John the Baptist was no prosperity preacher! In fact I wonder if those who preach a “prosperity gospel” have every studied his life!
John’s 6 month ministry is introduced to us in Luke 3. While the politicians we met in verses 1-2 were receiving the “word of men,” John received the “word of God.” “.…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” This P.K. (Priest’s kid) is not called to urban ministry but has lived an austere life with simple clothing and a simple diet. Like other prophets of the old covenant, for that is what John is, he is God’s spokesman for God’s people. Some, like Jonah, are sent beyond the boundaries of Israel, but now God is preparing His people for the ministry of His Son by sending John. The Apostle John’s gospel declares, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.”
1) John’s is a ministry of PREACHING. He is basically a “one string” fiddle, with “one message.” He is a preacher, a herald of good news from God.
2) John’s is a ministry evidenced by a PUBLIC DISPLAY of obedience. He calls people to repentance and they evidence this “internal” heart change by entering the waters of baptism. This is NOT Christian baptism (cf. Acts 19 where John the Baptist’s disciples are re-baptized). Under John’s ministry, baptism equals repentance. Under Christ and His appointed apostles’ ministry, baptism follows repentance. For John, a repentant sinner declared publicly that he was turning from his sins. This outward “cleansing” pictured an inner heart change. Christian baptism, when properly administered, is for those who have trusted Christ, those who have repented of their sins and been regenerated by the Spirit of God.
3) John’s is a ministry of PREPARATION. Anticipated in the words of an 8th century B.C. prophet (Isaiah), John is calling out a message of preparation. Isaiah’s 66 chapter book has been called by some commentators, the “gospel” in the Old Testament. With striking parallels to the layout of the Bible, (which has 66 books), chapter 40 begins with a prophet’s call to preparation.
John is a voice. He is not important….his message is. He is not the focus….the Lord is. He is not leaving things as they are….he is calling for full change, full preparation so that when the Lord comes, there will be a people well prepared for salvation.
“A voice of one calling in the desert….” – what an austere place to bring to God’s people an austere message.
“Prepare the way for the Lord….” – the one John will introduce is not coming as John’s cousin (cf. Luke 1) but as the Lord.
“make straight paths….every valley shall be filled in….every mountain and hill made low. The crooked places shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.” The King is coming. The country must go through extensive renovation. The country is on high alert for his arrival. His emissaries have gone ahead and using poetical language, they have called for huge infrastructure projects.
“..And all mankind will see God’s salvation.” The King who is coming is a Saviour. His salvation is not simply for His own people (though they need saving – Matthew 1:21 “…he shall save HIS PEOPLE from their sins), but for the whole world.
There is much to learn from John the Baptist’s ministry. Not all believers are called to a “prophetic” ministry, but we are called to speak of and model repentance, to speak of and model real heart change and to speak of and point others to a real Saviour, JESUS, who is called the Christ! This desert preacher’s ministry, though brief, accomplished all that God intended and so should ours.