The dawn of a better covenant
Robert Wurtz II
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Luke 3:1-3)
It is sobering to consider how many ranks of men and office that God passed over to bring the word of the Lord to John the Baptist. God didn’t speak to Tiberius, the most powerful man in the world at the time. The word of the Lord didn’t come to the governor of Judea (Pilate), the ruler of the quadrant of Galilee (Herod) or like leaders in the region. It didn’t come to Annas and Caiaphas who had been appointed by the Romans to be High Priest. The word of the Lord came to John the Baptist in the wilderness. His life was characterized by two great things, holiness and humility.
Separated to God
The word of the Lord came to John because God had appointed him to be the forerunner of Jesus. He was a Nazarite from birth, meaning he was given special prohibitions that other people did not have. The old timers used to tell their young ministers, “others can, but you cannot.” That is to say, ministers should live above the world and its pop cultural trappings. John’s Nazarite vow served to sanctify Him to the Lord in a unique way. He came out from among them and was separate from this world in an absolute sense. He lived outside the city beyond the influence of the world. Since he was not around the people, he could not come under this world’s spell. He, like the three young men and Daniel in the book of Daniel, refused to be defiled by the kings meat (Daniel 1:10ff). He ate grasshoppers (locusts) and wild honey. He was beyond the fomenting of the lust of the flesh, lust of the eye and the pride of life that is rife in this present evil world. How can a person hear from God if they are subject to the Devil’s propaganda all the time? John understood that he must separate himself from the influence as a first thing. Can you imagine how sensitive he would have been to their sinfulness of the people after he closed off all the routes into himself that the devil uses to get peoples mind and heart? I dare say He came into the city almost as if he were from another planet.
In the wilderness
The desert was perfect because it isolated him from the influence of the world and yet gave him a constant visual of the spiritual condition of the people. His whole life was surrounded by a fruitless death. He took this place as the platform from which he would preach. The people went out into the wilderness (desert/desolation) to hear him. With a hot dryness and dust swarming around the peoples heads and death on every hand, it must have been a foretaste of hell. He preached on sin, righteousness and judgment to come. He told the people that they must bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. They were lifeless, dead, and dry. This is life outside of God’s will. The ax is laid to the root of the tree and every tree that does not bring forth good fruit of cast into the fire. This was his message. If there is no fruit of repentance, we need not look for the fruit of the Spirit. The first fruit has to be fruit of repentance. John gives instructions. Stop the violence. Stop the coveting. Start giving away things you have that you don’t need; that is, stop hording stuff that other people that have genuine needs could use. Keep in mind that we musn’t get fruit of repentance confused with the fruit of the Spirit. We have to have fruit of repentance before we can have fruit of the Spirit. Amen.
A new expectation
“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11)
When I read this passage I am deeply challenged. John the Baptist was the last Old Testament prophet and none were greater. He was no reed shaken in the wind or some worldly person living the high life. He was the most godly man the world had ever seen to this point, save Jesus Christ. But John, great though he be, shared an experience that all men and women have shared except Eve, we were all born of women. We are all born in Adam. No one born of a woman was greater than this man. This suggests that “born of woman” is a category and we are all in it by first birth. But Jesus told Nicodemas that we must be born from above; not entering in to our mother’s womb to be born of woman again, but to be born of the Spirit. This is our second category; “born of the Spirit” or “born from above.” Jesus said that though none born of women were greater than John the Baptist, the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than him. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, but it would not be until Pentecost that men and women could be baptized by one Spirit into one Body of Christ. Man needed to be buried with Christ by baptism into death, that they might be made free from Sin and alive unto God. This is a radical change of nature that John the Baptist could only look forward to.
The danger of flippancy
I am often taken aback by what seems to be a common attitude among many Christians, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a subject that we studied a long time ago and that we have since moved past and on to more important subjects. I suggest that we treat symptoms on a wholesale level in the body of Christ because folks are not coming to Christ in the way God has prescribed. It’s like we go from step one to step five or six and never return to two through four. Simply put, the Gospel is about a whole lot more than getting sins forgiven. It is the process by which God transforms a person supernaturally from child of the devil to child of God.
The whole attitude of “I already done that” parallels an experience in 5th grade when the music teacher from the high school dropped by our classroom to sign up students for 5th grade band. She went from desk to desk asking each child what their favorite instrument is. Of course, I said “drums”. She then asked, “Would you like to sign up to play drums?” “Oh no! I already know how to play drums.” I replied. She then asked, “How exactly do you play drums?” “Easy! You hit the cymbal three times and then the snare once, over and over again.” The music teacher looked puzzled at me and said very plainly, “Son, I think there is a whole lot more to it than that.” Needless to say I did not sign up and she moved on. It never occurred to me that I had no clue about playing drums. I could keep a simple repeating 4 note measure, and that was it. But we need more than a “4/4 Gospel”, we need the whole symphony that God has designed in this great covenant.
Greater than John?
Man tends to preach their own experiences instead of the Bible, but if our Gospel is not creating men and women that are greater than John the Baptist then we have sold the Cross and the New Covenant down the river. The trouble is that people normally live below the experience of John the Baptist and consider it normal Christianity. It is not. God has made provision for humanity through the Cross event that makes effectual a second birth and the creation of new creatures. Not the best that “born of woman” can deliver, but what “born of the Spirit” can deliver. What did Jesus say, he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. This means that God has provided a better thing for us so that we can have the mind of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist said, “I must decrease, but He must increase.” This should be our desire, but rather, Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:5-7) The love of God can be poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit so that God works in us both to will and to do His good pleasure. We can begin in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit. But it has to begin with repentance and bringing forth the fruit of repentance. These are vital steps. The Holy Spirit has come to agree with the message of John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul and the rest of the Apostles, that reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. (Acts 24:25)