Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Witness - pt. 1

Imagine a room full of people and everyone is stone silent. In fact, nothing has been spoken, no sound made in 400 years. Suddenly the silence is pierced and a great cry is heard: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”! A great tumult would naturally ensue. For the first time in centuries a word had been spoken. This is the opening scene of the Gospel of Mark.

Mark states the purpose of his book in the first twelve words of chapter one: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…” (Mark 1:1a). This book is about the good news of Jesus Christ who was God in the flesh. By way of prologue to this good news story Mark introduces a man who was described in two Old Testament prophecies:

“…as it is written in the prophets,

“Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (1b-3)

Mark was quoting the prophets Malachi and Isaiah respectively:

  • Malachi 3:1a, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me..."
  • Isaiah 40:3, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

After quoting the Old Testament prophecies, Mark then names this “voice in the wilderness” whose God given job was to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming.

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins

And there went out to him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of skin about his loins; and he did locusts and wild honey; and preached saying, “There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”

There have been many fantastic gospel preachers in this world. Men like Charles Spurgeon who was known as the “Prince of Preachers”. Spurgeon was an eloquent preacher who for 38 years faithfully, clearly, and passionately proclaimed the cross of Christ from the New Park Street/Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit in London. Jonathan Edwards was the greatest American theologian, and his Spirit-filled preaching was a catalyst of the Great Awakening.

Of course, any list of great witnesses to the faith must include the apostles. Peter preached on Pentecost and thousands were saved (Acts 2:15-40). Peter and John were also bold before the Sanhedrin. They powerfully witnessed to those men when they proclaimed Christ and said, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). When they were commanded to cease preaching Christ and the cross, these men declared: “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (vv. 19-20).

No doubt, the greatest of all preachers, the greatest witness for Jesus Christ was John the Baptist. That was not John’s self-estimation. John rightly declared that he was unworthy to even remove the Savior’s sandals. One may be sure that John the Baptist was the greatest witness for the Lord Jesus Christ because that was Jesus’ assessment. Matthew 11:11a, “Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist.”

That statement is all the more remarkable considering that John never performed one miracle, never exorcised a demon, and was beheaded by a wobbly kneed Herod (John 6:14-28). What was it about John that drew such high praise from the High King of Heaven?

John was a clear, consistent, and urgent witness for Christ. That is why he was considered great, and being a witness is the mission to which all Christians are called. “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me…” (Acts 1:8a).

John is the herald of the good news that the incarnate God had come to die in the place of guilty sinners. Take a moment to consider this one who the Lord called great.

The Man

John’s conception was not immaculate but it was miraculous. He was born to parents who “were both righteous before God” (Luke 1:6), but were also childless and beyond the child bearing years (v. 7). God blessed this couple with a son in their old age. The angel of the Lord said to John’s father Zacharias: “He shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God” (vv. 15-16).

John came from a good family. His parents were righteous believers, but they did not provide their son with any sense of fashion. Mark says that John wore “camel’s hair…and a girdle of skin.” Evidently, John liked to tool around the wilderness wearing his camel’s-hair robe, cinched down with a leather belt to ensure that the robe didn’t fly open. Whether or not John’s appetite was a reflection on Elizabeth’s culinary efforts no one knows, but Mark informs the reader that John’s diet consisted of wild honey-dipped locusts.

Clearly, John cut a striking figure, but he did not dress or eat in this manner because he was eccentric. John has assumed the mantle of the ancient prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins”; cf. Luke 1:17). His Spartan meals and frontier clothing were not props used to draw a crowd. Instead, they were vivid contrasts between the well-fed, well-heeled, well-dressed religious elites. They pretended to care for the things of God, but they were more concerned with the things of this world. John focused on nothing but his God, and even his clothes and meals bore witness to his single-mindedness.

One does not have to be a hermit or ascetic to serve Christ. John’s behavior does not mean that all serious minded Christians should dress in camel’s-hair robes while stocking their shelves with locusts and wild honey. John’s behavior does, or at least should, challenge the believer to “Set [his] affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2) and to “lay up…treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal”(Matthew 6:20).

As has already been noted, this man who was considered by Jesus as the greatest was a man of humility. John understood Romans 12:3, even though Paul had not yet been inspired by God to write it: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly.”

Mark informs the reader how John felt himself undeserving to perform the most menial of tasks for the Lord. His ministry was spent constantly pointing people to Christ and not himself. Before Christ’s arrival John could always be heard saying, “I’m not…I’m not…I’m not” when asked if he was Elijah, “that prophet”, or the Christ (John 1:19-21). Once Christ arrived on the scene; however, all one could hear from John was “He is! He is the Christ! Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (v. 29). When people left off following John and began to follow Christ, John humbly said: “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven…He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:27, 30).

A believer must not dress or eat like John the Baptist, but this is one of the Baptist's characteristics which must be emulated. Believers are to point to the King, instead of seeking to be lord over others.

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