We have seen John the Baptist preaching that the long-awaited Messiah will come and baptize with the Holy Spirit, not with water. But John does not stop there. He puts all of the pregnant expectation into a greater context:
“So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people” (Lk 3:18, ESV).
What were the exhortations? What was the good news as perceived by the people?
This is John’s first public preaching, but John has a history of exhorting King Herod, the traitor king of the Jews, in the same way, only privately:
“But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things Herod had done…” (Lk 3:19).
Now “reprove” is not a word we hear every day, and it is important to picture more than one confrontation between John the Baptist and Herod. As king, Herod has actually stolen his brother’s wife Herodias and married her, even though she is already married. When John reproves Herod for acting against the law of God, he is rebuking him severely and even censuring him from good standing as a Jew.
But Herod is king, and has the full backing of the Roman rulers to do as he pleases, and Herod:
“…added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison” (Lk 3:20).
John’s time in the spotlight, with all the warmth and glow of seeing the people repent, comes to a stark halt not long after John baptizes Jesus (see next blog).
The “voice crying in the wilderness” to prepare the way for the Lord is about to be silenced, but the baton is about to be passed to that Lord himself – Jesus – for all time. We will hear from John in prison a bit later, but his ministry to the people is virtually completed.
Two characteristics of John jump out – in unity with God he is unafraid to preach the good news of God, and he is unafraid to speak directly against evil in the face of an offender, no matter how powerful.
Contrast this with our culture today.
It is very hard to go toe to toe with a lost soul who denies the existence of God or who is in horrible disunity from God, to warn that what he or she is doing will hurt not only others but ultimately condemn that lost soul to the judgment of unquenchable fire preached by John.
If you have ever tried to confront such a person, even lovingly for their own good, you know the response: “Who made you judge over me?”
Our culture has now arrived at the point where trying to help someone avoid eternal judgment is now treated as hate speech and can land you in jail, in the cell next to John the Baptist.
If this were the end of the story, it would be a sad one for sure. But it is only the beginning of the story, as we shall see next time, and the story is glistening with joy!
For now, we must remember that our enemy is not the king or the ruler or the unbeliever or the odd fellow church member with quirky theology. Our enemy is none other than evil itself, Satan, the devil, the “Great Tempter” who prowls like a lion looking for prey to tear.
It is not wrong to advise someone that they are breaking the law of God. But shouldn’t we first make it clear that we love that person and can share what concerns us over a cup of coffee, not with a forefinger in the face? Anger is not love. Unity among all believers involves in part learning together how to do this.
“Who made you the judge?” we are asked defiantly.
Answer: We are not the judge. We are just messengers of love.