Lesson 13: A Sample of John's Preaching

Matthew 3:7-12, Mark 1:7-8, Luke 3:7-9

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A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. This is lesson # 13. Welcome again to our study. We have now covered two lessons on John the Baptist. I trust your image and concept of this great prophet is growing. Let's do a little role playing. Can you visualize John down there in the Jordan valley? There is a very informal crowd gathered around, some sitting some standing and John may be leaning on stick or possibly one foot upon a log or a stump or maybe a rock. We've talked about his rough, crude clothing. Every eye is focused on John. A curious crowd, likely some from Jerusalem, some Pharisees, some Sadducees, some may have traveled many miles to hear John; other may have been mere passers-by. Wouldn't you like to hear John speaking? Let's imagine we're there! Turn to Matt. 3:7! V.3-4-5-6 and part of v.7 is explanation. But, the rest of the first 12 verses are quotes from John. So, I'm going to re-read v.2 and then skip down to the middle of v.7 and continue down through v.12. Read with me; but, imagine you're listening to this young prophet. Are you ready? "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand...O Generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
I think you would agree, John's preaching was very picturesque. Mark gives a shorter account in Mark 1:7-8. Luke uses almost the identical words as Matthew in Luke 3:7-8-9. Except that Luke separates out the part about Jesus baptizing with the Holy Ghost and gives that in answer to a question down in v.16-17. And then Luke adds in v.18, "And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people." In other words, Luke said, this is a summary of John's main message.
But, right now let's go back to Matthew's account and go over John's speech, word for word, sentence for sentence. We have said before John aroused the whole Jewish nation. They came from far and near to listen to the great prophet of God. John didn't tickle their ears with a social gospel. He didn't preach SEND ME A DOLLAR. John let the chip fly. So, stand back and let's try to re-live John's speech. Notice at the beginning of v.7, Luke says MANY of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John's baptism. Now, I hope you understand that the Pharisees and Sadducees were rival sects of Judaism. They were divided! They shouldn't have been, but they were. Pride, arrogance, selfishness, conceit; it's the devil's doctrine: split'em up into sects. John could see how dangerous that was. So, John called them snakes. "0 generation of vipers, who hath warned you...?" The viper was a highly venomous snake, deadly. That's the way John saw those sectarian divisions in the Jewish religion. Spiritually poisonous! Now, get the import of John's question: WHO WARNED YOU SNAKES? Can you imagine the eye contact here? "Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" What wrath John? HELL! Eternal punishment! Just plain and simple. John didn't hesitate to preach hell fire and brimstone. They could feel the heat and smell the smoke. Apparently, John considered some that came to his baptism insincere. Their resolve to sin no more, called: "repentance" MUST come from the heart, the seat of the intellect. If they were sincere, it would effect a complete change. It would be something like a tree that bore corrupt fruit making some sudden and inward shift of disposition that would lead to an abrupt and continued production of GOOD and PLEASANT fruit. The change MUST BE that drastic. There was no place for insincerity. Then, look at v.8. "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance." That's like saying, get at it boys! Start blooming! Notice something here! Repentance is NOT doing good works, as some try to define that word. They were to bring forth FRUITS (plural) meet (i.e. appropriate) for repentance. You see, good works ARE NOT REPENTANCE; good works are a result of repentance. The fruit comes from the tree! Change the internal resolve of a person and his works follow accordingly and correspondingly. It's just that simple. Oh, it take real internal courage and stamina. But, it's really the only solution. And don't be deluded. Look at v.9. You see, these Pharisees and Sadducees thought that because they were descendants of Abraham; their ticket was punched for heaven. They harbored that vain and conceited hope within themselves; like some today superstitiously trust in a crucifix. John was telling these Jewish leaders, you misunderstand God's promise. He was saying in essence, God doesn't need you! You need God; but, God can do it without you. Oh, God made a promise to Abraham, YES! But, God could fulfill that promise with this pile of rocks here; if he chose to do it that way. Observe John's visual aids! The Jordan wilderness probably had a lot of vipers, scads of undesirable wild fruit trees and plenty of rock. John put'em to use. He didn't need an overhead projector. John made it plain, repent or hell is the alternative. The time was short. Notice in v.10 how John drove home THAT the time was short. "The axe is laid unto the root of the trees..." A sharp axe can make short work of even an impressive sapling. And the axe was handy and ready to strike. What was the destiny of those who didn't bear good fruit? i.e. those who did not heed John's message to repent? It was repent or perish — hewn'em down and cast into the fire. That's pretty HARD language, hard to misunderstand. Get your act together or you'll wind up in hell. It takes repentance NOT your fleshly relationship to Abraham. Some don't like that doctrine of hell even today and they have written it out of their creed books. But, I "kinda" think John BELIEVED there's a hell, don't you?

Now, back up to v.9 just a minute. John struck on the attitude of the Jews with reference to Abraham. At the time of John, every Jew in Palestine knew enough about the O.T. to understand that a new kingdom would ultimately be established. They expected a new king and a new government. It was prophesied over and over in the O.T. But, keep in mind that Israel, with its 10 commandment law, was a national system of religion. They expected that their decent from Abraham, by birthright, would automatically make them citizens of the coming kingdom which John preached was eminent. But, because they didn't read deep enough into those prophecies; the Jewish nation in general developed an erroneous concept of the kingdom that would come. They expected THAT KINGDOM to be made up exclusively of Jews; and, they expected the Roman yoke to be cast off in the process. But, the prophecies plainly said ALL NATIONS, ALL KINDRED OF THE EARTH, etc. So, John the Immerser was here trying to correct this misunderstanding. A point on which the Jews in general exhibited much arrogance. Thus, John came down HARD on that attitude. But, the bottom line that you need to underscore in your mind is this: that attitude ultimately crucified Jesus. It was not because the O.T. scriptures were vague; but, because Jesus didn't fit into their mold of expectation. You must keep in mind it was the Jewish religious leaders in general that fostered and promoted this misunderstanding. Thus, Jesus and John's influence was accepted most widely among the masses of the common people? causing the Jewish religious leaders (in turn) to compete for esteem and approval among the people. Now, it was great to be a Jew, i.e. a descendant of Abraham. But, John's point was: it took MORE than that to be approved of God. Don't think you are an exclusive breed. Wake up to what God has said. Concentrate on obedience; NOT your birthright. John, laid it on the line. Repentance must come from the heart. God requires it; and you better put some effort in to it, or you're headed for hell. That's the preaching John did in the wilderness. His message was relevant, plain, and direct.

Now, if you're beginning to get the picture (and context) of John's preaching deep down in the wilderness of the Jordan valley; v.11-12 here in Matthew ch. 3 will take on real meaning. John built a great contrast between himself and Jesus. Jesus would be greater (i.e. mightier) than John. John compared himself to the lowest domestic servant in relation to Jesus. John said, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire..." Now, hold it right there! What did John say? What did John baptize with? WATER! (O.K.!!) What for John? REPENTANCE! "unto repentance." i.e. FOR repentance. But, JESUS was going to do mightier things. Now, did that SAY that Jesus would NOT baptize anybody for remission of sins, too?? I ask you. Did it? NO! Absolutely not! Get your eyes on the text! John was emphasizing the MIGHTIER THINGS that Jesus would do. Here in the last of this verse, John used that word "baptize" in a figurative way. We talked about this Greek word "baptize" in our last lesson. It means to immerse in water, to plunge under the water, to cover completely with water. That's what John did when he baptized those Jews "unto repentance" there in the Jordan River. The word baptize normally implies THE substance, WATER, in the word "baptize", i.e. to plunge or immerse in WATER. When the word is used in a figurative way the substance or the figure is substituted for the substance water. Check it out! Any place you want to check it out...CHECK IT OUT! Now, trying to show the contrast between Jesus and John, John himself said: "he [i.e. Jesus] shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and [shall baptize you] with fire..." Thus, John in his figure of contrast between himself and Jesus supplied "Holy Ghost" for the substance of water. In his second figure, John substituted "fire" for the substance of water in John's occupation of immersing. Thus, Jesus was going to do mightier things than John. Jesus would therefore dip or submerse some Jews into that third person of the God Head called the Holy Ghost. Now, don't lose sight of the contrast that John made. John is contrasting his mission, occupation and vocation with Jesus’ mission. And Jesus would immerse some into fire. That's a simple and very plain metaphorical term for HELL in John's fire and brimstone preaching. V.10 ends with the word "fire." V.11 ends with the word "fire" and v.12 ends with the word "fire." And it means HELL every time. John used water for baptizing; but John never used any water to dilute the idea of HELL. He kept the fires of hell popping and crackling in every sermon. He didn't just hint at it and leave it to their imagination; John drew them a picture. The picture I'm talking about is in v.12. Undoubtedly ever Jew in that crowd, that came to hear John, had had the experience of harvesting wheat (or some other cereal grain) which they grew and produced in a very laborious way. It was the very staple of their economy. In v.12, John's parable is drawn from the thrashing floor. After the grain was finally flailed from the straw; they would rake off the straw and separate the wheat from the remaining impurities, called chaff, by the process of winnowing. This process involved dipping up the wheat (chaff and all)
with a scoop and fanning the stream of grain as it was poured back on to the pile. Thus, the illustration that John uses, comes down to a separation of the good from the bad, or the wheat and the chaff; indicative here of the wicked and the righteous. It's a picture of judgment day. Jesus has a fan in his hand; i.e. Jesus will supply the force that separates the good from the bad. After this separation Jesus will store and protect the precious part, i.e. the righteous; while he will burn the wicked (I would assume it was their custom to burn the chaff). But, NOTICE, at this point: John's parable departs from the ordinary. The fire was "unquenchable fire." In other words this is a description of hell, not burning wheat chaff.
Now, let's get back to that part at the end of v.11, where Jesus will baptize some with the Holy Ghost. Now, here is a crucial point! Jesus would not baptize everyone with the Holy Ghost; just as, Jesus would not baptize all with fire, i.e. not all will be lost into everlasting punishment. They could "flee from the wrath to come?" (v.7). That was what John was trying to motivate them to do. Repent and escape the damnation of hell, when Jesus came in his kingdom. Look at v.11! John said: Jesus shall baptize YOU. Who was YOU? Those that refused to repent and heed John's preaching would be baptized with hell, to put it very plain. But, who were the YOU that would be baptized with the Holy Ghost? What does that mean? Jesus would immerse somebody with the Holy Ghost, when Jesus came. Now, be careful not to make assumptions here. This verse DOES NOT tell us, how many, who or where. We'll have to learn that someplace else. Be careful NOT to make this verse say more than it says. Some think this is something that every believer in God receives. But, it turns out that is NOT-the case. Now, don't take this on my saying so! But, sharpen up your sense of observation. The answer's in the book. You'll come to it if you study far enough. But, don't jump to conclusions. This is something that Jesus WOULD do, that John DIDN'T or WOULDN'T do. That's obvious! It's one of the things that MADE Jesus mightier than John. That's what John said, right here. But then, John didn't spell out the details. So, we'll have to learn the details someplace else. As I said; watch how things develop for yourself. When you have finished Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, AND THEN just a little bit more; you'll see that what John said here is a very, very accurate description of what happened. Now, do you want to know what happened? Now, I could give you a hint. Are you interested? Forgive me for a little teasing, if you don't know; but, I'm not going to tell you. At least, not here. But, I do hope I've made you curious enough to hang-in there long enough to find the answer. Look at the verse again. John said. JESUS would baptize somebody. Now, John didn't say, Jesus’ disciples, or Jesus’ secretary, or Jesus’ apostles. If John said anything here, John said plainly that JESUS would baptize somebody with the Holy Ghost. You see, John substituted Holy Ghost for the water connection in this word "baptize." So, Jesus would submerse, or cover SOMEBODY completely with the Holy Ghost. And John classifies this as a mighty thing. Jesus said, that John was the greatest prophet ever born. (Matt. 11:11). But, John said Jesus was going to do something mightier than John. As a matter of fact, John considered himself a mere shoeshine boy compared to what Jesus was and is and what Jesus did in this respect. This was John's message in the wilderness. A lot of people came to hear John. John laid it on 'em. We'll get back to John in our next lesson. Until then, have a good day!

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