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.
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.
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.
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.
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.