Dr. Ed Young - The Greatest Man
Four hundred years, no word From God. Temple worship went on. Sacrificial system continued. All the special days were religiously observed. A form of godliness, no power, until we read in the Gospel of John, there was a man sent from God whose name was John. Not John the Apostle, but John the baptizer. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Read the last few verses in Malachi, you see how hypocritical, empty, godless, vain all the worship of Israel had become. No authentic voice that represented the true and living God, until John the Baptist! He was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and he preached with clarity, insight, no respecter of persons.
Herod was king. Herod had stolen his brother, Philip's, wife. Her name was Herodias. John the Baptist looked at the king right square in the eye and said, You are guilty of adultery. Prophet. A prophet is not only someone who predicts, a prophet primarily in the Bible is someone who tells forth, and he spoke the truth to the highest ranking person in the land. You are an adulterer. Herod put him in prison, a prison in the backside of nowhere, down by the Jordan River. Hot, barren, if you've ever been there, empty, void of life, you would think, and there John, the great prophet, through a period of time, I'm sure, he began to be delirious, and wondering, and somewhat confused.
Two of his followers came to him, and John said, when he heard about Jesus and what he was doing, and what was going on, he said, Go and ask my cousin, Jesus, if he is the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us, the Promised One. Now you would think that certainly John knew this. He'd been a part of all of it, but yet, I can tell you something. Alone in a prison, hot, forgotten, all kind of things happen, so he said, Go ask Jesus if he is Emmanuel, God with us. And the two messengers left John in his prison and went to Jesus and ask him, "Are you the one"? And Jesus said, "Go back and tell John what you see and what you hear". He said, "The deaf are hearing, the lame are walking, the blind have their sight restored, and the dead are being brought back to life, and good news is being proclaimed to the poor. You go back and tell John, that's what I'm doing".
That's what's going on. What was he saying? He wanted to remind John that Jesus was fulfilling exactly the prophecy that predicted about the coming of Messiah. And then, in that prison, we have a strange situation. Herod was afraid of John, the king, but then Herod had a large party, gathering of the people, the dignitaries, celebration. And he asked his step-daughter, Salome, to dance. And Salome, the daughter of his adulterous wife, Herodias, danced a dance that was so sensual, it excited Herod so much, he said, I'll give to that girl anything she wants, up to half the kingdom. And the little girl went and asked her mother, Herodias, What should I ask for? And that vindictive woman said, Go ask for the head of John The Baptist. He was beheaded. His head was brought to the king on a platter.
Courageous. His courage cost a price. Incidentally, parenthecially, this is the first Baptist who lost his head over dancing! You have in a Scripture here, that after this happened, John was still alive, but Jesus turned to a large crowd and he said, What did you go out into the wilderness to see? Talking about John the Baptist. Did you go out in the wilderness? By the way, they think over 300,000 went out to hear him, way out in the boondocks. Did you see a man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in the king's palaces. But he said, "But what did you see"? He's talking to the crowd, Jesus, "A prophet"? Yes! I'll tell you one who is more than a prophet.
"This is the one about whom it is written, 'Behold! I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'" Verse 11, "'Truly I say to you,' said Jesus. 'Among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.'" Did you get that? Jesus said no man, no woman, nobody's ever walked this planet who was greater than John the Baptist. How did he get to this lofty position? He was a disciplined person. He went out in the wilderness, out in the no-man's land. Have been around the Jordan River, down in that part where Jesus was baptized? My goodness, it's just rocks and rocks and rocks and rocks and rocks.
Emptiness, void. You wouldn't think anything could live there. Nothing. Nothing. That's where John the Baptist goes. He's dressed up in camel's hair, the Bible tells us. He eats locusts and honey, gluten free, and he's an austere guy, you know, just pale. Desserts, he would sometime go catch a grasshopper. What kind of life is that? Alone, aloof. Let me tell you what kind of life it is. He got away from the face of human beings so he could go and spend his time with the face of God. Our problem is, we spend so much time with noise, and clutter, and racket, and something's gotta be going on, we've got to be with somebody! I don't want to be by myself. We spend so much time in the face of man, we don't have time for the face of God.
John the Baptist was disciplined. Away from everybody. Aloof! Other-worldly, mystical, prophet, prophet, disciplined. His very appearance was a sermon. You know, he would walk out, he was real. He didn't care about money, or fame, or power. Everybody knew that! He didn't care about everything most people cared about. He cared only about being God's man. See the discipline that he had in his life? Discipline. Discipline. And then he was humble. We see that all the way through. How can you be so strong and prophetic, and yet be humble? But he really was. When they went to him and said, Are you the Messiah? He said, No. Said, Who are you? He said, I'm just a voice. I'm a voice crying with all the other voices and racket in the world. He said, I'm preparing the way for the Lord.
This was the prophecy of Isaiah, coming before the coming of Jesus Christ. And John says, I have come to make the crooked road straight. I've come to take the mountain and flatten it out. I've come to take the valley and to fill it up. I am preparing a runway for the coming of the son of God. He was going ahead. He was a voice of preparation. Discipline. Discipline. Also, what made him great was timing. You see, most of you were not there for the Battle of the Bulge. You may have been a hero and won the Congressional Medal of Honor, but you weren't there, the timing wasn't right.
So there's a sense of timing for this greatness. I want you to see the time in which he lived. It's really something. Take your Bibles and just flip over to Luke chapter 3. It dates John the Baptist. It says, "Now in the 50th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar". We know that was about AD 29, 28. When Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judea. Herod was Tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother, Philip, was Tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias was the Tetrarch of Abilene. Not Texas. In the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of God came to John, the son of Zechariahs, in the wilderness. That puts the date in which he lived. It tells who was running Rome, who was running Israel, who was running Judea, who the religious leaders were. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a more corrupt, rotten, evil, vicious group of people on this earth.
Philip, and Herod, and Pilate, and, well, Annas and Caiaphas, they were just phony-baloney exporters of people in the name of religion. Never heard of that happening, have you? They'd had darkness for 400 years, and now all of a sudden, he walks out and brings the light of God. Boy! You see that he was a great man. You see his preparation for it. And you see his greatness is seen by his message. Not only the time in which he lived, his background, his humility, look at the message that he brought. A powerful, powerful message. Turn, if you would, the book of Luke, still in the third chapter, verse 3, "And it came into all the district around Jordan, preaching a baptism and repentance for the forgiveness of sin".
Let me tell you something. This is unique. Jews were not baptized. If you are a Gentile and you became a Jew, you'd be baptized as a proselyte, but Jews were not baptized. The Essenes were Jews, it was a sect, but their baptism was called tarboleum, it was in blood for cleansing. And when John the Baptist says, Repent, turn away from your sin. By the way, do you know what repentance is? One somebody asked a little girl, "What's repentance"? He says, and the little girl said, "It's being sorry for your sin". And another little girl said, "Oh no, it's being sorry for your sin enough to quit". See, that's repentance. So John says, Repent. Be forgiven, and be baptized. The Jews said, Oh no, no, no! We don't have to be baptized! We're inheritance, we come from Abraham! Father Abraham.
Man, we've got all that covered. It's like people today who are living a Godless life, "Oh, I joined a church when I was 12 years old, and I was baptized, I'm all right. I'm all right". John The Baptist says, "Repent. Be baptized". And they came by the thousands out in the boondocks, to hear him. I mean, Pharisees, Sadducees, politicians, religious people, people in government, all walks of life came out to hear him. I'm telling you, he spoke the truth. And we see his message. And he goes on and said he's a voice in the wilderness. And then he says, "So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him," Luke 3 chapter 7. "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance".
In other words, you have repented and turned away from sin, let's see the result of your new life. You've turned away. John said, "Show me. Put up or shut up". And they say, "We have Abraham for our father, for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up all kinds of children to Abraham". He said, "Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees, judgment is coming". And then, in verse 10, "The crowds were questioning him, saying, 'Then what shall we do?'" They wanted to change. They saw they were phony. They saw they were liars. They saw there were hypocrites. They saw their worship was not real. They said, "What shall we do? We repent, we baptized". And then he tells them exactly what to do.
By the way, when you pray, don't pray, O, Lord, forgive me of my many sins. Be specific. Okay? Be specific. I used to pray like that. O, Lord, cover me, for I got so many sins, just cover up. Oh no, no, no, no, no. He wants you to be very specific. And we see how specific here. These people said, Oh, Lord we want to change. What shall we do? And he just goes right down. The crowds would question him, Then what shall we do? Verse 10, Luke 3, "And he would answer and say to them, 'The man who has two tunics,'" that's your undershirt, "is share with him who has none. And he who has food is to do likewise". What's he saying?
Be generous. If you're known as a tightwad, closed-fisted, that's not the way we are as Christians. We'd be openhanded. We're to be easy. Be generous. You've repented. Be generous. "And there's some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, 'Teacher, what shall we do?' He said to them, 'Collect no more than what you've been ordered to do.'" See in that day, you collect taxes and all you got over you had to pay the government you could keep for yourself. So the tax collectors were amazingly rich. And then he went on to say, "Some soldiers were there saying, 'Well what do we do? What shall we do?'" We are guilty. "And he said, 'Do not take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.'"
What would he say? Show me the fruit, the result of the new life that you want, the change that God has brought in your life. "And John answered and said to them, 'As for me, I baptize you with water.'" I just dunk ya. "But he says, 'One is coming who is mightier than I, I'm not fit to untie the thong of his sandals.'" There's humility. "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire". What does that mean? It means John was external baptism, but Jesus would come, and when they received him, and he would baptize them with the Holy Spirit inside of their life. And inside their life that will be like a fire that will burn up all the ugliness and junk and immorality and mess that's in the middle of them. That's the difference.
And then we've got this tremendous thing. "So many others he preached the Gospel to people". Hold on, don't miss this. John The Baptist is the only Old Testament prophet who preached judgment, fire and brimstone, and the law. He also was a New Testament preacher of forgiveness, a new life, and grace. The only one. Prophet the old, yet bridging the gap being the proclaimer of the grace of God and in you. You see, he puts the Old and New together. Darkness he brings light. Under the new contract, the new relationship, the king that all the world had been preparing for until this strategic moment in history. It is the Good News.
And look back and see what the Good News really really really was. It's a magnificent thing. Go back to baptism. John baptized Jesus verse 13, Matthew 3, "Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent him, saying, 'I need, Jesus, to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?'" Key verse. Key verse. 15 verse. "Jesus answered and said to John, 'Permit it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us. John the Baptist, and Jesus, to fulfill all righteousness.'"
What is that saying? It's saying something tremendously important. Here you have John the Baptist, the bridge between the law and the Gospel. Here we have Jesus being baptized. Why? He had no sin. He was baptizing so we would fulfill. He would identify with you and with me in our sin as a precursor for the gospel which was proclaimed by John. As he saw Jesus later on he said, "Behold the Lamb of God". What does that mean, Behold the lamb that satisfies God, takes care of all the sacrifices that had been offered, and the Lamb of God is on the cross.
Jesus in baptism identified with us, Jesus on the cross took all of our Iniquity. I love that word, it sounds bad. It sounds ugly. It sounds like sin. Took all of it out of you and me and put it on himself. Didn't identify with us, he became sin for us. And that's the miracle and the grace of Calvary, and that's the Good News of Jesus Christ. Behold the Lamb of God. Takes away the sin of the world. And John baptized Jesus, and when he came up out of the water, the voice from heaven said, This is my boy, this is my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased. And there was Jesus, God in flesh, and there was a dove who came like the Holy Spirit.
See, it's one thing to be baptized by water, it's another thing to have your insides drenched by the Holy Spirit. Like fire that burns away all of that's within you and within me, that's the Gospel, that's the Good News. Now, did you read it? Nobody's greater than John, said Jesus. Anybody here think you're greater than John the Baptist? Would you lift your hand? I'm liftin' my hand. Well, what kinda megalomaniac do we have up there in the pulpit? You see, I didn't read the rest of that verse. The rest of that verse says no one who's ever lived is greater than John the Baptist.
But it says in that verse 11 I read in the beginning, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist. Somebody who gets into heaven through Jesus Christ's kiss barely, I mean saved by fire, they just barely are a Christian, they are greater than John the Baptist. I was rushing to go somewhere this summer, and I was in Dallas, and I had to get from those buses and I was late, and boy I had to catch it or I'd miss the flight up there.
And the door was closing and I put my hand in the door, and I caught the door and I got in and they took me up and they said, Three and a half minutes, we were going to close the gate if you hadn't gotten here. I got there by the skin of my teeth, by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin. Did you see what the Scripture says? The lowest person. Who may well that might be? Who knows Jesus Christ. Receives his grace, his forgiveness, his love, the exchanged life, is greater than John the Baptist! Whew! That helps us understand a little bit about the love, the grace, the patience, the overwhelming care that he has for all of us. It's available to us. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all. Everybody here who knows Jesus, you're greater than John the Baptist.