Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 2 Study # 1
Thesis: Grace only operates in the environment of humility.
Introduction: In our study last week we considered what the promises of God are to those who seek His forgiveness on the basis of His offer and not their performance. We saw that He has made a personal commitment to His people to address each of the corruptions of character by which their lives are endangered. He has made promises regarding both the "big ticket" items like arrogance and despair and the lesser seen issues like inner crookedness and rough spots. In our study we saw that God is committed to His side of the issue -- even to the point of physical death for those whose resistance to Him becomes bowed-neck obstinance. By that study we finally concluded our consideration of John as the fulfillment of the Isaiah 40 prophecy.
This morning we are going to look into John's practice of his "ministry".
February 5, 2006
- I. Some Things to Remember.
- A. First, John was predicted to be a chosen instrument of God to turn people to Him so that they would be prepared for Jesus' ministry to them (Luke 1:76).
- B. Second, John was prophesied to be one who would be filled with God's Holy Spirit from conception (Luke 1:15).
- C. Third, John was named by Gabriel because a huge theological shift needed to take place in the minds and hearts of those who would be turned to God and prepared for Jesus.
- II. Luke's Straightforward Announcement.
- A. First, it concerns a very "big" issue in the heart/mind complex of humanity: success.
- 1. Luke begins with "Therefore, he was saying...".
- a. The "therefore" means that he wants us to be focused upon the summons and promises of Yahweh as given in the Isaiah 40 quote.
- 1) This is no small matter.
- 2) Everything gets muddled just as soon as the promises are swept out of our minds and our focus is turned upon some lesser issue. All of life springs from our mental focus as the fundamental instrument of the Holy Spirit's fulfillment of Yahweh's promises.
- b. The "he was saying" means that Luke is, again, summarizing.
- 1) Luke could have presented one of John's actual sermons (like he did in Acts 2).
- 2) Instead, he summarized John's sermons into the common elements.
- 2. Luke continues with "...to the crowds that were continually coming out to be baptized by him..."
- a. It is significant that Luke points out the enormous "popularity" of John as it sets the tone for what is to come.
- 1) It is no accident that Luke just "happens" to mention the greatest single issue in the heart/mind of man that serves to block the fulfillment of the promises of God...the issue of having men falling all over themselves to make the object of their attention an icon.
- a) Luke wants the promises to be "front and center" [not a single one of which, by the way, has anything to do with being the center of anyone's attention but Yahweh's -- isn't it amazing how quickly our attention shifts from the "promises of developing character" to the "gratification of being the center of attention"?].
- b) Luke knows the subtle "deflection" that comes with the "rush" of "success in the pursuit of notoriety".
- 2) Nor is it any accident that the Word of God tells us plainly what John's attitude toward "popularity" was.
- a) In John 3:27 he clearly saw man's "impact" upon others as a "given" by God, not the result of man's skills.
- b) In John 3:30 he clearly saw his own dwindling popularity as a sign of his actual success.
- 3) Nor is it any accident that the same Word of God tells us plainly what Jesus' attitude was regarding "popularity with men".
- a) In the John 6:15 context we have the masses with a wicked agenda.
- b) In that same historical context, Mark 6:45 is enormously "telling" -- Jesus had to "constrain" His disciples to get out of there.
- c) In a succinct summary, Jesus said, in Luke 16:15, that what men just naturally gravitate toward, God considers an abomination (not a mere 'problem').
- b. It is, therefore, a matter for thought as to why Luke recorded John's popularity.
- 1) Why put a highly charged issue for man into the mix of man's thinking?
- 2) There are at least two reasons...
- a) To "validate" the truthfulness of the promises [Gabriel had said that John would be used of God to affect a great many people for good].
- b) To set the stage for a "shocker" [John's message is one which is considered "hateful" by almost everyone within "Christendom" except those who really are "hateful"].
- i. He very pointedly said that everyone who came out to him was a vicious snake who would poison anyone who posed a threat to his/her agenda. He, like Paul in Romans 3, didn't exclude anyone.
- ii. He didn't just say this as a "zinger" in a "positive-thinking message for the downtrodden." He said this as the human reflection of the graciousness of Yahweh.
- B. Second, it concerns a very "big" theological issue: where does "success" come from?
- 1. Clearly, "insulting" one's audience at a very profound, theological level is not the key to "winning the favor of crowds and influencing people to embrace you".
- 2. So, why did the people come out "to be baptized by him"?
- a. They came because the Spirit of God compelled them to come. This is the point of John 3:27.
- b. They came because the need for "forgiveness" was so profound in the hearts of many that they were not "put off" by the unvarnished truth spoken plainly.
- c. No one gets to "forgiveness" if their pride will not allow them to say "amen" to John's accusation: "You are a snake." [Note Jesus' treatment of the woman in Mark 7:28 and His dealings with the rich man in Mark 10:22].
- 1) Note Titus 1:13.
- 2) See also 2 Timothy 4:3 in light of Isaiah 30:8-16.
- 3. Thus, Luke's "point" is not that John was "popular", but that he was "effective", and, that, by the grace of God, not his own particular skill-set.
- 4. This both defines "success" properly (walking with God's focus of attention as completely adequate) and reveals how it occurs (by the Truth, unvarnished).
- 5. This gives us enormous hope if we are committed to the same issue to which God's promises are committed.