Preacher John the Baptist

John the Baptist had an important ministry, in the footsteps of the great prophet Elijah, preparing his generation to receive Christ.

John impacted the nation of Israel and far beyond.  Decades after John’s death Paul met a group of devout followers of God at Ephesus who had been baptised with “John’s baptism” of repentance.  At the same time an orator named Apollos travelled through many nations preaching John’s messages.

Both the Ephesian believers and Apollos had to be brought up to date with the revelation of Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of John’s preaching.  Yet for John’s message to have gone so far and wide we see that the impact of his preaching is quite impressive.

What John Preached

The Bible gives several insights into John’s preaching.  First mention is in Matthew’s history of the life of Christ.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Matthew 3:1-3

Matthew tells us that John preached in the wilderness and the summary of his message is “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand”.  Matthew also tells us John came in fulfilment of a prophecy from Isaiah.

Matthew’s assertion that John fulfilled a prophecy from Isaiah is confirmed by Dr Luke, who did his own research into the life and Christ and recorded his findings in the gospel of Luke.  Luke discovered that John’s father saw an angel which foretold John’s birth and said John would fulfil the very same prophecy Matthew records, see Luke 1:13-17 and also Luke 3:2-6.

Dr Luke summarised John’s preaching as Matthew did, with a simple sentence, but adding detail Matthew did not mention.

“Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” Luke 3:2,3

Isaiah Summary

Six hundred years before John the Baptist the prophet Isaiah spoke about him and what he would say.  Matthew declares that John is the fulfilment of a prophecy by Isaiah found at Isaiah 40:3-8.

“The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley will be exalted, and every mountain and hill will be made low: and the crooked will be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.  The voice said, Cry. And he said, What will I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withers, the flower fades: because the spirit of the LORD blows on it: surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God will stand for ever.” Isaiah 40:3-8

Isaiah gives a rich insight into John’s message, summarised by Matthew’s simple account.  We see that John was to preach in the wilderness, which Matthew recorded happening.  John would also “prepare the way of the Lord”, by getting the people ready to receive Christ, which the gospels record taking place.

The preparation for Christ was to involve making a straight path, lifting up the lowly, humbling the proud, removing the deviations and the bumps.  John’s simple and direct message levelled the field, directing all the people, great and small to take the same step of repentance.

All Flesh Is Grass

I love the prophetic account given by Isaiah about John the Baptist’s ministry.  The New Testament historians don’t give any insight into how this prophecy was fulfilled, so let me bring it to life for you as I see it.

“The voice of the Holy Spirit directing John said ‘Cry’! And John the Baptist said, ‘What will I cry?’ The Spirit told John to cry out ‘All flesh is grass and will wither, no matter how beautiful it looks, but God’s Word will never wither or fail.’”

At this point I see John standing in the wilderness, alone.  How many other people are going to be in the wilderness?  None.  Only lost shepherds and crazy people are hanging out in the wilderness, unless maybe someone is on their way to the Qumran community at the top end of the Dead Sea.

So John shouts at the top of his voice, into the barren hills, “All flesh is grass. Whatever you are doing it is a waste of time.  You need to be listening to God, because He is real and what He does lasts.”

John’s voice echoes across the scrubby landscape.  And off in the distance one or two lonely souls hear him preach and are immediately gripped by the Holy Spirit.  They are cut to the depths of their heart and hurry home to get their friends and family to come and hear this voice.

So powerful was the message, given in obedience to the Holy Spirit, that an audience quickly grows as people hungry for God are gripped by this simple, humbling message.

Malachi Prophecy

Isaiah was not the only one to prophesy about John the Baptist.  Four hundred years before John the prophet Malachi spoke of one coming in the spirit of Elijah to impact the hearts of the people.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he will turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, otherwise I will come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5,6

We know that John is connected to this prophecy because of the angel that spoke with John’s father.

“But the angel said to him, Fear not, Zacharias: for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elisabeth will bear you a son, and you will call his name John. ….. And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:13-17

You will note in that angelic message that John fulfilled the prophecy given by Malachi.

Putting it Together

Recognising that each description of John’s preaching and ministry is in itself a summary, but that each should be complimentary, we can now put them together to create a picture of John’s preaching.

John was a voice crying in the wilderness, so he did not start with a big city crowd.  He had to build an audience in a place where an audience was hard to come by.  And he did.

He did it by preaching what the Holy Spirit told him to preach.  The message humbled man, exposing man’s temporary and meaningless existence.  The message also exalted God, by showing that God’s Word endures and cannot be changed.

John’s message called for repentance by levelling all humanity before God, all with the same need to repent before God.  John introduced a new expression of humility, that of baptism by immersion to testify to a change of heart.

John’s message focused people on the Kingdom of God, which has two points of significance.  The presence of God challenges our sinfulness before Him, calling us to repent and seek forgiveness for our sins.  For those who have found that forgiveness, the presence of God promises God’s blessing and grace in their lives.

The depth of repentance called for by John prepared people to accept Christ.  It also changed their heart, not just to God, but toward those in authority and those they are responsible for.

Modern Day Equivalent

A modern day John the Baptist would still preach the same message.

“Repent before God, because God is at hand.  God will judge your sin and is also ready to bless your obedience.  Stop living for personal agendas and recognise the temporariness of your life.  God’s purposes are profoundly more wonderful than all those other things that consume you.  Turn around and start living for God, in the fear of God.”

A modern day John would not start out with a big audience, but with a Spirit anointed message.  He would speak with such destiny that the message would do the job.  He would not buy and audience or rely on marketing hype to get heard.

And a modern day John would expose in people’s hearts their pride, rebellion, selfishness and independence.  He would call them back to living the way God wants them to, rather than for their selfish, secular agendas.

John Baptist’s preaching moved a nation. His message was “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”. Today that would be “Repent, for God is right here, so fear God and expect God’s blessings”.

Jesus Preached the Same Sermon

The significance of John’s sermon is endorsed by the fact that Jesus Christ took up that same message when He began to preach.

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

This is the message destined to prepare hearts for Christ.  This is the message that Jesus preached.  And this is the message that the early church preached as well.  Paul the Apostle reminded the church leaders in Ephesus about his preaching that had built that church years before.

Acts 20:21 “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Just as John called people to repent, so did Paul.  The Kingdom of God being at hand was the basis for repentance.  Because God is real and is present to deal with us, we must have repentance toward God, but we also have great reward in our faith in Jesus Christ.

As I summarised it above, the message is, “Repent, for God is right here, so fear God and expect God’s blessings”.

A Liberator is Born

Freedom lovers the world over pause to remember the greatest liberator of all time, finding courage from the example of one who achieved more in 33 years than empires achieve in centuries.

Born in humble circumstances this likable young man lived in the system of his day, under local tyrants and a global oppressor, but he radicalised the world nonetheless.

He was not a rebel, but a devotee.  Not a protester but architect and master builder.

Rather than live to fight evil, he lived that good might prevail, thus breaking evil’s power.

Rather than react to cruel global force, he ushered in a supreme and surpassing kingdom to prevail over all powers ever since.

Rather than employ human energies, he walked in the power of God, to fulfil divine purpose.

Rather than recruit us to react to the wrongs of our day, he enlists us to live with the rights of a new dimension.

In the name of this liberator, cut down in his prime, multiplied millions, in every culture and from every creed, have been set free.  That new freedom is multi-dimensional.

It transforms the inner life, activating a connection with the divine that is truly life changing.

It is also social, transforming families and healing broken relationships.

It triumphs over personal demons, unlocking addictions and slaveries of the will.

And it is cultural, liberating whole communities from superstition, fear, exploitation and shame.

Here’s to the liberated millions!

And here’s to the Greatest Liberator of All Time: Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Saviour, Lord, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

We celebrate his birth and we live in the power of his resurrection.

We are now the liberators; led by him who cannot be surpassed and building that kingdom that has no end.

Character and Values

I spoke recently to High School and Uni Students on the topic of Kingdom Culture. Christians live “in the world” but are not “of the world”. Yet they are impacted by and pressured into the culture of the world. That is why care needs to be taken to understand and to live by the culture of God’s Kingdom – Kingdom Culture.

Seek the Kingdom

Jesus Christ told us directly that we are to seek God’s Kingdom and not to be distracted by the things that the people in the world are distracted by.

“Take no thought, saying, What will we eat? or, What will we drink? or, How will we be clothed? (For these are the things the Heathen seek) for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:31-33 (Jesus Christ)

God is King

While the idea of the “kingdom of God” sounds somewhat old fashioned it simply means that God is King. You Seek the Kingdom of God when you make God your King. In the Kingdom of God, God is King and God’s Will Wins.

To seek the Kingdom of God we seek to have God rule over our own lives, including our lifestyle, values, attitudes, thoughts, decisions, disciplines, and so on. Once God’s rule is clear in our own lives we can then be led by Him to establish His kingship in other areas where we have influence or impact.

Kingdom Culture

The Culture of God’s Kingdom involves three areas to look at. They are the cultural values that reflect God, such as Love, Faith, Holiness, Selflessness, Joy, Humility, Peace, Forgiveness and such like.

It also involves Living by God’s Standards as revealed in God’s Word (the Bible) and Christ’s Teachings.

And it also involves the need to be Unpolluted by Compromise, so we remain Separate from the World and Sin.

Character and Values

Kingdom Culture can be described in terms of your “character” and your “values”. These two things are separate and yet related.

Character looks at HOW you Live your Life, or, in other words, What you are Living BY.

Values look at WHY you Live your Life, or, What you are Living FOR.

Godly Culture involves you living the right way, living by the right things, but also living for the right reasons and objectives.

Character

Looking more closely at Character, remember that it is all about HOW you Live and What you live BY.

The way you live your life could reflect such things as: Greed, Selfishness, Opportunism, Discipline, Sensuality, Pride, Jealousy, Spite, Love, Humility, Faithfulness, Impatience, Anger, Violence, Patience, Self-Control, Laziness, Insecurity, Fear, Self-Determination, Self-Importance or many other character qualities.

Character describes How you travel through life, the mood you are in, the way you respond to challenges, and the tone of your lifestyle.

Values

Looking more closely at Values, remember that it is all about WHY you Live and What you live FOR.

What you are living for could be centred on such things as: Money, Fame, Pleasure, Revenge, Impressing Others, Serving Others, Holiness, Glorifying God, Career, Self-Fulfilment, Leisure, Getting Ahead of Others, Doing your Best, Being Respected, Getting Your Own Way or one or more of many other things.

Values describe Why you travel through life, what motivates you, what satisfies you, and what keeps you going.

Right Character and Right Values

It is possible to have good character, knowing how to do things the right way, but having wrong values. You could be very disciplined, respectful, sacrificial, wise and faithful, but use those good character qualities to serve your lust for success, fame, importance, revenge, or other wrong motivation.

In that case you would have good character but bad values.

Alternatively, it is possible to be sold out to serving God, blessing others, building God’s Kingdom and showing respect to your leaders, but to have such poor personal discipline that you are totally unreliable and unable to effect the things you want to do. You could be too lazy and undisciplined in mind to read God’s word, pray for any length of time, remember your commitments, and so on.

In that case you would have good values but poor character.

That case is reflected in Jesus’ disappointment with the disciples on the night Jesus was betrayed. Jesus saw that their spirit was willing (the right values and motives) but their flesh was weak (poor character to follow through on their good intentions).

Serving the King

A good servant of the King needs to have good character and good values.

You cannot be lazy or selfish, and you cannot be a thief or a liar. You need to be trained to be hard working, faithful, diligent, attentive, denying yourself and so on, and to use those disciplines of character for the right reasons.

How do you stand in terms of Character and Values?

Maybe you need to allow God to invade your life and to train you in godly character and godly values. Maybe you need to ask Him to do that, so you can be a good soldier of the Cross.

Entering The Kingdom

In my travels I have often seen signs that say “You are now entering…” such and such a place. So, imagine a sign that advised you “You are now entering The Kingdom of God!”

When you enter a new country you often notice physical and social differences. These can be quite striking. Back in 2005 I travelled by bus from Macedonia into Kosovo. At that time Kosovo was under UN control. Macedonia was a former communist state which had no revolution to oust the communist system. As a result the old guard simply changed their name and tried to live by a free market system.

However the air of oppression in Macedonia was obvious. Our bus driver upset one of the police at a checkpoint and so we were detained for 40 minutes while he was stuck in an office getting a stern lecture. The air of unbridled authority and punitive treatment was striking. The place felt like a police state.

Once we crossed into Kosovo the very air seemed brighter. The driver opened a box of chocolates and shared them with the passengers. There was celebration in the air, even though there had been killings in the town of Ferijai where I was bound.

Kingdom of God

Imagine entering the Kingdom of God! What would the atmosphere be like there? How striking would be the difference in culture and atmosphere as you crossed the border!

And just as you must cross a border or go through some entrance to move to a new country or a new place or area, you also need to ‘enter’ God’s Kingdom.

But God’s Kingdom is not a physical place. It is something that you enter into independently of your physical location. You enter the Kingdom by faith. So, you end up as a dual-citizen. You have an earthly nationality and place, but you also have heavenly citizenship.

Your citizenship in the Kingdom of God is far more valuable and far more significant to your existence than any earthly citizenship you can possess.

Excursions

Because Christians have a dual citizenship, living in the world, but not being of the world, each one determines the degree to which they enter the Kingdom.

Some people have heavenly citizenship but hardly ever explore their new kingdom. They stay in the constraints of the world system in which they live. They remain bound by the prince of this world, controlled by his manipulation of the culture and his intimidation of Christians.

Yet others make occasional excursions into the Kingdom of God, in a similar way to taking a vacation. They see the Kingdom as very wonderful, but not the place to stay if you need to earn an income, raise a family, build your career, grow an investment base, have a vibrant social life, and imbibe all the treats this world has to offer.

Many Christians, therefore, end up with little knowledge of the land of their citizenship: God’s Kingdom. They read about it, in the way people flip through holiday brochures. They learn about it and can tell others about the delights of being there. However, they themselves are seldom caught in God’s Kingdom.

Kingdom at Hand

Jesus Christ brought the Kingdom of God into close proximity to man. He did that by bringing the grace of God, the spiritual riches that are ours from God, to people on earth. The Kingdom is no mere sentimental concept or tales of “pie in the sky when you die”. Instead, the Kingdom of God has immediate and tangible impact on people’s lives, including physical healing and release from demonic control.

Jesus sent His disciples to heal the sick as an expression of the Kingdom. And He said that by casting devils out of people He was bringing the Kingdom of God close to people.

“Heal the sick there and say to them, The kingdom of God is come close to you.” Luke 10:9

“If I cast out devils with the finger of God, no doubt the kingdom of God is come to you.” Luke 11:20

The connection between God’s Kingdom and tangible impact in people’s lives was well summarised by the Apostle Paul. “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” 1Corinthians 4:20

Close Encounters

Most Christians today shy away from the Kingdom of God, by shying away from the Power of God at work in their life. It’s like people going into a restaurant and inspecting the meals. They even sniff the aroma and think how wonderful it would be to enjoy the food. Then they walk out, not having eaten anything.

Christians know all about Jesus and the disciples healing the sick and casting out demons. They know those things were commonplace in the early church, at the hands or ordinary Christians, as Jesus promised. They love the idea of such power and grace. They sing about it and make sure their children learn all about it. But they never expect the Kingdom of God to have tangible impact in or near them.

That is why Christians make short excursions into the Kingdom, having close encounters from time to time, but quickly withdrawing to the safety of that which is familiar to them. However, what is familiar and comfortable to them is not the Kingdom of God, where miracles take place around them, but the world, where men live outside of God’s grace and power.

Claiming the Kingdom

Jesus revealed that it is possible for people to interact with the Kingdom of God to different degrees. Some saw the power of God and yet not receive anything from God’s Kingdom, because various things kept them from going to or believing in Jesus. Others came to Jesus with their specific requests, and Jesus answered them, with healing, deliverance and the like.

Yet others, Jesus taught, were so determined to get the benefits of the Kingdom of God that they virtually stormed the Kingdom, taking it by force.

“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence (is pressed upon), and the violent (determined) take it by force.” Matthew 11:12

Each individual Christian has a different level of engagement with God’s Kingdom. Those who are determined to claim the Kingdom get the most out of it.

Will Ye Enter

Have you entered the Kingdom of God? Do you live there, or just visit from time to time?

Have you pressed in to claim all the wonder and power of God’s Kingdom, or are you just content to take a few photographs of the nice scenery?

What is it that keeps drawing you out of the Kingdom, back into the realm where unregenerate people who know nothing of God’s love, power and grace feel comfortable? Why do you so cherish that realm? What hold does it have over you? Why do you not love and hunger for all the power and reality of God’s Kingdom?

Will you enter God’s Kingdom? Will you remain there, pressing in for all that God has for you?

On the Winning Side

Over the past few days I received a range of disturbing reports from various sources. Cumulatively they speak of doom and gloom. But I found myself rejecting that prognosis. So I’m blowing a trumpet for faith, confidence and eagerness to win battles.

I hope my optimism doesn’t put you off, but I fear that many Christians are buried in the barrage (there I go with alliteration again – sorry). There is no shortage of challenges – just a shortage of champions. So, rather than depress you with the enemy’s smoke screen, let’s remind ourselves of the Lord’s sovereignty in all situations.

Let’s survey the landscape for a moment.

There are evil people who wish to perpetrate evil. Surprised? It’s the way things have been for a long time.

There are religions, institutions, and cohorts in league together intent on pulling down godly morality, Christian faith and the fear of God. Surprised? I think you’ll find that this is how things have been for a very long time.

Evil people, probably motivated by evil spirits and working for the devil, are employing clever strategies which are, at least temporarily, undermining godliness and the fear of God. The Kingdom of God is under active attack right now! Surprised? I think you’ll find that it’s been like this before.

Some Christian strongholds have been overthrown and their position usurped by contrary values. Churches have closed, Judeo-Christian values have been overturned, evil people have ascended to positions of influence, evil systems have infiltrated and subverted things that were once examples of godly virtue. Surprised? It’s all been done before.

Did you ever notice that the seven churches which Jesus personally communicated with in the book of Revelation no longer exist? Not one of them has survived. So, is that the end of Christianity? No!

Have you noticed how church buildings have now become café’s and private homes? Is that the end of the church? No! Have you noticed that established denominations have gone stale with formality or come to hold values contrary to their founding fathers?

To cut to the chase, as it were, let me ask you a couple of questions. Who is in control of this world, God or evil people? I am convinced that God is in control. Who has the greatest power on this planet, evil people or those empowered by God? Clearly those of us who access God’s power are on the winning side. When things look bleak does that mean that God’s plans are being thwarted? The answer to this question has to be a resounding “No”. Christ’s crucifixion was an apparent moment of defeat, when in reality it was the pivotal point of all human history. It undergirds the greatest legacy of victory that has ever been imagined.

So, the Philistines are camped on the next hill and they have a loud-mouth champion who threatens to tear us to pieces. That’s pretty impressive and pretty intimidating to anyone who can only see with natural eyes. When your peers are panicking and everyone’s confidence has dissolved you can find yourself giving credence to the apparent circumstances.

But when you see things from God’s perspective, knowing that He is the ultimate champion over all evil and will stand by His servants who will step out in His name, you can have the boldness of David.

We are on the Winning Side! The battle is so one-sided in our favour that our enemies have no chance whatsoever. They may have an apparent upper hand and they may convince all onlookers that they have won the day, but God is Lord of all and His Kingdom will prevail.

Be encouraged. Stir up your faith to stand like a Daniel, David or Gideon, against odds that make your stand look ridiculous. And when you see the next terrifying report about how our adversaries are taking ground, commit yourself to prayer and acts of faith. This is not time to faint in light of the bad news, but it’s time to connect to the Real News – that God is in control and is waiting for a champion to take up the challenge of this generation and its evil spectres.

It just may be that God has placed you where you are, for just such a time as this.