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1: Preparing the Way

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series The John the Baptist Experience: Book 1

The John the Baptist Experience
Book 1: The Exceptional Messenger
Chapter 1: Preparing the Way

Copyright © 20221

by
Jim Kerwin

Image of John the Baptist from a 16th Century painting“He must increase, I must decrease.”2

How ironic! The guiding prophecy concerning John the Baptist and his ministry was that he was to “prepare the way of the Lord” in the hearts of God’s First-Century people. Everyone knows that, and there’s no irony there. No, the irony is that this book seeks to prepare hearts of God’s Twenty-First Century leaders in the same way. We need to seriously consider, study, assimilate, and employ John’s message for the same end: to prepare the way of the Lord in the hearts of men and women — this time before Jesus returns in glory and judgment.

Our mentality, mission, message, and methods need to be revolutionized by a “John the Baptist Experience.” But what is that experience, exactly?

I can answer that question far more easily if we step back for a minute, Bibles in hand, and survey the current spiritual landscape. Scan the horizon, using the Scriptures as a plumbline, and what do you see? I see…

Stark contrast! Stark contrast grabs us and slaps us and shakes us when we compare the vibrant, dynamic Christianity that leaps off the pages of the New Testament with the typical North American “Christianity” of our day. In the first, we see men and women so passionately committed to the risen Lord Jesus Christ and His testimony that persecution, imprisonment, torture, and death could not deter them. In the second, most quasi-saints can barely muster the spiritual discipline to make the “sacrifice” of turning off the television long enough to pray and read their Bibles for fifteen minutes. In the first-century edition of Christianity, we see men and women who have separated their hearts from sin, from self, from the world, and from everything unclean and questionable. In the made-for-the-twenty-first-century version of Christianity, the major features seem to be the manufacturing of excuses for sins, sinfulness, worldliness, and self-centeredness, along with multiplied rationalizations about why the excuses are “scriptural.”

Human nature hasn’t changed in twenty-one centuries. Sin-filled hearts aren’t any more or less “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9 kjv) than they were when Jesus walked the earth, or than they were when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost. The Lord of Glory hasn’t changed — “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).3 What has changed, then?

The short answer is this – the Gospel has been changed. What we usually preach is not the Gospel of New Testament times. We seem hell-bent to advertise that the way into the Kingdom of God is easy, broad, convenient, and carefree. To hear the message of many pulpits, God wants to “save” us from low self-esteem, from any deprivation of material possession and pleasure, and from missing a self-fulfilling “destiny.” (Salvation from sins, sin, self, and eternal punishment? How “yesterday” that is! It won’t “sell.”) But Jesus declared that any such way was a sure path to spiritual destruction, and that the way into His Kingdom is strict, difficult, and narrow (Matthew 7:13-14), requiring us to strive or fight4 to enter in (Luke 13:24-27). And yet…

…multitudes responded to this “hard” message of the Lord Jesus. If they were psychologically and spiritually the same as their twenty-first-century counterparts (and they were!), why was their response so vastly different from ours today?

In a word, their hearts were prepared for the coming of Jesus and His Gospel in a way ours are not today.

Who did the preparing? What kind of preparation was done? And what preparation is lacking in hearts today?

Let’s address the first question: Who did the preparing? The short answer is God. But the less cosmic, yet equally important outworking of the answer is this: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John [the Baptist]” (John 1:6). Those whose souls were open to “the John the Baptist experience” found that their hearts were prepared for the Messiah’s message of the Kingdom of God.

John the Baptist and his message are far more important that we give them credit for. The New Testament is a “closed book” in many ways if we don’t understand the purpose and far-reaching, lasting effect of John’s ministry. In the power of the Holy Spirit, John single-handedly prepared an entire nation for the coming of Messiah – and he did so without TV, radio, Internet, social media, marketing plans, “vision casting,” or sugar-coating his message to make it “seeker friendly.” In addition, as we will see, his message and influence continued for decades after his death, and far afield from Judea, continuing to prepare men and women for receiving the Good News.

More importantly, John, his message, and his heart-preparing ministry represent precisely what we lack today – straight shooting about who God is, what He requires, what sin is and why God hates it, as well as the judgment which will come upon all those who don’t make a complete break with what God hates.

We need our own “John the Baptist experience” today, individually, congregationally, and corporately as the Body of Christ.

The impact of Jesus’ ministry and that of the early Apostles was built on the rock-solid foundation laid down by the “voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight!’ ” That same John-the-Baptist-experience foundation is required in us if we would be sold-out Christians. And there is no way around this experience if we would see sinners radically converted to Jesus Christ.

Here is a road map for the planned route out into the wilderness to encounter and appreciate “the Baptizer,” to wrestle with and assimilate his message, and then to “return from the Jordan” to engage the Church — and the world — with the radical heart-changing message of “the John the Baptist Experience,” in order to prepare for the return of the Lord Jesus and His Kingdom:

  • Book One: The Exceptional Messenger, in which we explore the powerful and fascinating man called John the Baptist. However important you may have thought he was, you will come away even more impressed by “the man sent from God.”
  • Book Two: The Extraordinary Message. How often we use words we can barely define (assuming we use them at all!) — words and phrases like judgment, conviction, repentance, confession, glory, restitution, forgiveness, and baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire. These concepts in John’s message were like Solomon’s quarried, perfectly fitted Temple stones (cf. 1 Kings 6:7), and they are indispensable foundation stones of the coming revival.
  • Book Three: The Expression of the Experience. Once we have submitted to God’s rebuilding of our foundation, based on John’s extraordinary message, how are we to change what we teach and preach and how we win souls? What are the sacrifices, the costs, the challenges, and the rewards of boldly proclaiming the full Gospel (without making excuses for it) in the power of the Holy Spirit?

This is a book for spiritual leaders — and, no, not just pastors and evangelists, but teachers, intercessors, Bible-study leaders, disciplers, witnesses, soul-winners, counselors, elders, deacons, Sunday-school teachers, home-group facilitators, and “ordinary” hungry-hearted Christians of all descriptions who know that there’s something more — those who wonder why our our 21st-Century Christianity pales in comparison to the New Testament’s testimony of the Spirit-empowered First-Century Church.

Don’t expect The John the Baptist Experience to provide small, predigested chapters that serve as “devotional-blessing snacks.” I guarantee that this book won’t be a “fast read.” Like anything in the realm of seeking God and searching the Scriptures, it will require sacrificial diligence, study, reflection, prayer and more prayer. But I trust that your efforts will be rewarded with an abundance of insights which are new, engaging, challenging, and even foundation shaking.5

We need a spiritual revolution, a way to prepare hearts in the Church and in the world for the Second Coming of Jesus. John the Baptist and his message are a key; he was (if you’ll permit the analogy) the hard-nosed, no-nonsense drill instructor of the volunteer recruits to the revolution in his time. Many of the “graduates” of John’s boot camp — their hearts prepared by their “John the Baptist experience” — served under the Lord Jesus as His disciples and even as His Apostles, proclaiming the Kingdom of God “with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12).

Revolutions are all-consuming, life-changing, messy, dangerous, exhilarating affairs. So it is with The John the Baptist Experience. Read on if you dare!


Endnotes:


  1. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The John the Baptist Experience: Book 1: The Exceptional Messenger; copyright © 2022 by Jim Kerwin. All rights reserved.

    Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from New American Standard Bible (nasb) Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA. All rights reserved. Used by Permission. www.lockman.org

  2. Cover: Detail from Mathias Grünewald's altarpiece Crucifixion-scene painting for a church in Isenheim, France (c. 1515). Courtesy of Wikipedia, but copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. The Latin phrase in the “crook” of John's arm declares, “Illum oportet crescere me autem minui,” the Vulgate reading of John 3:30 — “He must increase, I must decrease.”
  3. Unless otherwise noted, our primarily English Bible translation throughout the book will be from the New American Standard 1995 translation, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
  4. The word used in Luke 13:24 is agōnizomai, which can be translated as fight or contend or compete (with the intensity of an Olympic athlete). Sounding the word out, an English speaker can clearly “hear” the verb which our language has derived from this root word – agonize.
  5. For those of you who regularly teach and preach, I trust that you will encounter an abundance of thought-provoking and useful resources, both in the chapters, the chapter endnotes, and the “Deeper Dives” that expand on chapter contents at the end of each book.
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