Bible Reading: Luke 3
One can’t rightly understand or appreciated the greatness of the good news without first coming to terms with the badness of the bad news. John the Baptist has set a good example in his understanding and proclamation of both.
John the Baptist was heaven sent in fulfillment of prophecy to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 3:4). He ministered in a time of great wickedness. The leaders of that day were ungodly men, and their religion was a hypocritical sham. “The word of God came to John” (Luke 3:2). He boldly proclaimed that which was made known to him.
“He preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:18). But much of what he had to say could hardly be termed “good news”. His message was one of pending judgment.
He boldly addressed the sin problem. He came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). None were exempt from his bold, sin-convicting, message. He specifically exposed the sins of the common people (3:7), tax-collectors (3:12), soldiers (3:14), religious leaders (Matthew 3:7) and political rulers (3:18-19). He spoke without fear of repercussion. And, as a direct result, was imprisoned and ultimately put to death (Luke 3:20).
He warned of pending judgment, of the “wrath to come” (Luke 3:7) and of One who would come and burn the chaff “with unquenchable fire” the chaff (Luke 3:17).
It is impossible to proclaim the good news of a Savior without addressing the bad news of sin. John the Baptist came to call God’s people to repentance, but there can be no repentance of sin without awareness of the sin problem. It is impossible to be cured of a problem without first diagnosing its nature and severity. John the Baptist proclaimed bad news, and it is bad news still. We are all sinners by birth (Romans 3:23). Because of sin we are deserving of God’s wrath and judgment (Romans 6:23). John the Baptist declared truths related to sin and judgment in his day, the Spirit has that ministry in our own (John 16:8-11).
John the Baptist not only made much of the sin problem, but he also made much of the Savior. His ministry was one of preparation for the coming Lord (Luke 3:4-6). He spoke of the One coming that was mightier than he (Luke 3:16). He bore witness of Jesus, acknowledging His preexistence and identity as the Son of God (John 1:15, 1:34). The multitudes were following him, they wondered if he was the Christ (Luke 3:15), but he told them, in essence, don’t look at me, look to Jesus. His was a Christ-exalting ministry. There is salvation in no One else (Acts 4:12).
John the Baptist spoke prophetically of Christ’s death, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29)! The problem of sin and pending judgment can only be resolved by such a Savior, but no Savior would be necessary were there no sin problem. We live in a culture in which the concept of sin has been virtually exorcised from thought. What was once called sin, is now deemed a disorder. Countless reasons and excuses are given for social maladies, but sin is never a part of the equation. I’ve got a copy of the 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary in my office. The definition for sin fills a half column, by way of contrast the modern version has little to say about it.
Years ago, H. Richard Niebuhr offered this critique of theological liberalism, describing its message this way: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” That spirit of ministerial negligence has since leavened much of that which identifies itself today as “Christian.”
In preaching and accepting the whole counsel of God’s Word it is necessary to make much of sin and much of the Savior. The Bible itself could be summarized this way: “Man sins, God saves.” And in saving the radically depraved the glorious nature of God in His matchless grace is revealed. It is in appreciation of the gravity of the bad news that the glory of the good news (and God Himself) is fully realized and understood.
One can’t rightly understand or appreciated the greatness of the good news without first coming to terms with the badness of the bad news.
Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
spotless Lamb of God was he;
full atonement can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!