Introduction Read Matthew3v1to12.

I have dealt with the ministry of John the Baptist in both my series on Luke and John. See: Luke3v1to20 and John1v19to34. So, this exposition will be quite brief and deal with some aspects of John's ministry which were not dealt with by Luke and John.

(1) John made no concessions to his hearers.

The Baptist had an unconventional appearance; he was the wild man of the desert. He didn't supply his adherents with refreshments. I don't expect many shared his appetite for locusts and wild honey. Instead of going out to meet the people he expected the people to go out to meet him.

In this respect John was not at all like Jesus - something Jesus himself emphasised: "For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners"'. But wisdom is proved right by her actions." Mt11v18and19.

It is not the way Paul carried out his calling as an evangelist. He told the Corinthians that he was all things to all men to win some for Christ. John the Baptist was not the sort of preacher to make concessions to anyone.

Today, we adopt Jesus and Paul as our models for reaching the lost. The Alpha Course, greatly used to bring men and women to Jesus, invariably involves preparing a meal for those on the course and a time for socialising.

(2) John prepared the ground for the main act.

(a) The Baptist did this by creating an air of expectancy. He announced: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near." He was a bit like a comedian warming up the crowd in preparation for the star performer - not that John the Baptist was given to making jokes!

It seems unlikely to me that either John or his devotees had any clear idea what the kingdom of heaven was going to be like.

(b) John considered the best preparation for the coming kingdom was to cultivate a sizeable body of people who repented of their wickedness and aspired to live in a way pleasing to God. Everyone who concurred with John's message showed their good intent by being baptised in the river Jordan.

A reading of Luke's account of the Baptist's campaign indicates that for all his austerity John did not make great demands of his hearers. His very modest requirements stand in stark contrast to the kingdom values Jesus spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount. John asked for the possible; Jesus for the impossible! Why should that be?

(c) So, how far was John successful in his aim? There were undoubtedly very many Jews waiting in eager anticipation of the Messiah as Jesus began his ministry. There must have been several prepared to accept kingdom values and live in a manner pleasing to God. However, John was only partially successful. His emphasis was on what people could do for themselves rather than on what the Messiah needed to do for them.

You might say at this juncture that Jesus was even more demanding than John. I am inclined to believe that Jesus made the requirements for entry to God's kingdom so difficult to achieve that he is pointing to another way.

John Bunyan tried to live by the Ten Commandments before he was converted. It gave him no assurance, peace or joy. Leo Tolstoy took the Sermon on the Mount very seriously and made every effort to keep the precepts of Jesus. He failed, failed, failed and failed again. He became more and more discontented and difficult to live with me. He put his wife through hell!!

There is another way - not one familiar to John the Baptist or his disciples - the way of grace.

          Grace! 'tis a charming sound,
          Harmonious to the ear;
          Heaven with the echo shall resound,
          And all the earth shall hear.

          Saved by grace alone;
          This is all my plea -
          Jesus died for all mankind,
          And Jesus died for me.

Yet in some respects it should have been familiar to John because forgiveness was based on the sacrificial system. He had just the one staggering insight into Christ's saving work when he announced him as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

(d) With the ascension of Jesus and the onset of the kingdom age preparation nearly always precedes conversion. The farmer needs to prepare the ground before sowing the seed.

There are all sorts of ways of preparing the ground: setting a good example, showing kindness, Sunday school and parental Bible teaching, prayer and getting to know people.

We do need to be careful not to give the impression that Christianity is all about living the right way, attending church and knowing the Bible stories. Only Jesus can forgive our sins, only Jesus can change our status, only Jesus secures our entry into the family of God, only Jesus can give us his Spirit and only Jesus can raise us from the dead on his return to earth.

(3) John denounced the insincere.

John mounted a three pronged attack on the Pharisees and Sadducees:

(a) He said ironically: "You brood of vipers who has warned you to flee from the coming wrath." v8. John did not consider that the Pharisees and Sadducees were taking his ministry seriously. They turned up in the desert either out of curiosity or to find him wanting.

Revival and rapid church growth always attracts undesirable elements. Jesus warned against this in his Parable of the Mustard Seed. The birds of the air that perched in the branches of the rapidly growing mustard tree were not beneficial visitors but a malign presence.

(b) John accused the religious leaders of complacency. They relied on their birthright as Jews. They had Abraham as their father. With a mind setlike this the Pharisees and Sadducees had no incentive to repent of their legalism, pride and self-righteousness to embrace humility and compassion.

Many folk are undone by complacency - trusting in their parentage, culture and church attendance to be sufficient to please God.

(c) John warned that judgment was imminent: "The axe is already at the root of the trees and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown in the fire. This was true in a way that John probably did not fully understand. The very traits that stopped the religious leaders from repenting also kept them from accepting Jesus. He came to that which was his own but his own did not receive him. Jn1v11. It was this failure to accept Jesus as Messiah that led eventually to the destruction of the Jewish state.

On a personal level the Pharisees and Sadducees died in their sin and would eventually have to face the judgment of Jesus on his return to earth. This remains true for everyone who remains on the broad way that leads to destruction. Jesus is the narrow gate through which any one desirous of salvation and eternal life has to pass. He is the only way to forgiveness and favour with God.

(4) John described the coming One.

The Messiah would:

(a) Be greater than John the Baptist. He would be so great that John would not be worthy to carry his sandals.

However great the very greatest of Christians; Jesus is greater still. I think this is sometimes lost sight of amidst all the pomp and ceremony attending the appointment of church leaders.

(b) Both equip and test his followers. "He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire." The Holy Spirit is given to all believers to equip them to serve Jesus as his faithful followers. Nevertheless, the Christian will not be spared the fire that purifies. Metal ore has to be heated in the furnace to burn away the dross. So, the life of the believer is refined in the fires of adversity.

(c) Finally separate the wheat from the chaff. In the days of John the Baptist a farmer would beat out the grain from the ear of wheat or barley. A mixture of grain and chaff would be the result. The final process in separating the good grain from the rubbish, the chaff, was to shovel it up and throw it into the air. The lighter chaff would be blown away from the heavier grain.

At the Second Coming of Jesus he will discriminate between those who genuinely believed in him and served him and those who did not believe and only served themselves.

We need to ask how far this is a true and accurate appraisal of Christ's ministry. John said little about Jesus' role as a teacher or his compassion as a healer or his mercy as the Saviour of sinners. Jesus is great, he will test our works and finally judge between the quick and the dead BUT he is also the friend and brother of all who trust in him.

John does not really seem aware that Jesus did not come to judge the world - IT WAS TO SAVE HE CAME.