13, which reads:
“Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “Turn to Me with all your heart, (how) with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, (why) for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.”
Note, the first sentence is a statement by God. The second is the application from Joel. And Joel’s words are timeless. They are just as valid and true in his generation as they are today. So take them to heart.
Two Truths About God from Joel
If you read the small book of Joel, you will discover there are two unchanging truths the Lord wants us to know about Himself. It is almost like He is presenting these as an encouragement to His children when they go through trying times and He wants us to rest in these eternal truths. The first one deals with God’s sovereignty.
God is in control of all situations we may face – government intrusion, war, illness, heartache, financial ruin, swarming locusts and the coronavirus. Name your catastrophe, it doesn’t matter. God is in control.
And the second one is even more encouraging.
God responds to repentance. Always and forever. Without fail. No matter how horrible the sin that prompts the repentance.
Or, to put it another way, God loves us as least as much as the best human father we could imagine would love his children. Howie Cunningham, Ward Cleaver, James Dobson, Andy Taylor, Carl Winslow, Philip Banks, you name it. They are great fathers, maybe better than the ones you had as a child. But God is off the charts! Beyond comprehension. So there is no comparison. Period.
As we face an uncertain future, let’s confidently hold fast to our certain God. Rest in Him. Trust Him. Grow in a likeness to Him. And when you do, you’ll find His promises to be true.
My brethren (put your name here), count it all joy when you fall into various trials, (why) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4).
And remember, you are “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10).
The following is a study on Repentance, Old Testament Style, as revealed in Joel 1-2.
Unfortunately, in our walk with the Lord, Chaucer’s ancient adage proves true: Familiarity Breeds Contempt. It breeds contempt in the form of apathy, laziness, indifference, lack of honor or respect and, finally, of misplaced love. It seems to be the curse of Western Christianity that wants for nothing save the things that matter.
What can we do when we find our relationship with the Lord boring at best? What happens when, to quote the classic song by the Righteous Brothers, “we’ve lost that lovin’ feelin'”? What happens then?
How can we recapture what we have a hard time even remembering? We find the answer in the Lord’s letter to His church in Ephesus.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
The church at Ephesus, when John penned the Revelation, was only one generation removed from the life of the Lord. They were a hard-working bunch of committed believers who had a resume and doctrinal purity that would be the envy of almost any church today.
“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” – Revelation 2:2-3.
In fact, they worked for the Lord to the point of sheer exhaustion.
“I know your works (the results of employment, duty, business, something to be done), your labor (to toil to the point of exhaustion, the labor which demands the whole strength of a man exerted to the utmost to accomplish the task), your patience (to remain under, to bear up under), and that you cannot bear (support, stand) those who are evil (bad, worthless, wicked, vicious, harmful, bad in heart, conduct, and character). And you have tested (tried, to prove either good or bad) those who say (affirm, proclaim) they are apostles (messengers, sent ones) and are not, and have found (by examination, search, or inquiry) them liars (false); and you have persevered (to bear up under patiently) and have patience (to endure, to remain under), and have labored (to be fatigued, worn out, weary, faint) for (what) My name’s sake and have not become weary (faint from constant work).”
I get tired just reading all that they did. But, like the church today, they had missed the most important part of their relationship with Jesus. The relationship!
“Nevertheless (in spite of all this) I (Jesus) have this against you, that you have left (to forsake, quit, abandon, desert) your first love ( agapē)” – Revelation 2:4.
Sobering words. The Lord said He is “against” them… even after all the good they had done. How could that be? And what can they do to right their sinking ship?
It may seem simple, but it is hard to remember the right things. Sometimes it is painfully hard.
“Remember (to call to mind, to keep on remembering) therefore from where (why, how) you have fallen (to fall off or from, to fall away, to fail, to be without effect, in vain); repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place— unless you repent” – Revelation 2:5.
Do You Remember?
It may seem simple, but it is hard to remember the right things. Sometimes it is painfully hard. Consider the following questions to help begin the process of remembering:
What does it mean to remember?
Take a moment and remember your first few weeks as a new creation in Christ.
What were you like?
Back then, how would you feel about yourself now?
Did you make any promises to the Lord that you would not even think of making today?
Did you keep whatever promises you made to Him?
Has your relationship with Him cooled over time?
If so, did it happen gradually, like a slow leak?
Or did it happen all at once?
What do you remember about that time?
There is so much more to remember. To find out about the forgotten discipline of remembering, keep listening.
God never wastes an experience in our life, good or bad. When we sin, for example, God uses our failure as a ministry to help others struggling with the same sin. He allows us to share the times we fell flat on our face to encourage others who are doing the same. It seems that’s what Jesus was teaching Peter.
In the upper room, during the last supper, Jesus told Peter He was praying for him. But His prayer was not to remove the temptation and inevitable fall from Peter. No, His prayer was that when Peter fell and suffered the consequences of that fall, that once he repented and returned to Jesus, he was to strengthen his brothers by that experience. Consider the following:
Luke 22:31-32 – And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
Jesus didn’t tell Peter he would deliver him from the temptation, the sifting. He promised Peter that after he fell and recovered and returned to his faith, Jesus would use that experience to encourage and strengthen others who were struggling in the same way. That’s why, in John 21, we see Jesus restoring Peter by saying, “Feed My lambs” (John 21:15). Even after Peter’s epic denial of Jesus, his ministry was not finished. In fact, it was just beginning. And so it is with us.
Does this thought encourage you? It does me. If you want to learn more about your usefulness after your failure, then keep listening.
In John 21, we have the account of Jesus revealing Himself to a few of His disciples while they were fishing. As soon as it was revealed to John that it was Jesus on the shore, he said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (John 17:7). And in perfect Peter style, he overreacted and jumped into the water to swim to Jesus.
But by the time he swam the 100 yards to where Jesus was, something happened. You can see it in Peter’s demeanor. You can almost feel his reluctance to approach Jesus. Why? Maybe Peter was afraid Jesus was angry with him for his denial in the courtyard. Or maybe Peter was ashamed he had drawn the others away and gone fishing, back to their old life, like nothing important had happened these last three and a half years.
Or maybe Peter hadn’t forgiven himself for his denial of Jesus. Maybe he was ashamed. Who knows?
Change is Not Always for the Better
But something changed. Not just with Peter, but with all the disciples. They had excitement and passion that can only come from belief while on the boat. But once ashore, it seems more like calm reservation. In fact, John goes out of his way to tell us what the disciples weren’t thinking. It was his way of trying to explain the strange way they approached Jesus.
John 21:12 – Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.” Yet none of the disciples dared ask Him, “Who are You?”—knowing that it was the Lord.
There are life lessons to be learned in these fourteen verses. Profound lessons. Are you interested? Then keep listening.