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I'm sure there are many pastors who, after they preach on a given Sunday, wonder whether that was the right message to give, wonder whether it had the desired effect, wonder whether it was most pertinent, wonder whether their reason for preaching it were the most legitimate. And I guess that's part of the struggle if you're not a Bible expositor. But when you just go through the Bible verse by verse, you never have questions or doubts about whether what you preached what was right, because it's just the next paragraph in the Word of God. Once you make a commitment to the book then the Lord Himself has dictated the process and while not all passages are equally riveting and compelling and dramatic, they are all equally true. And it always amazes me and has for many, many years how God uses His Word mightily even in times when we feel like perhaps this is not the most potent passage and we are very often surprised by the mighty work of God through His Word.
We find ourselves in the 7th chapter of Luke in a paragraph that runs from verse 24 down to verse 30, Luke 7:24 to 30. For those of you who haven't been with us, it's a challenge, I think, to sort of slide into the flow here a little bit. Verse 24 begins, "And when the messengers of John had left He began to speak to the multitudes about John."
This is Jesus talking about John, not John the apostle, John the Baptist. John the Baptist was an absolutely important figure in the New Testament. In fact, the gospel of Luke begins with the story of John the Baptist. It begins with an angel coming to two old people, Zacharias who was an old priest in the Judean hill country and his wife Elizabeth, who were either in their 70s or their 80s, had never been able to have children. And an angel comes to Zacharias while he's doing his priestly duty in Jerusalem and tells him he's going to have a son. This, of course, is not only remarkable, this is flatly unbelievable because for them to have a son there would have to be a miracle since they were barren and now past any child-bearing capabilities. But this was not just going to be another boy child. This son was going to be the forerunner of the Messiah. This son was going to be full of the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. This son was going to turn many of the hearts of the people toward God and proclaim the arrival of God's Savior, the Messiah, the Anointed One.
Well this was really the beginning of the New Testament story, because before the Messiah arrives, must come the prophet who points to Messiah. That's why Luke begins the story with John. Later on in the 3rd chapter of Luke's gospel, Luke describes the ministry of John. And I don't know if you remember this but when we went through Luke 3:1 to 20 we spent three months in those twenty verses, three months grasping the powerful impact of the ministry of John. He preached that God would forgive sin for those who repent and believe. And he said, "If you have repented and believe then you need to be baptized." God had instructed him to offer a baptism; literally putting people down in the river and bringing them back out. This was so unusual that the people gave him a nickname. They called him "John the Baptizer,” “John the Baptist." That was not his given name. That was his nickname.
Now this baptism was the real punch in his ministry because there was no such baptism normally done to Jewish people. There were certain ceremonial cleansings and washings, rituals, but there was no one-time baptism. The only time that was done in Judaism was when a Gentile wanted to come into Judaism and it was a ceremonial act by which was depicted the basic uncleanness of a Gentile. If you were going to come in to Judaism, you had to confess your uncleanness, your separation from God, the law of God, the covenant of God, promises of God, blessings of God. But in this case John was doing this baptism to Jews. Essentially what it said was that he was preaching against their sin, calling them to repentance and making them publicly confess that they were no better than a Gentile. This was the hardest thing that they ever had to swallow because they had disdain for Gentiles. They felt themselves to be the true people of God, elite. They looked down on Gentiles. They wouldn't go into a Gentile house. They wouldn't eat with Gentile utensils. They traveled outside the land into Gentile territory; before they would enter into Israel they would shake off the dust. That became actually a little phrase they used: "Shake the dust off your feet," getting rid of all Gentile dust rather than drag it into the land of Israel to pollute the land. They were, in a word, racists, in a very broad sense. And so for them to come down and listen to this man preach about sin and repentance, and to admit that sin and then go through a baptism was essentially to say, "I'm no better than a Gentile," and that is an amazing thing for them to say. But, the truth of the matter is the New Testament says, "All Jerusalem and all of Judea came down to hear John and were being baptized."
And that indicates that they not only believed his message, but they believed that he was the prophet of God. And that's the point that is established in John's ministry. The people came down en masse, scrambling down to the river like snakes before a prairie fire to get washed before they got burned by the judgment of God. John said, "I'm getting you ready for the Messiah because the Messiah's coming." And his message was really a fierce message. He was a hell-fire and damnation preacher, as I said last time, who talked about the fire of God's judgment. He talked about the axe being laid at the tree to cut it down in judgment. He talked about God winnowing and blowing away in judgment the spiritual lightweights, the chaff. His message was all about judgment and the fear of judgment and the need to repent or be judged because the Messiah was coming to set up His kingdom and He would set up His kingdom for the righteous and at the same time He would destroy the unrighteous. So the people were saying, "Well we want to be there when He sets up His kingdom. We want to be among His people." And so there was this at least superficial repentance but it was emotionally strong enough that they would even go through the public shame and embarrassment of being baptized and therefore confessing they were no better than Gentiles.
They knew John was a prophet. In fact, according to Luke 3, if you remember, in verse 15, the people were in a state of expectation. What were they expecting? They were expecting the Messiah. They were expecting the Messiah. And they were all wondering in their hearts about John. And what they were wondering was as to whether he might be the Messiah, he might be the Christ. How much did they accept the ministry of John? They were not vague, they were not ambivalent, they were committed to John that at the...the least he was a prophet and at the most he might even be the Messiah. But John answered and said to them all in verse 16, "As for me, I baptize you with water but One is coming who is mightier than I and I am unfit to loose the thongs of His sandals. He'll baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." So they were even asking the question, "Is John the Messiah?" They knew he was a messenger from God. They knew he was a prophet of God. They had made that public confession. And as I said, all Jerusalem and Judea was going out over the course of John's ministry to hear his message and to respond and to be baptized.
And John, turn to the gospel of John, and we hear more here in the gospel of John about John the Baptist, but go down to verse 29 for a moment. This is an important thing to set in your mind. John's gospel, chapter 1 verse 29, this is written by John the apostle, not John the Baptist, but in verse 29 John the apostle gives us the record of John the Baptist. It says that, "John saw Jesus coming to him." John is now baptizing, getting people ready for the Messiah and the Messiah shows up. And John said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." So John, whom everybody agrees is a prophet, in fact the New Testament says, "And all men perceived John was a prophet." It was universal acceptance of that, and not just a prophet, but a great prophet, a forerunner to the Messiah and maybe even the Messiah. And so here this prophet points to Jesus and says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Here is the Lamb of God. Here is the one final sacrifice that has been promised and pictured in the whole sacrificial system. Here is the true sacrifice for sin. Here is the Savior.
And then in verse 30 he goes further than that. He says, "This is He on whom...on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who is of higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'" Now we know one thing, Jesus was born after John but He existed before John. John is saying, "Not only is He the Savior, but He's the Eternal One. He preexisted."
And then he goes even further, he says in verse 31, "’I didn't recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.’ And John bore witness saying, ‘I have beheld the Sprit descending as a dove out of heaven and He remained upon Him.'" So John says, I don't have any doubt about who He is. He's the Lamb. He's the One who preexisted. Before I was even born He lived. He is the One upon whom the Holy Spirit descended. Verse 34, "And I have seen and have borne witness this is the Son of God." How do you know that? Because the voice out of heaven from the Father said, "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." John doesn't have any doubt about who is the Messiah. It is this One, Jesus, Lamb of God, preexistent One, this One upon whom the Holy Spirit descended, this One who is the Son of God by the testimony of God Himself out of heaven. This is the One.
The people all acknowledged it. Nobody had questioned it. There really was no equivocation. The only questions about John had to do with whether he was the forerunner or the Messiah. Or whether he was the great prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18. Nobody was questioning whether he was a prophet, they were only questioning is he a prophet or is he the prophet of Deuteronomy 18, who is the Messiah. Is he the Christ?
All of that simply to say that everybody was very clear that John was a prophet of God. And the point that Jesus wants to make in this passage is if you say John is a prophet of God, and you have no doubt about that, and he points to Me as the Messiah, then you have to accept Me as Messiah. You can't affirm John and deny Me. And this was the strange and bizarre position of the people. They had accepted John but not Jesus, whom John identified as the Messiah unambiguously. Now Jesus wants to affirm this belief in John for the very reason that it forces the people to honestly consider how they can accept John and reject Him.
And so, go back to the text of Luke 7. Jesus...and we're just reviewing for a minute. Jesus talks about John. And again, Jesus was always trying to get the people to acknowledge Him or to deal with the condition of their heart in rejecting Him. And so He asks them some rhetorical questions. Verse 24, "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at, a reed shaken in the wind?” What attracted you to John? Why did you go out there? Did you go out there because he was another reed blowing around in the breeze? Did you go out there, metaphorically, because he's just another coward? Another man with no convictions and no boldness blowing around by whatever the current popular trends were? Is that why you went? Were you attracted to John because of his vacillating weakness?" Obviously not, that's...that's sarcasm. "Or did you go out to see a man dressed in soft clothing?" Verse 25: "Did you go out there to see somebody who was effeminate? Somebody whose objective was to wound up...wind up in the palace to, you know, court the people in power so they could schmooze them enough to get invited to the palace and wind up on the palace staff and wear soft clothing? Is that what you saw in John? You saw a vacillating cowardly man blown around by whatever was popular who said what people wanted to hear in order that he might gain a measure of comfort in the society? Is that what you saw?"
Well it's all sarcasm because what they saw was a man of conviction who didn't care what anybody thought. A man of such firm conviction that he literally called all of the religious leaders of Israel snakes on the way to destruction. He preached this absolutely confrontive, dramatic, powerful message of sin. He said it even to Herod Antipas, who was the ruler of that part of the world and he told him to the face, literally, what a wicked, wretched sinner he was; indicted him publicly for having seduced his brother's wife and then taken her as his own wife. And that's why, by the way, during this particular occasion John is already in prison. Herod Antipas didn't like what he said so he slammed him in prison and eventually chopped his head off.
What kind of man was John? Was he an effeminate, vacillating coward? Is that why you were attracted? No, you were attracted because he was a man of conviction. You were attracted because he was a man of self-denial. He was a man of austerity. He was a man who was not preoccupied with his own personal gain. In fact, verse 26, "What did you go out to see?” A prophet, right? A prophet. They knew about prophets in the past. Prophets were austere people. Prophets were self-sacrificing, self-denying people. Prophets were people who spoke the Word of God with conviction whatever that word said and whatever it produced. That's why you went, didn't you? You knew he was a prophet. You didn't just go out there to hear another compromising, effeminate person. You didn't go out there just to hear another guy who bends and blows with the breeze and wants to gain his own ascendency in the system. Those people are at home, you don't have to go anywhere to hear them. You went because he was a prophet. "Yes,” verse 26, “and I say to you, you knew he was more than a prophet.” Not just a preacher, not just a prophet, but this is the one, verse 27, “about whom it is written, 'Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare Your way before Me.'" You knew he was the prophet promised in the Old Testament, promised in Malachi 3:1. That's a quote from the Old Testament, Malachi 3:1, the last book of the Old Testament. The last book of the Old Testament ends with a promise that Messiah will come and before the Messiah will come, will come this prophet. You knew who you were going to hear. You went out there to hear a prophet and not just any prophet but a prophet who was promised in the Old Testament, a prophesied prophet. You went out there because you knew he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, that he was the one that was going to point you to the Messiah.
And then Jesus affirms his greatness in verse 28. "I say to you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John." You were right about him. You were right. He's not going to get an argument out of this. Sure, they knew that. He's the greatest human ever to live. "Among those born of women" is just an old-fashioned phrase for human. This is the greatest human that ever lived. Well, he had personal character that made him great: humility, conviction, self-denial. It wasn't particularly that that made him the greatest of all humans because there have been other humans who were humble and had tremendous convictions and were self-denying. What particularly made him great was not his personal character, although that was great, but his privileged calling. And that's kind of where we left off last time. It was John's privileged calling that set him apart. He was the greatest because no one had ever introduced the Messiah personally. He was a prophet, but he was more than a prophet. He was the forerunner of Messiah. He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise.
Now let me give you a little technical parenthesis here. Let's go back to Malachi 3, for just a quick minute, the end of the Old Testament, just left of Matthew. Chapter 3 verse 1, "Behold, I'm going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And then the Lord will come." That's what that verse says. "I'm going to send My messenger and then the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come."
Now turn over to chapter 4 verse 5. He's further talking about the messenger, "I'm going to send you (who?) Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible Day of the Lord and he will restore the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers lest I come and smite the land with a curse." God says: I'm going to send a messenger; I'm going to send a prophet, chapter 3 verse 1. And then He says in chapter 4 verse 5, it's going to be Elijah.
Now you say, "Well, it was John. How can it prophesy it will be Elijah and it turns out to be John?" Let me show you how. Go back to Luke 1:17. Stick with me, this is just brief but helpful as you sort out these scriptures. What did He mean He's going to send Elijah? Luke 1:17, here is the angel talking to Zacharias and the angel says, "This child that will be born whose name will be John he will go as a forerunner before Him, before Messiah, in the spirit and power of Elijah." And then he quotes from Malachi 4:6, "To turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children." So it isn't an actual Elijah, who went to heaven in a whirlwind, coming back. It's one Elijah-like who comes with that same austerity, that same power as a preacher. John was the one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. In fact, in John's gospel chapter 1, the priests and Levites came to John and they said, "Who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said no, I'm not Elijah. They said, "Who are you," John 1:22, "so that we can give an answer to those who sent us? Who are you?"
He said, "I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said." Isaiah 40, remember, prophesied the forerunner also as did Malachi. So John says I'm not Elijah, but the angel said he will come in the spirit and power of Elijah. And that's what the prophecy meant. That's what it meant.
One other passage, Matthew 11...well, two others. Matthew 11:14, this is very important to sort this out so you don't have remaining questions because John is such an important figure. Jesus is speaking. It's essentially the parallel passage to the one we're looking at in Luke. Down in verse 14, Matthew 11:14, "If you care to accept..." What does Jesus mean? "If you will accept Me, then he himself is Elijah who was to come." This is interesting. Jesus said, "If you accept Me, then John will be that Elijah."
In other words, if the Jews had responded to the gospel that John preached, the good news of forgiveness through repentance and faith, if they had embraced Jesus as Messiah, then John would have fulfilled that prophecy that an Elijah-like prophet must come before the Day of the Lord. And if they had received Jesus and embraced Him, He would have then set up His kingdom, theoretically, and judged all the ungodly. The Day of the Lord would have come right then with judgment and the kingdom and John would have been that Elijah. That's what He says. "If you accept, he's that Elijah."
Did they accept? No. So turn to Mark 9:13...Mark 9, actually 12 and 13, well, 11. I mean, let's pick it up where it starts to talk about Elijah. "So they said to Him," these are the apostles who were with Jesus, "why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" Well, because they were reading what? Malachi. "And He said to them, 'Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come.'" Who is He referring to? John. "And they did to him whatever they wished,” put him in prison, beheaded him, “just as it is written of him," meaning Elijah. Elijah was vilified, hated, rejected, scorned and they tried to kill him. So Jesus says, "Look, Elijah does come, Elijah has indeed come, and they're doing to this Elijah-like prophet John just what they did to Elijah of old." They didn't ultimately succeed in killing Elijah. He went to heaven in a whirlwind, but they did succeed in killing John. If they had believed, John would have been that Elijah.
You say, "It's too bad they didn't believe." No, it's good because if they hadn't rejected Christ, He wouldn't have gone to the cross and nobody would be redeemed. And that's why verse 12 says, "Yet, how is it written of the Son of Man that He should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?" Not only that, that He should die, Isaiah 53. God anticipated all of that hostility and rejection and what men intended for evil, God intended for what? For good. If they had accepted Jesus, John would have been that Elijah. But they didn't, so John wasn't. So guess what? The next time Jesus comes, there will come one before He comes again like Elijah. And you might even see a picture of that one along with a friend in the 11th chapter of Revelation. They are called there the two what? Witnesses. And they are powerful. Fire goes out of their mouths and consumes anyone who opposes them. And they announce salvation and Jerusalem...the people of Jerusalem are saved and judgment. So, there will yet in the future come another who will fulfill the Malachi prophecy. But John was a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. John was a fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. He was the forerunner to the Messiah and would have been the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5 and 6 if they had believed. They didn't, he didn't then fulfill that prophecy but it's good because it's the cross that redeems all who believe of all the ages and so in the future before the Lord does come to judge the ungodly and establish His kingdom, there will be an Elijah-like prophet.
Well, there's no question how Jesus viewed John. Amazing man, no wonder He called him the greatest whoever lived up until his time. Other prophets could be considered great. I would have to say that whoever speaks the Word of God is greater by calling than anybody else, wouldn't you? I mean if we conclude that the most important thing in the world is the Word of the living God, then whoever speaks that Word is more important to us than anybody else. You understand that? Other prophets were great because they spoke about Messiah's coming, they spoke the Word of God, but John saw His arrival. That makes him greater. And for all the prophets before John, it was a matter of faith. For him it was a matter of sight. And for all before him they could only speak of someone they couldn't know, but John knew Him, touched Him, talked to Him, baptized Him. And so by virtue of his privileged calling he literally ascends to the highest peak of humanity. He is the last and the greatest Old Covenant prophet, the one nearest to Christ, the last preacher of the age of promise and the bridge into the age of fulfillment. He is the last preacher in the age of promise and the first preacher in the age of fulfillment. And he touches Jesus Christ.
Oh, the people were thrilled for a while to have a prophet like this. He was there to announce the arrival of Messiah. Nobody really equivocated about whether he was or not. This is a strange dilemma. All these people accepted John. Self-confessed sinners went down and were baptized in an open confession. They were no better than Gentiles, embraced John fully and didn't embrace Jesus. In fact, as the story goes on this crowd is really sickeningly fickle because there's a time when they all gather around in Jerusalem and scream to the top of their voice, "Crucify Him, crucify Him, crucify Him, we'll not have this man to reign over us," referring to Jesus. He went into His own synagogue to preach on a Sabbath and I'm sure that many of the people in that synagogue had been baptized with the baptism of John because all Judea was going out to have that baptism and all those people who were religious were doing that. And yet, when Jesus preached a message in His own synagogue and indicted them and confronted their sin and their self-righteousness, to which John's baptism may have sadly contributed, they tried to kill Him. I guess they could handle John, but they couldn't handle Jesus. So they were in a very strange position and Jesus had them really boxed in between a rock and a hard place. How can you be so committed to John and not to Me, whom John addressed as the Lamb of God, the pre-existent One, the Coming One, the One affirmed by the Holy Spirit, the Son of God by the testimony of God Himself?
This is a question to ask people today. This is a question to ask even Jewish people today. Was John a prophet? Because if he was, then Jesus is the Messiah. Oh he was a prophet, all right, miraculously born, announced by an angel, given the Holy Spirit while he was still in the womb, preaching repentance, no question. Jesus designates him as the one to baptize Him, and so forth.
The amazing part of the story is that by now during the ministry of Jesus people are having second thoughts about John because they're in an inconvenient position. They are not ready to embrace Jesus. They do not, even though they're beneficiaries of His massive miracles of healing and casting out of demons, they're not prepared to embrace Him as their Messiah. His message is a constant indictment of their self-righteousness and their sin. They don't like that. They are drawn by His miracles but they stay short of a commitment to Him.
Now if they're going to reject Jesus, they have to go back and revise the history of John. Go down to verse 33, Luke 7:33. Listen to what they said, this is Jesus speaking, "John the Baptist has come eating no bread, drinking no wine," in other words, nothing about him that's dissipated in his lifestyle. "And you say he has" what? Amazing, talk about revisionist history, you know, rewrite the whole history of John to accommodate their rejection of Jesus and go back and say, "Oh, he's demonic, he's not from God. He's from the devil." The blindness of sin is profound, isn't it? It rewrites history. It reinvents its own convictions and its own experience. It undoes its own past, anything necessary to reject Jesus. Let me tell you something, folks, if you present the gospel to somebody and they don't believe it, don't be hard on yourself. Don't be hard on yourself. The wretched darkness of the human heart will go to almost unending machinations to settle itself in its own rejection. There were, according to verse 29, all the people and the tax gatherers. They were so hated they had to have a category of their own. They couldn't even be included with all the people. They were not people, the bottom line. There are people and then there are tax collectors. By the way, lest you be employed by the IRS and misunderstand the point here, tax gatherers were criminals who collected taxes at the behest of Rome but did so with thugs and petty thieves and strong-arm tactics including murder, if necessary, to gain what they wanted to gain. They were the riff-raff, the scum and their associates were prostitutes and other petty criminals, etc. And so they wouldn't even be included with the "people." But it was those, the common people and the wretched people, who heard John, acknowledged God's justice, or God's righteousness, and were baptized with the baptism of John.
So, a mass of people responded to John. It was, according to verse 30, the Pharisees and the lawyers. What can I say about the lawyers? Well it's translated “lawyers.” It's the scribes who rejected God's purpose for them. What was God's purpose? What did God ask? What was God's will? It could be translated God's will for them. To repent. They rejected that and were not baptized by John. And here you'll notice that this is most likely Luke writing. Some would say this is Jesus continuing to speak. If you have a red-letter Bible the letter would go black here. That's very arbitrary. We don't know whether these came from Jesus or came from Luke. Bottom line, they're inspired either way, that's not an issue. We don’t... We can't be dogmatic about who said this but it's true nonetheless that the whole of the people, all Jerusalem, Judea, the riff-raff the worst of the people came out and affirmed John. It was only the religious elite that rejected God's will, which was to repent. In fact, the...the people said, "God is just in calling for us to repent." That's what that means. They acknowledged God's justice. They acknowledged that John's message of repentance was right. God was holy and righteous and just in calling them to repent and they accepted that and they accepted the warnings of judgment and...and they were penitent and they confessed it and they went through the baptism, at least superficially. Some of them were so convinced that Matthew says they were taking the kingdom by force. They were aggressively charging into the kingdom, pressing into it, in the language of Luke 16:16. Well these people...these people were serious. They wanted to be ready for the kingdom, at least superficially. So they were baptized with the baptism of John. I mean, they were aggressive. They were pressing in. They weren't reluctant. They were not only... They were not only willing to do it, they were eager to do it.
But the Pharisees and the lawyers... The lawyers were a specialized class of upper echelon people in Jewish society who gave their lives to the interpretation of the law, just like lawyers do today. The key to their profession was knowledge. That's what makes lawyers successful in any time. They know what you don't know. They know a language you don't know. They know legal precedent that you don't know. They know a law that you don't know. That's why you pay them because they know and you don't know. That's what a profession is. It's going to somebody who knows what you don't know.
Now how did you get to be a lawyer? You got to be a lawyer by studying for a long, long time the law and all the comments on the law and all the rabbinical tradition about the law. And you studied under a rabbi and you were mentored by a rabbi. And eventually when you achieved a certain level of understanding you were ordained to become a lawyer and then you could literally give advice and direction in matters of religion, in matters of government, in matters of criminal justice, civil courts and in education. You were an expert on the law. And that means not only the law of God, but all the tradition that was added to that law. You were an interpreter of all of that.
Well these people were almost all Pharisees, so they were self-righteous. They imagined themselves to be spiritually superior to everybody else and they were not at all willing to acknowledge they were sinners. And so it says in verse 30 they rejected God's purpose. They rejected God's purpose for themselves and they refused to be baptized by John.
John had an amazing influence. He...he really did. He literally divided the country. Tremendous influence and that would be a third element of his greatness. First was his personal character, the main one is his privileged calling, the third one is his powerful contribution. I mean, he literally affected everybody, frankly, an astonishing influence. And at first it seemed like everybody owned John and therefore Jesus is saying, "If that's how you feel, you have to own Me." They don't want to do that.
I want you to turn to one other passage, John chapter 5, that I think sets this...well, that one and maybe one more. John 5, I think we'll start at verse 32. Jesus said, He said, "There's someone who bears witness of Me." And He's talking about John here and that's exactly what John did. And the witness that John bears is true. Verse 33, you have sent to John, you've asked John about Me and he's told you, he's borne witness to the truth. And then look at verse 35, interesting, "He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice in his light (what?) for a...a while." Isn't that interesting? Isn't that interesting? For a while.
You know, the whole euphoria around John was superficial. It's amazing how people can get emotionally traumatized in that kind of a setting, get swept up in the crowd, the power of the preacher, make superficial commitments, even emotional, even aggressive and eager, and then down the road be influenced by the spiritual leaders, who said John has a demon, he's not of God at all, he's of Satan. When people want to reject Jesus, there are no limits to what they'll say. John, says Matthew 21:32, "Came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax gatherers and the harlots did believe him. And you, seeing this, didn't even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him." You know why? They didn't believe him at first and then when they say all...saw all the prostitutes and tax collectors believe in him that even gave them more reason not to believe in him because they didn't want to be a part of that group. And so these religious leaders consistently attacked John and Jesus. People began to deny what they had once affirmed regarding John in order to make their rejection of Jesus rational. This is the evil of the human heart.
And eventually, caught up in the sway and the influence of these leaders, John dies a martyr's death and nobody cares. And eventually these people who for a moment said, "Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna," to Jesus are all found screaming, "Crucify Him, crucify Him, crucify Him." It is so true, isn't it, that there are many people who have a momentary affiliation with Jesus that may be very emotional like the soils in Matthew 13 where the seed goes in and springs up with joy and then comes the persecution and it is gone, or the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of the world choke out what has been planted.
You know, I suppose John must have thought at some point that he was the greatest evangelist in history because so many people had walked his aisle, prayed his sinner's prayer. He was the ultimate Baptist, the proto-typical, the first. And yet as you look back over his ministry, the truth of the matter is, many said, "Lord, Lord," that didn't mean it. You have to get used to that. But nonetheless, he was the greatest person who ever lived.
I told you last week there's a surprise ending. Go back to verse 28. Here's the surprise ending. "I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John." Listen to this, "Yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." You say, "Who's that? Who's that?" Well, whoever is in the kingdom of God at the lowest point. What is the kingdom of God? It's the sphere of salvation, the realm of salvation where God rules over those who are His by grace through faith. You say, "Is He talking about us?" Yeah. "You mean to tell me that the least person who is saved, the least person in the kingdom of God is greater than the greatest man who ever lived?" Yes. You say, "Well, I'm a pretty new Christian, I'm a pretty immature Christian, I'm pretty shaky. I'm not even faithful all the time. You're not talking about me, are you?" Yeah, I'm talking about you. Yeah, that's the surprise. And you know you should be surprised. We're all surprised. But that's the truth.
You say, "Well how is that?" I'm going to tell you next week. I am. Don't doubt me. And I'm telling you, it is incredible, so don't miss it.
Father, as we come to the conclusion of this wonderful service we...we thank You again for the power of Your truth, for the drama that surrounds it that makes it so unforgettable. Oh Lord, how we pray, even as I said at the very beginning in my prayer that we would examine our hearts to see if we're really born again. Was it real or was it some emotional thing? Has our grief been the real grief of true repentance; our joy, the true joy of saving faith? Because so many make a superficial commitment and disappear, a whole nation full of people. Oh God, how we cry out to You that You would grant a true and eternal salvation to us. Amen.