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John Preaches

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The King Shall Come

  2. devotional

    John the Baptist

  3. devotional

    The Baptism of John

The King Shall Come

Without a doubt, King David ushered in a golden age during the old covenant period (1 Chron. 18:14). This humble son of Jesse transformed Israel from a confederacy of tribes into a major power (2 Sam. 5), a remarkable achievement given the size of the country and the threats it faced as a place of strategic importance. He who controlled Palestine, a land bridge connecting Africa, Europe, and Asia, controlled commerce in the ancient Near East.

During the reign of David’s son Solomon, things began falling apart as the king was led into idolatry (1 Kings 11). Eventually the kingdom was divided in two (12:16–20) and suffered, for the most part, under the reign of incompetent, godless, and foolish rulers. World powers including Assyria, Babylon, and Persia conquered the land and became the de facto kings of Palestine. Understandably, the people longed for a return to the golden age, a return of a king like David who would bring in an era of peace, justice, and security. This longing would be fulfilled in the Messiah, the “anointed one” (Amos 9:11–15).

Today’s passage is a prophecy regarding what was to come after the Assyrian invasion of Israel and Judah. God’s people are told that they will not suffer under judgment forever; He will send a deliverer, a Son of David beyond compare.

This child will one day have the government “upon his shoulder” (Isa. 9:6). Anyone in leadership knows what a burden that can be. Good leaders understand the responsibility of taking care of their followers. Yet this child will shoulder this office well. He will also be an “Everlasting Father,” an image that tells us the Son of David will not look out for His own interests alone. Rather, like any good father, He will put the needs of His children first and work for their benefit. We have every reason to be confident that He will succeed, for He is also “Wonderful Counselor.” The Hebrew term for counselor is the same term used of the king’s most trusted advisor. This Son of David has no need for counsel. As wisdom incarnate (1 Cor. 1:24), He is His own advisor.

We know this Son of David is Christ Jesus Himself, the “Mighty God,” the warrior who has defeated all the powers of death and hell (Rev. 1:1–18). 

John the Baptist

In our study of the story of Melchizedek, we have deliberately skipped over the fact that some theologians believe this ancient king was the pre-incarnate Jesus. While this is most likely not the case, Melchizedek is still an important figure — a type of Christ, at the very least. His blessing on Abram (Gen. 14:19–20) no doubt changed the patriarch’s life, confirming God’s call upon our father in the faith.

This ought not surprise us. Neither old covenant believers who knew the Messiah in shadows nor new covenant disciples who knew Him while He walked the earth could remain unchanged. For the next ten days we will study some of the direct, life-altering meetings Jesus had with others in history using Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Face to Face with Jesus as a guide.

One encounter took place with the last prophet before Jesus’ public ministry. When John baptized in the wilderness near the Jordan river, he caused an uproar because he preached a baptism for the remission of sins to Israel (Matt. 3). Before John, only Gentile converts to Judaism underwent a similar rite, because they were regarded as unclean. In baptizing Israelites, John was teaching that the chosen people were unclean, and that their Temple could not cleanse them, thereby scandalizing the priesthood (John 1:19–28).

John repeatedly identified himself as the prophet who would prepare the way for the kingdom of God to appear with a power not previously seen (vv. 19–23). He believed that his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, was the long-awaited king, and he was not afraid to pay homage to God’s Messiah (vv. 24–28).

Though he had come into contact with Jesus while still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:39–45), John meets Him later at the Jordan to baptize Him and declare the start of His public ministry (John 1:29–34). This encounter affirmed Jesus’ significant role in the drama of redemption, for soon afterwards John told the people that the Christ must increase and that he must decrease (3:30). John’s honor had to recede into the background in light of the greater glory of the Son of David. May we all so acknowledge our resurrected Lord.

The Baptism of John

As we have noted, the apostle Paul establishes a link between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:8–15. Our studies on circumcision therefore provide an opportunity to leave the book of Genesis temporarily and examine the wider biblical teaching on baptism with the help of the series Covenant Baptism by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

Even though Paul also tells us there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5), we must admit there is precious little Christian unity on the sacrament. Orthodox believers of all stripes debate the meaning, mode, efficacy, administration, and many other aspects of baptism. This disagreement, while regrettable, at least shows that Christians understand that baptism is an important matter.

John the Baptist administered the first baptism described in the New Testament to the nation of Israel just prior to the ministry of Jesus. In today’s passage, we see how his baptism fulfills Old Testament prophecy. Luke 3:4–6 quotes from Isaiah 40:3–5 where the prophet predicts an end to Judah’s exile and a road by which the captives would return to their land. Though many Jews returned to Jerusalem under the Persian emperor Cyrus, the lack of the nation’s repentance, as seen in later prophets like Malachi, soon made it clear the return from exile in Cyrus’ day was not complete, for turning from sin was the prerequisite for such blessings (Deut. 30:1–10).

No, God would cleanse His people, end their exile, and usher in the new heavens and earth promised by Isaiah (65:17–25) through the ministry of David’s greatest son. John the Baptist’s ministry was Isaiah’s straight, flat highway in the desert preparing the people to be ready for the kingdom of God to come in power and end their spiritual exile. His baptism was preparatory, revealing Israel must turn from the same uncleanness marking her Gentile persecutors.

John is seen as the new Elijah, for he is a prophet of the coming Messiah (Mal. 4:5–6; Matt. 11:1–14). His baptism is not the same as the one Jesus commands (Matt. 28:18–20), but it does share points of contact. The most important of these is our need to repent of our sin so that we can enter Christ’s kingdom (Mark 1:14–15).

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