Preaching Like John the Baptist

By Warner Robins

“And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk. 1:17).

John the Baptist was no city slicker. He, from an early age, dwelt in the desert. He was a rugged individualist. He did not entangle himself with affairs of this world. He had a special mission to carry out. This mission could not be carried out by a weakling or a coward. His work was to be that of a forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He wore rough clothing and he ate locusts and wild honey. His voice came forth to the people from the wilderness and not the city stadium. He was no reed flapping in the wind but a man’s man who had been tempered in the out of doors. He breathed the free air of the desert and learned self-reliance. In this way God prepared John for the great task at hand – to prepare the hearts of the people for the Messiah.

John knew who he was and also who he was not. He said he was not the Messiah but “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the lord, make his paths straight” (Matt. 3:3). John did not go to the people but the power of his message brought the people to him. He told them to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” not here yet but approaching. Like a work crew will come ahead of the power line to clear out a right of way, so John cleared a right of way in the minds and hearts of the people for the Christ who would follow. He got them to thinking about the Messiah.

His work was both difficult and unpopular. That is why he needed the special rugged conditioning that desert life and the wilderness would afford. No cream puff could accomplish his task. John was no weakling. Maybe that is why so many of our greatest preachers of today and in this century were raised in the country and were dirt poor. This is the type of person who is disciplined by both environment and circumstances to meet the difficulties that sometimes arise in preaching the gospel of Christ. Many of them, like John, are toughened to the mission they must accomplish.

John’s preaching was centered around repentance. Repeatedly he cried for the people to repent and turn from their sins. His message was repentance and baptism for the remission of sins (Mk. 1:4; Lk. 3:3). To the rich he urged the proper attitude toward the poor. To the publicans he demanded honesty. To the soldiers he urged no violence to any man and to be content with their wages. To the Pharisees he demanded they bring forth the proper fruits of repentance. He called them a generation of vipers. No wonder John was later beheaded for he threw caution to the wind and said what needed to be said to whomsoever he needed to say it. He played no favorites. He was a hard, tough preacher who knew not the meaning of fear or compromise.

Not even Herod escaped the preaching of John. He called on Herod to repent. Herod sent for him and he told him about his need to repent from all his evils. He even told him he had an unlawful marriage. He said it was unlawful for him to have his brother Philip’s wife. What a preacher! Would to God we had more like John in this regard today. John’s message was from God (Jn. 1:6,7). He played no favorites. There was no respect of persons with him. It made no difference to John about one’s station in life. Truth is truth no matter who is involved. Can you hear John asking for one more false view of divorce and remarriage to be tolerated? After all, maybe Herod was sincere. Cannot opposing views co-exist? Live and let live? John’s preaching did not allow for such weak-kneed attitudes toward truth. Did he advocate unity in diversity on this question? No! He did not! He, instead, called for Herod’s repentance and also that of his unlawful mate. This means they were wrong. This means they had to correct their lives so as to be living lawfully before God. This meant severing the adulterous relationship which is why they were living unlawfully to start with. Did they obey the message? Not at all. The furious Herodias, like so many others today, did not like to be told she was wrong. John, the messenger of God was in the way. He had to go. So, at her instigation, John was beheaded. But the message of John was just as true after he was killed as it was before. Truth remains the truth!

We need preachers today with the spirit and power of Elijah. John was the second Elijah, as Isaiah had prophesied. He was not Elijah come back to life but he preached with the same spirit as Elijah, intent on preaching only the message of God, regardless of the consequences. His attitude was “if the shoe fits, wear it.”

Preachers who preach like John are courageous. Preachers who preach like John seek to please the Lord in their preaching and not men. Preachers who preach like John do not show respect of persons. Preachers who preach like John are willing to sacrifice the things of this life in order to proclaim God’s message. Preachers who preach like John need special preparation in the study of the Word of God together with the willingness to let everything else be secondary. And, finally, preachers who preach like John will be willing to give even their lives in order to carry out the will of God.

To the young preachers, we urge that they imbibe the spirit of John the Baptist before starting out to preach the gospel. Determine to take a stand on Truth and refuse to move from it. Do not be overly impressed with some among us who appear to be somewhat. Education is not sinful but do not let it make you egotistical or arrogant. It is only a tool. Do not allow it to become a scepter.

To the older preachers we say, as one who is now in that category, do not lose the spirit of Elijah and John. Some we fear have “mellowed” to the point of decay. Brethren, rise up once again and preach relentlessly the gospel of Christ to the lost without fear or favor. Instruct the saved so that they will remain saved. Call a spade a spade. Stop beating around the bush if that is what you are doing. Call both sin and sinners by name. Fear no man. Fear God only.

Preach the word, brethren, in the spirit of Elijah, just like John!

Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 3, pp. 74-75
February 6, 1992