The Book of Luke, John the Baptist, Part VIII – Lesson 30
We have spent much time discussing the ministry of John the Baptist.
He is such an important character in the Bible not only because of his ministry as the forerunner of Christ but because he was the the last of the Old Testament prophets and the last as the Mosaic covenant ended.
Jesus confirmed this distinction in Luke 16:16 when he said:
Luke 16:16, The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.
Up to John, God had revealed himself in the law and the prophets.
But the law and the prophets were simply preparation for this time that had now come with the advent of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
John the Baptist came and pointed from the law and the prophets to the Christ who was now present.
With John, a new stage or dispensation in the history of God’s kingdom had arrived and the gospel of the Kingdom of God in the hearts and lives of men was now being proclaimed.
And Jesus Christ in this verse says that every man presseth into it.
That word presseth means a forcing.
This pressing or forcing into the Kingdom could mean the way that is described as the wide gate and the strait gate that Jesus preached about in:
Matthew 7:13, Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Many are religious and will press or force themselves to be on the way but most will be on the broad way.
The Pharisees and the experts in the law, the scribes, focused on the outward aspects of religion (the broad way) while the Old Testament prophets persistently called Israel’s attention to the “heart issues” of the Law (the narrow way).
No wonder the prophets were all persecuted and put to death.
The Pharisees and the scribes had vested interests in upholding the law and forgetting about the heart issues of the law.
Christ came to preach the heart issues.
Christ was dangerous to their position and status as promoters of the law, promoters of legalism.
Their bread was buttered by the law and their power came from the law.
The Pharasees and the scribes were in love with the outward trappings of the law but refused to let the law be applied to their heart.
Isaiah, of the dispensation of the law and the prophets, captured this opposition in Isaiah 58:1‑11, I will read it from the New American Standard Bible because I think it more clear.
But it captures the spirit of religion and the power of religion to blind the eyes of men.
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun‑scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well‑watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Can I see application to myself here?
Can you see yourself also here.
Is this any different in the church today.
Multitudes walking on the broad way that leads to destruction.
2 Tim. 3:7, Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Outward trappings, sepulcher painting and decorating of the body which is the tomb, but inside it is full of dead men’s bones!
So Jesus Christ at this very point shows us a division of scripture and John is at that division.
God does this throughout scripture and he tells us to righly divide the word of God.
Here is a God given division and the division concerns John the Baptist.
From this point on, it is the new covenant, that of which the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah especially spoke of (Jer. 31:31-34), that comes into view.
Jer. 31:31-34, Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
For this to take place sin must be provided for in the suffering of the Messiah in the place of sinners, rejected by men, and smitten of God.
And John’s ministry was necessary to that end.
John was to wind up the dispensation of the law and the prophets for the law and prophets had always pointed to Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ had now come.
While John’s ministry was a failure in calling Israel to God as all of the prophets ministries were, John’s ministry was necessary, for in God’ economy all things work together and John’s ministry was in God’s plan.
God’s plan included the necessity of a forerunner to Christ in order to prepare the way, time and place for the Lamb of God to present himself to God as the only God satisfying sacrifice for the sins of the world.
So in the sense that John’s ministry was a ministry of preparation for the Messiah, it was a success.
He did indeed prepare the way for the Lamb of God.
His message revealed the hearts of Israel and those hearts were the the ones which brought Jesus Christ to the cross.
But the Lord gave comfort to John to put away any sense of failure he might have had as the delegation that John sent from prison returned to him with these words.
Luke 7:22, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.
This was indeed the work of the Kingdom of God.
No doubt these words were intended to focus John’s attention on the second, phase of the Messiah’s coming — to be the Savior of the world.
Jesus’ ministry was not of judgment, or of overthrowing Israel’s enemies, but of ministry to the poor, the afflicted, the distressed.
Jesus’ ministry was not of judgment, but of salvation.
And this ministy of our Lord, John himself introduced with the words, John 1:29, The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
John’s ministry demonstrated clearly that the blessing of Israel, in fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, would never be achieved through the Mosaic Covenant, through the law-keeping of the nation of Israel.
Justification and blessing would only come by faith in the suffering, death, atonement, and resurrection of God’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
There was nothing in Israel that could save Israel, the law could not. Israel needed a Savior
John’s ministry was to close, once and for all, that chapter in Israel’s history of the Mosaic Covenant, of law-keeping.
No one had ever been saved by law-keeping, and neither would the kingdom of God ever be initiated because of it.
Grace must replace law, the suffering of Messiah would provide a means of forgiveness and escape from the judgment of God.
John’s ministry was intended to point this out.
John not only proclaimed, one final time, a call to repentance and law-keeping, but introduced the One through whom the law would be fulfilled, and through whom salvation and forgiveness would be accomplished.
God had not declared the law to be bad, he provided to us the perfect law keeper in Jesus Christ.
So John was privileged to end the one dispensation, and to introduce the other!
And for Luke’s readers, predominantly Gentiles, it was good news indeed for the message was that the keeping of the law, so dear to the Jew could never save.
The question which a Gentile would want answered would be this: “How can a Jewish Messiah, fulfilling Jewish prophecies and promises, bring salvation to Gentiles?”
Luke’s answer, supported by the ministry of John the Baptist, was this: “The Jewish system of law-keeping failed.
It could not save Jews, nor can it save Gentiles.
So this revelation opened the door to Gentiles.
Thus, both Jews and Gentiles must be saved another way—through the perfect law keeper, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is precisely the answer of Peter, which Luke records in the book of Acts:
Acts 15:10-11, Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
And Paul said basically the same thing in:
Gal. 2:16, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
So the failure of the Jews to keep the Law opened the door for God’s grace to provide a better way, the way of salvation by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ.
And the door opened to Gentiles.
Luke’s account of the failure of John’s ministry sets the stage for the grace of God to be made known through Christ’s first coming, death, burial, and resurrection.