Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Series 4. Greater than Giants . The Message of John the Baptist (Part 1)

. The Message of John the Baptist (Part 1)

THE MESSAGE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

Luke 3:1-6 (ESV) 1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Introduction.

Roy Hargrave the pastor of Riverbend Baptist church in Armond Florida did an excellent article on the easy believerism which he calls the “Idol of Evangelism”. In it he points out that churches today worship results. If we can just get a person to walk an Isle, fill in a card, pray a sinner’s prayer and we can tick a box or write in a statistic, we are happy that we have real results. So not only is the problem of the church today that people will gather for themselves preachers who will say what their tickling ears want to hear, but churches will gather for themselves members that come too easily and we know the statement “easy come, easy go”.

I remember being in a church years ago where we had over 1000 new converts due to a carefully outlined gospel presentation but to be honest only a handful of those people really joined the church and stayed and grew in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Even Charles Finney the father of the modern day invitation system once said: “it seems to have been my lot in life to have induced many temporary conversions.”

I remember how a denomination embarked on a program in 2005 entitled “Impact 2010” and the whole aim was “each one reach one, each one baptize one, each one disciple one, and each one plant one’. Now while it all sounds good in theory it doesn’t work in practice unless you are two people starting a church and you double up in a year’s time. If people know why we evangelize and why we disciple you will not need a statistical program no matter how good your motives are.  The bigger question is, what do we do after 2010, do you stop with each one reach one, each one baptise one etc., or do you modify the figure? And why not each one reach lots? Surely our aim is evangelism and discipleship irrespective how many. At the end of the day we evangelise because Christ said so, and the certificate you get from your denomination at the end means nothing. It is great to write results on a statistical board, but just how do you measure the real results at the end of the day and the long term impact on the health of the body?

Let me explain my concern. I remember exactly this same kind of program back in the 1960’s. Then it was simply ‘each one reach one’. For that purpose evangelistic crusades were held with shallow preaching that did not explain the deep doctrines of the faith. The end result was a spike in membership. Sadly over the next 20 years many dropped away, and I know it is not unusual. I have read the parable of the sower. What concerned me was all the goats that stayed who had experienced shallow conversion were at the centre of dividing churches, fighting pastors and one another.

You see one of the major problems in the church of today is easy believerism, or simply put, superficial shallow and temporary repentance. This kind of easy believerism treats grace as cheap and it ignores the Lordship of Christ in salvation.  Superficial repentance is a fatal reality in our churches today.

I’ve filled in a card, someone might say, or I’ve invited Jesus into my heart as a little child based on a wrong understanding of Revelation 3, or I’ve walked the isle many might say. Now let me say immediately, that I’m not going to fight either of the methods because my concern is not with the methods but the results. I am also not ignoring the fact that God has used even these methods in a very real way in many people’s lives. I’m also not saying that wherever these methods are applied that there is always not solid biblical preaching. However, I remember many years ago as I preached at youth camps that I was spending more time on designing my appeal than I was in designing the sermon and man was I successful, I got them out into the isle in there droves. But sadly and honestly I must confess that I produced nothing else than what Paul called in 2 Corinthians 7:8 (ESV) “grieve for a short while”. Young people grieved, only to be back the next year to grieve again and again. All we do in the end is to build the church of our Lord on the foundation of temporary believers.

I would hate to be responsible for many standing before God one day and experiencing what we read in Matthew 7:21-23 when Christ said that many in that day will stand before Him and say Lord, Lord, but He will say “I never knew you.” Now, where does this issue of easy believerism start? I believe it starts in our pulpits. It is pastors who are too often guilty of aiding this process of shallow conversions. Too many pastors are member hungry and will therefore try and make it as easy as possible for people to get into the Kingdom.

All across the world shallow messages are being preached, a shallow gospel presented, and a shallow call to repentance is made that is sadly giving people the tragic and damning illusion that they are saved when they are not. Now the problem lies with one word that has disappeared out of vocabulary and that is the word ‘repentance’. .

Well, it wasn’t forgotten by John the Baptist. Remember I said before that John the Baptist surely was the favourite preacher of Jesus when we keep in mind the words of Christ that nobody greater has ever been born of woman than John the Baptist. If you were to try and summarize the message of John the Baptist you could literally summarize it with this one word: “repent”. These verses before us define the substance of the kind of repentance that saves the sinner. Unless we see the right kind of repentance we are going to see superficiality and shallowness in our ministries.

Now just by way of introduction. We know that John was the forerunner of Christ. There was something about him that heightened their expectancy for the Messiah in the way he was conceived and the way he spoke. So they gather from all over Jerusalem and Judea to come and hear this man. Now remember they were people that believed that they were in the Kingdom and that the way they got in was by birth.  They thought that all they needed to do to be ready for the Kingdom that the Messiah would bring in was to tweak their lives a little bit.

The sad news for them is this, John arrives on the scene and he says that they are not in the Kingdom at all. He actually baptizes them with a baptism that would remind them of proselyte baptism which was the baptism which was done to gentiles who confessed that their faith was wrong and that they repent of that and commit  themselves to Yahweh. So in a sense John is now telling the Jews that just as much as the gentiles were out of the Kingdom they are. So John is saying that they are no better off than an uncircumcised gentile when it comes to be ready to receive the Messiah.

This same shocking truth is confronting many people today who think they are in but are not. Sadly their grief was also nothing but a grief for a short while. At least most of their conversions were shallow. Is this not the same people who later on crucified their King? Did the message then not make sense to them?

The heart of the problem was the heart. These people said they wanted their hearts right, but many never experienced true repentance. What is real repentance, because while no amount of repentance can ever merit forgiveness in the sight of God, without on-going repentance no soul will ever be saved? Saving faith and true repentance are always found together because saved souls are repentant souls. Maybe just maybe I am ministering to someone today, and you say that you are saved, but you do not have a repentant spirit, maybe you are not saved at all.

So it is critical that we look at this topic as proclaimed through the voice of John. Now for the sake of time I am going to ignore the historical and geographical setting. Luke 3:3 tells us however that there is something more important in this text and that is the message of John namely: “repentance for the forgiveness of sin.”  So in John’s message we are going to see a preacher who is really a model for all preachers.

John’s message was not influenced by the culture or the politics of the day, or gender issues, or gay rights. I don’t know if John could even spell “politically correct”. No his message was powerful, direct, confrontational and clear. Unlike some of our modern preachers like Joel Osteen who says on Larry King live that come to think of it, he never uses the word sin from the pulpit because God has given him a positive message. Well, then the question needs to be asked, how will there ever be repentance if God’s hatred towards sin is never mentioned. You cannot truly preach the gospel of forgiveness, you cannot truly preach the gospel of grace which is the positive message unless you call sinners to repent, because grace cost. I think we all need to agree that the true prophets of God never try to find common ground with culture. We are to proclaim God’s message, God’s way no matter how much it hurts or how unpopular it is. I’m amazed at so many churches who say that they would like an expository preacher as pastor but when they get one they try to silence him because the Word of God will always confront culture. God’s message is always to the culture and not from the culture.

John’s message was simple, repent so that you can be ready for your Messiah and God will forgive you of your sins. So what does real repentance look like? I have prepared six points, but we will only deal with one of those this morning and the next three we will deal with on the Sundays to come.

1. True repentance is an issue of the heart.

As I said before, the heart of the problem is always the heart. True repentance starts right there. Israel owned God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him.

Now it is interesting that what Luke does to explain true repentance is to go right back to the words of Isaiah the prophet in Luke 3:4-6 (ESV) “4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Two things here. Firstly John is identified as a voice of one crying in the wilderness. May our pastors today not be recognized as men who have nothing to say, but may they be recognized as men who know what to say? Rodney Howard Brown, one of the authors of the Toronto blessing said on a DVD that I have that “for God to silence pastors is a greater miracle than raising Lazarus from the dead”. Sadly he goes on to say that we need no more preaching, we just need what Joel wrote about in Joel 2.

Secondly, repentance comes from understanding the Word of God which requires preaching which requires a voice. Well the voice has a message and what is this message? “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” The language used here is language that depicts the coming of a great ruler to a city. They would physically prepare the road for him if there is any damage to the roads, or they would make the road special for him very much the same way as the people laid down there garments before Jesus when He entered into Jerusalem, except with Jesus there was no road works needed. The aim was that his entrance into the city will be unhindered. The King would normally come in last even though in ranking he was first. Now preceding the King would always be heralds who would announce the coming King.

The picture of Isaiah however is not just that of preparing a path for a normal King, but the King of Glory, He needs a super highway. Valleys need to be filled up and mountains need to be made low.  But all of this is an analogy and the highway of John is a highway of repentance. It is not about roads it is about lives, it is about hearts. What John is saying is that they must prepare a pathway into their hearts for the Messiah.

To receive the fullness of God requires nothing less than a prepared heart, fully prepared as a highway for our God to enter in with forgiveness. The work that God does in the life of an individual is so radical that the world – all flesh will see the salvation of God according to verse 6.  So what does this analogy mean? How do we do that?

Verse 5 gives us an analogy regarding the low places of the heart: 5 Every valley shall be filled..” The analogy here refers to the low things, the dark things that need to be brought to the surface and dealt with.

The next statement, “every mountain and hill shall be made low” is a bringing down or a humbling before God. You cannot help but think of the elevated Pharisees with their pride and self-seeking.

Isaiah goes on and he says that “the crooked shall become straight”. This seems to refer to the honesty that is needed before God before the highway is prepared for the Lord. We know full well according to Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" So this is not just their problem but ours as well.

Then he says: “the rough places shall become level ways”. This involves the removal of every hindrance, every obstacle before the salvation of God will be revealed. Somehow this reminds us of our responsibility according to Hebrews 12:1 (ESV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…..”

True repentance begins in the Kingdom of God in Israel and continuous in the Kingdom of God in the church. Shallow repenting on the other side is common.  It was common in Israel.  It was common in the Old Testament era.  It was common in the New Testament era.  It's common today and it's exacerbated by those who preach a cheap message, by those who strip the gospel of its confrontation, strip the gospel of its Law and of wrath and judgment and sin.

Shallow repentance refuses to make a highway for our God. Isaiah says it and this is John’s message. Ignore the highway we need a super highway – repent!! To bring a sinner to repentance he has to see his condition as he really is. Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV) is clear on man’s condition. 1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

According to these verses the natural man is dead, deviant, demonized, disobedient, deranged and damned. There is a lot of highway repair work to be done here. If we do not believe in the wickedness of the human heart we will never understand the doctrine of repentance. Isaiah knew this wickedness, John knew this wickedness and in the ministry of Jesus He knew this wickedness and continually exposed it.

2 Corinthians 7:9-10 (ESV) 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”

Amen!

Logos Community Church - 23 September 2012