The Essential Jesus

John the Baptist

Teaching t12685


Brief review of series theme.  In order to appreciate Jesus’ public ministry, we need to understand and appreciate the person who prepared Israel for His ministry – John the Baptist.  John’s one-year preaching ministry was like a shooting star – brief but brilliant.  He made thousands of people aware of their need for spiritual life that only Jesus could give them.  Then his following melted away, and he was imprisoned and then beheaded for rebuking King Herod for cohabiting with his sister-in-law.

While John was imprisoned, Jesus paid public tribute to him.  Read Matt. 11:7-15 and re-read 11:11a.  This is an amazing tribute.  Possibly 1 billion people had lived by this time, and Jesus says that John was the greatest.  Greater than Abraham?  Greater than Moses?  Greater than David?   In what sense was John greater than these?  This passage and other passages suggest two ways . . .

Greatness of role

God gave John a uniquely great role in His redemptive plan.

He was the last of the Old Testament prophets who predicted the coming of the Messiah (read 11:9a,13).

He was himself a fulfillment of prophecy (read 11:9b,10). 

Malachi, the last Old Testament canonical prophet, had predicted that God would send one who would prepare His people the His coming (Mal. 3:1). 

Isaiah had made a similar prediction in 750 BC (read Isa. 40:3-5; see Matt. 3:3; Mk. 1:3).

Just before John was miraculously conceived (explain), an angel told John’s father that John would be this forerunner of the Messiah – bringing spiritual renewal to Israel as Elijah had done 800 years earlier (read Lk. 1:16,17; see Mal. 4:5,6).  (This is probably what Jesus means in Matt. 11:14.)

He also had the unique privilege of announcing the imminent coming of the Messiah, and then of introducing Him personally to the people of Israel (NEXT WEEK).

Re-read 11:11.  So Jesus says that John had the greatest role in the Old Testament period of promise leading up to the Messiah’s coming.  Yet the old order was about to be fulfilled and superseded by the new order of fulfillment – the beginning of God’s kingdom.  And even the least member of God’s kingdom is greater than John in that they belong to this period of superior privilege.  Read Eph. 2:10,  God says that every person who receives Christ is God’s workmanship (poema; artwork), and that God has fashioned each of us uniquely for the significant accomplishments He has prepared for us.

Sadly, many of us do not experience the satisfaction of being a unique work of God because we do not allow God to work another kind of greatness into us – the greatness of godly character . . .

Greatness of godly character

Here and elsewhere, Jesus also pays tribute to the greatness of John’s character.  These tributes paint a picture of godly character to which we all should aspire, and toward which we all can make significant progress.

In Matt. 11:7,8, Jesus reveals two character reasons for John’s spiritual greatness (re-read).  He describes them negatively:

John was no “reed shaken by the wind” – a figure of speech referring to people who vacillate according to public opinion.  He was a God-pleaser, not a people-pleaser (Gal. 1:10).  His highest priority was to be faithful to God, regardless of what people thought about him.  He did not read the latest popularity polls; he lived before “the Audience of One.”  He showed no favoritism; he rebuked the religious leaders, he told Roman soldiers to be satisfied with their wages, and he criticized Herod for his flagrant adultery (and this cost him his head).  It was this sincerity that was a key to his tremendous impact on those who came to hear him preach.

We too can become God-pleasers.  We too can become substantially free from people-pleasing.  And God will impact other people through this.  It is mainly the result of spending time with God in His word – getting more and more impressed with Him, so that He becomes bigger and people become smaller, so that His view of us matters more and people’s view of us matters less.

John wasn’t “dressed in soft clothing.”  He lived a simple life – even his clothing and diet were simple (Matt. 3:4).  He lived this way, not because he was ascetic, but because he was single-minded about fulfilling God’s role for his life.  This was the axis, and material matters took their place around this life-purpose.

Though we will probably not wind up living the wilderness, wearing a camel-hair shirt and eating grasshoppers, we too can have this simple, uncluttered, undistracted life (read 2 Tim. 2:4,7).  A materialistic, cluttered life is often a symptom of a life without purpose.  The more focused we become on pleasing God by fulfilling His unique purpose for our lives, the less these things matter to us.  Consider what God says here, and He will show you how to live it out.

Read Jn. 5:35.  Like a Mideast oil lamp, John shined (illuminated others) because he burned (with zeal).  His preaching drew people to the reality of God because his heart burned with passion for God and with enthusiasm for the things of God.  This is a good illustration of what our Christian lives can and should be (read Rom. 12:11; OIL LAMP SLIDE).  The wick is our heart, the oil is the Holy Spirit, and the light is our words and lifestyle manifesting the life of Christ. 

Some Christians want to be lights for Christ, but do not stay immersed in the Holy Spirit and draw daily from His love and power.  They are not dependent on the Holy Spirit, so they eventually burn out, and there is no profit in that. 

But many more grieve and quench the Holy Spirit because they want to live for self rather than be lights for Christ.  They are not consecrated to God’s purpose for their lives, so they squander their spiritual lives.  How horrible it is when God’s people waste all their passion on sports teams, shopping, TV shows and politics – but yawn their way through Bible study and fellowship!  How much easier it is to cool down a fanatic than to warm up a corpse!

John was great because he was a wick – dependent and consecrated, immersed in the oil and living to burn and shine for Christ.  We too can be great in God’s eyes, by living this “wick” life – God created us to live this way!

In Jn. 3:26-30, John demonstrated another key quality of spiritual greatness – humility.  Read 3:26.  John’s remaining followers suggest that he should be upset because people are coming to hear Jesus instead of him.  John’s response reveals a truly humble heart:

Read 3:27.  Pride sucks human praise and takes credit for any strength we may have – personality, intelligence, talent, spiritual gifts, etc.  This attitude is literally satanic (1 Tim. 3:6).  Quote 1 Cor. 4:7.  Humility deflects human praise by giving credit from the heart to God.

Read 3:28,29.  Pride takes joy only from being the bridegroom, but humility takes joy from being the bridegroom’s friend and from seeing others honoring Him.  Humility is glad to be the picture-frame that guides people’s eyes to the picture (Jesus).

Read 3:30.  Pride is pricked by diminishing influence and irked by others’ expanding influence.  But humility is content to be diminished in personal influence as long as Jesus’ influence is expanding.

We cannot make ourselves humble – self cannot cast out self.  But we can tell God that we want humility, that we want Him to convince us of its value, and that we want Him to do whatever is needed to grow us in humility.  Are you willing?

Finally, in Jn. 10:41 people pay tribute to John in a way that should encourage each of us (read). 

John performed no sign – he did no miracles, his ministry wasn’t dramatic or flamboyant in that way.  This has always been true of most Christians – it is probably true of most of us, myself included.  We don’t do overtly supernatural acts – we don’t call fire down from heaven, we don’t dramatic visions, we don’t raise the dead, etc.  God chooses a few to do these things – but not many.

But John did testify accurately about Jesus to others.  He told people the truth about Jesus, and he urged them to test his testimony for themselves.  And many responded to his testimony and discovered that Jesus is truly the Messiah.  We can all do this!  Each of us can tell people the truth about Jesus.  Each of us can tell people how Jesus has changed our lives.  Each of us can urge people to test our testimony for themselves.  Many believed in Jesus because of John’s testimony (read 10:42) – and over the course of our lives many will believe in Jesus because of our testimony!