John the Baptist: An Unpopular Gospel
John the Baptist. He's a rather unusual character which we find in the Gospel accounts. During my time of devotion today, something caught my attention which I somehow glossed over during my previous study. Perhaps it has fallen upon my deaf ears and tired eyes. Nevertheless, it reveals a realistic truth which is worth us taking into consideration as we strive to be fully devoted followers of King Jesus.
In the third chapter of Luke, John the Baptist begins preaching the Gospel to multitudes which had gathered to hear such a proclamation. The Scripture indicates that John had previously spent time in the wilderness, where the "Word of God came to John, son of Zacharias". Without hesitation, virtually immediately and with great passion, John journeys to the districts surrounding the Jordan to preach the Gospel. For someone like myself, I'm a little jealous of John the Baptist. The Word of God came to him in the wilderness, and then he just went out and preached! I wish I had such knowledge and boldness to have preached like that when I began in ministry. It took much study before I even felt of adequacy to stand before a congregation and preach! I still feel inadequate, but I'm thankful that our Lord reveals His Word to me daily as I am humbled with the opportunity to present that very Word to a lost world. John was urgent about preaching. That's why he immediately started preaching. Oh how I wish our churches, our preachers, Christians collectively would have that same urgency to share the Gospel. If we're going to pray for revival, we better do some much-needed preparation! The burning heart of individuals such as George Whitefield, John Wesley, D.L. Moody, Billy Graham, and others was to simply share the Gospel as often as they could, see as many souls saved as the Lord would draw, and witness the power of revival in the hearts of God's people. That's what we need! John had that personal revelation...he didn't experience revival in a community setting with other believers, but rather he was impressed by God, a fire was ignited in his heart, and he was led by God to preach what had been revealed to him. Years of theological study and experience were unnecessary. He had been to the theological seminary of God almighty. I'd say he was more qualified than many of us today! I'm not knocking theological education...it's quite important...but you don't need it to preach God's Word effectively.
But something else is peculiar about John. He preached a SIMPLE Gospel. It wasn't some convoluted Gospel presented as an exegetical message with 18 points and a 15 minute invitation which was unclear as to how those in attendance ought to respond. The Scripture says that it was purely the preaching of "baptism and repentance for the forgiveness of sins." It wasn't tradition that would save them. It wasn't lineage. It wasn't possessions. It was simply the Gospel of God that would provide the forgiveness necessary for their salvation. In addition, those in earshot of John's preaching, the Bible says, were in a "state of expectation". If I'm being candid, I love to preach! That's no surprise. However, many churches which I visit look as if they don't love to hear preaching! I am not trying to demean the people of God in any form, but each week I witness the Gospel of Jesus Christ fall upon deaf ears. There is no longer a "state of expectation". No one is excited for the salvation of souls, much less their own. The hymn "When We All Get to Heaven" is sung with much less joy these days, if at all. Dear friend, if you're saved, Earth is the only hell you'll ever know. What a promise! However, we must have that expectation for the second coming of the King, the great anticipation for that day. Oh, what a day that indeed will be when we see Jesus! How I wish I could change the mood of a congregation from a funeral to a festival...but I do not hold that power. That is why the book of James pricks my spirit each time I read those words, "And be doers of the Word, not only hearers who deceive themselves." We have a lot of hearers...they seem to be deaf. And, unfortunately, there are no hearing aids for the Gospel. How depressing the thought is that many never put the Gospel to work in their life. It's like filling a car with gasoline and never driving it, or cooking a meal and never eating it. All that work for nothing. All the blessings, gifts, and abilities one has been granted, yet those gifts which could be beneficial for Kingdom work sit in a pew each Sunday collecting dust. John used his abilities, whether they were marvelous or not, to perform what God had called him to do. Preach. I wish we would do as John did...be doers of the Word. Share the Word. Labor on behalf of the Word. We desperately need more laborers and less loungers.
But there is one final thing about John which caught my attention more than any other portion of the text. In fact, I was convicted myself. In verse eighteen, it says, "So with many other exhortations also he preached the Gospel to the people." However, in the next verse immediately following his preaching, he got locked up in prison by Herod Antipas for preaching to him. From preaching to prison...that's a pretty good testimony! I can't help but chuckle. Simply put, John had guts for the glory of God! He preached regardless of one's prestige or power. It causes me to wonder, how many of us are willing to call sin what it is...sin? Are we willing to count the cost, yet still take up the cross? Are we willing to preach an unpopular Gospel? I talk with pastors often who struggle for relevance. They ask themselves, "Is my church relevant?" To ask yourself whether or not people will come to your church based off of what YOU are doing is purely pathetic. John's preaching was unpopular to some. John was knowledgable enough to know that regardless of his own power or ineptitude, God could still use him. It wasn't an easy path. It wasn't comfortable. I'm sure prison wasn't comfortable. But what a noble reason to be thrown into prison. Yet, I still struggle with the question myself, "Would I preach myself to prison?" For the cocky individual, they'd say "I'll preach if it means being put to death." However, we're not in that situation, and thankfully many of us will not be...at least for now. But when the time comes, will we be bold enough? Will we hold to our convictions as John did, proclaiming repentance and salvation? I'd like to hold my hand up high and say I will. I continuously pray that God would grant each Christian the strength to hold to their convictions in an ever-changing society. John Mayer's song entitled "Waiting on the World to Change" nudges the truth that we can wait on things to change. For us, that may be waiting on political leaders, social ideologies, and even Christianity to change. However, the Gospel isn't changing. And for the dedicated Christian, we are posed with a decision. We may be like Robert Frost's poem, "I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference." Friend, I can guarantee that sticking to the Gospel is the road less travelled. But I can also assure you, through the simplicity yet profound promise of God's Word, that it does make the difference. I'm thankful for people like John, Paul, and Peter. Preaching when it was unpopular, influencing people for the Gospel above all else, and witnessing souls saved and hearts transformed as the Gospel, and the Gospel alone, performs its miraculous work as it is specially anointed by God. In John's case, revelation was much more important than relevance. I. our life, may that be true for us also!
May we be dedicated like these mighty men of God. May we share the Gospel in a society which desperately needs hope. This time of year is a time for hope, joy and peace. Those three principles only come from Jesus. Let's share that, just as John did!
In Jesus Name,