John the Baptist: Preparing the Way for Jesus
(Luke 1 & 3, Matthew 11)
Introduction: Would you like Jesus to say great things about you? What if He said "Among the human race, no one is greater than [insert your name]." Nothing could be better, right? The problem, of course, is that you are a sinful person, whose faith sometimes fails. Did you know that Jesus made that remark about John the Baptist? (Matthew 11:11) Clearly John was this great missionary with absolutely no faith problems, right? Or, wrong? What kind of person was John? What can we learn from his life to give us comfort in our failures? Let's dive into the lesson and find out!
- John, The Predicted One
- Read Luke 1:5-7. What do you learn about this couple from these verses? (They are righteous people who have a religiously superior blood line. They are both descendants of Aaron, which means they are part of the family of priests.)
- What problem do they have? (They have no children. The odds of having any were low because of their age. Parenthood had passed them by.)
- Luke goes on to discuss what happened one day when Zechariah was serving as a priest in the temple. Let's read Luke 1:11-17. Had they prayed for a child? (Yes!)
- What kind of child were they getting? (One who would be like Elijah and would turn the people to God and prepare them for their Lord! Wow. This was going to be some son!)
- John and His Work
- Read Luke 3:2-3. What did John do to turn the people to God? (God spoke through him. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.)
- Is that our first step in being missionaries? To preach to others to repent of their sins? (No. Did you notice in Luke 1:15 it says that John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth? Luke 1:80 suggests that John lived in the desert while the Holy Spirit prepared him for his mission. Be sure your heart is Spirit-filled and properly prepared before you start calling others to repent of their sins. See, for example, Luke 3:7-8, for the kind of talk used by John.)
- Let's continue by reading Luke 3:4. How long had God planned for the work of John? (Isaiah prophesied about John! This prophecy was confirmed to John's father before John was conceived! ( Luke 1:13-17 and Luke 1:23-24) Before you abort your child, consider what plans God has for that baby.)
- Read John 1:29-31. Did John fulfill his mission in life? (Yes!)
- Read John 1:32-34. How did John know that his mission had been fulfilled and Jesus had come to baptize people with the Holy Spirit? (God told him.)
- John, the Man
- Read Luke 3:18-20. Do you think, given the prophecies about him, that John expected to end up in prison? What happened to Elijah in a similar situation? (In 1 Kings 19 we learned that Elijah was able to escape to the wilderness to avoid the being caught and killed by Queen Jezebel. John would reasonably expect the same.)
- Do you think John entertained doubts that God was with him when he was imprisoned?
- Read Matthew 11:2-3. What is happening to John's faith while he is in prison? He was previously told by God that Jesus was the One for whom he was preparing the way. He had seen Jesus face to face. Why would John doubt now?
- Let's go back and consider something that we skipped over before. We will read what the Holy Spirit caused John's father, Zechariah, to prophesy about his son and about Jesus. Read Luke 1:67-79. As you look at this prophecy, it seems that verses 68-75 are about Jesus and verses 76-79 are about a combination of John and Jesus. Assuming that Zechariah and John talked about what God had revealed to dad, what do you think was their understanding of the work of Jesus? ( Luke 1:72-74: to remember the covenant with Abraham and to rescue them from their enemies so they could serve God without the fear of other people. Jesus would throw off the yoke of the Romans and He would return the land to the Jews so that they could properly worship God!)
- If Jesus was supposed to overthrow the Romans, how does John's imprisonment fit into that picture? (It would be logical to expect that Jesus would never let "His Elijah" be imprisoned. Instead, John should be an honored and important part of the new Jewish kingdom.)
- What was Jesus doing to overthrow the Romans?
- Was all of this prophecy stuff about John and his work a big misunderstanding? Was God untrustworthy? Had John spent his life preaching in the desert for nothing?
- Read Matthew 14:6-11 and 2 Kings 2:11. Had God promised John a better fate?
- Why would Elijah be translated and the second Elijah, John, be beheaded in prison?
- Is John at fault here?
- John's Lesson for Us
- Read Matthew 11:4-6. Given what John expected, would the proof Jesus offered satisfy John's questioning?
- What does Jesus mean when He says in Matthew 11:6 "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me?"
- Is John in danger of falling away "on account of" Jesus?
- If you say, "yes," why? (John was in danger of falling away. John expected a different Jesus. Jesus' proof that He was the Messiah consisted of great miracles that could hardly represent the work of a mere prophet. These miracles showed that the enemy ( Luke 1:74) from whom Jesus was rescuing the people was not a mere human (the Romans), but rather Satan and death, our true enemies. )
- Read Matthew 11:11-13. Remember that I started out asking you whether you would like God to say that "Among the human race, no one is greater than you!" God said that about John, but now Jesus says that you are greater than John. In what way are you greater?
- Matthew 11:12 is very difficult to understand. Read it in several different translations. The English Standard Version says: "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force." Has this anything to do with the prior subject of John doubting whether Jesus is the Messiah and John's reasons for doubting? (I've not seen a commentary that agrees with me, but I think it does. Remember that John began to doubt because he expected the Messiah to use force to restore the Jewish nation and defeat the Romans. Jesus says the kingdom was previously about force and violence (conquest), but no longer. If you understand that the Kingdom of Heaven is about Jesus giving up His life to defeat sin and death, you are greater in understanding than those (like John) who think the Kingdom of God is about earthly conquest.)
- What lesson should we learn from John the Baptist? That even the greatest can become confused and doubt? That our life may take unexpected, and unpleasant turns? That God's kingdom is about self-sacrifice - and that includes you and me? (All of the above!)
- Friend, will you keep your heart and mind open to the leading of the Holy Spirit? Will you determine to trust God even if your life is not turning out the way you expected? Will you be greater than John the Baptist and welcome Jesus' kingdom of spiritual warfare?
- Next week: The Son of God Among Us.