This is the one about whom it is written: 'Behold, I will send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.'
I. HIS SUPERIORITY IN RESPECT OF CHARACTER. The nobility of John's character has already been illustrated (see ch. 3.). Its most marked features were:
1. His cheerful acceptance of privation; living on in the wilderness with nothing to gratify taste, and barely sufficient to sustain life, though his popularity as a teacher and prophet would have enabled him to make a very different provision for himself,
2. His incorruptible fidelity to the work committed to his charge (Luke 3:15, 16)
3. His fearless, holy courage - a courage which was based on a sense of God's nearness to him and his Divine faithfulness toward him; a courage manifested in public (Luke 3:7-9), and, what is more and what is worthier, shown in private also in an interview with one strong man who held his earthly destiny in his hand (Luke 3:19).
4. His rare magnanimity. Not merely accepting without resentment the fact that he was to be supplanted by another, but going beyond that point in spiritual excellence, and positively rejoicing in the elevation of that other Teacher; stepping down and giving place gladly to one younger but greater than himself (John 3:29). We are not surprised that he "who knew what was in man," who knew the strength and the weakness of our human nature, said concerning John, "Among those that are born of women," etc. (ver. 28).
II. HIS INFERIORITY IN RESPECT OF PRIVILEGE. "But he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." We must take the word "greater" as signifying more privileged: it will not bear any other meaning. Most assuredly Jesus did not mean to say that the man who, being within his kingdom, was lowest in moral worth, stood higher in the favour of God than John. Such a sentiment is quite inconceivable, perfectly incredible. But our Lord may very well have meant that any one, however humble his position in the kingdom of grace, who yet stands within that kingdom, of which John stood outside, has a distinct advantage over the great prophet. To know what we, with all our obscurity and incapacity, do know; to understand and enter into, as we may do, the glorious purpose of God in Jesus Christ; to comprehend that, by that death of shame upon the cross, the Redeemer of the world is drawing all men unto him; and not only to understand all this, but to enter into it by a personal, living sympathy and co-operation ; - this is to stand on a height to which even John, though he came in sight of it (John 1:36), did not attain.
1. We are the children of privilege; we are "the heirs of all the ages" of thought, of revealed truth. If we will read reverently, and inquire diligently and devoutly, we may know the mind of God concerning us as the greatest of all the prophets did not know it.
2. Let us take care that we are the children of God; returned from the far country of estrangement and indifference; dwelling in the home of the Father's favour; walking with God daily; finding a filial joy in doing and bearing his holy will; entering by sympathy and effort into his holy purpose. - C.
Behold I send My messenger before My face.I. WHAT DID JOHN THE BAPTIST PREACH?
1. He delivered the whole law against sin, arousing the consciences of people.
2. He made a demand for immediate repentance (Matthew 3:11).
3. He heralded Jesus as the Messiah predicted of old.
4. He announced the special office of Jesus as a Redeemer of men (John 1:29-36).
II. Now WHAT DID JESUS TEACH WHEN IT CAME TO HIS TURN?
1. Christ testified to the entire accuracy of John's doctrine (Matthew 11:11).
2. He proclaimed the full necessity of an atonement.
3. He declared that the necessary sacrifice was now to be accomplished by Himself (John 3:16, 17). It shocked and stumbled His disciples, but He persisted in declaring that He came into the world to die.
4. He thus raised no new issue between men and God, but the rather narrowed down all the old into one; He made it clear that faith was to be the instrument of salvation (John 6:28, 29),
III. Thus, then, we reach the conclusion that, so far as Jesus' teaching and John's teaching had value in the New Testament, THE POINT OF GREATEST IMPORTANCE IS THE ORDER BETWEEN THEM. John's came earliest in fact, and earliest in logical necessity.
1. The historic position of the two men is enough to show all that is here claimed. There is an order in doctrine under the gospel arrangement as strict as the order of demonstration in problems in Euclid's geometry. John's work was a necessity and a solemn pre-requisite to the work of Jesus.
2. The similar form of procedure which in all their teaching these two preachers preserved, adds confirmation to the proof. John presented the law first, then the gospel; but his office was plainly to press the law into prominence. Jesus presented the law first, then the gospel; but His office was to bring the gospel into prominence. In both cases the law came earliest.
3. Our conclusion, therefore, is inevitable and clear. There remains no reason now why a single proposition should not be framed for permanent recollection and use: law-work preceded gospel-work in all God's dealings with souls.Practical inferences in conclusion:
1. We see why religious instruction in our day sometimes appears so tame, and proves so inefficacious. It is because Christian people preach Jesus without John.
2. We see why inquirers are so slow in finding peace at the cross. Peace? Why, there has been no disturbance! (see Ezekiel 33:32).
3. We see why there is so much of unrest and misgiving among Christian people. They have no intelligent sense of Christ's legal work in bearing the curse of the law in their behalf. Hence they labour to keep up a mere fire of fervour in their souls. They have studied regeneration more than justification; and it is by justification that one finds peace. So, not united consciously to Christ as a Surety, they are not sure.
4. We see why backsliding is so frequent as the sin of converts. Some have never been taught what leaving first love implies.
5. Finally, we see how the new life begins and continues, according to the revealed plan (Romans 5:1, 2).
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
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