BIG BAPTIST JOHN
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 29, 2017
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” 7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” 15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.
19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.
— Luke 3:1-20, ESV
If you are my age or older, you probably remember the legendary figure immortalized in the Jimmy Dean song:
Every morning at the mine you could see him arrive,
He stood six-foot-six and weighed two-forty-five,
Kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip,
And everybody knew you didn't give no lip to big John,
Big John, Big John, big bad John.
Today I want to speak of a historical and even larger than life figure. Jesus’ story begins with the story of big, bad, John the Baptist. We really don’t know how big he was, but we do know he was larger than life. He was bad only in the good sense, edgy, different, a little dangerous, despised by the powers that be. He was the original Baptist, but by no means the founder of any particular denomination of Christians. He introduced the Christ, and therefore Christianity, to the whole world.
John appeared at the perfect time.
Gospel author Luke was a good physician and a master historian. His is the longest, most well-researched account of the life of Christ and those closest to Him. In many ways, no one was closer to Jesus that His relative, friend, and fellow prophet, John the Baptist. In the history of God and God’s people, John the Baptist, like the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared at God’s precise and perfect time.
It was the perfect time for Jesus and John because, to borrow a phrase from Dickens, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. The koine Greek language was available to write a most descriptive and definitive New Testament. Roman roads were routed to every realm of civilization, roads that would eventually be traveled by Peter, John, Paul, and other emissaries of the gospel. On the other hand, Rome was a cruel taskmaster and Jewish religion had become largely corrupt. Politics had put the priesthood up for sale. Both the Roman government and the Jewish religious establishment were enemies of true faith, therefore truly faithful preachers were considered enemies of the state. If Jesus had stepped into this Mardi Gras without a Spyboy, He would not have lasted three months, let alone the necessary three years. So God sent John, big bad Baptist John, to pave the way for Jesus.
John’s preaching broke four centuries of prophetic silence at the end of the Old Covenant. John’s ministry built a bridge to the New and better Covenant. John stretched baptism, sometimes used for Gentile proselytes into Judaism and frequently used by the Essene sect of Jews, into a symbol of repentance, new life, and a New Covenant with God. One of his last acts on earth was to baptize the Lord Jesus Christ. But his first act was preaching, when it came to preaching, big bad Baptist John was second to only One.
John preached the whole gospel.
Verse three begins with “proclaiming” and verse eighteen ends with “good news.” Big bad Baptist John was a preacher of the gospel. The Old Testament prophet and New Testament evangelist preached it whole, too, from beginning to end.
John’s preaching began with the depravity of man. He address his audience as a bunch of snakes (a phrase also used by the Lord Jesus Christ in His preaching). On the surface, this does not sound like a very nice thing to say. But, unless we appreciate the bad news about our standing before God apart from grace, we cannot appropriate the good news of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Apart from saving grace, we are nothing more than slithering snakes selfishly seeking to sink our teeth into others in order to get what we want. We may hide being religion or moral platitudes, but apart from grace we, like snakes, have no legs to stand on.
John’s preaching punctuated faith and repentance. Family nor religious heritage can save a person. It is faith that counts, faith in God as God has revealed Himself to man. Faith without repentance, and repentance without works, is dead and impotent to save. Modern evangelism offers a flimsy faith devoid of repentance. We need to go to old school, the classroom of big bad Baptist John, and get the gospel right. Grace produces faith, faith produces good works, all centered upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
John’s preaching found its center in Jesus Christ. Big bad Baptist John made no claims to be the Messiah, but simply claimed to be His messenger. What a messenger, and what a message! John introduced the coming of Jesus as well as the advent of the Holy Spirit. He was a trinitarian preacher with a most timely message about the salvation of God, appointed by the Father, accomplished by the Son, applied by the Spirit.
John’s preaching concluded with consequences, the real and eternal consequences, of either accepting or rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ. The wheat goes into the barn of Heaven, the chaff is tossed into the fire of Hell. The word of God calls this the good news, the gospel, and big bad Baptist John preached it from beginning to end. Even so, things did not end well for big bad Baptist John.
John received an ugly, untimely, reward from the world.
It is John the Baptist, not any of our current cavalcade of corrupt televangelists, who should have been traveling first class and living in a spacious estate. He was a good and godly man, a true preacher of righteousness, a man of head, heart, and courage for Christ. So what was his earthly reward?
The greatest man who ever lived, apart from Christ Himself, was falsely arrested for telling the truth, thrown in a dingy prison cell, and executed by beheading. Big bad Baptist John spoke truth to power. Big bad Baptist John preached the gospel to sinners. Big bad Baptist John honored God with his life, yet was rewarded on earth with an ugly, untimely death.
In the Jimmy Dean song, big bad John gave his life for others. Big bad Baptist John did this in real life. In all his ways, John not only introduced Jesus, John was like Jesus. He was part and parcel of the perfect timing and plan of God. He delivered not part, but the whole of the gospel. He was executed at the hands of ungodly men. Perhaps it was a terrible way to die, but it is a great way to live, living for and like the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the fullness of time God gave him a word,
So people in the wilderness of Judea heard,
A man preaching faith and repentance to God,
He spoke real bold but he dressed kind of odd, big John,
Big John, Big John, big Baptist John.
John preached to power and he preached for love,
He pointed all the people to the great God above,
But one day his sermon, it hit the wrong note,
Herod took him prisoner, it was all she wrote for big John,
Big John, Big John, big Baptist John.
He baptized Jesus and a new day began,
But then it was time for his work to end,
He lost his head in that cold jail cell,
But many went to Heaven and escaped from Hell, thanks to John,
Big John, Big John, big Baptist John.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org