A. I love John the baptist. I love to study his life and his teachings.
B. Of course, we are here to learn about Jesus, not John. But that’s what I love so much about John. When you learn about John, you learn about Jesus.
II. The forerunner of Jesus
A. A harbinger
1. Isaiah 40:3ff. “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’”
2. Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”
3. Lk.1:17 Gabriel: “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
4. Lk.1:76 Zacharias: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways.”
5. “The King is coming! Make way for the King!”
B. John’s birth: leaping in the womb to signal the presence of the Lord Jesus.
C. And this is the way that John spent the rest of his life.
1. “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8)
2. Contrasting himself with Jesus, John said, “I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.” (John 3:28-31)
3. One day John saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'”(John 1:22-37)
D. His life was a sign from God pointing to Jesus Christ. From birth to death, pointing the way to Christ.
E. John’s whole life wrapped up in Jesus.
1. This is why he lived such a deprived life.
a. Born of elderly parents – probably old enough to be his great-grandparents
b. Probably orphaned in his youth
c. Lived alone in the desert – probably for around 15 years. Lk 1:80 “He lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”
d. Ate locusts and wild honey
e. Matthew 3:4 “John himself had a garment of camel's hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
g. No human approval
h. “he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit”
(1) Fasting – Matt. 9:14
(2) Eating no bread -- Luke 7:33
(3) This was John’s life – it’s all there was for Him.
2. And yet in the midst of deprivation, he knew joy. (Deprivation does not deprive a man of joy.)
a. Leaping in the womb
(1) In the Bible's story, John is the first one to draw attention to the presence of Jesus.
(2) Luke 1:44 “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.”
(3) Leaping in the womb set the pattern for John's whole life, a life of drawing attention to Jesus.
(4) Thus, he began his ministry of being a crier or a herald going before the king.
(5) He even had this ministry at his own birth with his father Zacharias.
b. He was not always joyful. But he was joyful whenever Jesus was around:
(1) John 3:29 "The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full."
3. This is the reason for all the deprivation.
a. To show that only one thing made John happy. He had no joy but Jesus. (It's hard to imagine him getting any joy from his diet!) John’s glory was to bring Jesus glory.
b. It was as if his whole life was a fast from worldly pleasures: his diet, his attire, his habitat, isolation, his Nazarite lifestyle, his celibacy. It was as if God called him to live a life that said loud and clear: "This world has nothing for me. Jesus is everything to me."
c. Christ is my food! Christ is my drink. Christ is my friend. Christ is my family. Christ is my life. Christ is my all in all.
d. He was a living example of Paul's words, "For me to live is Christ."
4. John’s life sent this great and clear message: I am not called to be the center of attention, I am called to bring attention to another. “He must increase and I must decrease!”
a. Never has a man’s life been so willingly and joyfully given over to the service of another than John the Baptist’s was for Jesus.
5. The life of John the baptist is a like a great monument in Scripture to tell us that there is Something so fantastic, so marvelous and so fulfilling that those who have eyes to see it want nothing else. It tells us that there’s a Treasure so wonderful, so valuable, that the one who recognizes its true value will gladly sell everything he possesses in order to obtain this Treasure.
F. It would be a violation of John's whole life if we didn't recognize that the principal application of his life is to draw our attention to Jesus.
1. He would not want us to focus on him, but rather on the One he came to promote.
2. The life of John the Baptist is most honored by glorying in the One he gloried in, by testifying of the One he testified of, by leaping for joy in the presence of the One before whom he leapt for joy, by rejoicing at the coming of the bridegroom in whose coming he rejoiced,
3. and by following his lead in devoting our entire lives to drawing attention to the One who came after John, whose sandals none of us are worthy to untie.
G. The majesty and importance of having a forerunner. Which of us had one? Which great hero of the Bible ever had a forerunner? Who was ever so great that God sent someone else first just to announce his coming?
1. Luke 7:28 “I say to you, among those born of women There is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
2. Beloved, the greatest man the human race could produce was given the assignment of announcing the coming of Jesus. The greatest man the human race could produce was unworthy to untie the sandals of the Lord. Doesn’t that tell us something about Jesus?
3. Wouldn’t you think that the greatest voice among men would be given the chance to sing a solo? But no, the greatest human voice was made to sing background vocals for Jesus.
4. Why? Doesn’t it seem like the greatest man should have the greatest assignment and the greatest voice should be given the greatest opportunity?
5. He was. This is the whole point! The greatest assignment is to announce the coming of Jesus. The greatest part there is is to play the part of supporting actor to Jesus. He is the lead. He is the main character. The whole story is about Him. And our grandest moment is when we point to Him; our highest glory is when we say: “Not me, but Him!”
A. Jesus’ reaction to the death of John (Matt.14:13 “Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself.”)
1. I find it terrifically meaningful that Jesus went off into solitude at the news of John's death.
2. It must have seemed like God didn't care. Here we see the truth hidden from John.
a. Think of all that time that God let John sit in that prison not knowing why, not understanding what was happening. John was in some ways Like a Job. He does the right thing and then he suffers in spite of it. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
b. The righteous are supposed to be rewarded. (Hebrews 11: 6) God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. So you would expect that the ones who sought Him most fervently would receive the greatest reward.
c. Jesus Himself says that there was no man greater than John. So he should get rewarded more than anyone, right?
d. Then why is he sitting in that stinking prison for all that time?
e. And why does his head end up on a platter? Why does God allow him to be treated in such a cruel, gruesome way?
f. Surely here if anywhere there is ammunition for the one who would say, "What profit is there in serving God?"
3. What did it mean? Did it mean that God didn't care? Did it mean that John was no longer important to Him? No, not at all. See how much Jesus cared about John!
a. When Jesus is confronted with the death of Lazarus, He weeps. And the people who saw it said, “See how much He loved him!” And here He is confronted with the death of John and He goes off to be alone.
b. John had nothing. He had no bank account, he had no possessions, he didn't even have a home except the prison, he had no family, he had no wardrobe. And yet he was a rich man, a very rich man. For he had a special place in the heart of Jesus. And that is enough to make any man rich.
4. God sometimes ordains His people to be in prisons. Some of His most precious friends end up in prison. But what really matters is that Jesus cares about His friends, He knows their struggle and identifies with their distress, and their names are written on His heart.
B. John’s doubt in Matthew 11:2–19 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, “ ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear. 16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, 17 “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”