Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
To say that John the baptizer was different might be a contender for the greatest understatement of all time. Today’s message will explore some of the things that distinguished John from other biblical messengers. In addition, we will suggest some practical reasons for these differences as well as make an application to today’s believer.
Though perhaps least important, the first point of distinction was in his method. He did not go to the people, but expected the people to come to him. His austere lifestyle was interpreted by some as being what we might call anti-social. His clothes were not the latest style from The Gap or Aeropostale; rather, the scriptures say that he “…was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist.” (Matthew 3.4). Beyond his lack of concern for fashion was his apparent lack of respect for the latest fast foods available in the regions of Judea; continuing Matthews commentary (above), he wrote that John’s “…food was locusts and wild honey.” The picture is of everything but a man who wanted to achieve public acceptance! So his methods were crude by our way of thinking, but they worked! Multitudes flocked out to hear him publicly declare his messages. The appeal was certainly NOT in the method!
The second point of distinction was his message. He was not influenced by the polls in what he wore and neither was he in what he said. As we sometimes say, he just told the truth and “Let the chips fall where they may!” With this figure in mind, i.e. of the chips falling where they may, we introduce today’s focus text. When multitudes came out into the deserted areas to hear him, he made the following statement, “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.” (Luke 3.9). The figure is of an ax being in absolute readiness to do its work in cutting down a group of trees. The trees that were ready to be felled were trees which failed to bring forth good fruit. The context of John’s statement makes the target of this speech all too obvious. The trees were people, some of whom were in his audience.
More specifically and even more pointedly, when he saw the multitudes approaching he declared, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.” (Luke 3.7-8). It occurs to me that no one had to wonder very long where he/she stood in John’s view! He “pulled no punches,” “let the chips fall where they may,” and generally “curried the favor of no man!” John was, by all accounts, pleasing in God’s sight both in method and message. Does it follow that we ought to adopt his methods and messages? We will examine that question.
The historical context of John’s work is significant in seeking an answer to this question. First of all, John had but a short time to finish the work the Lord had given him to do. In addition to knowing that his time was brief, John also knew that another messenger would come quickly who would be a much greater luminary than he. This meant that John’s task would effectively end once the second messenger (Jesus) ascended into the public eye. In these senses, John was a unique messenger sent to fulfill a unique mission. Should we adopt his methods? The scriptures and commonsense do not demand such!
It would be ludicrous to expect the world to come to us to hear the gospel. In fact, it would violate the intentions of Jesus in as much as He told His apostles to “Go into all the world and preach…” (Mark 16.15). We are to establish our ministries around what makes sense for the time and that which complies with the intentions of Jesus Christ. John doesn’t need imitators, but Jesus needs proclaimers!
1. For whom was John the forerunner?
2. Why did John's work need to be done in such a short time?
3. What effect, if any, do you think John's methods had on the people who came to hear him?
4. Would you say that John's style of message would ever be appropriate today? Why or why not?
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