The John the Baptist Experience
Book 1: The Exceptional Messenger
Chapter 1: Preparing the Way
Copyright © 20221
(first book in the series
The John the Baptist Experience)
is now available in paperback and ebook formats.
“The more things change the more they stay the same, says the old proverb.”2 That adage applies to our topic at hand, namely, the John the Baptist experience. 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. And despite nearly two millennia of change, things “stay the same” regarding the foundational spiritual needs of God’s people. A powerful way for God’s twenty-first-century leaders to prepare the way of the Lord before His Second Coming is to reconsider John’s purpose and ministry. We need to seriously study, assimilate, and employ John’s message for the same end as John’s original purpose: to prepare the way of the Lord in the hearts of men and women. Back in “his day,” John’s task was to announce the arrival of the King and His Kingdom; now, in our day, our goal is to prepare God’s people 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 plumb line, 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… well, how many 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 often 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 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 our 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 than 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, long-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.
It’s a mistake to relegate John to the status of merely an “opening act” for Jesus’ preaching. Or perhaps we dismiss John with the thought that he prepared people by means of “bad news” to receive Jesus’ message of “good news.” No, what John preached was also “the good news”! Luke tells us so. Right after condensing John’s message of Messiah’s appearance and of the blessing and judgment He would bring, Luke inserts a most interesting summarizing statement:
- So with many other exhortations he preached the gospel to the people.
- Luke 3:18
One might miss the import of the verb in a translation like the King James, which reads, “And many other things… preached he unto the people.” The verb here is euangelízō (εὐαγγελίζω), that is to tell or preach good news.5 Here is something which will be a new thought for many — John’s “bad news,” his “hard words,” in short, the uncompromising exhortations of his message — all of it was (and is!) part of the Good News, the Gospel!
John, his message, the part of the “Good News” which he represents, and his heart-preparing ministry delineate 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 our planned route out into the wilderness to encounter and appreciate the importance of “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 is the book in your hands now. In it we explore the powerful, fascinating, elect herald of God 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” and his role in the Gospel’s economy.
- 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); together they formed the heart-foundation on which Jesus built his public preaching. God requires the same foundation for the end-time revival to usher in Jesus’ return. We will pursue each of these interlocking elements in this second book and see how they integrate with the Gospel message.
- Book Three: The Fellowship of the Forerunner. Once we have submitted to God’s rebuilding of our foundation, based on John’s extraordinary message, we have to deal with the changes God brings in our being and doing. We will have to answer Peter’s question, “What manner of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11)6 As to the doing, how are we to change what we teach and preach and how we win and disciple 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?
The John the Baptist Experience is a series 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 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, as the Holy Spirit breathes on the Scriptures.7
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!
- This is an excerpt from the 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 ↩
- This well-known phrase is a translation of the French original — Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose — which first appeared in 1849. For me, there is humorous irony in the thought that the words were penned by a French writer named Jean-Baptiste (John Baptist!) Alphonse Karr. ↩
- 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. ↩
- The word used in Luke 13:24 is agonízomai, 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. ↩
- Yes, the same verb — euangelízō (εὐαγγελίζω) — is present in the Greek text used by the King James Version. This word appears in the New Testament 54 times, always with the idea of conveying good news. You’ll find it in such sample passages as Matthew 11:5; Luke 2:10; Acts 5:42; 10:36; Romans 1:15; 10:15; Galatians 1:8; Ephesians 2:17; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; Hebrews 4:6; 1 Peter 4:6; and Revelation 10:7; 14:6. ↩
- Book 3 will explore a key aspect of being in the chapter The Secret of John’s Attractiveness. (Here’s a hint in advance: the Scriptures show us that the word joy is closely associated with John throughout his life.) ↩
- For those of you who regularly teach and preach, I trust that you will encounter an abundance of thought-provoking insights and useful resources, both in the chapters, the chapter endnotes, and the “Deeper Dives” that expand on chapter contents at the end of this book. ↩