The Spirit of John the Baptist
August 30th, 1970 @ 7:30 PM
THE SPIRIT OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-30-70 7:30 p.m.
The title of the sermon tonight is The Spirit of John the Baptist. All of you who listen on radio, the radio of the city of Dallas, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church. And this is the pastor bringing the message from the third chapter of the Fourth Gospel. Turn to John with us. John chapter 3, the third chapter of the Fourth Gospel, and let us read out loud together beginning at verse 22 and reading to the end of the chapter. Beginning at verse 22 and reading to the end of the chapter; and share your Bible with a neighbor who might not have brought it. And out loud here and out loud there wherever you are, if you have a Bible, let us read this glorious message together. John 3:22, now together:
After these things came Jesus and His disciples into the land of Judea; and there He tarried with them, and baptized.
And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.
For John was not yet cast into prison.
Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.
And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to Him.
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him.
He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
He must increase, but I must decrease.
He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: He that cometh from heaven is above all.
And what He hath seen and heard, that He testifieth; and no man receiveth His testimony.
He that hath received His testimony hath set his seal that God is true.
For He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him.
The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into His hand.
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
In the doctoral work that I did at the seminary, I wrote my thesis on John the Baptist. And as I studied for several years, three years, and prepared that thesis, I came increasingly to be of the persuasion of the Lord Himself who said, “That of men born of woman, there hath never been a greater than John the Baptist” [Matthew 11:11]. So indelible was the impression that prophet of God, the great forerunner, made on the generation to whom the Lord sent him that to this very day there are disciples of John the Baptist. They number about four thousand. Their modern name is Mandaens, they’re called Mandaens, and they live in the Mesopotamian Valley.
The movement of John did not die with him. It continued on. When the apostle Paul came to Ephesus, many, many years after this, he found men who were disciples of John the Baptist [Acts 19:3]. When Apollos was found in Corinth, he was a disciple, that eloquent Alexandrian. He had been won as a convert to the discipleship of John the Baptist in Alexandria in Egypt [Acts 18:25]. The Baptist movement, the John the Baptist movement, spread all over the civilized world. I say that sort of reluctantly because it leaves so many problems unanswered; things that I studied and wrote in that thesis.
But I mention it just to emphasize for us in the beginning of this message tonight the tremendous impact that that desert preacher made upon the generation in which he lived. And yet, the spirit of the man was altogether different from the disciples who sought to carry on his great reformation movement. John the Baptist was a man who was born with one mission. And when that mission was accomplished, God took him away from the earth; but how gloriously did he achieve that purpose for which God raised him up. And that’s the sermon tonight: The Spirit of John the Baptist.
First: I mention; the spirit of John the Baptist is one of deepest humility in glory, in exaltation, in success. There was possibly, outside of the Lord Himself, there was possibly no other child who ever came into the world with so much that was auspicious, and august, and heavenly. His birth was announced by Gabriel, who said he stands before God. It was announced to Zacharias, remember in the temple when the priest ministered before the Lord and offered incense on the golden altar [Luke 1:5-20]. His birth was to a mother who was far beyond the age of bearing children [Luke 1:7]. Everything about the birth of John the Baptist was miraculous.
I would suppose because of his aged parents that they died when he was a youth; and he grew up in the wilderness, like an Elijah. Day followed day in sweet and close communion with God. And the Lord spake to John in the wilderness and kept him there until the time for his showing unto Israel. And when he was thirty years old, and when the time had come, he lifted up his voice and announced in the wilderness of Judea that the kingdom of heaven was at hand [Matthew 3:1-2]. The Messiah was ready to appear. And as a rite of purification, he called to baptism a people prepared for the Lord [Matthew 3:5-6, 11].
The voice of John the Baptist was electrifying. For the first time in four hundred years, Israel heard the voice of a living prophet. And out of Judea, out of Jerusalem, and out of Perea, beyond Jordan, this side of Jordan, up to Galilee, down to Idumea, everywhere the people gathered on the banks of the Jordan to hear this voice and messenger from God. So tremendous was the impact of his message, and so impressive his appearance, like an Elijah himself, that the people said, “Surely this is the Messiah Himself.”
In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, therefore, we have the account of an official committee sent down from the Sanhedrin to ask him, “Who are you?” [John 1:19-23]. And they said, “Are you Elijah? You look like him. You preach like him. You thunder like him! Calling this nation in apostasy to repentance and preparation for the coming of God, are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not” [John 1:21].
“Well, are you that Prophet, the one that Moses referred to?”
“I am not” [John 1:21]. Then they asked him the question, “Are you the Messiah? Are you the Christ of God?” And he said, “I am not” [John 1:20]. Well, then they said, “Who are you?” And he replied, “I am nobody. I am nameless. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. I am just a voice crying and saying, Make ready the way of the Lord” [John 1:23]; humility in glory, in exaltation, in acceptance, in success.
Then they said to him, “Well, then why do you introduce this new rite?” [John 1:25]. The first time any man ever took another man and washed him, baptized him, was when John the Baptist did it. There were as many John’s in that day as there are John’s in this day. And they called him, Ioannes ho baptistes, “John, the one who baptizes.” First time the world ever saw that rite. There were many ablutions; many washings, many dippings, many baptizings, but they all baptized themselves. They washed themselves. But the first time the world ever saw a man take another man and wash him, baptize him, was when John did it; Ioannes ho baptistes, John the one who baptizes.
And they said, “Where did you get this rite if you are not Elijah, and if you are not that Prophet, and if you are not the Christ? Where did you get the rite?” John said, “He that sent me from heaven, God gave it to me” [John 1:24-33]. And I don’t think John knew what it meant. To him it was a purification. It was a washing in water. When finally we came to know what that rite meant, what God intended for it in heaven, we are taught in the Scriptures that it is a burial and a resurrection [Romans 6:3-5]. As the Lord died and is buried for our sins, so He was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]. It is a burial and a resurrection. “I got it from heaven,” said John,
He that sent me to baptize with water. But there is standing One in your midst whom you do not know, the Messiah of God, He it is, who coming after me, though He is younger than I is preferred before me, because He was before me.
The eternal Christ, the pre-incarnate Jesus, “whose shoe’s lachet I am not worthy to unloose” [John 1:27].
This prophet of God, the greatest man who was born of woman [Matthew 11:11], how easy it would have been for him to accept to himself these accolades, these paeans of praise, these words of expectation and exaltation. But the spirit of the Baptist, “I am nameless, just a voice crying in the wilderness. He, He is coming; and His shoes I am not worthy to unloose” [John 1:23-27]; humility in glory, the spirit of John the Baptist.
Second: it is one of joy in another’s success. Now in the passage you read, “John was baptizing at Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there” [John 3:23]. If ever you do right in interpreting the Bible, every little old mosaic will fit, every little piece of it. When you interpret it right and believe it right, every little old piece in the Bible will just beautifully fit together. Why should John the Baptist be at Aenon near to Salim because there was much water there if he was baptizing out of a teacup? Why? Why? If he was baptizing out of a lily, why? You see, when you depart from the Word of God, the thing doesn’t fit. It gets all out of joint.
The mosaic looks ugly and crude, has no symmetry or form or beauty. But when you interpret the Bible correctly, every little incidental detail in it will fit precisely. So this passage here, “John was baptizing at Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there” [John 3:23]; it takes lots of water to be baptized. You’ve got to be buried. You have to be raised. So there was a dispute there with the disciples of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus [John 3:25]. John wasn’t cast in prison [John 3:24], and he was still preaching, and he was still baptizing, and Jesus began His ministry; for six months they overlapped.
So when the disciples of Jesus came to the disciples of John the Baptist, they said, “You think you have a great master and a great prophet for your teacher, but he is nothing compared to ours, for look at the people who are coming to be baptized by the disciples of the Lord Jesus” [John 3:26]. What a bad thing to do. What did John say? And the disciples of John came to the great man, the prophet of God, and told him what the disciples of Jesus were saying. Did he find it in his spirit to quail before it? John answered and said,
Did you not hear me say, I am not the Christ, but I am a voice sent to prepare the way for Him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him rejoiceth because he hears the bridegroom’s voice. This my joy, therefore, is fulfilled. I am happy,
said John, “to see the people flock to the Lord. I am happy to see the throngs baptized at His command. I am rejoicing, filled with joy, as I hear His voice and see the favor of the Lord God upon Him” [John 3:27-30].
Now to us, of course, who live two thousand years later, the Lord is so exalted that we think, “Well, that’s just the way it is.” But it wasn’t that way in that time; for when this was written, when this story was told, John the Baptist was a figure that towered to heaven, and Jesus was a neophyte who had just come on the scene. Everyone, the Scriptures say, everywhere accepted John as a prophet of God; and Jesus was just the carpenter’s Son, just being introduced [Mark 6:3]. And for John to say this is astonishing!
It’s like that godly, godly man F. B. Meyer, of London, I suppose one of the sweetest, princeliest, gentlest, kindest, most loving preachers that ever lived, F. B. Meyer. I have, I don’t know how many of his books in my library. I love reading them. When F. B. Meyer was in the very zenith of his ministry in London, there came to London a nineteen year old boy. And overnight, I don’t mean over a day or over a week, I mean overnight that boy was world famous. They’d take that boy, about twenty-one years old now, they’d take that boy and put him in the biggest hall, seat twenty thousand people, take him put him in a hall in London, and you couldn’t get in the place. It was phenomenal! The young fellow’s name was Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Rodney Sawtell is a student in Spurgeon’s College. That’s their seminary in England. And when Spurgeon came to London and the throngs gathered to hear him preach, and his name was on every lip––when David Livingstone died, he died with a copy of one of Spurgeon’s sermons in the top of his hat––and F. B. Meyer said in one of those little personal glimpses in his autobiography, F. B. Meyer said that when Spurgeon came to London and the throngs turned toward him, and his name was spoken on every street by every heart, he said he was filled with envy. Well brother, I could sure understand that. Think of that. Right in the zenith of his ministry, a young fellow come and the throngs go hear him and just forget about him.
F. B. Meyer said, “I took it to the Lord; got down on my knees and on my face before the Lord, and I said to the Lord, ‘It’s not right, this feeling of envy that I have in my heart.’” So F. B. Meyer said he began praying for Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the boy wonder, the boy preacher. He began praying for him. He began asking God to give him a double portion of the Spirit from heaven, give him twice as many souls. Give him a fame that circles the world ten times, not once.
And F. B. Meyer said it was not long until he began to look upon every triumph of the young Spurgeon as though it were his own. When Spurgeon would preach to thousands of people, Meyer said he’d rejoice as though he himself had done it. And when Spurgeon won throngs to the Lord, it was as though Meyer had done it, he said, he so prayed for the young fellow and rejoiced in his glorious ministry. That is the spirit of John the Baptist; in honor, preferring one another, rejoicing in somebody else’s success, glorying in God’s blessings upon you. The spirit of John the Baptist, “This my joy, therefore, is complete” [John 3:29], it is full and running over.
Just––the time has flown away––just a word. A third thing: it is not only humbleness in glory, it’s not only joy in another’s success, but it is devotion in preparation for their work. “He must increase, I must decrease [John 3:30]. I’m just getting ready for Him. That’s my mission, my calling, my assignment, my task; He must increase, I must decrease.” Getting ready for the great work to come. Haven’t you read this poem?
An old man going a lonely way,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm vast, and deep, and wide,
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him
But he turned when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide
Old man, said a fellow pilgrim near,
You’re wasting your strength with building here
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way
You’ve crossed the chasm deep and wide,
Then why build a bridge to span the tide?
The builder lifted his old gray head,
“Good friend, in the path I’ve come,” he said
“There followeth after me today,
A youth whose feet must pass this way
This chasm that has been naught to me,
To a fair head youth may a pitfall be
He too must cross in the twilight dim,
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”
[“The Bridge Builder,” Will Allen Dromgoole]
Oh, in a thousand ways, and upon a thousand times do I think about this in the work we’re trying to do. There’s a generation coming after us. There’s a throng of young men and women who are going down this road. I’ve got to make ready their way and their coming. We’ve got to do good for them. And may we rejoice, and exalt the Lord, and exalt in His name as we see them coming up and someday taking our places. Somewhere there’s a young fellow whom God is preparing for this pulpit, a dedicated, consecrated boy, somewhere. We’re getting ready for them, the generation that is following after us.
O Master, whether it’s in the home with our children, or whether it’s in the church with our Lord, God bless us as we make a good ready for them.
We must close. To give your heart to the Lord, to put your life with us in this dear church, in a moment when we stand to sing, come and stand by me. “Pastor, tonight, I give my heart to Jesus. Tonight I’ve made a decision for God, and here I come.” In that balcony round, so full, to the back row, if you’re seated up there, there is time and to spare, come. A family you, down one of these stairwells, come. On this lower floor, a couple, or just you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Decide now. And when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Do it now. Make it now. While we stand and while we sing.