76. Matthew 3: “My Father’s Gift to Me”
Golden Nursing Center in Mannington, NJ –Evening Service on 6/15/2017
South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, NJ –Men’s Evening Chapel on 6/18/17
(edited May 2021)
We’re going be studying about the ministry of John the Baptist tonight. My father and my mother named me “John” after this man. Before I got saved and started studying the Scriptures for myself, I thought it was kind of cool to bear that name. But once I became fully aware of all John the Baptist had to go through, I began to look at the whole thing a little more soberly.
Verses 1-2: “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
How much would this man be mocked today? Can you see the coverage he would receive in media? What he said and did has become a standard joke and cartoon caricature in our culture, hasn’t it? But, in the Bible, John is no joke:
Verse 3: “For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
That quote is in Isaiah 40, verse 3 and All FOUR Gospel writers: Matthew(3:3), Mark(1:3), Luke(3:4) and John(1:23) state that this Old Testament passage refers directly to John the Baptist!
Verse 4: “And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”
John was something like what we might call a hillbilly, or kind of “down home.” He may have even appeared homeless to some. His clothing, as I imagine it, was humble but not outrageous just for the sake of getting attention.
Verse 5: “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,”
But he did get attention, a lot of attention! Jesus would say that John was the last of the Old Covenant Prophets. You see, the people hadn’t heard from any prophet since the time of the Prophet Malachi. That was 400 years before John came along. No wonder they thronged him once the word got out that God was speaking once more!
Verse 6: “ And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”
Think about this, for all his importance, John’s ministry did not include miracles of any physical nature at all. What did he actually do? He would dunk people in the river as a symbol of spiritual cleansing and he shared the Truth of God with those who would listen. That might sound easy, but it soon became more difficult. Check this out:
Verses 7-9: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”
WOW! This man had a strong message, but one that wasn’t popular in all circles.
Verse 10: “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”
John’s message was personal, national (for Ancient Israel), but it also became universal. A universal message about the Man John knew as his distant cousin. Listen as he introduces Jesus to the people:
Verses 11-12: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
As great as his ministry was, John knew that there was One far greater. AND he accepted it. He humbly, and whole-heartedly, welcomed Christ onto the scene. THAT’S exactly what he had been called to do:
Verses 13-14: “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?”
And God the Father soon confirmed EVERYTHING that John said about his Cousin!
Verses 15-17: “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
That’s our last verse in this chapter, but I would like to close tonight with:
Three Additional Facets of the Life and Ministry of
John the Baptist
1. John was eventually imprisoned by a Judean ruler named Herod. “Herod” was a title or last name that many rulers and their relatives shared in John’s day.
John had run afoul of Herod “Antipas” who had asked John to approve of his marriage to the wife of his brother, Herod “Phillip.” This was a case of divorce or polygamy, I guess. It probably wasn’t too big of a deal in royal society at that time. But John went ahead and objected to it, advised against it. He would have well known that it violated passages like this one from the Old Covenant:
“Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife: it is thy brother's nakedness.”
And, in a more general sense:
“Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. For whosoever shall commit any of these abominations, even the souls that commit them shall be cut off from among their people. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God.”
I think a passage like this would have spoken directly to the heart of John the Baptist. He was compelled by God, I would say, to take a stand on principle. But he was made to pay a very high price for it. Herod Antipas went ahead and married his brother’s wife anyway. Then one night, during a drunken and lewd party, they agreed to cut off John’s head, and made sport of it.
Jesus would later also take a hard stand on this topic and many others as they applied in that day. Listen, here, as He confronts some religious leaders, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Just look at what Christ told them. This is after John’s death. Some began to think, superstitiously, that maybe Jesus might be John raised from the dead. Listen to Him:
“And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”
Jesus came to forgive our sins, thank God, but neither John nor Jesus came to ignore or to justify sinning. And it certainly makes no difference if you’re rich or powerful, or not.
2. Not only did John do no recorded physical miracles, he actually had a crisis of faith that was recorded in the Scriptures:
“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
Now listen as Jesus tenderly speaks of John who was then in prison, weakened, and rightfully fearful:
“And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
To me, this passage is one of the high points of the New Testament. I think it tells us something important about John. He was, like us, only human. And, yes, in the middle of a terrible experience, he doubted Christ. I can tell you, I’ve been guilty of doing this many times. Have any of you? It’s so easy to be a cheerful believer when life is rosy. But when it isn’t, that can be quite a different story, amen?
I will say this about John, one reason he could have a “crisis” of faith is because belief in the Lord meant so much to him. I’ve found out the hard way that a lukewarm faith requires little maintenance, but it also produces very little fruit for God! Whereas true passion toward God is so much more spiritually productive, but can also produce both external and internal conflicts. Those who’ve ever really been in love with anyone will know that this can happen. As great as it can be, there is a natural instability to deeply loving someone. But, unlike romantic love, Saving Faith in Jesus rests, not on our weak feelings toward Him but on His Strong and Sure Love for us! On the unchanging character of Christ, not on your character or mine.
And you can see that Love in action here as Christ spoke of His distant cousin. There isn’t a trace of bitterness or condemnation. It’s all understanding, and reassurance, and Love. That’s the God we serve today. A God that we can KNOW for certain Loves us even when we don’t love Him like we should, or we doubt, or are weak, or afraid.
If you struggle with your faith today (and I think EVERBODY does sooner or later!) and you think the Lord may resent you for that, please remember that He understands your thoughts, and feelings, and circumstances probably better than you do! And right now, or at any time, you can always turn to Him and rely on His strength and His mercy toward you. And if you really mean business with Him, no matter what you are going through, you won’t have to go through it alone. Maybe my old namesake, John the Baptist, should never have doubted His Messiah, but he did one thing very well during his crisis: He took all his doubts directly to the Lord.
3. When John came to the Nation of Ancient Israel as a prophet, they were actually waiting for the prophesied, miraculous return of Elijah followed by the appearance of their Messiah. And, as we said earlier, they had been waiting for a long time. This is based the prophesy, 400 years earlier, in the closing words of the Old Testament given by the Prophet Malachi:
“Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
They had been waiting and waiting for a REAL miracle-man to appear. Not some guy who would invite them all to come bathe in the local river! I must tell you if, instead of my parents doing it, I could have named myself, honestly now, I think I might have gone with “Elijah.” Elijah was a man of miracles, real visible ones! A man of action who, even at his time of death, experienced exciting and extraordinary things! That might well have been my choice for a name, if I had been given a choice.
But I not only have had an earthly father, I have a Heavenly Father, also. And my Heavenly Father saw to it that I would always be reminded (whenever I sign my name!) to try to be a more humble man. A man who points others to the Lord, yes, but in ways that don’t always point so much to himself! Now, I’m an older person, and I can see that I had, and still have, a great need of that reminder in my life! And I am thankful and sincerely humbled to bear the name of “John.” To tell you the truth, I’ve come to realize that I’m never going to be able to live up to that name.
Before we pray tonight, and I know we’re pressed for time, let’s go ahead and quickly finish reading the passage from Matthew 11, as Jesus concludes His comments about his cousin:
“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
Wow! Did you catch that? John was Elijah in Christ’s eyes! The Lord fulfills His prophesies in His own way, doesn’t He? And through the people that He chooses to use. Isn’t He wonderful? Let’s pray.