Category Archives: Christian Living

LESSON V: Serving the Lord means Sacrifice

Continuing on with the John the Baptist series, 2 lessons left.

Jesus made it clear during His ministry that anyone desiring to serve Him, must be willing to sacrifice everything, “24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'” Matthew 16:24  As we’ve seen, the very life of John the Baptist from the beginning was the epitome of sacrifice, therefore it seems only fitting that it be sacrificial to the very end.  In fulfilling his mission, John preached throughout Judea, baptizing in repentance and preaching a bold, effective truthful Gospel.  It was prophesied in the Old Testament that he would turn the hearts of the children of Israel back to God and that’s exactly what he did.  The duration of his work was short and while he accomplished the task set before him, his life as a whole might have been considered a failure if measured by today’s worldly standards of success because it ultimately resulted in his imprisonment and death.

Disregard Consequences

As we alluded to earlier, John rebuked not only the religious leaders of the day for their false ideologies and religious practices, but also King Herod for his inappropriate and incestuous relationship with his brother’s wife.  In ancient Judea it would have been considered a death sentence to rebuke those leaders of the church, yet John was fearless and bold, disregarding any and all consequences because he knew his entire purpose was to fulfill the will of God at any and all costs.  To understand exactly what John was up against when he challenged these religious leaders of old, we need to examine briefly their beliefs to fully appreciate on what grounds he stood regarding his rebuke. 

The Pharisees were a small, yet influential group that was extremely legalistic in their views of obeying the Mosaic Law.  In addition to obeying the written law as handed down from generation to generation, they instead added oral traditions to their beliefs.  These extra-biblical beliefs were the source of their legalism that caused them to hold fast to every “minutiae of the law.”  During His ministry, Jesus boldly pointed out that, “3 For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.” Mark 7:3 which is what Jesus was alluding to also in Matthew 23:25,” 25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.”  As we pointed out in the previous lesson, their humanistic traditions were precisely what John was calling into question when he pointed out in Luke 3:9, “9And 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.”  Simply put, their religion rested in the belief that it was passed down through a physical heritage. 

Like the Pharisees, the Sadducees held equally significant role in the Bible.  Unlike their blue-collar religious brethren, the Sadducees were elitists, interested primarily in financial gain, power, and prestige.   Though they held elite priestly status in the temple, they denied all supernatural qualities of God.  So as we can see, John basically has the representatives from the Jewish leaders of that day at his disposal and he takes full advantage of the opportunity to present the bold truth.  If we think forward to Christ’s trial and subsequent crucifixion, it came at the hand of the Pharisees and Sadducees, so to speak out against them would have not only been deemed heretical, but life threatening.  Still John persevered.    

As if reprimanding the religious leaders wasn’t enough, John took it a step further by pointing out the evil that King Herod had committed.  This Herod was Antipas, son to the equally evil Herod the Great, who reigned at the time Jesus was born.  To gain perspective on how wicked these men were, we need to look no further than Matthew 2:16 when Herod the Great responded in anger to the wise men’s disobedience of his command to find the young Jesus and bring Him back.  Herod’s anger and insecurity of his kingdom resulted in the brutal slaying of all newborns around Bethlehem.  Yet his wickedness didn’t stop there as his insecurity and distrust led him to ultimately kill his family, the leaders of the region, and even the Sanhedrin.  So here we have Herod the Great’s son who has now stolen his brother Philip’s wife, Herodius, because of her evil desire to be the queen.  So to say that this family of Herodians was morally corrupt would be an understatement.  Any challenge of their kingdom or authority was perhaps more of a death sentence than that of the afore mentioned religious leaders, because the king held ultimately monarchal rule. Nevertheless, John never hesitated and never faltered to point toward the truth and reprimand the evil actions of Herod as we read in Matthew 14:4, “4 Because John had said to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.'”  He knew his exhortation of Herod could be costly, yet to ignore the blatant sins of anyone, would be considered a sin in its own right.  However, this challenge would be costly to the ministry that was decreasing as that of Christ’s was increasing.

Ultimate Sacrifice: Freedom and Life

Herod enjoyed listening to John, he liked him, but he had to make a statement for his public embarrassment of being called out on his sin.  Despite this, Herod imprisoned John.  Matthew 14:3 recounts this episode, “3 For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.”  Because of his ruthless, unforgiving and relentless attitude this embarrassment should have ultimately cost John his life.

But Herod feared him because of his great following and the declaration of the people of John being a prophet of God as we read in Matthew 14:5, “And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.”  So here is John, imprisoned and at this point, it would be easy for our sinful nature to question imprisonment, especially given all the grace that God has bestowed upon John to this point.  But this too was part of God’s ultimate plan, because now that John was in prison, the world stage was all Jesus’.  John’s entire purpose, for preparing the way, was now complete. 

Herod kept John in prison for nearly a year until a birthday celebration for the king required more entertainment than the normal feast.  In an effort to seduce Herod, his new wife, Herodias, requested of her daughter to dance for the king.  This would likely be the equivalent of a “stag” or bachelor party filled with strong drink, debauchery, and seductive dancing.  Keep in mind that this young girl was also a distant relative of Herod’s, but his lust filled heart could care less.  Essentially caught up in the moment, “7 Therefore he [Herod] promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.” Matthew 14:7 Equally embarrassed of the public rebuke by John the Baptist, Herodias persuaded her daughter to ask for the head of John on a platter. (Matthew 14:8) Likely because of the fear of public ridicule for backing out of a solemn oath, Herod, despite regretting his vow, followed through and had John beheaded and his head brought on a platter to the girl, who subsequently took it to her mother, completing the morbid request.  

John’s death was the result of a scheming evil plot by Herod’s wife that took advantage of the lust filled king.  While Stephen (Acts 7:59) may have been the first martyr of the early Christian church, it’s clear to see that John was the first martyr for the Gospel from the time Christ’s ministry began.  Upon his death, the disciples gathered up the lifeless body of the bold and obedient “Voice of the wilderness”, buried him, and told Jesus all that had transpired.  This in fact was the key for the full launch of Jesus’ ministry.  Upon hearing this news, 13 He (Jesus) departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities.” Matthew 14:13

Summary

Through his ministry, John the Baptist sacrificed his entire life, even unto death.  In serving the Lord, he knew that speaking boldly may cost him certain liberties and he was aware of the dangers placed on his life by speaking out against the legalistic religious leaders and the corrupt and wicked king.  In disregarding all consequences including his freedoms and his life, John persevered with endurance until the very end.

Application

As we pointed out, God requires those that serve Him to “lay down their lives, pick up their cross and follow Him.”  Despite our own insecurities, the fear of rejection, ridicule, or even persecution, we must persevere for the Gospel.  Would that we had the boldness to speak the truth like John the Baptist, to confront not only the sins of those within our circle of influence, but to have the unquestionable courage to confront all sin, regardless of who’s at fault.  Our lives should mirror John the Baptist’s and we must be willing to give up everything, even unto death, to serve the Lord.

The Power of God’s Love

What is the Gospel to you?  What does it mean or stand for?  We hear the term used all the time, in reference to going to church, reading, sharing, preaching, but what is it?  If someone were to walk up to you on the street and asked you to define it, could you?  It seems like we hear this word a lot, but I fear few truly understand it and likely even fewer know the completeness of it.  It’s probably fair to start our understanding by looking at the old English definition of the word Gospel and that is, “good news” or to “bring good news.”  Luke 2:10 ESV reads, “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  There is our word “gospel” as we read in the passage of “good news” or the Greek word euaggelizo that the angel is speaking of in pronouncing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.  We find the same root word, euaggelion, in Mark 16:15 as we see Jesus this time speaking of the “good news”, “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.'” 

 

The New Testament is littered with usage of this word and we’ve seen how it means “good news”, but what is this good news that we are speaking of.  The Apostle Paul provides a comprehensive definition for the Gospel of which he preaches, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. 3For delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” I Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV  There’s our treasure, our fullness, our “good news”, that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that He was raised again on the third day.  There can be no clearer definition for what the Gospel is, but when we say that it’s good news for us that Jesus died for our sins, what does that mean?  We know that Jesus, God’s only Son, gave up His life to die on the cross for our sins, but why?  As Paul says in verse 2 above, this gospel is by which we are saved.  Saved from what?  It’s definitely good news that we’re saved, but do you know what you’re saved from?  Or if you haven’t yet accepted Christ as Savior, do you know what he’s offering salvation from?  Our logic might conclude that since Jesus died for our sins, was buried and raised from the dead, and that this is the gospel by which we are saved, then it must mean we are saved from our sins because of what Jesus did.  Now that is good news! 

 

Unfortunately I think this is where the message stops a lot of times in today’s churches.  Don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely 100% truth that we’ve established so far, but it’s not yet a complete picture.  In order for us to realize just what a sacrifice Jesus’ death was we have to fully understand what He saved us from.  Yes it’s our sins, but why would anyone need saving from those?  In fact, one might argue a lot of times “sin” is fun, exciting, glamorous, or satisfies our desires.  I mean after all a top vacation destination is “Sin City” right?  So why save people from that?  Because we MUST understand that the wages, the cost, the punishment of these sins is DEATH and not just a physical death, here today gone tomorrow death, its ETERNAL DEATH and we can’t run from that, can’t escape it.  Romans 3:23 ESV solidifies that for us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  This verse provides the full picture we’re talking about.  Our sin leads to death and it is eternal, but Christ paid that price with his own life that we might have eternal life in Him if we only believe.  Without Jesus we are destined to face the full wrath of God and it is perfectly justified because of our sin.  “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:5 ESV God is perfect in His sovereign wrath just as He is perfect in His sovereign love.  He expressed the power of His love for us by sending Jesus to die for our sins, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 ESV  If we don’t accept the gift of salvation, then it is most definitely not good news, in fact it’s grave news indeed, because God will not hold back His wrath from those who don’t believe.  In Revelation the author John is describing the full force of God’s wrath by stating that when it is poured out in full strength, all those who have not followed God will be literally tormented with fire, meaning Hell, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” Revelation 14:10-11 ESV The full fury and force of His wrath is to be feared because, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Proverbs 1:7 ESV  But the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ death for our sins is that we are truly saved from this wrath because Christ has provided the atonement for us and our sins will be forgiven if we trust Him as Savior.  That’s the Gospel and it expresses the full power of God’s love.

 

If you’re reading this and you’ve not yet accepted Jesus as your Savior, you will face the wrath of God the day you die.  It’s a blunt, sobering message that is 100% true.  There’s no watering that fact down, no amount of feel good message is going to save you from that, only the blood of Jesus Christ dying on the cross can save you.  The choice is yours, the full wrath of God or the full power of God’s love in the assurance and salvation that comes through Jesus Christ.  “Choose you this day, whom you will serve.”

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.