What the forerunner ministry is about is preparing the generation in which the Lord returns. John the Baptist was the picture of one who prepared people for the first coming of the Lord. He’s the model, in terms of his messaging, in terms of his lifestyle, in terms of the power of the Spirit that was on him. He’s the model for the forerunners before the Second Coming.
MANY DIFFERENT LEVELS, MANY DIFFERENT EXPRESSIONS
There are many expressions of the forerunner calling. There are forerunners in the marketplace. There are forerunners in media. There are forerunners who are intercessors, and forerunners who are preachers. There are many different expressions, many different measures. John is the most extreme in terms of the fullness. That’s what I mean by extreme. He’s the full picture at the first coming, but the Bible makes it clear that the forerunners at the second coming will surpass even John in power. They will have the same kind of spirit around their life. Again, though, there will be thousands of them at many different levels, with many different expressions.
We look at John and we see how far the grace of God will take us in ministry, and how far the grace of God will take us in lifestyle. Not that we all enter into that dimension; again, he’s at the full extreme. We’re inspired by the model and the picture that he gives us in the Scriptures.
We’re going to look at this very significant passage where Jesus describes John as having spiritual violence. He’s a man of spiritual violence. It’s not physical violence, but a heart response that’s so radical that the best word Jesus could come up with to describe it was violent. It was costly; it was radical in terms of his responsiveness to God. When we look at this, we say, “Lord, would You give us the grace of God to have a measure of that spiritual violence?”
Some people will have the full measure, others a different measure, but they want to partake of that spirit. That’s what I want to challenge you with tonight.
“ARE YOU THE COMING ONE, OR DO WE LOOK FOR ANOTHER?”
Let’s read the story; it’s the context in which the Lord gives this exhortation about John’s spiritual life.
“And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them’” (Mt. 11:2-5)
That’s a prophecy about the Messiah from Isaiah 35. These disciples are thinking, “Wow, we get it; we know that Isaiah 35 prophecy.” As a matter of fact, everyone knew that prophecy.
Jesus concludes by saying, “The dead are raised and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” That’s directly from Isaiah 61—another prophecy about the Messiah.
“BLESSED IS HE, WHOEVER IS NOT OFFENDED IN ME”
Then Jesus gives a very interesting, but somewhat strange proverb at the end of this conversation. He says, “But blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Mt. 11:6, paraphrased).
That’s an odd way to end this interview, this conversation. Let me tell you what’s happening. John is in prison, and he knows he’s about to die. One of the popular ways of interpreting this passage, which I totally reject, is that John is in prison doubting that Jesus is the Messiah. That’s not what’s happening, even though that’s often how it’s preached. Rather, John is in prison, and he knows he’s going to die soon. He’s not worried about dying. As a matter of fact, he’s looking forward to it. As a responsible leader, he’s sending his disciples so that they can get firsthand testimony of who Jesus is so that when John dies they’ll know to follow Jesus instead of being offended by the process and losing their way with God.
John is operating in a pastoral way here, so he sends the disciples. They go there. They ask Him, “Are You the One?”
Jesus heals the sick and fulfills the prophecy.
I can imagine them saying, right in front of Him, “These are biblical prophecies. You’re the One. This is amazing.”
They go back and tell John. John says, “What did you find out?” “He’s the One.” “How do you know He was the One?” “You know the prophecies you told us about Him? He fulfilled them right in front of our eyes.” I can imagine John saying, “So you know it’s Him?”
“Yes.” “This is amazing, John. This is such good news.” I can imagine John saying, “Did He say anything else?”
“Well, not really. Some strange little proverb about blessed are the people who are not offended at Him, but we’re not offended at Him. He’s the Messiah. Why would we be offended at Him? We don’t understand that little proverb.”
I can imagine John saying, “Remember that proverb. Don’t forget it. You’re going to need that.”
Soon after that, John is killed. He’s martyred. Now the disciples of John have to figure out how they’re going to respond. People are offended at God for two reasons. They’re offended at God for what He does, but they’re also offended at God for what He doesn’t do—when He’s silent. Jesus knew He was going to be silent and not intervene to save John. He knew that. He knew that the disciples didn’t know that. He told them that. “Don’t be offended by what I don’t do that you think I ought to do.”
This is a critical message that the forerunners teach, but of course, before they ever teach it, they have to live it. They have to have it proven in their own lives. Again, people are offended at God by what He does. When He releases His judgments, it offends believers and unbelievers. When He doesn’t intervene where we think He should intervene, that offends us.
“WHAT DID YOU GO OUT IN THE WILDERNESS TO SEE? A REED SHAKEN BY THE WIND?”
Well, let’s go on and continue the dialogue. Now the disciples leave. They go back to John. Jesus knows that the crowd has made the same mistake that I believe preachers have made for 2,000 years. They think John is backsliding or John is afraid or John is doubting. I love this passage. Here’s what Jesus does: He vindicates John, and He makes many points along the way. I like that He vindicated John.
Jesus looks at the multitude. He says, “Now, what did you go out to see when you went out to hear John preach in the wilderness? Is he a reed shaken by the wind” (Mt. 11:7, paraphrased)?
Now a reed is easily shaken by the slightest wind. When the wind barely blows, the reed bends and starts shaking. It doesn’t take much wind to make a little reed shake. In other words, Jesus is saying, “What do you think John is? Is he struggling with fear right now? Is he trembling before the wrath of Herod, like a reed shaking in the wind? No, I assure you he’s not afraid. That’s not what’s happening in John’s life.”
Then He says in verse 8, “Let Me ask you another question about John” (Mt. 11:8, paraphrased).
There’s a reason I’m developing this passage. I like that it validates John, but it also gives us insight about the character of John’s life and the quality of life that a forerunner will walk in. One of the things God is committed to establishing in forerunners is that they walk in fearlessness. They’re not afraid of persecution. In the natural, we have natural fears of persecution. I heard one man say this: “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is what you do even in the presence of fear, but it’s when you have a stronger conviction than the fear.”
God is raising up forerunners—people young and old, in all stations of life. They won’t be reeds shaken by the wind. They will not waver when it’s time to stand for the message. That doesn’t just happen in one day. We begin by not wavering each step along the way. It isn’t like one day we just wake up bold and fearless. We work that spiritual muscle through the years. That’s an important one for forerunners.
JOHN CHOSE THE PRISON UNDER THE PALACE OVER THE PLEASURES IN THE PALACE
So in verse 8, Jesus is going to validate John a second time. He asks the same question three times: “What did you go out to see? What were your expectations when you went to hear John preach in the wilderness?” He’s asking them that question in order to make them ask the question. Then Jesus is going to answer it to validate John, and to give us insight into the character of how a forerunner lives.
“But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses” (Mt. 11:8). They don’t live in the king’s dungeon. If John wanted a comfortable life, all he had to do was back away from the message. You see, Herod didn’t want to kill him; Herod actually respected him greatly. All John had to do was back down a little. He could have had the soft clothing in the king’s palace, but he refused it. He had the prison under the king’s palace.
Jesus is saying, “Are you looking for a celebrity who loves comfort, who loves pleasure? Is that who you think John is? He’s no celebrity who’s seeking for more comfort and more popularity. He’s not a man with soft clothing and all that goes along with it.”
He goes to the third question. The third time He says, “What did you go out to see?” He says, “Did you go out to see a prophet” (Mt. 11:9, paraphrased)? They were pretty excited to see this prophet. You know, how novel, how exciting! Prophets are exciting because they’re unusual. There’s a dimension of God’s power and presence. The problem with a prophet is that though they’re exciting at first, they have a message that God insists on. The message is often troubling and divisive; it’s politically incorrect. So they like the prophet for a while. You can go a certain distance with the applause of the people. They love your stuff. They love your message. They love your music. They love your prophesying until it crosses a line and it doesn’t please them. Then things change quickly.
That’s what happened to John. Jesus says, “What did you go out to see? A prophet?” He says, “Listen carefully: he’s more than a prophet. This isn’t just a normal situation; rather, he represents a very unique time frame on God’s calendar.”
“BEHOLD, I WILL SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE MY FACE”
Jesus actually went on to say later in the passage that John was like Elijah. His very presence is an indication that we’re at a critical time of human history. Jesus said, “Let Me tell you, he’s more than a prophet. He’s more than a man with a message. He’s a prophetic figure who indicates a critical generation in salvation history, and the changing of God’s purpose on the earth. This is the man of whom it was written, of whom the Father said, ‘I will send My messenger before Your face, Jesus’” (Mt. 11:9-10, paraphrased).
Jesus is quoting Malachi 3:1. John is the Father’s messenger. Could you imagine having a prophetic ministry where God called you His messenger? He was sent before the face of Jesus. I believe that in a lesser version of that, a lesser measure, God is raising up prophets who will operate in this same spirit as the Father’s messenger—not in a man-pleasing spirit, but as the Father’s messenger. They will speak the truth regardless of what it costs them, like John did. “This man will prepare the way before You, Jesus.”
In other words, he’s preparing the coming of God to the earth.
Obviously, Jesus wasn’t just a great man; He was God coming to the planet. Now, God comes to the planet twice in the flesh—once at the first coming and once at the second coming. Both times when He comes, He raises up forerunners to declare it so that they can make sense of what’s going on to the people, so that the people understand what’s happening.
“HOW FAR WILL YOU LET ME GO? HOW ABANDONED WILL YOU LET ME BE?”
Jesus vindicates John. I give the various ways that He did that. Jesus went on to say, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Mt. 11:11). I assure you John was not wavering in prison. Many men and women stood before persecution and didn’t waver. This is the greatest man ever born of a woman.
The reason I point that out to you is because we need to pay attention to John. No person has ever surpassed John the Baptist in terms of his or her abandonment to God. If we want to look at the most dramatic example of abandonment to God, we look at the life of John the Baptist. What John did, we want to do in part. There aren’t very many who will do the full measure of what John did. Beloved, we want to walk in that spirit. We want to ask the Holy Spirit, “How far will You let me go in this? How abandoned will You let me be?” The model, the vision, is the life of John the Baptist.
Again, we may not enter into the full measure of his dedication, but we’re going to walk in that spirit. We want to walk in it more and more as we experience the grace of God in our lives. He’s the picture. He’s the model. He’s what we’re aspiring to. He’s the model of what wholeheartedness looks like. You want to understand what wholeheartedness looks like. We can look at Paul. He’s a good example. We can look at the other examples. But only one man was called by the mouth of Jesus, “the greatest man ever born of a woman.”
Again, he’s the prophetic picture of the forerunner ministry in the generation of the Lord’s return. We value his life. We value his teaching. We want to study it in order to imitate it, and then to give this present hour application to the spirit and the principles that were operating in John’s life. We want to give the application that’s appropriate for this hour of history. We want to be motivated and formed and inspired by John, by the model of his life as well as his message.
THE CLEAREST, MOST DEVELOPED PICTURE OF THE FORERUNNER MINISTRY
John’s message, by the way, isn’t very popular. When you look across the Body of Christ in the Western world, you rarely hear anyone emphasizing what John emphasized. I’m saying to the Lord, by the grace of God, may we emphasize what he emphasized without any fear or compromise. Our hearts might tremble, but may we not back down like John didn’t back down. It’s more than a message: we want to imitate the spirit in which he lived. It’s his lifestyle. Again, there are different applications, different measures, but we want to walk in that spirit. He’s the clearest and the most developed picture in the Bible of the forerunner ministry for the end of the age, as well as a man wholly dedicated to God. We listen carefully to his life. Given the fact that Jesus called him the greatest man born of a woman, I say, “OK, now I’m listening. John, what can you teach me about your lifestyle and what can you teach me about your message that would be important for my life today?”
I want my vision to be formed in part by John’s life. Not entirely—our vision is formed by Jesus in fullness. Those which Jesus set forth in the Scriptures, they give us inspiration as well.
WE WANT THE APPLAUSE OF HEAVEN MUCH MORE THAN THE APPLAUSE OF EARTH
Let’s go on and see what else the Scripture says about John. John 5:35. Jesus called him “a burning and a shining lamp” (Jn. 5:35, KJV). That fire was in John’s life. Can you imagine Jesus calling you a burning and a shining lamp? He was burning on the inside—in his heart. He was shining clearly on the outside as well. That was his ministry. His ministry was a lamp that brought clarity to others.
We know this, but it needs to be said. The goal of ministry isn’t popularity, or how big we are, though that easily becomes the unspoken goal of ministry, and the measure by which ministry is measured and applauded. Beloved, we want to be shining lamps. We want to be a faithful witness to truth, regardless of how big the applause is. We want the applause of heaven much more than the applause of earth.
We will stand before the Lord one day. When John stood before the Lord, the Lord said, “You were a clear light, not a mixed light. You were not a mixed message. You didn’t bring confusion to the Body of Christ, because I anointed you. You actually brought shining light that gave people hope to walk abandoned before God.”
The reason he was a shining and bright light to others is because he was a burning heart. Down in the inside, he was on fire for God. In his secret life in God, he engaged with God in the secret place of his heart.
Every one of us has a secret history with God. Every one of us has a secret life in God, in the positive sense, that only you and God fully know. Actually, you don’t fully understand it, but God does. Each one of us is developing our secret history in God. I’m talking about the way we talk to God and the way we carry our heart and the way we interact with God when no one is looking. We may be in a meeting, but the way we’re interacting with God is the secret history each of us has in God. Some people, like John, have a very rich secret history. Other people have a very superficial, shallow one. I know this: that Jesus set John before us in the Scriptures as the burning and shining lamp. We look at him and say, “Lord, we’re interested in this.”
“YOU WERE WILLING FOR A TIME TO REJOICE IN HIS LIGHT”
Look at another phrase here in John 5:35. Jesus is talking to the nation of Israel. He said, “You were willing for a time to rejoice in John’s light” (Jn. 5:35b, paraphrased).
In other words, while John was on the up-rise, when he was popular and novel and interesting and the talk of the town, the nation of Israel rejoiced in him.
They said, “Wow, did you hear John?” After a season, when the novelty was over, they were offended at his message. That’s a test that every anointed man and woman has to pass. Because when the anointing first begins to emerge, often the people rejoice in your light, but they don’t know why God anointed you. All they know is that they like what they feel when they’re in the contact of your ministry. But that’s not the reason; God doesn’t anoint us so that people like us. He anoints us because He wants a message. He wants truth to be made known.
“HE WILL . . . GO BEFORE HIM IN THE SPIRIT AND POWER OF ELIJAH”
Look at what Gabriel said about him in Luke 1:15. This is the angel Gabriel visiting John the Baptist’s father before John was born. The angel appeared and he said, “You’re going to have a son. He will be great in the sight of the Lord. He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Lk. 1:15-16, paraphrased).
Look at his mission. “And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just”—to the way of justice, or righteousness—“to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk. 1:17). The spirit of Elijah means the same purpose that Elijah had.
There are a few things that I want to mention about John, and then I’m just going to make a few other points. Verse 15—he would be great in the sight of the Lord. Being great in the sight of the Lord has nothing to do with how much impact you have in the sight of man. I believe many of the greatest men and women of God are unknown by man, and they have made no mark on church history that shows up in the history books. Being great in the sight of God isn’t about public impact; being great in the sight of God is about heart response. Anyone can choose to be great in the sight of God if they want it.
We say, “How?”
Well, we look at one that was great and we say, “How did he live?” We gain inspiration from his lifestyle. We want to live in that same spirit. Again, the application will be different for everyone.
“HE SHALL DRINK NEITHER WINE NOR STRONG DRINK”
Notice it says, “He shall drink neither wine nor strong drink” (Lk. 1:15). This is a reference to his Nazarite vow. Many of you know of the Nazarite vow in Numbers 6. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “Here’s what I want to do. If My people want to do this—it’s totally voluntary—I want them, in various seasons of their life, to make a vow of special dedication to Me for a period of time. Some people will do it for three months; some people will do it for three years. Some people will do it longer, some people shorter.”
A Nazarite vow was a vow to abstain from legitimate pleasures in life with the purpose of seeking God with greater intensity. The spirit of a Nazarite vow was that they would position themselves in dedication before God. They would abstain from things that are legitimate in order to be more dedicated and to be closer to the Lord. Some of them did it for a few months. Some did it for a few years. John did it his entire life. Intense!
Lou Engle wrote a little book on the Nazarite vow. As Lou says in his book, I don’t believe that we take the Nazarite vow of Numbers 6 and fulfill it in some specific way; the spirit of it is what I’m talking about. God is raising up people, young and old, but there’s an army of young people. They’re asking the Lord, not, “What can I get away with so that I can sin more? What is the least dedication I need to make sure I can get into heaven?” That’s a disastrous question. That question is almost guaranteed to lead you into darkness and into the abyss. The question is not, “How far to the line can I go and still barely make it into heaven? How much darkness can I live in and not end up in the lake of fire in eternal darkness?”
That’s not the right question. The right question is, “How much power will You give me to be dedicated to You?”
A LIFESTYLE OF BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT
Of course that was the question that John asked. In John’s life, he didn’t have a season of dedication for three months or three years. He lived in this for his entire life. He was filled with the Spirit. He was anointed with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.
You say, “That’s not fair!” Beloved, don’t trip up over the fact that he was anointed in his mother’s womb. You could be filled with the Spirit right now. From this day forward, it’s fair. Because we all have the ability to be filled with the Spirit if we want it. This is more than just an experience of speaking in tongues. I’m talking about much more than that. I’m talking about walking in the presence of God on a daily basis. It’s a lifestyle of being filled with the Spirit. Yes, we weren’t filled with the Spirit from our mother’s womb. But we can be filled with the Spirit now that we’re born again.
Look at what John did with the anointing that was on his life—the anointing of Elijah. He turned the hearts in three ways (Lk. 1:16-17). One, he turned the hearts to God. He turned the hearts to children. He turned the hearts away from sin. These are three things which all overlap. When you read that carefully, there are three things the angel Gabriel said about John. “He will turn their hearts to God. He will make people hungry to interact with God. Number two: he’ll turn their hearts to children. Number three: they will turn their hearts from sin, from disobedience, to the way of justice or the way of righteousness. They will live obediently before God.”
THE POINT OF THE ANOINTING IS TO TURN THEIR HEARTS
Again, we admire John’s message, but we rarely hear it in the pulpits today. We hear faint references to obey God with all of your heart. We hear that here and there. It’s vague, non-detailed, and non-invasive. So we say, “Yes,” but it doesn’t trouble us when we leave the sanctuary. It doesn’t trouble our conscience because it’s not specific. We want to turn people to God, to children, and from disobedience. That’s what John did with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t turn people to his conferences. It’s OK to have big conferences. But that’s not the point of the anointing. We’re not here to get a big database, to sell a bunch of items, to get a traveling ministry, to get a famous teaching tour. That’s not the point of the anointing. The point of the anointing is to turn hearts. When we wrestle with God and connect with God in the secret place of our life, we want an anointing that changes the way the people relate to God, to children, and to sin. In doing that, we make them ready, not for the first coming. That’s what John did. We make them ready for this dynamic, unique storyline of the second coming. We give them understanding as to the dynamic details, the unique details, of the hour of the generation in which the Lord returns. There are many unique dynamics in the storyline in that generation. The forerunners make that known.
I want to mention one more thing about this Nazarite vow. Again, we don’t make Nazarite vows in the strict sense of the Old Testament. It’s the spirit of having radical dedication for a season, for months or years, or, in the case of John’s life, his entire life. I mean, he burned the bridge. He burned the boats. He said, “I’m not doing this for a few years; I’m doing this until the end. I have no other reason to live.” He gave himself in the most extreme dedication of any man pictured in the Bible.
“YOU GAVE THE NAZARITES WINE TO DRINK!”
Amos 2:11-12. Here’s what the Lord says, “I raised up some of your sons as prophets. I raised up some of your sons as Nazarites, as wholly dedicated to God. My Spirit called them” (Amos 2:11, paraphrased). Then, speaking to the nation of Israel, He says, “Is it not so, O you children of Israel” (Amos 2:11b, NKJV)? He says, “Isn’t it true that I did this?”
Of course they would have to say, “Yes, You did it.”
Then the Lord said, “What did you do to those Nazarites? You talked them out of their dedication. You gave them wine to drink. You used the Bible and convinced them that radical dedication was unnecessary. You told the prophets to quit prophesying” (Amos 2:12, paraphrased).
Beloved, God is raising up those of unusual dedication, young men and women, and older ones as well. We want to be among those who talk them into it—who encourage them to complete the task, to walk out the dedication, not to talk them out of it by using verses from the Bible to encourage them to dial down.
DON’T ALLOW ANYONE TO STEAL YOUR FIRE FROM YOU
I made a certain dedication, at age twenty and twenty-one and twenty-two and twenty-three—a dedication to fasting and prayer, and a certain way I would live with my money, and a certain amount of time I would give to the Lord. Incidentally, I didn’t walk it all out at the level of my dedication. I set my heart and walked it out in a pretty substantial way over the years, but not perfectly by any means. I want to make that clear.
Older pastors, in their thirties, forties, and fifties, would come to me and say, “You’re twenty-one. You’re going to burn out if you don’t stop this. You need to chill out. You need to dial down. You need to relax. God wants you to enjoy this and that.”
I said, “I don’t want to enjoy this and that. I don’t want more stuff. I want God.”
This happened many, many times. It was burdensome after a while. I began to turn it off. I heard it so many times through the years. Those of you who are in your twenties, if you choose a path like this, you’ll hear it as well. They told me, “You’re going to burn out.” Well, they were wrong.
My point is not that I’m a hot shot. If I had an time, I could tell you all my failures, but I’m not going to take the time. My point is that I didn’t burn out. It’s the idea that if you don’t settle down, you’re going to burn out. They burned out; I didn’t. Seriously. The fire increased in me, and the fire went out in many of them. They burned out. You’re never going to burn out going hard; you’re going to burn out by living with a wrong spirit. It isn’t the intensity; it’s the spirit behind the way that you minister. If your eyes are on the approval of man, and trying to get everything working just right, and everyone applauding you, and everything getting bigger, you’ll get burned out if that’s where your eyes are. Because there will be many setbacks. If your eyes are on the eyes of the Lord, and you feel His pleasure, sometimes things go well; other times, they go badly. Your eyes are on His eyes; your heart will get bigger instead of burned out. If you’re burned out right now, it’s not because you worked hard or you were treated badly. Everyone is treated badly on the whole planet. There’s not a human over one year old who isn’t treated badly. When they’re two, a little brother hits them. That’s where it all starts. Everyone is treated badly. You’re not burned out because the Body of Christ treated you badly; you’re burned out because you’re living before the wrong set of eyes. Honestly, this is true. It’s because your dedication is motivated by a wrong spirit. You’re trying to earn something or get the approval of someone, rather than understanding that His eyes are on you and He’s already pleased with you. Therefore you’re going hard with all your heart.
THE LEAST PERSON IN THE NEW COVENANT HAS MORE PRIVILEGES THAN JOHN
Turn to the top of page two. We’ll take just a few more moments. In verse 11, Jesus is continuing in the same conversation. He says, “Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is the least in the kingdom is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:11-12).
This was the point that Jesus wanted to make about John. First, He understood when John sent the two disciples that John was connecting the disciples to Jesus in being a faithful shepherd. I believe Jesus said, “Good job, John.” Then He turned to the crowd and said, “Do you think John is backslidden? Do you think him fearful? No, you have an entirely wrong view of who John is.”
And so now He’s giving His main point: “Now that we’ve brought John up, let Me talk about John—not so that you’ll admire him, but so that you’ll imitate him; so that he would be the vision you have of being a burning and shining lamp in your own life.” He says, “There hasn’t arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist, but he who is least in the kingdom is greater than John.”
What does that mean? I have it written in the notes there. John wasn’t born again. No one is born again until after the day of Pentecost. John is still under the old covenant. John is not a new covenant believer as we know it. There were no new covenant believers until the day of Pentecost. What Jesus is saying is this: the person who is least in the kingdom of heaven, the born-again believer under the new covenant, actually has greater opportunity than even John does in the Old Testament.
What an incredible statement! Because John didn’t have Jesus living in Him in the way that we do. Jesus wasn’t saying, “They were of greater virtue than John,” but, “They had greater privilege than John.” Jesus actually says, “What do you think about that? Here is the greatest man in terms of virtue and heart response to God. You could actually have greater privilege than he has.”
The point that Jesus is making is that if you could have a greater privilege than John, why not be dedicated like John? If you could actually go further than John went in the Spirit, because you’re a new covenant believer, why not have the same dedication that John had?
“THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN SUFFERS VIOLENCE, AND THE VIOLENT TAKE IT BY FORCE”
“And from the days of John the Baptist until now”—until today, Jesus is saying—“the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt. 11:12). That’s an interesting phrase: “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence.”
I’m going to follow my notes here. Jesus is presenting two new ideas. A new covenant believer has more power and more privilege than John, and a new covenant believer needs to be more committed—not more committed than John, but more committed than an Old Testament believer. That’s the idea.
GREATER PRIVILEGES REQUIRE GREATER DEDICATION
Paragraph A. Point number one. In the new covenant, we have more privilege. We have more ability to interact with God at the heart level by the anointing than anyone in the Old Testament by virtue of the new covenant privileges.
We don’t feel that way. We look at our lives and say, “We’re a mess. How can we be better off than they are?”
That’s what Jesus is saying: “You need to become aggressive about interacting with the Spirit at the level of the privilege you have in the New Testament. It’s far beyond the Old Testament people.”
He says, “The greater privilege requires a greater dedication. It’s called spiritual violence.” We don’t use the word suffer very often. To suffer means “to allow” or “to permit.” Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist, heaven permits, heaven allows, spiritual violence.”
Heaven doesn’t look down at radical dedication and say, “You’re legalistic. Stop it.” Heaven looks down at radical dedication and says, “This is good.” It suffers it. It allows it, or permits it, is a word we would use today.
It’s possible for someone to be legalistic in their dedication. In my thirty-five years of pastoring, I haven’t met very many people who are legalistic in their dedication. Not really. The Body of Christ is so fearful of legalism, they live headlong, steeped in compromise, on the edges of darkness. “I don’t mind that I’m living in darkness and compromise. My heart is dull and defiled and I don’t know God. I can’t feel His presence. I don’t want legalism. God forbid that I would pray at a regular time day after day. I don’t want that. I’m happy to live defiled, dull, filled with condemnation, in bondage to sin, but I don’t want legalism.”
It’s true, we don’t want legalism. In my thirty-five years of pastoring, I’ve heard the legalism argument so many times, but the people who are making it don’t have lives that are impressive to the Holy Spirit—at least not as far as I can see. The men over here who have pressed me don’t have an ounce of legalism; they have discipline and dedication. Legalism isn’t an issue of discipline and dedication; legalism is the spirit that you operate in. Legalism is trying to earn the favor of God. You know, the favor is free. Therefore you put yourself in the way of the Lord so that you can position yourself in a way to receive more, more quickly.
Let me say that again. The difference between legalism and discipline isn’t the activity; it’s the spirit behind it. In discipline, you’re positioning yourself before God in a radical way, because you want the fire to touch your cold heart. You’ll put long hours before God and do whatever you do to get in His presence. Legalism is trying to earn the favor of God. Discipline in the grace of God means you know you have the favor from day one. God loves you and enjoys you from day one. Therefore you want to be dedicated and radical in the way that you order your life. That’s called discipline.
The kingdom of heaven actually permits radical spiritual violence. Spiritual violence means a radical dedication to the Lord. You can read more about that, if you want, on your own.
A RADICAL COMMITMENT THAT OTHERS WILL NOT APPRECIATE
Jesus makes this amazing statement. He’s talking about the radically committed believer, the spiritually violent. Not physically violent—we’re talking about a violent commitment that others will not appreciate at all. Beloved, if you want the people in your church world to applaud you, more often than not, spiritual violence isn’t going to get their applause. As a matter of fact, if you go hard after God, you’re going to disturb them. They’ll say, “If you’re going hard after God, what you’re suggesting is that I should go hard after God. I don’t want to. You’re saying you’re better than me—that I’m wrong and you’re right. Bah, humbug! I don’t like your dedication.”
They’re not overly-concerned about you. They’re concerned that they think you’re better than them. Maybe you do think you’re better than them. Repent of that. At least get that out of the equation.
It took me a few years to figure it out. As a young man, I would ask, “Why are they so concerned about how much I fast and pray?” They weren’t. They were concerned that I thought they should do it. I never even thought of them. I wasn’t even thinking of them. They thought I was. They were talking me out of it so that I wouldn’t pressure their conscience. I didn’t even think about them doing it; it never crossed my mind. I would come up with all kinds of Bible verses.
Down through the years, especially in my twenties, I had many, many debates with older believers. Finally, you get a little older and they say, “Give up on the poor man.” Praise God. Don’t quit.
Again, I don’t want to make myself an example; that’s not my point. I’m trying to say that you have to resist the arguments, because they’re not really sincere. I made many, many mistakes and failed many times. I’m not the picture of doing it, but I can tell you this: I know what it means to stand against the arguments for years. It was confusing in my twenties. I couldn’t figure it out. A few years later, I figured it out. I want to equip twenty-year olds to not back down.
THE VIOLENCE OF WALKING IN THE WAY OF OBEDIENCE
It’s violent because it confronts our sinful desires. It’s violent because it reorders the way we talk. It reorders the way we spend money. It reorders the way we pursue comfort. This is violent. I mean, fasting and giving and blessing your enemies is violent. God isn’t out to hurt your pride; He’s out to kill it. It’s true. I heard one preacher say that the same God who orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus is orchestrating yours. It’s real. Not so that you can pay the wages for sin and purchase your healing; all that has been purchased already as a gift. It’s so that you would live that crucified life, bearing your cross according to Jesus.
It’s violent because it reorders the way we talk, the way we spend time, the way we spend money, the way we pursue comfort, the way we pursue success, the way we pursue honor, the way we express our sexuality. It’s violent because we’re walking in the way of obedience. It violently reorders our priorities. It violently disrupts what we would naturally pursue with our natural mindset. People who live like this disrupt the status quo. They disrupt ministries. You get some radical young people—I don’t mean that they’re being proud about it; I mean they’re resolute to be wholly devoted to the Lord. It will shake up the whole community. They’ll have meetings with the elders and all kinds of talks about getting you out of legalism.
Maybe you’re in legalism. Get out of it; receive the free gift of God, but don’t let go of your discipline and your radical spirit. Don’t buy the legalism argument. That’s the common argument that’s used all the time. It’s violent because it disrupts the kingdom of darkness.
Jesus connected the spiritual violence to John’s life. When He said, “The kingdom of God permits spiritual violence,” He was saying, “John isn’t fearful and backsliding in prison. He’s the picture of what I want you to do. He’s the picture of spiritual violence. Look at his life. Study his life and see the wisdom of God.”
JOHN’S LIFE WAS UNSUCCESSFUL IN THE EYES OF THE WORLD
The measure of John’s greatness wasn’t the number that he impacted. Some people talk about how John was great because he changed the whole nation. Well, John didn’t change the whole nation. John created a movement, but the movement didn’t end up well. This is a little discouraging, unless you have the right perspective.
Back in the original passage, in Luke 1, when Gabriel was talking to John’s dad before John was born, he told him, “Your son will be great. He will turn many to the Lord.”
How many is many? Well, John preached for some time, and created a storm in the nation. He was frontline news. Massive crowds came out. Then Jesus followed up after John, raised the dead, and preached really well. How many of you think Jesus preached really well? Really well. Only 120 people made it to the prayer room after those two ministries touched the nation. Can you imagine if you labored in prayer and then you preached like John and then you were backed up by Jesus for three and a half years, and only 120 made it to the prayer room? When it was all said and done, they only had a seed—120 people.
“I thought John turned the nation!”
He did. From the divine point of view, that 120 in the Upper Room in Acts 2 are all that made it through all the shifting and sifting process. That seed, that good seed of 120, is all that made it after the combined efforts of Jesus and John. It blossomed through 2,000 years into the great harvest in every nation of the earth, and all Israel getting saved before it’s all over. John did plant the seed, and the fruit of it, 2,000 years later, is that the gospel is preached in every nation from his labors.
JOHN WAS CAST ASIDE AS EVIL BY THE PEOPLE OF HIS DAY
End of page three. Roman numeral VI. I want you to see how John touched the nation, because I want you to get the right bearings on this. Jesus is still talking in Matthew 11. It’s the same conversation. He said, “John came neither eating nor drinking” (Mt. 11:18). In other words, he had a fasted lifestyle. He lived in the Nazarite vows. Technically, he ate, but he ate in such reservation. He abstained from many things that were his to partake of, but he lived a fasted lifestyle his whole life.
John came neither eating or drinking. He lived in this Nazarite vow, this fasted lifestyle. And the nation said he had a demon (Mt. 11:18). The nation rejoiced in him for a while when he was new and his conferences were growing. When his message became clear, they said, “The man is demonized and dangerous.” The nation wrote him off as demonized and dangerous.
John wasn’t in prison crying because he got some bad press on the website. “Did you hear what they said about me? They said I’m off.”
Well, they said John had a demon. He was the greatest man ever to walk the earth, besides Jesus, and the nation thought he was demonized. Even the people of God said, “You’re so off”; and that’s how John ended his ministry. He was placed into prison by the political authorities.
“WISDOM IS JUSTIFIED BY HER CHILDREN”
Here’s what I want to leave you with. At the end of verse 19, Jesus said, “Let Me tell you something. They said John had a demon. They said John was off. They said John was wrong. They rejoiced in his light for a few months. They all turned on him. Only 120 made it to the Upper Room.”
It doesn’t look so great, but God called it great. God looked through the lens of history and saw the nations of the earth turning to the Lord from that little seed that John planted. He did turn many to the Lord, but not in his generation.
Are you prepared to live in John’s dedication? Are you prepared? What if you don’t get the numbers that have been prophesied over you? Because maybe you’ll turn a nation, but maybe you won’t see it until you stand on the other side and look back and see how your fruit affected others that affected others that affected others. I tell you, we throw away the measuring stick. We want to be great in God’s eyes by the response of our heart.
Here’s what God said about him. He said, “Wisdom is justified by her children” (Mt. 11:19).
He said, “So John lived in fasting and prayer out in the wilderness. He ended up with only 120 at the end. It looks as though he wasted his life. No. Wisdom will be justified.”
Meaning, the wisdom of his life will be openly seen by all one day, at the judgment seat of Christ on the other side of the resurrection. The wisdom of his life will be justified or vindicated by the children, by the fruit of his labors. When all the fruit of his lifestyle is seen, then you’ll see that he lived a wise life. Beloved, the wisdom of godliness is justified, or vindicated, when the fruit of your life is fully seen before the Lord on the last day. If we want men to justify our lives now and the wisdom we live with, beloved, it’s not going to happen. That’s called a man-pleasing spirit. Both Jesus and John allowed their justification to come in another age. Vindication is the same as justification in this proverb here. Amen.