Declaration: The Prophet Runs With God (Jonah 3.1-10)

Chapter three records the fulfillment of Yahweh’s mission for Jonah. It repeats nearly verbatim the command from 1.2. There is the addition of “the second time,” a phrase which is unique to Jonah the prophet. Once again Jonah is to “call out” against Ninevah. The word for “call out” is the same which has appeared so many time already in the book (see notes on 2.1). There is no purpose statement as before (cf. 1.2, “for their evil has come up before me”). Instead, Jonah is also told that Yahweh will provide his prophetic message (2, “the message that I tell you”).  While there is some confusion about the tense (past, present or future tense?) Jonah is assured that what he “calls out” to Ninevah will be the word of Yahweh.

What readers expected when reading 1.1-3 now comes to fruition in 3.3 as Jonah manifests simple obedience and “arose and went to Ninevah” thus fulfilling the word of Yahweh. If Jonah was vomited out by the big fish near his original starting point (several commentators say this is possible), then it would have taken him a month to five weeks to complete the 500-600 mile trek from Joppa depending on his mode of transportation.[1] Such a trip shows the high cost obedience to God.

Verse 3b is a sticking point for textual critics. First is the statement, “Nineveh was an exceedingly great city” (emphasis mine). Smith and Page note, “several scholars point to this as proof that Nineveh had ceased to exist by the time of Jonah’s writing.”[2] As discussed under “Date,” the composition of the book could have been done during or following the Babylonian captivity and therefore had already been eliminated from the world stage as a nation. The author, then, is merely reporting the historical account of when Jonah went to Nineveh circa 8th century B.C. Second, the text says that Nineveh’s size was “three days journey in breadth.” Archaeologists have found that the circumference of the inner wall of Nineveh “was less than eight miles. So the diameter of the city, less than two miles, was hardly a three-day journey.”[3]This has led some to argue that the three days “is not a reference to the circumference of the city; the diameter of the city; or the circuit of the administrative districts,” but instead is to be understood in reference to how long it would take Jonah to complete his prophetic assignment.[4] However, this seems unnecessary since some have identified this as Greater Nineveh, “which was an area encompassing four cities, including Nineveh and its environs.”[5] Therefore a literal explanation seems the best way to understand the phrase.

Jonah is obedient to his prophetic mission and the people of Nineveh in turn obey God (4-5). Jonah’s mission begins as soon as he arrives and very simply. There is no fanfare or meetings with the power-players of the city. The message Jonah delivers is austere. It is only five words in Hebrew. The word Jonah was promised by God is a message of certain doom in forty days. Jonah does not even mention which deity has sent him. There is no call for repentance, no hope of ameliorating the wrath to come. Or is there? The forty days seem to have been a grace period whereby the “overthrow” of the city could be understood as an overthrow of the evil in hearts. Despite the brevity of the message, the people of Nineveh believed God (Heb. elohim). Every person in Nineveh “from the greatest to the least of them” show the marks of contrition: fasting and sackcloth. Even the king is roused to repent (6-7).

One may wonder why the whole city would be so receptive to the preaching of Jonah? Hannah explains: “Before Jonah arrived at this seemingly impregnable fortress-city, two plagues had erupted there (in 765 and 759 b.c.) and a total eclipse of the sun occurred on June 15, 763. These were considered signs of divine anger and may help explain why the Ninevites responded so readily to Jonah’s message, around 759.”[6] Perhaps signs and wonders played a role in preparing a superstitious pagan culture for the doomsday message of Jonah. Or perhaps this is more a testimony that the word of God has always been “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4.12).

Critics have cited the phrase “king of Nineveh” in 3.6 to dispute the authenticity of the book. The argument is that the writer, whoever he or she was, should have called him the king of Assyria, since Nineveh is the capital of the empire of Assyria. However, there is evidence which indicates this was an accepted practice in describing suzerains of that time. For example, Elwell and Beitzel note that Ahab, the king of Israel, is called “king of Samaria” (1 Kgs 21.1), and Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, is designated “king of Damascus” (2 Chr 24.23).[7] So there is precedent for the city designation for an ancient Near East king. In addition, we know historically at the time of Jonah (early to mid 8th century B.C.) the kingdom of Assyria was tenuously held together. Only after decades of weakness would Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C.) consolidate the power of the kingdom.[8] Therefore, this could also explain the phrase “king of Nineveh,” as well as the phrase “and his nobles” in the proclamation (3.7); these are indicative of the diminished power of the monarchy at that time.

The king’s proclamation (7-9) is universal in scope including people and animals. The people of Nineveh are to “call out [same word used to describe Jonah’s preaching, 1.2; 3.2] mightily [lit. with strength] to God” (Heb. elohim). Jonah’s preaching did not mention Yahweh. Thus it seems the Ninevites did not call out specifically to Yahweh. They know God, but it does not appear they know Yahweh. They never mention him by name, opting instead to call on elohim. Nevertheless, their conversion to the supreme God is evidence by the fact that Jesus affirms that their conversion was genuine for they “repented at the preaching of Jonah” and they will rise to condemn Jesus’ generation at the judgment (Matt 12.41; Luke 11.32). Even the text of Jonah indicates true repentance (fasting, sackcloth, pleading with God, abandoning sinful practices).

As they call out to God, they are to “turn” from their evil ways and from the “violence” of their hands. The Assyrians were a vicious, wicked nation and Nineveh was the wicked capital. The prophet Nahum documents the sordid history of violence this nation perpetrated against other nations. He calls Nineveh “the bloody city” (Nah 3.1) guilty of “unceasing evil” (3.17). Specifically, Nineveh was full of deceit (3.1), guilty of carnage and slaughter (3.2-3), and full of the dark arts and magical practices (3.4). They would be the war machine that would crush the Northern Tribes. This record is the evil and violence of which they were repenting.

The purpose of the Ninevites’s repentance is that God would repent of His “fierce anger” (Jon 3.9). Their desire is that God “turn and relent and turn,” a three-fold expression for divine mercy. Jonah had not told them what to do or if there was anything they could do. Hence, the king’s question of “Who knows?” It is reminiscent of the captain’s “perhaps” in 1.6. The pagan’s don’t really know what they can do to appease Yahweh’s wrath. They hold the philosophy, “Something is better than nothing.” They are hopeful that whatever they do it will cause them not to perish.

Verse 10 is the culmination of the purposes of God toward Ninevah through the prophet Jonah. God has “disaster” (lit. evil; Heb. rāʿâ) in store for them. However, because they “turned” from their evil, God turned from the evil (i.e. disastrous judgment) He was going to bring upon them. This is in total agreement with His nature as revealed through Jeremiah (Jer 18.7-8).

The crisis was averted; or at least disaster is delayed for a century and a half until the time of Babylon. In the meantime, the forty days came and went but no destruction came upon Nineveh. “Here one finds irrefutable evidence that God wishes not for the destruction of the sinner but for the redemption and reconciliation of all his creation.”[9] Out of His immeasurable mercy God did not bring judgment.

[1] Stephen R. Schrader, “Jonah,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 647.

[2] Smith and Page, 256.

[3] John D. Hannah, “Jonah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1463.

[4] Schrader, 648.

[5] Phillip Cary, Jonah (Grand Rapids, MI: BrazosPress, 2008), 107.

[6] Hannah, 1462.

[7] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Jonah, Book Of,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1205.

[8] Smith and Page, 205.

[9] Ibid., 270.

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Rejoicing in Proclamation of the Gospel

After thanksgiving and prayer Paul turns to his own imprisonment. Some debate exists about which imprisonment: Roman or Caesarean. It seems best to understand this to be Paul’s Roman imprisonment when he also penned Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

The Gospel Advances in spite of Imprisonment (1.12-14)

In spite of Paul’s imprisonment the gospel of God has advanced and brethren all over have been emboldened.

12I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,

I want you to know, brothers: Paul desires for his Christian brethren to be aware of a certain fact. Perhaps the Philippians had feared that Paul’s imprisonment had hindered the spread of the gospel, a message relayed by Epaphroditus. So Paul writes to assuage that fear.

That what has happened to me: what has happened is he has been imprisoned due to his preaching of the gospel. The latter half of Acts details many events resulting from that imprisonment, but rather than dwell on those, he address a point for rejoicing.

Has really served to advance the gospel: The gospel is not hindered by fetters, chains, or bars. Though Paul is bound as a criminal, “The Word of God is not bound” (2 Tim 2.9). That is what is most important to Paul and which produces joy in him.

13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

Paul introduces two results of the spread of the gospel: 1) outsiders know why Paul is imprisoned (for Christ, v.13), and 2) believers are emboldened by his imprisonment (v.14).

So that it has…my imprisonment is for Christ: He may have seemed like every other prisoner which darkened a prison cell, but it soon became known that he suffered imprisonment not for crimes but for Christ. Word spread through the whole Praetorian regiment (those guards whose barracks were attached to Nero’s palace). This is the cohort connected with “Caesar’s household” (see 4.22). Word also spread “to all the rest” which is to say the whole city of Rome heard about the prisoner for Christ and apparently came to hear him preach while he was under house arrest (see Acts 28.30). Among these are brethren in Rome.

14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  

And most of the brothers: not every brother; some remain timid or half-hearted. But  certainly not just those gifted with preaching and teaching; the majority of the brethren are in view here. Hearing about Paul’s plight in prison had an effect upon these Christians in Rome.

Having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment: The Roman Christians found new courage, courage afresh which came by the Lord through Paul’s imprisonment. Seeing God’s grace in Paul’s life assured them of God’s grace in their life. Since Paul was supported and sustained even during his persecution, God would do likewise for all His saints. “They saw in Paul, as they had never seen before, the presence, power, and sufficient grace of Christ” (Wesley).

Are much more bold to speak the word without fear: the language here denotes that these Christians had had a certain level of confidence and boldness already. But upon hearing of the Paul’s imprisonment, the boldness they had exceeded to a much greater degree enabling them to speak (contrast with “preach” v.15, and “proclaim” v.17, 18) God’s word fearlessly. When these Christians realized they had the authority and power of heaven behind the very words they spoke, boldness came and fear fled. Instead of being silent, more brethren than ever with more courage than ever were fearlessly speaking aloud the Word of God (Lenski).

The Gospel Advances in spite of Impure Motives (1.15-18a)

Paul rejoices that in spite of the impure motives (of some) the gospel of Christ is preached.

15Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry: present tense verb indicates this preaching is happening even as Paul writes. Interesting that even those who wished Paul evil were stirred up tp preach the Christ. Though their motivation was wrong, Paul rejoiced that the message of Christ went forth and was “announced” (Gk. from kerusso).

But others from good will: Not everyone was an antagonist; some were benevolent.

[Technical textual note: The KJV & NKJV have verses 16-17 in reverse order than the ESV (and most other versions including the ASV, NASB and NIV). This has to do with manuscript variants—some  manuscripts read 17 then 16; other (older) mss read 16-17.]

16The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

The latter do it out of love: those kindly-hearted brethren preach Christ from a heart of love. Love for whom? Paul or Christ? Certainly both! These, then, became apologists not only for Christ but also for Paul, the prisoner of the Lord.

Knowing that…defense of the gospel: here is the theological perspective of Paul. He understands that God has appointed and ordained for him to be exactly where he is. Further, this was a military term indicating that Paul was enduring his imprisonment as a good soldier of Christ. When forced into the fray he will bravely defend the Christian faith. Paul’s supporters are well aware of this.

17The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.

The former…in my imprisonment: Contrast this conduct with the noble and magnanimous spirit of Paul. These rivals of Paul are resentful (based on jealousy toward Paul) and desire to put themselves forward. Their motives are mixed and impure. All this is done to (if possible) kick Paul while he’s down. They stirred up trouble for Paul, seeking to add to his suffering. They sought to aggravate his burden and cause him additional pain.

18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

What then? What does it matter? As he assesses his situation and the situation involving the Christian church with these factious brethren, he singles out the main thing and is gladdened by the one all-important fact…

Only that…Christ is proclaimed: the continual proclamation of Christ, free from heresy and perversion, regardless of mixed motives. The full gospel is preached (not an anemic gospel like Judaizers would bring). This is not “Some Christ is better than no Christ” (A.T. Robertson) – Paul would not tolerate another gospel featuring another Christ. This is Paul rejoicing over full proclamation of the full gospel, the true gospel feature the true Christ, regardless of personal motivation.

And in that I rejoice: “In all his affliction and personal grief, in all his disapproval of sinful partisanship and insincerity of action and the preaching under a cloak in the case of some preachers, the joy in the progress of the gospel, in the fact that Christ is preached, ever dominates” (Muller 56).

Special Study—Paul’s Rivals

Who are these men who Paul identifies in vs.15-18 who preached Christ from envy and rivalry, not sincerely, and in pretense? That they are brothers in Christ seems evident from v.14 where “most of the brothers” have been emboldened to speak the word without fear based on Paul’s imprisonment. Paul breaks that group down into two parties: “some” preaching Christ from mixed motives and “others” who preach Christ from good motives (v.15). Most commentators jump on the Judaizer bandwagon (cf. 3.2ff); however, based on what Paul writes in Galatians about Judaizers it doesn’t seem he would rejoice in their perverted doctrine even if Christ is proclaimed. These brother’s motives are mixed, not the message. It seems best to understand these rivals as a factious group who view the imprisonment of Paul as discrediting the Christian message. They appear to be a faction whose strategy is to excel in power and exude success so as to compete in an ancient religious market rife with pagan teachers. Paul’s imprisonment could torpedo their efforts at gaining ground. So they denounce Paul’s imprisonment (“thinking to afflict me”). In short, they were pro-Christ but anti-Paul.

Appearances, pt.2

It seems many Christians fail to grasp the great importance of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus – we need the appearances of Jesus. Without them, we may have an empty tomb, but the question would linger: where’s the body? Where’s Jesus? The appearances of Jesus after the resurrection answer that question firmly: He’s alive! Christians do not serve a dead guru or wise man; Christians serve a risen Savior who reigns from heaven. His tomb was found empty and He was seen by multiple eyewitnesses who were so deeply affected by seeing Jesus dead and then alive again that they were never the same. InLuke 24.36-49, we find yet another account of an appearance of the risen Jesus. It is still resurrection (Easter) Sunday, perhaps even slipping into Monday (by the Jewish reckoning of time). On this occasion, you find the Eleven with some other unnamed disciples listening to the testimony brought by the two who travelled with Jesus on the road to Emmaus without realizing who it was that spoke with them.

The Uncanny Evidence from the Savior

To demonstrate that He is indeed raised from the dead and, therefore, Lord and Savior, Jesus presents the disciples with three proofs as evidence.

The first proof is that Jesus miraculously shows up. John gives a parallel account of this occasion and describes the setting as one behind locked doors (John 20.19). The disciples from Emmaus and the Eleven are talking amongst themselves about “these things” which have happened during the course of the day, namely, all of the appearances of Jesus: to Mary Magdalene, Peter, the women, the two on the road to Emmaus. Lo, and behold, as they are talking about all these appearances, “Jesus himself stood among them” (v.36). Out of nowhere, Jesus miraculously materializes with a message: “Peace to you!” I suppsose the disciples reaction is the same as anyone of us would have: shock, disbelief, terror and fear, and they think they’re seeing a ghost (lit. spirit).

The question Jesus asks is interesting. In essence, Jesus asks, “What’s the big deal?” First, why are you excited and sitrred up? Also, why are you doubting? So to address these questions and concerns, Jesus presents still another proof: The nail scarred hands. The Greek is emphatic: “It is me, I myself.” And the proof is He bears the marks of crucifixion. He offers for them to touch them. In eight days, Thomas will do the same thing. He wants them to be absolutely that He is there in the flesh. Perhaps Luke includes these words to combat the seeds of Docetic gnosticism which would evolve into the heretical teaching that Jesus was an immaterial being who only seemed to have a body of flesh. There can be no doubt – Jesus’ resurrection was physical and bodily. He had a body of flesh.

His disciples are still a state of “believing disbelief.” But this fed not by doubt but by joy and astonishment. It’s still hard to believe and so Jesus provides on more proof: Jesus eats supper. It doesn’t get much more bodily or human than eating. “Have you anything to eat?” They have some “broiled fish,” where they obtained this fish is uncertain, but it seems to have been leftovers from their dinner. Some manuscripts add, “and some honeycomb.” Indeed, Canaan was the “land flowing with milk and honey.” Whether just fish or fish and honey, eat would completely remove any notion among His disciples that a “ghost” or phantom or spirit was before them. It really was the bodily resurrected Jesus!

Certainly questions arise about this resurrection body. Of what nature and sort is it. It must be noted that we know very little about it. Further, I would note that the resurrection body Jesus possessed during the final forty days He was here on earth is not the glorious body He now possesses as He sits at the right hand of God. To borrow the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, we shall be “changed.” Inasmuch as Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father, He had yet to put on the glory He possessed before the creation of the world (cf. John 17.5). This world cannot contain that kind of glory. But once back in the high halls of heaven, having assumed His position at the right hand of the Father, He “changed” from the resurrection body He had during the forty days for the glorified body He now possesses.

The Understandable Expositon of the Scriptures

 Having supplied convincing proofs that He is really raised, Jesus turns His attention to the disciples ignorance of the Scriptures. Jesus explains that He had told them that these things would happen, and indeed He had on multiple occasions predicted His suffering and resurrection. But ultimately, His suffering, His three days in the tomb, and His subsequent resurrection from the dead were all to take place so that the Scriptures (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) might be fulfilled. God had spoken and men had recorded in Scripture these prophecies of Messiah. Jesus says He is the fulfillment of those prophecies.

In verse 45, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Most want to jump to the conclusion that the way Christ did this was through the Holy Spirit. In fact, Matthew Poole writes, that Jesus “knew the Scriptures would not sufficiently give them a knowledge of him, and the things of God, without the influence and illumination of his Spirit.” It is curious, though, that in verse 49, Jesus promises the Spirit (promise and power from God) was yet to come. Either Jesus opened their mind for a purpose or He did it with a result. That is, He opened their collective mind in order to understand Scripture or He opened their mind so that they could understand the Scriptures. This is the same kind of language used by Luke about Lydia (Acts 16.14): “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” A veil is dropped and their hearts are ready and open to “understand the Scriptures.” Previously, Jesus has asked His disciples, “Are you also still without understand?” (Matt 15.16; Mark 7.18) They were darkened, as it were, in their understanding. Now, in light of the death, burial, and resurrection, their minds are ready for Christ to instruct them in the Scriptures. The same kind of language is used by Luke in Acts with Paul’s teaching and preaching ministry also (Acts 17.2-3; 26.17-18).

Their minds now open, He opens up the Word of God to them. “Thus it is written…” and Jesus highlights three prophetic points: 1) the suffering of Christ, 2) the resurrection of Christ, and 3) the preching of Christ. Jesus the Christ suffered mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually for every man so that sin might be atoned for and forgiveness and redemption made available to those who might seek Him. Three days later, Jesus the Christ was resurrected from the dead by the power of God. And now, fulfilling the prophetic mandate, Jesus would commission and send forth His disciples to preach “repentance and forgiveness of sins…to all nations.” Luke closes a circle he began with near the beginning of his gospel narrative and has addressed throughout, namely, the universality of the gospel. “The gospel is for all.” All nations; all enthic groups. This is the exact same language used by Matthew in the Great Commission (Matt 28.19). But this has a starting point: Jerusalem. Just ten days following the ascension of Jesus (24.51; Acts 1.9), the Twelve, empowered by the “power from on high” (the Holy Spirit), will preach this message of repentance and forgiveness (Acts 2, esp. v.38). They are the witnesses of the fulfillment of prophetic utterance and will bear their testimony “to all nations.”

They are not alone nor do they rely upon their own power to accomplish this mission. The Father has promised to send help. John particularly highlights this promise in chs. 14-16 of his gospel account. Contextually, though, Jesus appears to be talking about a promise made through the prophetic word. In Acts, Luke gives us the rest of the story when Peter on Pentecost explains that the miraculous empowering of the Spirit is fulfillment of prophetic promise made through the prophet Joel (Acts 2.16-21; cf. Joel 2.28-32). It seems that is when the Father made the promise to “pour out His Spirit on all flesh.” Jesus says that prophetic promise will be kept, but they must “stay in the city” of Jerusalem until the “power from on high” is put on (cf. Luke 1.35 for similar language). A similar reminder will be made just before Jesus ascends to heaven (Acts 1.4).

The Twelve’s First Mission

As the old saying, “All good things must come to an end.” And for Jesus, the good ministry he is working in Galilee is winding down. The reasons may be two-fold: first, as seen with the demonic, the people may be forcing him out. Second, it is time for his ministry to head for the mission point, namely Jerusalem. He cannot stay home for his whole life if he is to be the Savior. Perhaps it is a combination of the two. Whatever the reason, it is now Jesus to move is operation elsewhere and to prepare his way, he is sending out the Twelve. They have seen the miracles; they have heard the messages. The question is “are they ready?”

The Men Jesus Equips

Remember that this is the curious band of men only Jesus could pull together. Tax collectors, Zealots, fishermen – these are the kind of men who gel very well. And, yet, Jesus is doing it. It is this band of men he gives “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases.” He both qualifies them and authorizes them for their mission. What is their mission? “To preach the kingdom of God.” Curing sick people and driving out demons are signs of the authority they carry with them. They have divine authorization to speak these things concerning the kingdom of God.

But Jesus also gives them instructions. They are not to take anything – “no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.” Jesus is explicitly clear that the Twelve are to focus on the task. That is, don’t worry about they other things, God will take care of them; you preach the kingdom. God will provide the houses to stay at. If you are not welcomed, shake off the dust when you are done preaching there “as a testimony against them.” Morris says concering this practice, “it declared in symbol that Israelites who rejected the kingdomwere no better than the Gentiles.”

Equipped with the qualifications and authorization, as well as the detailed instructions concerning their welcome or unwelcome in towns, in simple obedience the Twelve went out doing exactly what Jesus commanded them to do. Truly, we can learn from this example. We need not worry about the means of how we are going to be taken care or where the funds will come from for kingdom work – it will come, God will provide. We need only concern ourselves with the preaching of the gospel. Unlike the apostles who need their word confirmed, we have the word made more certain, already confirmed by apostolic testimony. It just needs to preached.

The Misunderstanding over Jesus

Herod the tetrarch is an interesting fellow. As ruler over the territory Jesus was preaching in he would be interested in the reports he was hearing. The text says he was “perplexed” concerning what he was hearing about Jesus. That is he was at a loss and perhaps embarrassed because, based on some of the reports he was hearing and believing, John the Batist, whom he had beheaded (v.9), was back from the dead. The other reports, which Luke records for us, were that Elijah was present, or some other prophet. However, I believe it is safe to say that Herod was most interested in the John the Baptist reports based on his response.

The interesting thing about Herod is that “he tried to see him,” that is Jesus. Herod tried to see Jesus. I don’t how he went about doing this, but as far we know, he did not see him until the end of Luke (23.8). And when he sees Jesus, what is it for. Certainly Jesus is on trial. But when Jesus arrives, Herod wants a miracle (23.8b). Not salvation is Herod after, but a show. What a pity! Standing before him is salvation, and all Herod wants is a miracle performance. Hence, Herod is interesting only as a car accident is interesting – really it is just sad.

Preacher, Preach the Word

It’s like waiting at the airport for someone. Many times I have waited at the Lubbock International Airport for in coming flights with preachers, students, or just guests for the Sunset workshop to arrive. And the whole time I’m wondering as a new person emerges from the terminal, “Is this the person I have been waiting for?” Now take that and amplify it times ten and you probably get an idea of what these people gathered around the Jordan listening to a preacher of repentance might have felt. Is he the Messiah, the one we have been waiting for.

Luke says they wondered this “in their hearts.” This is something they deperately wanted. It was no small thing to them; the Jews had waited long enough (some 400-600 years) for the Messiah – so John, are you him? And very humbly John replies that he is not. John gives a fuller account of the questioning John faced and he would deny being anyone of power, humbly and always pointing to the coming Lord. In Luke, John explains that he is not even worthy to untie his sandals, a lowly, menial job. He also points out the fact that his (John’s baptism) is inferior to the baptism that the Messiah bring with him. After all, John’s is merely preparatory for the “one baptism” that Jesus introduces for the church. This is not to say John’s baptism is of no value; the people still needed it and John was preparing the people for the “one baptism.” It was still required for the people.

Now about the baptisms: John’s was in water; Jesus brings a baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire. There are many different ways this phrase could be interpreted but I think the context demands that the Holy Spirit correlates to Pentecost (see Acts 1.5 where Jesus picks this idea up and exegetes it for us) and the fire relates to judgment. We read the next verse (3.17) and this becomes clear. This is a judgment type scene John describes. He uses simple language the people could understand (preachers can learn from that) and explains that “the Lord knows them that are his” (see 2 Tim 2.19) and gathers them up while those who are not his and remain in wickedness (i.e. do not repent) will be burned up like chaff in a fire that cannot be extinguished.

John was truly a preacher who preached the gospel. But you cannot preach the gospel without divine judgment. The “health and wealth gospel” that so many preach today that promises all the blessing but doesn’t touch the wrath of God on sin and wickedness with a ten foot pole is not the full gospel. John understood that one cannot preach the good news of salvation and deliverance with preaching about what one is saved and delivered from. But if you want to preach like John, know this: people will not like  it. Herod did not like the cut of John’s jib and had him thrown into prison. Nevertheless, the watchman must stand on watch and warn the people of the things that could ruin their relationship with the only God who can save them from sin, death and hell. So every watchman, every preach and teacher, stay alert and keep watch and sound the trumpet to warn the people lest the Lord hold you accountable for the people’s blood (See Eze 33.1-9).