Thursday, January 3

How John the Baptist preached the gospel

Scripture: Genesis 6-8, Luke 3

Luke 3:18 So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.


This verse summarizes John the Baptist’s proclamation to the crowds.  Luke says he “preached the gospel.”  Look at what we know he said.

He preached a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. (v. 3)

He warned of God’s coming wrath and called the people to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”  He warned them not to count on their racial and religious lineage—just being Jewish wasn’t good enough.  He warned that judgment has begun, that the axe is laid to the root of the tree, and every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit would be cut down and burned.  (7-9)

When people asked what they should do, he gave specific actionable answers to each group: Share what you have with those who have not; don’t swindle anyone; don’t steal, or accuse falsely and be content with your wages.  All of these were moral and social! (10-14)

John announced the coming of Jesus.  “One is coming greater than I.  I am not worthy to untie his sandals.  I baptize with water; He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  He will winnow everyone.  The wheat will be gathered, the chaff will be burned.”  (15-17)

How is this “good news”?  Forgiveness of sins is good news.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is good news.  In fact, these two can summarize the gospel (see John 1:29, 33 for matching phrases: Jesus is the one who takes away the sin of the world and baptizes with the Holy Spirit).  But the good news also comes with a call to repentance, warnings of judgment and exhortations to moral change.  


Some gospel preachers decry any moral teaching as anti-gospel moralism.  Someone should have told John (and Jesus…and Paul).  I’m not advocating for moralism (the idea that we earn our way by our good deeds).  The gospel is DONE rather than DO—it is about what God has done for us in Christ.  But there is clearly an expectation of repentance and moral transformation.  One cannot receive the gospel (Jesus) and remain unchanged.  Moral instruction and exhortation such as John gave (and Jesus and Paul) is not anti-gospel, but expressive of the change the gospel produces and is a clear expectation.  

John the Baptist was not a moralist.  He was not just insisting on new behaviors.  He was pointing to Jesus as the Savior and Lord.  But he didn’t see moral instruction and exhortation as something contrary to following Jesus, but an important part of it.

Jesus is the issue.  Point people to Jesus.  And don’t be afraid to clearly state what that will result in behaviorally.  Exhort people to change with Jesus! 

Prayer: Lord, give me the courage to declare Your will just as John did to the crowds and to Herod.