Robert Jeffress - The Prophet Who Lost His Head Over Jesus - Part 2
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. At some point, every person starts to wonder about their purpose in life. Most people assume it's tied to a career or their family, but in reality, everything we do ought to point back to our relationship with God. Those who lead truly meaningful lives understand the truth of that important statement. And today, we're going to learn from the example of a man who knew his God given purpose and lived it out to the fullest. My message is titled: "The Prophet Who Lost His Head Over Jesus" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
You have to turn to the parallel passage in Matthew 3:7 to know what is going on here. Matthew says, "But when John saw many of the pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, 'you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come'"? You see these religious leaders were hypocrites and they were paranoid hypocrites. They saw this great following John was getting, how many of the people were following his message of repentance? They said, "We want people to think that we're religious too, so we'll be baptized". John saw through their motivation, he knew what they were up to. They wanted to appear to be religious by going through the external ride of baptism when in fact, they had not changed at all in their attitudes, in their heart, so he called them out on that. He says in Luke 3:8, to them and all of Israel. "Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'we have Abraham for our father'".
You see these pharisees and Sadducees, they thought we don't need any transformation. We're sons, grandsons, great grandsons of Abraham, we are Jews. And because of our physical heritage, we're okay with God. There are a lot of people who think that today, they think because their parents were Christians or their grandparents were Christians, somehow they're welcomed into the Kingdom of God as well. Luis Palau has a great saying, "God has no grandchildren". God has no grandchildren, there's no such thing as being a grandchild of God. You have to be a child of God in order to inherit the Kingdom of God. That means you have to be related to God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that's what he was saying here. If you profess to be religious, but there's no fruit in your life, you're not saved. He says that in verse 9, and also, "The axe is already laid at the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire".
In the Bible, a tree is almost always a symbol of a person's life. The fruit is the works that come out of his life. We're not saved by our fruit, our good works. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works. And one way to tell if somebody's faith is legitimate or not is by what kind of works fruit his life is producing. He was saying to these pharisees and Sadducees, "You claim to be people of faith, but there's certainly no evidence of it in your life". One day the judgment of God is going to cut down that life that bears no fruit. What I want you to see is, John was willing to confront people about their sin. And that is always the beginning place for a Gospel presentation to point people to Jesus. You have to be willing to confront people about sin to talk about sin, repentance, and the possibility of hell.
Now let's admit, that's not popular to do today, is it? We talk about the love of God, we never talk about the judgment of God, it's just not politically correct to do that. You see there is no good news unless you understand the bad news, and the bad news about all of us is, we're all sinners. The bad news is, we're all headed for an eternity in hell. The good news is Christ offers us an escape from that certain coming judgment of God, and you can never appreciate the good news until you're willing to accept the bad news. John was faithful to confront people about the reality of God's judgment. And to many of them, they responded that message.
Look at verse 10, they said, "What shall we do"? What shall we do to escape the certain coming judgment of God? And that leads to the exhortation, that was the second component of his message, his exhortation. A coming alongside to tell people what to do. What should we do to escape God's judgment? Now today, what would we say to somebody who said, "How can I escape hell"? Would answer the way Paul did the Philippian jailer, what shall I do to be saved? What was the answer? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. But remember when John was ministering, Jesus had not yet appeared on the scene. He had not died, he had not been raised again from the dead. So John had to take a different approach to point people to Jesus. It's a more subtle approach, but it got the job done. Look at what his message was about how they could escape judgment.
Look at verse 11, "John would answer and say to them, 'let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none'". A tunic was an undergarment, an undershirt. If you have two of those and your neighbor has none, give him one of yours. Wash it first, but then give it to him. Let him have it, be generous. Then he goes on to say, "Let him, who has food do likewise". Shares food with other people. Then he said, in verse 13, to the tax collectors, he said, "What you need to do to be saved, collect no more than what you have been ordered to". The tax gatherers were despised because they collected more taxes than were necessary than Rome required. They would keep the overage for themselves and send the rest to Rome. People hated the tax gatherers for that reason.
Verse 14, some soldiers were questioning John saying, "And what about us, what do we need to do"? And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages". It was John teaching that they could be saved by good works? No, no, no, no, no, not at all. When the people heard this message from John, they said, "Wait a minute, John. Be generous, be humble, don't take advantage of people. Treat people right? Well, that's not who we are. We can't do that. We don't even want to do that". The fact that they were unable to do these things, the fact that they had no desire to do these things, showed that what they really needed was a complete transformation of their lives. That's why John said these things, he set an impossible standard for somebody who has not had a true change in his life, and that's what Christ would do. They needed a new heart that would produce those good works.
One writer of yesteryear uses this great example. He said, "Imagine someone trying to make a bad apple tree produce good fruit simply by cutting off all the bad apples. The next crop of apples will be just as bad. In fact, the more you keep cutting off the bad apples, the more bad fruit there will be because the nature of the tree hasn't been changed. The apple tree isn't a bad apple tree because it bears bad apples, it bears bad apples because it is a bad apple tree". In the same way, a person is not a sinner because he sins. He sins because he's a sinner, you get that? We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. Don't matter how many resolves you make, ladies and gentlemen, to stop doing this, and stop doing this, and stop doing this. It will never work if you're not a Christian, there has to be a change of heart to produce the fruit that Jesus demands.
And that leads to the third component of this message, salvation. By this point, some people were saying, "Is this guy the Messiah? We've never heard anybody teach like this before". Is this the Messiah? "No". John said. Look at John 3:16, "John answered and said to them, 'as for me, I baptize you with water, but one is coming who is mightier than i, and I'm not fit to untie the thong of his sandals'". That was the most menial job for a servant, to undo the thong of the sandal of somebody who had been walking in the dust. This one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John says, "My baptism is just of water, but the one who is coming will baptize, first of all, with the Holy Spirit".
Now again, water baptism is a sign of what happens when we become a Christian. We are baptized the moment we trust in Christ, we are baptized with the Holy Spirit. Now, that word baptize is the Greek word, baptizo. It means one thing and only one thing in the Greek language, doesn't mean sprinkle, it means to totally immerse. It was a word that was used to describe the process by which you would take a piece of cloth and change its color. Let's say that you had a piece of red cloth and you wanted to change it into purple. What would you do? You would take a vat of purple dye and you wouldn't put your hand in there and flick a little spot of purple on the cloth, that wouldn't do it. No, you would take that piece of red cloth and you would baptizo it, you would immerse it in that vat of purple dye. And when you pulled it out, it would have a completely different color. That's how the Greeks understood that word, it had nothing to do with religion. To them, it was a process by which you would immerse something.
Now, when you trust in Jesus as your Savior, you're not just sprinkled with a little bit of the Holy Spirit, a little dab will do. No, it don't work that way. You are immersed in Holy Spirit of God. He colors every part of your life. You are raised a completely new person after you have trusted in Christ, and that's what Jesus would do. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, but then he adds the word and with fire. What does that mean? Fire, it's not hard to understand, that fire in the Bible is always a sign of God's judgment. And so that nobody misses the point, look at verse 17, John said, "And his winnowing fork is in his hand to thoroughly clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his barn, and he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire".
Now, this was out of my wheel house when I was reading this, I didn't know what this was really talking about. So I had to do a little study this week about the whole process of harvesting wheat. Whenever wheat was harvested, it would be bundled up and it would be taken into a barn and the wheat would be crushed through a threshing process in which the grain was separated from the worthless part of the wheat. Sometimes, it was an oxen that would do it, sometimes a big stone, but you had to separate the worthless part of the wheat from the good part of the wheat. And once that separation had taken place, the farmer would take what was called a winnowing fork and he would pick up a pile of that wheat and the refuse of the wheat, and he would throw it up in the air. And the chaff, which was the worthless part of the wheat, it was lighter and when he would throw it up in the air, that chaff would simply be blown away by the wind. And the good part of the wheat, the heavier part would fall back to the threshing floor. It was a way of separating the good wheat from the worthless part of the wheat.
Now, what John was saying is, one day Jesus is coming back to judge the world. Right now, it's very hard sometimes to separate Christians from non-Christians. They live alongside one another. They worked together. They live together under the same roof. Sometimes, they worship together in the same church. Sometimes, a non-Christian may appear like a Christian, but there is a judgment time coming when God will come. The return of Jesus Christ can separate believers from non-believers. But instead of simply being blown away in this illustration, the chaff is gathered up and it is burned with an unquenchable fire, an allusion to hell itself. What I want you to see here is, John's ministry and his message was marked by confrontation, by exhortation, and by the message of salvation.
Now it's true, some people were greatly encouraged by John's message, others rejected it. Look at verse 19, "But when Herod the Tetrarch was reproved by him on account of Herodias, his brother's wife, and on account of all the wicked things which Herod had done". What is that about? If you went into any supermarket in Israel at the checkout line, you couldn't help but notice a copy of the Jerusalem inquirer. And right on the front page was the scandal that everybody was talking about. King Herod had taken his sister-in-law, Herodias, wife of Philip, to be his own wife. And not only had he taken her to be his wife, not only was she his sister-in-law, she also happened to be his niece, so this was a case of incest and immorality. Everybody was talking about it.
And interestingly, according to Mark 6:20, Herod, as corrupt as he was, he enjoyed listening to the preaching of John the Baptist from time to time, kind of like some presidents like to listen to Billy Graham, even though they weren't Christians. He enjoyed John, until John confronted him about his sin. When John the Baptist met with Herod, he told him the truth. In Matthew 14:4, he said to Herod, "It is not right for you to have Herodias as your wife". And because of that, and because of the offense that Herodias took at John's words, he was beheaded. He lost his life for his willingness to confront with the truth.
You know, John, Jesus said in Matthew 11:11, "John was the greatest person who has ever been born". Isn't that interesting? Of all the people Jesus could have named as the greatest person who has ever been born, he singled out John the Baptist. Why is that? Let me close. I know we're out of time, just two quick principles I want you to write down. Would you like to have God say that about you? Would it be an honor for God to say, "Of all the people I've ever created, you are the greatest". What is it that brings God's approval in our life? Principle number one, God honors those who are willing to share the truth regardless of the consequences. He honors those who are willing to share the truth regardless of the consequences.
I was in a meeting Monday with some other large church pastors, and we had the speaker who is trying to explain to us how to reach this culture, this generation, the new generation, without offending them. And he said, "You know, there are certain words you need to avoid, and certain phrases and certain tones if you're going to reach people with the Gospel, otherwise people won't listen to you". Listen, that's all well and good, but you know what I've discovered? It doesn't matter how you package it, the Gospel is going to offend some people. When you tell people they need to be saved, you're implying that they're lost. When you tell them they need to be forgiven, you're implying that they are guilty. And some people just don't want to hear that. The Gospel is going to be offensive to some people, and yet a true servant of God is somebody who's willing to tell the truth no matter how unpopular it is.
Somebody has quipped Noah's message from the steps of the ark was not, something good is going to happen to you today. Amos was not confronted by the high priest of Israel for proclaiming, "Confession is possession". Jeremiah was not put into the pit for preaching, "I'm okay, you're okay". Daniel was not put into the lion's den for telling people, "Possibility thinking can move mountains". And John the Baptist was not beheaded because he preached, "Smile, God loves you". No, it was John's boldness that eventually cost him his life, but it also earned him a place in God's hall of honor. God honors those who are willing to share the truth regardless of the consequences.
Principle number two, God honors those who point people to his son. John understood that his purpose in life was simply to point people to Jesus. He must increase, I must decrease. John understood that he was like the moon that has no light of its own, but only reflects the light of the sun. Do you realize folks, you and I have been called for that same purpose? The reason God has left you and me here on this planet, is not to build a successful career, accumulate a lot of money, even to have a happy and harmonious family. God has left us here to point people to Jesus.
Folks, I know some of you understand that. There are people you are praying for who are lost. You're talking to them about the Gospel. You're inviting them to church, it may be a family member. It may be a friend, but somebody you care about. Remember, not everybody's going to respond, but that's not your responsibility. Our calling in life is like that of a good hunting dog, our job is simply to point the way, that's what God has called us to do, to point people to Jesus. Because in the end, it really isn't about us, it's all about him.