Category Archives: Bible Study

LESSON IV – John the Baptist Prepares the Way with Boldness of the Gospel

If there is one thing that defines John the Baptist’s ministry it’s his boldness.  Like the Apostle Paul who came after him and the prophet Elijah who came before him, John wasn’t ashamed or afraid of the Gospel.  All of the attributes that we’ve discussed so far, his external self-denying character, his internal Holy Spirit filled character, his scriptural wisdom, and his recognition of Christ’s supreme authority combine together to form a ministerial blueprint that could not be more evident.  John prepared the way for Jesus by preaching a bold, dynamic, penetrating Gospel urging all those who would listen to repent, while confronting their sins head-on, and detailing the future judgment of Christ as the consequences for sins.

Repent

If we briefly look at the benediction given by Zechariah at the birth of his son, we see him beginning to prophesy about the coming efforts of John.  Picking up in verse 76, 76 ” And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, 77 To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; 79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:76-79 In his role of preparing the Way, John’s primary objective was to preach the “knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”  How can the people possibly be forgiven of their sins?  John the Apostle provides the answer in his first epistle, “9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9 This is exactly what John the Baptist is preaching in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Repentance is essential to salvation and John’s entire message revolves around this, in fact his baptismal ministry symbolizes a public repentance of sins.  We read of this very action in Luke 3:3, “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

In Luke 3:7-9 we get an example of John boldly preaching repentance as he confronts the Pharisees and Sadducees in calling to them, “7 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.'” Here not only is he telling them that they’ve been warned once before of the coming judgment against those who have not repented, but he hammers home his repentance message yet again, while telling them that they cannot simply rely on their heritage for eternal security.  This likely came as a shock to not only the religious leaders but to the crowds of Jews who heard him speak with the authority of the Holy Spirit.

Confront Sin

In keeping with his message of repentance, John challenges those who are unable to recognize sin in their lives by pointing out those behaviors which now need to be abandoned.  In Luke 3:12-14 we see his encounter with the tax collectors as he instructs them too, “12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ 13 And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than what is appointed for you.’14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.'”  But John doesn’t stop there, in Luke 3:18-20 we read, “18 And with many other exhortations he preached to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 20 also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.”  John rebuked Herod, the king because of an improper, incestuous relationship with his brother’s wife, likewise pointing out all the other disgusting, immoral, reprobate sins that he had committed.  However, this rebuke would cost John his freedom and ultimately his life.

Judgment: The Consequences of Sin

            John’s final point of his messages had an eschatological theme as he pointed toward the impending judgment on all those who refused to repent and turn to the Messiah.  In Matthew 3:12 during one of John’s sermons, we read of his discourse on the coming judgment of Jesus, “12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Clearly John understood the grave eternal consequences that faced those who refused to repent and he presented that message so that all who heard might understand how serious this matter is.

Summary

            John’s ministerial message was quite different than a lot of the “post-modern” soft gospel styles that we hear so much of today.  John preached effectively on the repentance of sins and the importance of living a life in accordance with that repentance, starting with a public display of baptism.  As he was confronted by those who were either unwilling to repent or unknowing of what sins they had committed, John boldly corrected, admonished, and rebuked, even when it involved king Herod.

Application

            John the Baptist’s ministry was bold and penetrating, but he spoke the truth and did so fearlessly.  To effectively reach non-believers a ministry requires a bold approach, capable of emphasizing the importance of repentance and the confrontation of sin directly.  This may or may not be something that comes natural, so not only does this take physical work, it also takes spiritual work by God to develop boldness and eliminate the fears that inhibit it.

LESSON III – Answering the call: John’s Preparation for Service

In Lesson I we discussed how John’s call was predetermined by God as an essential component in preparing the way for Jesus and His ministry.  In the previous Lesson, we learned how God bestowed His faithfulness and grace upon John’s parents by blessing them with a long awaited child that would turn the children of Israel back to God.  Now it’s time to dig into John’s ministry and see how he provides three prerequisites for a God-glorifying ministry.  Would he have what it takes to perform such a monumental task as the one God laid before him?  Well, if we go back to our text that we read in Lesson II, Luke describes the angel Gabriel’s pronouncement about John’s character.  We pick up in Luke 1:15, “15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”  As John MacArthur points out, we get insight into John’s future character, both internally and externally.  On the exterior he will live a life of self-denial not partaking in wine (fruit of the vine) or strong drink (alcohol), while on the inside he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.  It’s on these two points we’ll begin our discussion.

Righteousness

The Apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy writes, “9who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.”2 II Timothy 1:9 John the Baptist was called to a “holy calling” as Paul phrases it and as such, he could not conform to world or her sinful standards, lest he be deemed hypocritical.  This isn’t to say that John wasn’t without sin, because as Romans 3:23 reminds us, “all have sinned.”  Everyone except Jesus has been born into sin, it’s hereditary.  Just as Paul points out in Romans 5:12, “12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned”2  But clearly John was called to be special, set aside for the glory of God even before birth.  It seems evident that this is the reason we read of his social seclusion, which was at the heart of his self-denial, in Luke 1:80, “80 So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.”  There is a reason why John remained in the wilderness until his ministry was to begin.  As we’ve established, John was able to fulfill prophecy by declaring he was the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”, but the wilderness was also where his spiritual growth took place.  He was able to avoid the many temptations that face each of us on a daily basis, by denying himself even the simplest pleasures of life.  Perhaps God even used this time of seclusion to not only train him, but to protect him from those who would no doubt enjoy seeing the downfall of a man declared for greatness before birth.

There is an interesting parallel we can draw here between John and the initial ministry of Paul.  The first two verses of this passage we’re already familiar with, but pay special attention to verse 17, “15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” Galatians 1:15-17 Interesting isn’t it?  Paul did not immediately begin proclaiming the Gospel as it was revealed to him through Jesus Christ, instead he went to Arabia for three years (Galatians 1:18).  As pointed out in John MacArthur’s study Bible, this area was Nabatean Arabia, a wilderness desert, stretching East of Damascus.  Paul too was sent to the desert to be trained by God and prepared for his ministry.  It’s as though this time alone, by both men, was used as a sanctifying time to be instructed by God.  John’s seclusion and ultimate self-denial from a worldly lifestyle included not only abstinence of wine and strong drink, but any semblance of a nice home, fancy clothing, or fine dining.  As Matthew 3:4 ESV states, “4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  What we are seeing with John is a complete and total dependence on God for all of his needs.  There’s nothing to get in the way of his spiritual education.  A Biblical parallel to John’s attire can be found in II Kings 1:8 “8 So they answered him, ‘A hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.'” Remember back to Lesson I when we discussed Malachi’s prophecy of an “Elijah-like” figure?  Here we find a direct correlation between the two regarding their clothing.

Biblical Wisdom

As we pointed out earlier, not only was John’s character rock solid and above reproach on the outside, but his character was spiritually complete on the inside.  We already know that John was filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb and as our text in this Lesson points out he grew in the Spirit as he got older.  So we have to believe that his time spent in the desert prior to his ministry was for the purpose of establishing truths within him.  Let’s face it, how difficult would it be to stand up and preach the Gospel boldly if you weren’t an expert in what you were teaching.  Simply put, one would be blown around like “a reed in the wind” from the various challengers to the Gospel. (Matthew 11:7)  John needed to be scripturally solid in order to communicate effectively as a witness for the coming Messiah.  It’s not likely John carried a copy of the scriptures with him as he went baptizing throughout Judea, so when he quotes Isaiah, as recorded in Matthew 3:2-3 “2 and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 For this is he who 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.'”  then we have to believe that this knowledge has become ingrained within him.  Not only did John grow in scriptural wisdom, but he advanced in his understanding of Jesus Messiah.  If he is going to bear witness about Christ, then he must be able to understand the fallible, fallen nature of man due to sin, he obviously had to have a full comprehension for the necessity of repentance, and most importantly he needed to recognize and submit to the authority of Jesus.

Submission to the Authority of Jesus

Clearly John’s instructional time also filled him with knowledge of the One whom he was preparing for, Jesus Christ.  He had to fully understand what God’s plan would be in sending His Son to die for the sins of the world.  In the Apostle John’s Gospel we get an introduction to the purpose and ministry of John the Baptist, from a different perspective, “6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” John 1:6-8  In this passage, not only do we get a firsthand account of the providence of God in sending John, but we see that his purpose was not to be light, but to reflect the light.  John’s role was to deflect all attention and glory from himself to Jesus and he was absolutely, 100% on board with that idea.

There are four clear indicators of John’s recognition of the authority of Jesus as he prepared the way for Him.  As we read in John 1:15, “15 John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'”  John was establishing early on that he wasn’t the promised Messiah, but instead makes it evident to the crowds listening to him preach that Jesus is higher than him because Jesus was before him.  If we think about what John is saying here, he is actually declaring the supremacy of Christ by pointing out His eternality.  The second signal provided by John is found in his statement from Mark 1:7, “7 And he preached, saying, ‘There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.'”  Again we see the example of John submitting to Jesus Christ.  There are not many more demeaning tasks than stooping down to take off someone’s shoes, especially in ancient Jewish days when sandals were worn and feet were extremely dirty, but John is saying that he’s not even worthy to do that.  He is trying to get his point across to all those who will listen that they might understand just how majestic the Messiah is.   “11 I indeed baptize you with water unto 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 fire.” Matthew 3:11 Here John is pointing out the fact that Jesus is God, capable of pouring out the Holy Spirit on those who believe in Him.  We find the fourth and final example of John’s acknowledgement of Jesus’ authority in Matthew 3:13-14, “13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?'”  Just before the culmination of John’s ministry with the baptism of Jesus, we see him humbly objecting to this act and stating that instead Jesus should be the one baptizing him.  In each of these examples John submits himself to Jesus, immediately recognizing and making known the supremacy of Christ that all glory may be given to the Messiah.

Summary

In answering God’s call to prepare the way for Jesus, John obediently and dutifully followed the will of God for his life.  Although, as we learned from the proclamation of Gabriel, John was set aside and filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, he still had to be molded into the vessel that God could use for His purpose.  In doing this, John isolated himself from the world, not to avoid the world, but instead to be instructed and trained to confront the world about her sins and turn the hearts of Israel back to God.  In his seclusion, John abstained from the many pleasures and luxuries that the world offers such as strong drink, nice clothing, rich meals, or even a home.  His ministry, even his life, was totally and wholly dependent on God.  His lifestyle of self-denial framed his outward character for all to see how different he was, but his internal character was equally as impressive as he became filled with the Holy Spirit and taught to have a solid foundation in the scriptures.  His righteous living, combined with his biblical wisdom paled in comparison to his submission to the authority of Jesus.  John understood the fact the Jesus was the Son of God and that His mission to save the world from her sins was established with divine authority.

Application

John’s ministry provides the essential elements required for serving God.  These examples illustrate that answering God’s call to service involves sacrificing to live righteously, wisdom to understand the Bible for effectively preaching/teaching the Gospel, and a total submission to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.  What things in your own life are impeding your ability to live a righteous, God-glorifying life?  Have you neglected reading and studying the Word of God?  It’s imperative that this be the foundation of your life, not only for those planning on serving in a ministry capacity but for everyone.  Finally, Jesus has the ultimate authority over everything in our lives, but we don’t often recognize or appreciate that.  Think about the humble, submissive attitude of John the Baptist and how you can apply that in your own life.

The Model Ministry: Lesson II – Faithfulness

We’ve already established that God chose John the Baptist from all eternity and he was predetermined to be the Voice preparing the way for Jesus.  We established the amazing truths that through God’s grace He chose John, yet despite this, it was unknown to anyone other than the Lord who would be the man to perform this important task.  The prophets talked of this person, but they did not identify who he was or to whom he would be born.  It’s on this point we’ll begin today’s lesson.

Faithful Parents: Zechariah and Elizabeth

John the Baptist was born to two faithful parents who lived to serve the Lord.  Luke 1:5-7 provides some insight into the nature of Zechariah and Elizabeth, “5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.”  In this passage of scripture we learn that both of John’s parents were righteous before God, keeping His commandments and statutes.  This is exactly what God calls each one of us to do and Jesus asserts in John 14:15 that it is actually a reflection of our love toward Him, “15 If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Not only were they keeping in step with God’s commands, but they were following God faithfully in service.  In fact, as we read later in this chapter, Zechariah was a priest in the temple.  Continuing on in Luke, his Gospel points out that they had no children because of Elizabeth’s barrenness, which is extremely important information.  In ancient Jewish times, the lack of children was often seen as a sign of disfavor from God.  As Elizabeth points out in Luke 1:25, their childlessness created a reproach for them among the people.  If that weren’t enough, now the couple is advanced in years and outside the normal child-bearing years.

In accordance with Jewish priestly custom, a great honor was bestowed to Zechariah as he was chosen to perform the duty of burning incense in the temple.  During this time, a large crowd of people had gathered to pray outside and about the time Zechariah was finishing up his work, “11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.'” Luke 1:11-13 The first point we want to focus on is that the angel says Zechariah’s prayer has been answered.  This indicates to us that despite Elizabeth’s barrenness, despite the couple’s advanced years, we have to assume that they continued praying for a child.  They had faith that one day God would bless them with a child.  Even though this had yet to happen, up to this point Zechariah remained faithful to his priestly duties and as Luke alluded to, the couple remained righteous before God and faithfully obeyed His commandments.

Faithfulness of God

In Exodus 34:6 God describes His own attributes to Moses on Mount Sinai as He declares, “6 The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth”  When an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and declared his wife would have a child, God was about to reveal His faithfulness (longsuffering) to the elderly couple.  I Samuel 26:23 ESV says, “23 May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness” and we’ve already learned that this describes Zechariah and Elizabeth perfectly. Their “earthly” reward was going to be a child that would grow up to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.  What an amazing honor!

Let’s look again at the revelation given by an angel of the Lord, “13 But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.'” Luke 1:13 This isn’t a random name that their child was given; this was a name given to him by God.  He was to be called John, meaning “The Lord is Gracious”1 and God was about to prove His graciousness to John’s parents.  God’s plan of grace was unfolding beginning with the birth of John, the one that would prepare the way for Jesus Christ.  So much was happening all at once for Zechariah, God’s faithfulness was about to be revealed, his graciousness soon bestowed by the birth of John and on top of all that an angel was standing before Zechariah declaring this all to him.  Biblical history tells us that angels hadn’t appeared in hundreds of years so no doubt this entire event was overwhelming to Zechariah.  One can hardly blame him for his response to the angel, “18 And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.” Luke 1:18  Isn’t that typical of our own sinful response to God?  We pray and pray for something and when God reveals His plan to us, we doubt, have fears, or ask for more evidence.  Why do we struggle so much to simply take God at His word and trust Him?  Simply put it’s due to the presence of sin in our lives.  All of those fears, doubts, and questions are sin and as Zechariah would soon find out, God would punish his disbelief swiftly.  At the instant of his doubting reply, the angel, who now reveals himself as Gabriel, declared that because of his disbelief, Zechariah would be struck mute until the birth of the child.  Picture what’s happening here; Zechariah has been praying for a child and it’s finally been revealed that his wife will conceive.  As we’ll learn in the next lesson, this son will prepare the way for the Messiah by turning the children of Israel back to God, but Zechariah is unable to speak a word of it to anyone.  If only he had trusted God!

A lot happens in the next nine months as the child begins to develop in Elizabeth’s womb, all the while Zechariah is still rendered speechless.  In Elizabeth’s sixth month, the angel Gabriel appears to a relative of hers named Mary, to whom Gabriel declares will give birth to a son and His name will be Jesus and “32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”  Luke 1:32-33  The miracles that were happening in these passages are just precursors to the ones that will happen once these two infants become men.  Nevertheless what’s transpiring is simply amazing.  As Gabriel leaves, he tells Mary that Elizabeth too is pregnant and reminds her that this is despite barrenness and old age, 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37 Mary then visits Elizabeth and at the instant they meet, the baby (John) leaps in her womb.  Luke 1:42-55 documents the exchange between Mary and Elizabeth.

Up to this point in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth, they have displayed their faithful, righteous commitment to God and God has answered their prayers by blessing them with the conception of a child, despite Elizabeth’s inability to have a child and their elderly age.  God has revealed His amazing plans for the life of John to Zechariah yet he has been rendered mute because of his disbelief.  As we just learned, Elizabeth’s relative Mary is also going to give birth to a son named Jesus who will save the people of the world from their sins.  After Elizabeth gave birth to her son and he had been circumcised, all the family and friends gathered around to ask of his name, she replied, “he shall be called John.” Luke 1:60 The replies weren’t so atypical than those today as everyone started questioning the name choice because no one else in the family had ever been named John.  At this time, Zechariah requested a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John” and immediately his speech was restored and he subsequently praised God and delivered a benediction to his son declaring all that the angel Gabriel had told him. Luke 1:63-79

Summary

Zechariah and Elizabeth both lived righteously and obeyed the commandments of the Lord.  Despite being unable to have children and being advanced in age, they continued to pray that one day God might bless them with a child.  Through their faithful lives God promised to give them a child that would become the herald for the Messiah.  As we learned in I Samuel 26:23 God repays every man for their faithfulness and righteousness and that’s exactly what happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Despite the lesson in doubting that Zechariah received by losing his speech, God, being faithful as we learned in Exodus 34:6 delivered His promise by allowing Elizabeth to give birth to a son and it was truly miraculous.  Remaining obedient to what they had been commanded the new parents named their son John, meaning “The Lord is Gracious.”  John is now on the scene, fulfilling the prophecies that we discussed in Lesson I and his preparation for a ministry can now begin.

Application

The faithful couple should serve as an example in our lives to continually obey the Lord, follow His commandments, and dutifully serve Him even if things aren’t going exactly how we hope or if prayers haven’t been answered on our terms.  Everything happens in God’s time.  His plan for their lives was perfect and God’s glory was definitely on display.  Would His glory have been as magnificent if Elizabeth had been many years younger or if she had not been barren at all?  If Zechariah had not had his speech taken away, would the people have been amazed when it was loosed at the written name of John?  Luke 1:66 documents that at that moment the people asked “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him.” Anything less than these miracles and perhaps God’s power would not have been felt.  Everything that God does is big, because He is a big God and deserves our wonder, praise, and faithfulness.