I want us to look at John the Baptist this Sunday and next for our Advent focus. Certainly a part of Advent is anticipating and preparing for the celebration of Christmas – the coming of Jesus to us. So we’re getting ready for this. But a part of it is also looking ahead so that we’re prepared for the second coming or second advent of Jesus.
And who better to prepare us than John, whose ministry it was to do just this. Today we’ll focus on how his message prepares us.
But first let’s look at –
John’s life and ministry
He was quite unique and that in several ways. He lived in the wilderness. He lived here before his ministry (Luke 1:80) and this is where he received his prophetic message (Luke 3:2). And he continued to minister from here. Matthew 3:1 says, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea . . .”
In terms of food his diet was unique. Jesus said, he came “eating no bread and drinking no wine . . .” (Luke 7:33). He was known for fasting and certainly not for feasting. And he was known for abstaining from alcohol. Rather he ate “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4).
His clothing was unique as well, “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist . . .” (Matthew 3:4) looking very much like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8)
He was a prophet. He was widely acknowledged to be this by the people of Israel. The Jewish leadership in Jerusalem bore witness to this, when they said, “all the people . . . are convinced that John was a prophet” (Luke 20:6).
Jesus also held this view. Speaking of John he said, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes . . .” (Matthew 11:9). As we’ll see, he had a strong prophetic message for the people.
He was the forerunner, the one sent to prepare the way. As Jesus said, John is “more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” (Matthew 11:9-10).
This comes from Malachi 3:1. And John is the fulfillment of this prophecy. He has this unique role of preparing the people for the Lord’s coming.
Another text that sees John as the forerunner is found in Luke3:4. It identifies John as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” This prophecy comes from Isaiah 40:3-5.
He prepared the way for Jesus in several ways. One is that he called people to look for the one to come. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12.
He also identified Jesus as this one. He said, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him (Jesus). I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34
He was faithful to his call. John did what God told him to do without hesitation. He didn’t care what others thought and he was fearless with those who held power.
He called the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him a “brood of vipers” or a nest of poisonous snakes (Matthew 3:7). And proceeded to warn them of judgment in they didn’t change. He also criticized King Herod – Mark 6:18, which eventually led to his own death
And he was faithful to death. Matthew 14:6-11 tells this story. “When Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.” He stayed true to God until the end.
Now we look at –
How John’s message prepares us for the coming of Jesus
John’s message was a message of repentance. He preached, “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – Matthew 3:2. So repentance is the way to prepare for the proper celebration of Christmas, as well as the second Advent of Jesus.
- Repentance is a change of heart and mind that leads to changed behaviors.
- It is choosing to turn away from our sin so that we can do God’s will from now on.
Here are some examples of John’s call to repentance. 1. He pointed out personal marital and sexual sins. “John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’” – Mark 6:18. In this particular case Herod was guilty of both adultery and incest (Leviticus 18:16). And John was not afraid to call him to repentance.
2. He pointed out human greed. Our desire to have and to hold on to more than we need. “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’” – Luke 3:10-11. If you have more than you need, share your food and clothing with those who do not have these.
3. He pointed out the abuse of power, that is, using your power to take advantage of others. “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 you are authorized to do.’” – Luke 3:12-13. That is, don’t do what most tax collectors do, take more than required in order to pad your own income. Only take what you are supposed to.
Not only did he address very specific issues of sin, he undercut their excuses for their unfaithfulness. They thought, Abraham’s our father. We’re the chosen people. It’s OK. We’ll be alright.
John said, “do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – Matthew 3:9. So what if you are Abraham’s children! God can turn a rock into a child of Abraham. Repentance is what’s necessary.
As he said to them, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. . . Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:8, 10. Bearing the fruit of repentance is what God requires.
What about you? Where are you allowing yourself to continue in wrong behavior? Where are you holding out on God? Those areas that you would rather not think about? And what are your excuses? You think, well God doesn’t really care about that issue. Or, hey, I go to church. Well, God can make church members out of rocks too! That won’t rescue you.
John teaches us that getting ready for Jesus’ Advent means dealing with our sin through repentance. It means setting aside our excuses, our rationalizations and our justifications so that we begin to do God’s will.
And then, like the many sinners who responded to John in his day (Matthew 21:32), we too can confess our sins and find forgiveness (Mark 1:4-8). And then we will be ready to welcome Jesus and follow him in all of life.