Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Blindness of the Pharisees

"And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.  And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that Prophet?  John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth One among you, Whom ye know not; He it is, Who coming after me is preferred before me, Whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.  These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing." 
John 1:24-28

   We see here that the priests and Levites sent to question John were from the Pharisees.  Throughout the Gospels, this group of Jews is noted for their self-righteousness and unbelief.  In these few verses of John, their blindness is clearly shown.  They ask John why he is baptizing if he is not "that Christ, nor Elias (Elijah), neither that prophet."  The two words translated that are definite articles in the Greek text.  Therefore, they can be understood as the.  As noted earlier, these men were confusing "The Christ" and "The Prophet."  They are one and the same (Deut. 18:15, Acts 3:20-22).  John's answer is interesting.  He lets them know that he simply baptizes with water (symbolizing repentance, see Matt. 3:11), and proceeds to point out the fact of their disbelief in the One who has the power of spiritual baptism.  He says, "I baptize with water: but there standeth One among you, Whom ye know not."  The two verbs in this passage, standeth and know, are in the Perfect tense.  This tense carries with it the idea of action completed in the past with the results carrying on into the future.  The Christ child had come.  He was now in their midst.  They knew of His birth in Bethlehem.  This is the group who explained the prophesy of Micah to king Herod when Jesus was born (Matt. 2:4-6, Mic. 5:2).  And yet for all this, they had chosen to reject Him; they were rejecting Him now (ye know not), and in their present frame of mind, they would continue to reject Him.  Christ was in their midst, and yet they had not known Him, they were not knowing Him then, and unless they repented, they would never know Him.  This disbelief and pride was the reason for John's rebuke to them in Matthew chapter three.  John then points out Christ's deity and says, "He it is, Who coming after me is preferred before me...."  Even though Jesus was born approximately six months after John (Luke 1:36), He has existed from all eternity.  He is the Word and He is God.  He created John; therefore, John unashamedly upholds the Lord's worthiness and declares his own unworthiness by saying , "...Whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose."  The Pharisees were challenging John's ministry of baptism, and John immediately addressed their root issue of unbelief in the One Who was standing among them, the One Who is God in the flesh.  
   We find here in this passage a valuable principle.  This principle teaches us to avoid surface arguments and cut to the heart of the issue.  Unbelievers and carnal Christians will often attempt to distract with frivalous questions and vain arguments.  The spiritual child of God needs to have discernment and learn to keep the main truths in view.  Repairing the hole in the bucket will eliminate the need to clean up the spilled water.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Make Straight the Way of the Lord

"And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?  And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.  And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias?  And he saith, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? And he answered, No.  Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?  He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias."  John 1:19-23

As John begins his ministry of pointing people to the coming Christ, the Jews in Jerusalem send out their own in an attempt to determine who John is.  Humble and not desiring to gain any glory for himself, John emphatically denies that he is the Christ.  The Jews were obviously well aware of the fact that a Messiah was coming very soon.  Doubtless, they were familiar with the timeline laid out in Daniel 9:24-27.  They then ask John, "Art thou Elias?"  This is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Elijah.  They wanted to know if Elijah had returned in the flesh.  John simply says, "No."  He was not Elijah reincarnated.  Indeed, he came forth in the "power and spirit of Elijah," but he was not the fulfillment of the physical coming of Elijah as promised in Malachi 4:5.  John's ministry and Elijah's ministry are parallel and follow the same spirit and intent but they are two separate events.  The Levites and priests then ask John, "Art thou that Prophet?"  In the Greek, a definite article accompanies Prophet; therefore, a specific prophet is being identified and not just a prophet as some study Bible notes indicate.  The Prophet these Jews were referring to is the Prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18: 15 where Moses declares, "The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken."  Again, John denies and says, "No."  Apparently, these men did not realize that Christ and The Prophet were one in the same.  They stated their questions to John as though these two positions were separate.  Perhaps somewhat frustrated, they then ask John, "Who art thou...what sayest thou of thyself?"  John then gives an answer that is in fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 and says, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord...."  The word cry here means to shout aloud.  What was John shouting aloud?  "Make straight the way of the Lord!"  From the very beginning, Israel's history had been blackened by the sin of apostasy and un-thankfulness.  At the time John said this, they were steeped in self-righteousness and pride.  The letters of the Law and their own conceit had become their God.  The heart of God's Law had been casually brushed over.  His precepts had been ignored for centuries the nation was floundering in self-righteousness and pride and John cries out "Make straight the way of the Lord!"  What is he saying?  His message was a simple message of repentance, not only to the Jews but to all who would listen.  The Bible says in Acts 19:4, "...John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus."  God used John to prepare people's hearts unto repentance so that they could turn to Christ in humble faith and receive forgiveness of sins.  Repentance means to change one's mind.  Bible repentance is a change of mind and heart about one's sin and direction.  This naturally results in a change of action.  Repentance is realizing that we are wrong about our sin and that God is right.  No one comes to Christ without realizing he is a sinner and wanting to do something about it.  Repentance is not a work, it is a heart acknowledgement that something must be done about one's sin problem.  Thus, God sends John to declare that all who would come to Christ in humble faith must prepare a path for Him in their heart.  This is not the message these priests and Levites were looking for.  They did not want to hear about their sin and need to be cleansed by the blood of the spotless Lamb.  They were only interested in remaining the spiritual authorities.  The verse that John quotes here from Isaiah says, "...Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God."  O how God would have all bow the knee to Him in humble faith!  Many want Jesus in their life as a religion but few are willing to prepare in the desert of their wicked hearts a highway for God.  In this very first chapter, John declares that men are to humble themselves in preparation for the coming of the Lamb.  Sin abounds, men are self-righteous, the Roman world at this time is steeped in Paganism and John cries out, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord!  The Messiah, the Lamb, is coming.  Acknowledge your sin and put your faith in Christ."  For those who are in Christ, this message has great application.  Revival won't come to a Christian's heart until they are willing to make a highway for God in the barren desert of their feeble life.  We need to bow the knee to the King of kings and be obedient to Biblical truth on a daily basis.  Preparing a highway in the desert of our Christian lives is being willing to walk in the Spirit daily.  It is saying to God, "What is in my life that needs to go, or what is not in my life that needs to be added?"  It is being sensitive to God's desires and commands.  Simply put, It is to humble ourselves before God and accept His ways over our own.  May every one of us fear God and prepare in the deserts of our needy hearts a highway for our Redeemer and King!