John the Baptist
February 16th, 1964 @ 7:30 PM
JOHN THE BAPTIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-16-64 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. These evening hours we are preaching through the life of Christ, and we have come to the great herald, the messenger, the one sent before His face, Ioannes ho baptistes, John the one who baptizes, John the Baptist. Will you turn to the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, chapter 1, and we shall read out loud together verses 19 through 34, verses 19 through 34. And if you share with us on this radio, open your Bible and read the passage out loud with us. If your neighbor does not have his Bible, share yours with him. And all of us read it out loud together. John chapter 1, verses 19 through 34, all of us out loud together:
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? And he answered, No.
Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah.
And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elijah, neither that Prophet?
John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth One among you, whom ye know not;
He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a Man which is preferred before me: for He was before me.
And I knew Him not: but that He should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit of God descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him.
And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
Each one of these Gospels will introduce that flaming and burning prophet. In the First Gospel, he’s introduced as the Book of Kings introduces Elijah [1 Kings 17:1]; just out of the blue of the sky, just out of the nowhere of the deserts, there suddenly stands Elijah the Tishbite. So in the First Gospel: "In those days came John the Baptist kerusson, preaching, heralding in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye, turn ye, prepare ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Matthew 3:1-2]. What a startling, what a thrilling, what an electric announcement! For four hundred years there had been no voice from heaven and no living prophet. You think how long a time that is. The United States is how old? A hundred eighty-seven years, a hundred ninety-one years? How old is the United States? Less than two hundred years old. For four hundred years there was no voice from heaven, there was no vision, there was no visitation, there was no prophet. Then suddenly, out of the deserts and on the banks of the flowing waters of the Jordan River, there stands this man of God. His throat is brass, his lungs are iron, his face is like a whirlwind, like a thunderstorm; and he stands proclaiming the coming of the King and the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 3:1-3, 11-12].
It was an electric thing: it shook that earth to its foundations. And there gathered out to him, in the wilderness of Judea and on the banks of the Jordan, the city of Jerusalem, and all of the cities of Israel [Matthew 3:5]. The countryside, all of their homes were emptied out as they trekked down there to the banks of the Jordan River to hear this man of God proclaim the coming of the kingdom. What an appearance he must have made! He was dressed in rough cloth made out of camels’ hair, and girded about his loins with a leathern girdle [Matthew 3:4]. And as he stood there with his long locks of hair uncut, a Nazarite like Samson, like Samuel, like Elijah, as he stood there, what a magnificent figure he made! His dinner was grasshoppers, sometimes sweetened with wild honey [Matthew 3:4]. That is, he was above flattery and compliments, and the luxuries of an effete day and an effeminate hour.
He was a man of God, with the authority of God. You know, you would think there was a great deal here in the Bible about John the Baptist: actually, very little. The story of his birth [Luke 1:11-26, 57-66], a few sentences from his message [Luke 3:3-20], the introduction of his rite of baptism [Matthew 3:11; John 1:24-34], his death [Mark 6:14-29], and that’s all. I sometimes think of John the Baptist as I do some of those buildings in the Mediterranean world: there’s a broken trunk of a column there, and there is a piece and a fragment of a stone here, and there is a fresco there, or a piece of a frieze there. And out of those pieces you can construct the magnificent edifice that once was the crown of the art of the Greco-Roman world. So it is with John the Baptist: with these fragments here and these pieces there, we can reconstruct the rugged appearance of that mighty man sent from God.
So he stands there, heralding the coming of the King and the kingdom [Matthew 3:1-2, 11-12]. And not to know of John the Baptist was not to be informed of the times. It’d be the same kind of a thing if you ran across a fellow today that never had heard of the Beatles from Great Britain: he just doesn’t live, he hasn’t seen, he hasn’t read, he hasn’t heard. Why, man, we’re all buying Beatle kits, and I think next Sunday night I may surprise you by coming here with one on, just to add drama to the situation. Why, there never has been a situation like the Beatles! They’ve struck us down! They’ve consumed us. They visit us like the locusts that used to be the diet and the salad of John the Baptist. It’s an amazing thing! So it was in that day. Or if I could turn an illustration around in an altogether different area: it’d be like a man that never had heard of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. To be in that day and hour and not to hear John the Baptist would be an amazing deprivation!
They flocked down there by the cities and the countryside, by the whole thousands of population, to hear that man preach. I can just see them streaming back from the wilderness of Judea and from the banks of the Jordan River. And we can stop one of those men as he was returning from one of the sermons delivered by that fiery prophet, and we’d say, "Have you been down there listening to the prophet?" And he’d say, "You mean the one dressed in camel’s hair and with a leathern girdle about his waist?"
"Yes. Have you heard him?"
"Yes," he says, "I have."
"Well, what is he like?" And the man would say, "He’s like thunder. I never trembled in my soul in my life as I trembled before the message that he brought."
"Well, what did he say? Can you remember?"
"Oh, he said the ax is laid at the root of the tree ready to be cut down, and to cast into the fire" [Matthew 3:10].
We accost another man: "Have you been down there listening to John the Baptist preach?"
"Well, what was he like?"
"He was like a storm! He was like a storm! Ah, veritably the judgment day is at hand."
"Well, what did he say?"
"He said the winnowing fan was in His hand, and He is going to purge the floor, and divide the chaff from the wheat, and burn the chaff up with unquenchable fire" [Matthew 3:12].
And we accost another one: "Have you been down there to hear him preach?"
"Yes, I’ve been down there to hear him preach."
"Well, what is he like?"
"He was like a fury! Oh! that man! Why, he says, why, did you know I heard him call the Pharisees and the Sadducees a brood of vipers and hypocrites?" [Luke 3:7].
"You don’t mean to tell me he called them that to their faces?"
"Yes! He called them that to their faces. Such a man!"
We accost another man: "Have you been down there to hear John the Baptist preach?"
"Yes sir, I’ve been down there to hear him."
"Well, what does he say?"
"He says the King is coming! and the kingdom of heaven is at hand; and we’re to get ready [Matthew 3:1-2, 11-12]. And I was baptized in confession of my sins, getting ready for the coming of the King."
Oh! what a day! What an hour!
Now in the few moments we have, I want us to look at this God’s messenger, prophesied seven hundred fifty years before by Isaiah [Isaiah 40:3], and accurately delineated by Malachi [Malachi 4:5-6]; God’s herald and God’s messenger. I want you to notice, with all of his ruggedness, and all of his individuality, and all of his prophetic dedication, I want you to notice the infinite humility of this prophet of God. That’s why I had you read the passage out of the Gospel of John.
And there gathered round him this committee sent down from the Sanhedrin, and they said, "Who are you? Who are you? Are you Elijah?" "No," said John the Baptist, "I am not Elijah." "Well, are you that Prophet mentioned by Moses who should come?" "No, I’m not that Prophet." "Well, who are you? Are you one of the Old Testament saints arisen out of his rocky tomb?" "No." "Well then," they said, "maybe, are you the One we’re looking for? Are you the Messiah? Are you the Christ of God?" "No," said John. "Well who are you," they said. And John replied, "I am nobody; I am a voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord" [John 1:19-23].
What an amazing thing for a man to say! "I’m nobody; I’m just a voice calling to men to lift up their eyes, for the King is coming."
Did you ever think how subtle the temptation is and how easily men succumb when it is suggested to them, "You, you are somebody great. Oh, you’re something."? Like that fellow came home every evening, and his wife met him at the door, and she would meet him at the door and say, "Husband, you are a great man"; and he would reply, "And wife, you are a wise woman." Isn’t that great? Isn’t that great? Easiest thing in the world to succumb to subtle temptations. "You are somebody great." And we presume upon those things, and halfway persuade ourselves of them. But any man in the world who ever says, "I am the Christ," he lies. Any man, anywhere, who says, "I am infallible," whether he sits in Moscow, or in Rome, or in Harlem, or in Tokyo, or in Washington, he is a blasphemer of the highest order. Any man who lives in this world say, "I am God," is a man who has succumbed to that subtle temptation: "You are somebody great."
That was suggested to John the Baptist: "You must be Elijah."
"No," he said. "You must be that Prophet promised by Moses."
"No," he said. "Then you must be the Christ Himself."
"No," he said, "I am nobody. I am just a voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, the King is coming." What an incomparable man!
I wanted us to read the passage following. We didn’t have time. "John was baptizing in Aenon, near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized" [John 3:23]. And isn’t that a commentary? Most of the people who’ve been baptized have been baptized with the squeezing out of a damp cloth, or maybe the sprinkling of a few drops from a pitcher of water, or a glass, or a lily, or a thimble! John was baptizing in Aenon "because there was much water there." It takes lots of water to baptize; like it is in the Book, lots of water, lots of water. "John was baptizing in Aenon, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized."
And while John was baptizing there in Aenon near to Salim there came to him the disciples of John, and they said, "Master, do you know what? Do you know what? Do you know what? Why, here we are, we presented you as the greatest prophet of all time, and as the herald of the coming kingdom, and we don’t know what all we’ve said about you. And, master, did you know, that that Man you baptized from Nazareth – and what good thing could ever come out of Nazareth? Did you know that Man you baptized from Nazareth named Jesus [Matthew 3:13-17], He is baptizing more people now than you are? And all men are coming unto Him [John 3:26]. Now what do you think about that, John? What do you think about that?"
Wouldn’t that have been a magnificent program and an opportunity? Wouldn’t that have been a fine open door for John to stand up and say, "Why, why that Man’s taking my popularity. That Man has seized my reputation and my work. He has even adopted my rituals. And He is taking away from me all of the things that God’s placed in my hands"? Wouldn’t that have been a magnificent opportunity? That’s what his disciples intended to do: they were trying to stir up jealousy on the part of John the Baptist regarding the popularity of Jesus whom he had baptized. What a thing. What a thing!
You know, envy and jealousy is one of the most vicious of all of the wedges that Satan drives in the human heart. It’s in your family. It’s among your children. It’s in the church by day and by night. And it’s in humankind everywhere. Jealousy, envy, criticism, looking with askance upon somebody else who might be a competitor: it’s hard to fight.
One of the magnificent things I read one time in the life of F. B. Meyer, the great London preacher; he was in his heyday, he was in his greatest glory when there came to London a boy about eighteen years old, and his name was Charles Haddon Spurgeon. And that boy, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, preaching the gospel of the Son of God, all London began to throng around him, the thousands and the thousands. And the whole earth heard about him. And F. B. Meyer found jealousy in his soul and in his heart. "Here I am, the great Baptist preacher in London, at the height of my glory, and this boy comes, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who ever heard of him? And this boy comes and he’s captured the imagination of the people of this city and of the whole world." And F. B. Meyer said, "It was a vicious thing in my life." And F. B. Meyer said, "I got down on my knees, and I asked God to help me overcome that." And he said, "I began to pray for the boy, that the favor of Jesus, and the light of heaven, and the glory of God would rest upon him." And F. B. Meyer said, "And it came to pass. And it came to pass, in answering prayer it came to pass that I grew to look upon every victory of that young fellow, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, I came to look upon it as a victory of my own, as though God had given it to me. And I glorified in the grace of the blessed Lord Jesus upon the young man Charles Haddon Spurgeon." Isn’t that great? Isn’t that marvelous? "In honor, preferring one another" [Romans 12:10]; advancing the cause of one another.
Oh, to be like this man! And John the Baptist said, "I am just a herald, I am just a forerunner":
He that hath the bride is the bridegroom:
but the friend of the bridegroom standeth and rejoiceth:
this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease
And as the dawn disappears before the sunrise, so John lay down the mantle of his prophetic office, that Jesus might be glorified in him: just a voice, just a herald, just blowing the trumpet, just making the introduction, and then standing out of the way that the King might be glorified. Say, what better thing could any child of Jesus do for our Lord? Just introduce Him, just say His name, just make the way, and then stand aside and let the Lord be God. Oh! what a magnificent: John the Baptist.
Now I had in my sermon this introductory rite, his initiation of the great primary initial ordinance of the church: the ordinance of baptism, the washing in water, our preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus in our souls and in our lives [John 1:25-34]. Then I had in my sermon tonight the great introduction of the Baptist: "Behold, behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world" [John 1:29]. He didn’t say, "Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah that will devour the sinners, and destroy the transgressors." Oh! Look, look, look: "The Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." What a magnificent herald, forerunner, this Baptist preacher, pointing to the Son of God as the Savior of the world!
We’re going to pick it up there next Sunday night: the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins [Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3]; getting ready, getting ready for the coming of the great King, that my hands might be washed, that my house might be in order, that my soul might be open, and my heart sensitive and vibrant, that I might listen to His voice, that I might follow in His way, that I might be numbered in His train, and I might become a disciple of the Lord Jesus – the baptism of repentance for the remission of sin. No man is ever saved without turning. No man’s ever forgiven without confessing. No man’s name is ever written in the Book of Life and no soul is ever regenerated until first he turns, and looks, and asks, and bows, and trusts, and believes. The baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, of which this baptism in water is a sign of the purification of our souls, the washing clean of our lives: dead with our Lord, and buried; raised to walk in a new life with Christ [Romans 6:3-5] – the great herald, John the Baptist, announcing the coming of the King of glory [Matthew 13:1-2, 11-12; John 1:26-34].
And if God would bless me, that God could use me, that God would bless this message tonight to you, that I could be a herald, somebody to call to faith, to trust, to repentance, to dedication; somebody to turn and to look, and be saved; if God would bless this appeal tonight to you, oh, I’d thank God and rejoice a thousand times a thousand times. Have you come here tonight prepared to respond? Do it now. Do it now. Have you fought a battle in your soul? God has a work, an assignment for you, but you’ve never accepted it: do it now, do it now. Have you never openly, publicly given your heart and life in trust to Jesus? Do it now. Do it now. As we sing our song of appeal, a family you, a couple you, a child or a youth, one somebody you, while we sing the song of invitation, come, come. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.