Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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-- Proclaiming His Gospel

 

His Witnesses

John the Baptist

by Dennis Pollock

I love the first chapter of John’s gospel. It is so filled with Jesus, and speaks of Him in a way that no other gospel does. But John also included John the Baptist in this famous introduction to his gospel. We have one John (the apostle) talking about another John (the Baptist) as he writes: “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 1:15).

Here we learn the nature of John the Baptist’s ministry – he came to bear witness of Jesus. The two men, Jesus and John the Baptist are quite a study in contrast. Although many don’t realize it, they were actually related to one another through their mothers; Mary and Elizabeth were possibly cousins, which would make Jesus and John second cousins. Of the two, John was far more severe and ascetic in his lifestyle, refusing to drink wine, eating a Spartan diet, and living out in the wilderness. Jesus was not above drinking a glass of wine, and occasionally ate and drank at the parties of tax collectors. He could enjoy good food or do without food altogether, as He felt led by His Father. And He generally stayed where the people were, sometimes in villages, sometimes in larger cities.

When Jesus came to be baptized by John, this would not have been two strangers facing each other for the first time. Since Jesus’ mother Mary visited Elizabeth while both were pregnant with their respective sons, almost certainly they would have visited each other at least a few times afterwards. When Jesus came to John for baptism, John did not yet know that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. He would learn that after the baptism, when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove. But John knew that Jesus was the most godly, upright man he had ever known. Thus he told Jesus: “I need to be baptized by You.” After the baptism and the vision of the dove, John was convinced, and began proclaiming that it was Jesus for whom Israel had been waiting. He was the promised Messiah.

Messiah is Here

John was an articulate and powerful preacher. He was so anointed and his ministry so electrifying that people came from all over Israel to the wilderness just to hear him preach. He didn’t heal anyone, he didn’t advertise, and he certainly didn’t flatter. But he could surely preach. Word began to spread that a prophet had arisen in Israel. But John did things the other prophets never did. He announced that the Messiah wasn’t just coming – He was here. And John knew who He was. While some wondered if John might be Him, you didn’t have to listen to John for long to hear him emphatically deny that. No, John was not the Messiah – it was Yeshua from the little town of Nazareth in Galilee.

For a short season John’s ministry and Jesus’ own ministry were carried out simultaneously. John stayed in his own little wilderness location. Jesus respected John’s space, and carried on with His own ministry pretty much everywhere else. It wasn’t long before Jesus’ ministry began to eclipse John’s. For one thing, as powerful and effective as John was as a speaker, Jesus was light-years beyond him. Jesus spoke like nobody else had ever spoken (or ever will). He could be powerful and tough as John, but He had another quality to His preaching that John had missed altogether – His words could be tender and melting, and could move even the most jaded sinners to desire God in their lives above everything else. He was the essence of that classic passage from the Psalms: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85:10).

But in addition to Jesus’ preaching, He had the amazing ability to place His hands on sick people and make them instantly well. And sometimes He healed with a simple word of command. With such a ministry it didn’t take long for Jesus to become a major celebrity throughout the tiny little nation of Israel. John’s ministry had taken off like a rocket, but from the day Jesus began to preach and heal, things were never quite the same. Many of John’s followers wandered off and followed this new prophet.

The curious thing was that John actually encouraged this – in fact he didn’t just encourage it; he declared that the introduction of Jesus as Messiah of Israel was the very purpose for his (John’s) ministry. He said to his own disciples: “He (Jesus) must increase; I must decrease.” John was faithful to his task. It wasn’t long before all Israel knew that John was announcing Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. This was why Jesus questioned the Pharisees who were demanding to know by whose authority He ministered, asking them, “The baptism of John – where was it from? From heaven or from men.” The Pharisees were put on the spot, because John’s ministry was held in great esteem throughout Israel – and everybody knew that John had emphatically and repeatedly named the Messiah to be Yeshua from Nazareth. To accept John’s ministry was to embrace Jesus as Messiah – there was no wiggle room here at all. Confronted with this impossible question, these Jewish leaders could give no answer.

Although John’s ministry started late (at the age of thirty) and ended early (at the age of perhaps 32) with King Herod ordering his head cut off, it was meteoric, and it accomplished all that God desired. The young man fulfilled his course. And thus we read John the apostle declaring, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe” (John 1:6,7). Jesus said of John, “He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light” (John 5:35). John was a lamp of God’s creation. His oratorical gifts, his passionate spirit, his fearlessness, and his devotion to God were all used by God to grab the attention of all Israel and make them aware that the times for which they and their ancestors had prayed was now at hand. Messiah was in their midst.

John is Us!

evangelism

In a very real sense John the Baptist represents all of us. Every single Christian is called to be a witness of Jesus Christ. John introduced Jesus to all Israel. We introduce Jesus to our neighbors, friends, relatives, and sometimes people we hardly know. When Jesus addressed the disciples who were assembled together after His resurrection, He told them to wait for the promise of the Father, and declared, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit comes upon the people of God, not so that we can have a “Holy Ghost party” or so that we can jump around, fall down, laugh hysterically, or shake uncontrollably, but so that we can open our mouths and share Jesus Christ with others. It may feel good to you when the Spirit’s anointing is upon you, but that anointing is not merely for you to have some pleasant sensations. We are called to be witnesses of the King of glory throughout the earth. And since John the Baptist was the original witness of Jesus, we can learn much by observing his ministry, and considering what it means to be a witness.

Our conviction and the Bible’s testimony is that “people need the Lord,” and the Lord that they need is not a “higher power” or some generic god, or “God as you conceive Him to be.” The Lord that they need is Jesus Christ, who alone is able to introduce them to God the Father and bring them into a relationship with Him that produces eternal life and eternal acceptance in His sight. For this reason, to properly witness we must get specific; we must be precise. It does not suffice to talk about God’s love for us or God’s plan for us, or our need for God – if we neglect to mention God’s only begotten Son who died on the cross for our sins and rose again the third day.

Open Your Mouth!

There is a famous saying that has been circulating around the church for a long time, which says, “Preach the gospel – and if necessary, use words.” The idea behind this is that our primary witness should be our lives. We should be so kind, so compassionate, so upright, so honest, so thoroughly likeable that people will be drawn to Jesus even if we never say a word about Him. This may sound pretty good, but in fact it is a fallacy. If we think that people will come to Jesus wholesale because of how nice and likeable we are, we are kidding ourselves. For one thing, the world can produce nice, likeable people as well, people who care nothing about God or Jesus. And secondly, every one of us has enough flaws and imperfections that if anyone looks very closely at our lives, he will find more than enough blemishes to counterbalance quite a bit of our niceness.

On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit had fallen and huge crowds gathered around to see what was happening, Peter did not merely treat everyone nicely, hoping that they would all see what a sterling personality he had and immediately give their lives to Jesus. No, Peter did exactly what the occasion demanded – he stood up, opened his mouth, and proclaimed Jesus Christ as the only means by which people could be saved. Three thousand men and women became Christians that day, not because they were so impressed with Peter’s niceness, but because they were powerfully convicted by Peter’s words – and the Holy Spirit’s anointing that empowered those words. We may not preach nearly so well as Peter, but if we want to be witnesses, we are in some way, shape or fashion going to need to open our mouths and speak of the Savior, or in some cases sit down at our computers and write about Him. “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?”

The Power of His Name

Many years ago I was talking with a teen about Christian rock music. I admitted I wasn’t particularly fond of it but he replied that it was serving as a great witness of Jesus to young people who would otherwise never hear about Him. He had a cassette tape (I told you this was a long time ago) of a Christian rock band, and it had all the lyrics to the songs written on an insert in the tape case. I asked to take a look at the lyrics, and when I looked through them I could not find a single reference to Jesus in any of the songs, and only a few references to God. I asked this teen how this could possibly serve as a witness of Jesus to anyone, since it never even mentioned His name. He had no answer.

Any Sunday school class, any sermon, any Bible study, any attempt to share with a neighbor about God, any Christian book, song, article, or talk which never mentions Jesus is sadly deficient. Regardless of how great the talent or how much careful preparation went before, any efforts at Christian ministry minus Jesus are anemic and feeble. Jesus Christ is the bread of life; He is the great subject of our testimony. As the great preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “We preach Jesus Christ to those who want Him, and we also preach Him to those who do not want Him, and we keep on preaching Christ until we make them feel that they do want Him, and cannot do without Him.”

As with John, our time to witness has its limits. John’s ministry was short, but while the doors were opened for him, he made full use of his opportunities. He preached and proclaimed Jesus constantly. After just a couple of years he was arrested. There was little preaching to be done in the prison. Shortly after that he was killed and his voice was silenced, except for his words recorded in the Holy Scriptures. We too must make good use of our time. While we have our health, while we are still strong enough for the task, let us share Jesus, preach Jesus, sing about Jesus, teach about Jesus, and write about Jesus. Our day will quickly pass, so while it is day, let us be about His business and live as His witnesses.

 


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