HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. —Luke 3:3-4
Forerunners Precede Great Events or Persons
It is one of the ways of God in the ordering of history to grant forerunners of great events or persons. The widespread superstition that such things as meteors or earthquakes are the heralds of mighty happenings in history, is nothing but a mistaken application of heaven’s great principle of forerunning, in the stormy gusts and the sweeping rains of March we have the forerunners of the beauty of the summer, in illness and sorrow and the open grave we have often the forerunners of changed and useful lives. Before the full sunshine of the Reformation, there was the dawn in Wycliffe and his “poor preachers.” And the earthquake and the bursting of gates at midnight was the preparation for the Philippian jailer’s joy. So John was the great forerunner of Jesus. It was he who roused the people from their lethargy. He touched the national conscience by his preaching. He made men eager, expectant, and open-eyed. In the far-reaching words of his great namesake, he was sent “to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe” (John 1:7). What then was the character of John? What features impress us in these verses from Luke? That is what we must endeavour to find out.
John Stood Alone and Yet Undaunted
First, then, we note that John stood alone, and yet he was undaunted. We know that it is easier to be brave when we have brave friends on our right hand and our left. It is a great assistance to a soldier’s heart to be one of a regiment of gallant fellows. A little boy will not mind the darkness much, so long as he knows that someone is beside him: it is when he wakens, and finds that he is solitary, that we hear the bitter crying in the night. Now, remember that John the Baptist was alone. He lived in the desert of the Jordan Valley. He cut himself off from the haunts and homes of men; he did not mingle in glad human companies. Yet from first to last he was conspicuously brave. His courage shone like a star in the dark night. His voice never lost its trumpet-note though other voices failed to answer it. John came (we read) in the spirit of Elijah. But in this respect, John was greater than Elijah. He was more than a cousin, in this matter, to the Saviour, whose prophet and whose forerunner he was. For Jesus trod the winepress alone; in His great hour all forsook Him and fled; yet He set His face steadfastly towards Jerusalem, and cried on Calvary, “It is finished.”
John Was a Dreamer and Yet He Was Most Practical
Again, we observe that John was a dreamer, and yet he was most practical. When I call him a dreamer I do not use the word slightingly, I use it in its best and noblest sense. It was to be one mark of Messianic times that the old men were to dream dreams in it, and though John was far from being an old man, yet this touch of the latter day was on his heart. The word of the living God had come to him. He was preparing for a coming Saviour. He woke and worked and preached and prayed, with the vision before him of the advent of Messiah. Yet read his preaching, when the people flocked to him, and tell me if anything could be more intensely practical. “Bring forth, therefore, fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father” (Luke 3:8). “Exact no more than that which is appointed you” (Luke 3:13). “Do violence to no man, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). What teaching could be more plain and practical than that? Let us learn from John, then (the greatest born of women), that the highest character embraces dream and duty. It knows the value of the present task, but it has its vision of a Christ-filled tomorrow. It does not lose itself in things to be. Nor does it despise the humble round of drudgery. It does life’s common work with strenuous faithfulness but never forgets that Jesus is at hand.
John Was Very Stern and Yet He Was Most Wonderfully Humble
Once more, we mark that John was very stern, and yet he was most wonderfully humble. We always think of John as the stern prophet. There is the mark of severity about the man. The spirit of the wild and desolate wilderness, where the dislodging of any stone might show a viper, seemed to have cast its tincture on his heart. Now we do not associate sternness with humility, it is the sister of pride more often than of lowliness. And the great glory of John’s character is this, that with all his severity he was so humble. Men had been deeply stirred by the Baptist’s message. They began to question if he might not be Messiah. Was it not just such a leader that they needed if the kingdom of Israel was to be restored? So all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he was the Christ or not (Luke 3:15). it was then that the grandeur of John’s character shone forth. “He confessed and denied not, but confessed, I am not the Christ.” “He must increase, but I must decrease.” “I am not worthy to unloose His shoe-latchet.” Stern in the presence of evil and of vice, stern in the presence of Herod and his court, John was as humble as a little child before the feel of Him who was to come. Other prophets have been as stern as John. Other saints have been as true and lowly. But it is the union of his matchless heroism with lowliness and joyous self-effacement that makes John the greatest born of woman.
John Had Imperfect Views of Christ and Yet He Glorified Him.
Then, lastly, we see that John had imperfect views of Christ, and yet he glorified Him. What kind of Messiah, think you, did John expect? Read over the verses again and you will see. it was a Messiah whose fan was in His hand, and who would burn the chaff with fire unquenchable (Luke 3:17). Now when Christ came, He did indeed come to winnow. What John foresaw was true, and terribly true. But it was also true that He would not strive nor cry; that He was gentle, and loved the gatherings of men; that a bruised reed He would not break, and smoking flax He would not quench. All that had been but dimly seen by John. It was that which vexed him as he lay in prison. The Baptist had imperfect views of Christ–and yet how nobly did he glorify Him! So you and I may have imperfect views of God–for clouds and darkness are around His throne–yet if we be brave and earnest as our hero was, knowing God’s infinite worth and our unworthiness, we too shall glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever.