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Jesus' Forerunner

John the Baptist

May 19, 2024


by: Jack Lash Series: John the Baptist | Category: Jesus | Scripture: John 1:6–8, Matthew 11:11–13

I. Introduction
A. As you know, my time is getting short. How short, we don’t yet know. Every sermon I am preaching is a message that has personally affected me deeply, and in my mind I am serving you great treasures of truth in God’s word.
B. The next four weeks I’m going to be preaching another subset of the series on gospel favorites.
1. Handout — These four sermons will be on John the Baptist.
2. I love John the Baptist. I love to study his life and his relationship with Jesus. And if you don’t love John the Baptist, I hope you will by the end of this miniseries.
3. Of course, we are here to learn about Jesus, not John. But that’s what I love so much about John. At every point, John points us to Jesus.
II. John 1:6-8 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
A. In the ancient world, when a king would travel in a populated area, a herald would go before him to announce his coming and to prepare the way for his arrival or passage.
B. Along these lines, John the Baptist was sent as a herald/forerunner of Jesus, fulfilling prophecies of Isaiah 40:3ff. and Malachi 4:5-6. (See also Lk.1:17, 76.)
C. He began this ministry even before his birth, leaping in the womb to signal the presence of Jesus.
D. And this is the way John spent the rest of his life.
1. He said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent ahead of Him.” (John 3:28-31)
2. And even though John was conceived before and born before Jesus, he said, “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.” John 1:30
3. “I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals.” (Mark 1:7-8)
4. And then one day John looked up and saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
E. His whole life, from birth to death, was a sign from God pointing to Jesus.
F. In many ways, John lived a deprived life – but for a reason.
1. Born of elderly parents – probably old enough to be his great-grandparents
2. Probably orphaned in his youth, he lived alone in the desert – probably for around 15 years. Lk 1:80 “He lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”
3. Matthew 3:4 “John himself had a garment of camel's hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
4. Celibate
5. No human approval
6. “he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit”
a. Fasting – Matt.9:14
b. Eating no bread – Luke 7:33
7. This was John’s life – it’s all there was for Him.
G. And yet in the midst of deprivation, he knew joy even though he basically only had one earthly blessing (which proves that deprivation does not deprive a man of joy).
1. What was this one earthly blessing? John himself tells us in John 3:29, "The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full." Jesus is the bridegroom and John is the friend who rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. John’s joy was because Jesus was there, because Jesus had come, because he could be close to Jesus, because he could serve Jesus.
a. You see, only one thing made John happy. He had no joy but Jesus!
b. It was as if John’s whole life was a fast from worldly pleasures: his diet, his attire, his habitat, isolation, his Nazirite lifestyle, his celibacy. It was as if God called him to live a life that said loud and clear: "This world has nothing for me. But I have Jesus, and so I am happy."
c. Christ is my food! Christ is my drink! Christ is my friend! Christ is my family! Christ is my all in all! He was a living example of Paul’s words, "For me to live is Christ." (Phil.1:21)
2. John’s life sent this great and clear message: I am not called to be the center of attention, I am called to bring attention to another. “He must increase and I must decrease!” (John 3:30)
a. Never has a man’s life been more wholeheartedly and joyfully given over to the service of another than John the baptist’s was for Jesus.
H. Our lives have the same reason and purpose as John’s: to be near Jesus and point others to Jesus.
1. And any way we are poor or weak or disadvantaged is actually an opportunity to prove that nonetheless we are rich and happy because we have Jesus.
III. And that brings us to Matt.11:11-15, and especially Matt.11:12.
A. 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.
1. All of these verses have a lot in them, but I want to focus on v.12: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”
2. There’s a big question about the translation of the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence” and the phrase “the violent take it by force.” Though I’m sure the translators were torn, the ESV reflects the negative interpretation of these phrases, and I’ll explain why, but there’s also a positive interpretation possible here, that is, an interpretation which says something positive instead of something negative.
3. The positive interpretation would be something like this: “From the days of John the baptist until now the kingdom is forcefully advancing, and the vigorous are eagerly taking possession of it.”
4. For a number of reasons I think the positive interpretation is more likely what Jesus meant here.
a. But first, let me explain what’s going on in the context here.
b. This is the passage where John sends messengers to Jesus from prison to ask Him if He is indeed the promised Messiah. And Jesus answers John’s question by saying the blind are seeing, the lame are walking, and the good news is being preached to the poor, just as the prophet Isaiah had prophesied. When the messengers departed, Jesus turned to the crowd – who had just heard all this – and praised John the Baptist, ending with v.11: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”
c. But then He added, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
d. And then comes v.12, either “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force,” or “From the days of John until now the kingdom is forcefully advancing, and the vigorous are eagerly taking possession of it.”
e. Those who take the negative interpretation suggest that Jesus is here talking about violent King Herod arresting John and putting him in prison: “the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”
f. But Jesus has just contrasted John with those who are in the kingdom of heaven (“the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”), so it would be awkward to suddenly be referring to violence against John as violence against the kingdom.
g. Also, in the Bible, persecution is never described as evil people taking the kingdom of heaven by force. Nothing even close. This language is far too different from any other persecution language in the Bible to assume it’s talking about persecution. Also, nothing like the language of “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence” is ever used to refer to persecution.
h. It makes more sense to me that Jesus is speaking here positively about the powerful advancement of Christ’s kingdom and about John and others who are aggressively entering and serving the kingdom of heaven.
i. The most difficult part here is the "violent men," which is actually the noun form of the verb translated earlier in the verse: "suffers violence."
(1) This is the only time this word’s used in the NT and it’s used only three times in outside literature, all of which carry the negative connotation of violent.
(2) This is the major reason Bible translators choose the negative translation.
(3) But let me tell you something. If we had this word 100 times in other places, and if even in a small handful of them it was used in a positive sense to mean forceful or vigorous, the translators would have translated this verse in the positive sense. But we don’t have 100, we only have three, and those three all have the negative connotation (which is exactly what you’d expect if this word was used in a negative sense only a small percentage of the time). So, the three instances we have are not a very strong case for the negative interpretation. 
5. But the biggest reason to adopt the positive interpretation here is the parallel passage in Luke 16:16, which uses the same Greek word, but more clearly in a positive sense: “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, & everyone forces his way into it.”
6. If the positive sense is the correct way to translate it, what does Jesus mean by this word translated here “violent men”? I think it means vigorous or forceful men.
a. I think it means that the kingdom of God is entered by the eager, by those with intense interest and powerful craving for it, people who are determined to get into the Kingdom, to lay hold of it whatever it takes. And that’s exactly who John the Baptist was.
7. But there are other examples of this in the gospels besides just John.
a. There’s blind Bartimaeus on the side of the road shouting after Jesus: Luke 18:35ff., Mark 10:46ff.
b. There’s the Syro-Phoenician woman (from last week) in Matt.15 not taking no for an answer.
c. There’s the sinful woman in Luke 7 who audaciously entered into Simon the pharisee’s house and anointed Jesus’ feet.
d. There’s the bleeding woman who pressed through the crowd to touch His garment even though she knew she might get in trouble for it.
e. There are the four friends of the lame man who took the roof apart in order to get to Jesus.
f. There’s Mary who chose the better part and sat at Jesus’ feet, even though it made Martha angry
g. There’s the importunate widow in Luke 18:2-8 who kept coming back to the judge to plead her case, even though he kept turning her away. And we could go on and on.
8. These are the kind of people who get into the kingdom. I think that’s Jesus’ point.
a. This is why Jesus said we have to sell all we have to buy the pearl or obtain the treasure: Mt.13.
b. This is why He said,“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Luke 13:24
c. This is why He said we have to forsake everything else for the sake of the kingdom.
9. John is our example, living like a wild man in the wilderness, wearing strange clothes and eating strange food, confronting kings and demanding repentance.
IV. This says a lot about what it means to be a Christian.
A. True Christian faith is all-encompassing. It is not mild or tidy or convenient.
B. Our God is a big God. And He wants us to be big people: to have big hearts and big faith and pray big prayers. But it’s not easy to have big hearts or pray big prayers.
C. For instance, if we pray big prayers like that our community would be won for Christ, that may involve scary things, and we’re afraid of the unknown & the predictable. So we pray tiny prayers.
D. But true Christianity isn’t just something you GO ALONG with.
1. The kingdom of heaven doesn't get dropped into one's lap. It doesn't get delivered to your door.
2. It doesn't come by sitting on the couch and tuning in to it on the remote.
3. You don't drift into the Kingdom, you press into it!
a. There are many obstacles in the path of life. If we’re easily turned aside, we’ll never make it to the end.
E. The Christian life is a race and a fight. And it’s grueling. It takes all of your strength, all of your mind, all of your time, all of your energy – more than you think you even have.
F. The one who will enter into the kingdom is not the one who’s been sitting around lazily, putting off the acquisition of oil for her lamps. The one who enters in will be the one who is out there making sure that her lamp is full of the Spirit,
1. not just hoping but hopping,
2. not just wishing but pushing,
3. not just waiting but working.
G. We’re called to desperately fight and scrape to be in the Lord and in His kingdom.
H. As Jesus said, we force our way into the Kingdom.
1. The people who get into God’s kingdom are people who are willing to go against the flow,
a. willing to risk everything in order to gain eternal life.
b. They are desperate people who’ll allow nothing to stand in the way of getting into the Kingdom,
c. people with a voracious appetite for the bread of heaven,
d. and a compelling thirst for the water of life.
e. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. – Matt.5:6
2. “From the days of John the baptist until now the kingdom is forcefully advancing, and the vigorous are eagerly taking possession of it.”
I. Jesus isn’t looking for heroes who will sacrifice in order to serve Him. He is looking for people who (like John) think it’s the greatest privilege in the world to serve Him, people who are willing to abandon everything in order to have Him, people who don’t care about recognition or getting credit for their work, but only care about being close to their precious Lord! And this was John.
J. Of course, John wouldn’t want us to focus on him, but rather on the One he came to promote.
1. We can honor the life of John the Baptist best by honoring the One he honored, by glorying in the One he gloried in, by testifying of the One he testified of, by leaping for joy in the presence of the One before whom he leapt for joy, by rejoicing at the coming of the bridegroom in whose coming he rejoiced,
2. and by following his lead in devoting our entire lives to drawing attention to the One who came after John, whose sandals none of us are worthy to untie.
K. Which of us has had a forerunner? Which great hero of the Bible ever had a forerunner?
1. I’m not talking about a secret service agent who is given the assignment to clear the path because the president is coming.
2. Who was ever so great that God sent a human being whose sole job in life was to announce his coming? Only Jesus. Only Jesus.
3. The reason John is so significant is because he displays the infinite significance of Jesus!
4. Jesus said, “Among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” Luke 7:28
5. Do you realize what this means? It means that the greatest man the human race could produce was given the assignment of announcing the coming of Jesus. The greatest man the human race could produce was unworthy to untie the sandals of the Lord. What does this say about Jesus?
6. And that’s the whole point here! The greatest assignment anyone can be given is to announce the coming of Jesus. The greatest privilege is to work side-by-side with Jesus.
7. The life of John the baptist is a like a great monument in Scripture to tell us that there is Someone so fantastic, so marvelous and so fulfilling that those who have eyes to see Him want nothing else. It tells us that there’s a Treasure so wonderful, so valuable, that the one who recognizes its true value will gladly sell everything he possesses in order to obtain this Treasure.
8. HE is the great One. Everything is about HIM. And our grandest moment is when we get to point to HIM. Our highest glory is when we say: “Not me, but HIM!”

Next week in the second serm we look at the other side of John, when his faith faltered: Only a Man