Today I was thinking about John the Baptist. The Lord Jesus said that John was the greatest of the prophets. John is a very interesting Bible personality because he was the last of the Old Testament prophets, coming on the scene to end a 400 year silence from heaven. Was John a man filled with the Holy Spirit? Was he a man commissioned by God to declare God’s Word? Totally! Absolutely! His ministry was even prophesied of centuries before:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:1-3)
Alright then, here is my question: How would John the Baptist deal with an abuser who hides in the church, claiming to be a Christian?
This is a very pertinent question. Why? Because I maintain that many professing Christians today have a completely distorted idea of what a true pastor looks like and of how he deals with these things. In fact, so distorted is our thinking on these matters that often genuine ministers and genuine methods are rejected as being….well….you know the typical adjectives: “harsh,” “unmerciful,” “unloving,” “unkind,” “un-Christian.” This type of thinking would even, if it could get away with it, tell the Lord Jesus Himself that He seemed rather “un-….well….un-….uh….you know…un-Christian!” No, wait…I mean…that can’t be….Christ is the definition of Christian! But then, I just think maybe He could have handled it differently. No, no…that can’t be either. He was perfect. Oh shoot, I don’t know what I mean! But I just think there must be a better way than the way you are doing it. I don’t like what you are doing.”
So how would John the Baptist handle an abuser in the church parading as a Christian? We don’t have to speculate. We know with certainty. He did deal with abusers and the accounts are recorded right in God’s Word for us. Go get ’em John!
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:1-8)
And if that’s not enough for you, here he is in action again:
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. (Matthew 14:1-11)
John the Baptist was a pastor I could gladly have sat under. It wouldn’t have been easy for anyone in his church because John had a way of, well, stirring things up. People would tell him, “John, can’t you just maybe leave this one alone?” But John’s answer was, “no, I can’t. And I won’t. Not even if it costs me my head.” Which it did.
Abusers dressed in Christian garb would never have been comfy in John’s church. Oh man, he could see them a mile off. “You! You! I see you! I know what you are doing! Repent, and I mean really repent and show us your repentance by your works. Yeah, you! I’m talking about you! You better run, I’m telling you! Because Christ is coming and He already is winnowing out the chaff for the fire, and that’s YOU if you don’t repent!”
And it didn’t matter how much power and influence an abuser had, John was on them. You could be a king like Herod – no matter. If you were mocking God by mocking His law, you were going to be hearing from John. “It is not lawful for you to have her!” Come on John, that’s not very tactful. This guy is the king. Can’t you just back off a bit and lighten up? Nope. Not gonna happen. John did not fear man. Oh sometimes his faith was challenged, like the time he had to send word to Jesus and ask if the kingdom of heaven had really come or not:
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:2-11)
John was a human being. Who wouldn’t have some doubts or be a bit confused if they are sitting in a jail cell for doing what they had been sure was God’s will? Notice that our Lord not only did not get on John’s case for asking these questions, but He commended him! He comforted and encouraged him. He validated John.
This is what we need. We need an army of John the Baptists! We need pastors who are fashioned in this guy’s mold. We need Christians who are impelled by the very same Spirit (and in fact, if you aren’t impelled by that Spirit, you aren’t a Christian!). We need to shake off this namby-pamby notion of seeing wicked, evil abusers who are parading as Christians as poor, misguided, hurt folks who just need to be loved and embraced and affirmed in their “faith” and then surely they will see the error of their ways and the movie will end happily ever after. That’s the movies. It isn’t reality and it isn’t anything John the Baptist would approve of.
The Lord Jesus Christ affirmed John the Baptist as a true minister of God. That means that Christ affirmed John’s scathing rebuke of the viper Pharisees. It means He affirmed John’s bold confrontation of Herod’s sin. It means that the Son of God saw John’s execution as a blessed death of one of His own, not as the result of a foolish act of tactlessness.
And so let me conclude with these questions. What kind of pastor is a true pastor appointed by Christ? What does such a man look like? What kind of pastor do you want? What kind of pastor does the mass of professing Christendom want? John was…weird. He was a shocking man. He even dressed in a wild way. And when he started to speak, sinners started to come to him in repentance. This man, they knew, was sent by the Lord. And woe to the wicked who tried to sneak in over a side wall. “You, I see you! Repent, you viper or you will perish when the Lord comes! And He is coming. He is coming now!”
I find this incredibly refreshing. How about you?