JESUS: THE CONTROVERSIAL ONE
Preached by Dr. John E. Marshall
Being a son of Zacharias the Priest, John the Baptist was automatically a priest. Hence, he was subject to examination by his peers, who wanted to keep their profession in line.
Prompted by the Pharisees (v. 24), a delegation met with John at Bethany (not Bethabara) beyond Jordan, where the Baptist was baptizing (v. 28). This encounter between the Orthodox leaders and the Reform preacher yields at least eight lessons for us. First, we look at lessons drawn from John the Baptist.
A. John had courage. The Jews had grown weary of the stereotyped platitudes of Rabbis enslaved by tradition. John came with words of living fire and stirred the masses. He belonged to no one but God. While religious leaders shook their heads John shook multitudes.
Crowds thronged to hear John, whose preaching was direct, personal, frank, and hard hitting. The people loved it. The world hates humbug, but loves religious manliness.
We need to speak boldly to our society and renounce any apologetic Ahope I don=t intrude@ attitude. Words that freeze between a speaker=s lips are not likely to thaw the hearers= hearts. Wesley said, I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.
B. John knew Scripture (v. 23). John quoted Isaiah 40:3. He knew the Bible. Friends, read the Book. Force yourself to read it until you must force yourself not to read it.
As you read, let God speak to you through His Word. John let God speak, but the Orthodox leaders spoke to the Scripture. They read Scripture with a closed mind. Try to drop all traditional doctrinal beliefs and pick up only those we find confirmed by Scripture.
C. John spent time alone with God. God spoke to John in the wilderness, a place of solitude and silence, away from the noise of the world. The farther we get from the world, the better we hear God.
In the wilderness John heard God; in prison John heard from Jesus. Jesus said we should pray in a closet. It=s hard to get a big crowd in a closet.
In the wilderness John accurately measured the worth of society with its shallow conventionalities and parties. No one sees how the battle goes while in it. No one can understand the world except by getting out of it.
D. John had humility. In quoting Isaiah 40:3 John chose a verse denoting not his dignity, but his duty, dependence, and secondary role. John is only a voice; Jesus is the Word.
This episode with the religious leaders can be viewed as John=s temptation experience. Silence would have allowed people to draw their own conclusions, but John wanted to remove all doubts. God=s faithful witnesses stand more on guard against undue praise than against unjust contempt.
John was more concerned about doing good than about looking good. Branches most laden with ripe fruit, bend lowest. Ships most laden sink deepest in the water.
Second, we look at lessons drawn from the delegation.
A. They picked the wrong enemy. They wrongly discerned who their enemy was. Secular learning, honor, power, and orthodoxy did not help these men perceive the true nature of John=s mission.
Orthodoxy suspects anything unusual. John was different and therefore automatically suspect. The Church always runs the danger of condemning new methods simply because they are new.
Wesley and Whitefield, driven from the churches, had to start preaching in the fields. Peter and John investigated the Samaritan revival being conducted by Philip the deacon.
Let=s be careful when determining who our enemy is. Our brothers and sisters may err in some points of theology, but this does not necessarily make them our enemy. For instance, I can have fellowship with a Bible-believing Methodist easier than with a Bible-doubting Baptist.
B. They felt their interpretations of Scripture were as infallible as Scripture.
The Jews wanted a Messiah created in their own image. They wanted and expected the spectacular.
They longed for a national champion to lead them in conquering the world. When Jesus did not fit their mold, they rejected Him.
The Bible predicted (Malachi 4:5) Elijah would precede Messiah. The Jews believed Elijah would return physically to settle all disputes among the Jews before Messiah came. Traditional law stated that money and property whose owners were disputed, or anything found whose owner was unknown, must wait Auntil Elijah comes@ (Barclay).
The apocalyptic, messianic flames were fueled when John came from the wilderness, exactly where Elijah departed earth. However, John represented Elijah only in Aspirit and power@ (Luke 1:17). John was the Elijah God had promised, but not the Elijah Israel foolishly dreamed of.
Many yearned for the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15. They believed a Prophet like Moses would arise to give Israel leadership and deliverance before Messiah would lead them to world-wide victory.
John fulfilled none of these expectations and said so. He knew better. Unfortunately, the Orthodox leaders didn=t.
C. They saw no need for God=s people to repent.
Baptism, used for Gentile proselytes, symbolized cleansing from the taint of the world. Consenting to such an act signified an acknowledgment of spiritual defilement.
The Orthodox found this distasteful. That God=s people might need cleansing repulsed the religious leaders. Their emphasis on inheritance and externals had led them into spiritual pride.
The Priests and Pharisees could not bring themselves to confess their need of a Savior. They expected a warring Messiah. They wanted to conquer the world, not themselves.
Israel rightly saw itself as chosen and special. They wrongly saw themselves as spiritually superior.
We often make the same mistake. Since we are believers, followers of Christ, we may expect God=s blessing to be on us automatically. Such pride might explain the USA church=s current lethargy, apathy, and powerlessness.
AJudgment must begin at the house of God@ (I Peter 4:17). The USA Church must repent. We are overly humanistic, materialistic, immoral, and compromising. God must clean us up before He will fill us up.
We are sick, needing a Physician. Let=s confess our sin and repent. Then the Holy Spirit can pour His healing ointment on us.
D. Their spiritual blindness caused them not to recognize Jesus as Lord.
They could say with Jacob, AThe Lord is in this place; and I knew it not@ (Genesis 28:16). As long as people are unclean, they cannot perceive God in their midst. If we are not sensitive to God=s leading, the very places where He is at work often become the very ones we criticize.
We would think these religious leaders would at least take John=s cue and begin seeking out this One (v. 26). They could have at least asked John who he thought the Messiah was. But this was not their desire.
They had not come to learn, but to malign. Their blindness was rebellion, not ignorance.
To the lost, we offer Christ. Don=t make the mistakes of the religious leaders. Receive Jesus now.