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?”
“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. Continue reading